Stumbling and Standing IN Jesus
Text: Mark 14: 27-42
Proposition: It is as we grow in a deeper appreciation of the truth of our fallen sin natures that we are better equipped to stand in Jesus against temptation and to stand in the understanding of His absolute atonement for our sin.
Introduction: What is it that causes you to stumble? The answer varies with the situation doesn’t it? If I’m climbing up a rocky shale slope, it’s the rock that causes me to stumble. If I am in a three legged race at a picnic the sack and my partner and the race itself causes me to stumble. Certainly the Scriptures describe the problem of stumbling, but it not a physical stumbling so much as it is a moral and spiritual stumbling. The thing about stumbling, whether it’s physical or moral, is the experience of losing your balance so that a fall is imminently possible. The world not only stumbles, it staggers like a drunken man, it mishandles sexuality, identity, power, and life itself. It suffers great pain because of these things and yet it doesn’t know the cause of the stumbling. It doesn’t know the dangers of unbelief, the depths of sin nor the devious nature of Satan. I think that we too, in our lives as Christians, can stumble from time to time. We might stumble at the scope of the sovereignty of God, we might stumble at some issue of ongoing sin, we might even stumble because of other Christians. In the account that we have been following in the gospel of Mark, Jesus has just finished the Passover supper and has led the disciples out of the city, across the Kidron valley and into the gardens of Gethsemane. As we read this next passage, watch for the things that cause disciples to stumble and see how we stand in Him. Turn to Mark 14:26-42.
I. We Have All Stumbled At the Cross. As we consider the idea of stumbling let’s begin by looking at two Greek words. The first word is “Proskomma” and it means literally “an obstacle in the way which if one strikes his foot against he stumbles or falls”. So when Jesus is called a stumbling stone it means that if a person tries to walk through or ignore the truth of Who Jesus is, that person will stumble in their relationship with God and their fall will be great. The second word used in the Greek that is translated ‘Stumble’ is the word “Skandalizō”, meaning ‘to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey’. The English word ‘Scandal’ has it’s root in this word. This is the word that Jesus used in Mark 14 when He foretold, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written, “I will strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.” Some translations like the NIV and NASB say, “fall away”, the KJV says “offended”, but the Greek word is still skandalizō. Why will the disciples be made to fall away, be offended, stumble this night? Clearly I don’t think they were offended or mad at Jesus, they didn’t fall away because they no longer liked Jesus. On the contrary, they sought to keep close to Him. The skandalizo was not that they ran for their lives as Jesus was taken captive, the scandal was the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7 which Jesus quoted in regards to striking the Shepherd. They will all be made to stumble at the idea of the ‘Who’ it is that strikes the Shepherd. Clearly the Shepherd refers to Jesus and the sheep refers to the disciples. Who does the term ‘I’ refer to? It refers to the Father as He ordains the striking down of His own Son! That is a scandal to the whole world, why would He do such a thing, could He have done such a thing? Is this just a horrible lie about the Father? Aahh, but then we remember Isaiah 53: 6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him,”. It is the Father who strikes the Shepherd through the actions of Judas, Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate, all Jerusalem and indeed even all mankind. The cross of Jesus causes us all to stumble when we first come to it. We stumble at the innocence of Jesus bearing our guilt, we stumble at the love of the Father for the Son being seen in such an action as the striking of the Shepherd. We stumble that God would do such a thing because He loves us. We stumble at the truth that unless Jesus died we would still bear the guilt of our sin. We stumble at the great presence and cost of sin in us. The great scandal of the world is that we need a Savior! We have all stumbled at the cross.
II. We Have All Stumbled Because of Un-Belief. The response of God to the skandalizo is the invitation to believe. You see, Jesus tells the disciples beforehand that they will be scattered and that this is foreknown by the Father. He even tells them that after they have abandoned Him, He will be raised from the dead and go before them to Galilee and will unite with them then. It was a future tense event and Jesus invited the disciples to believe Him, if not right now then at least as they saw these things coming top pass. So if this is what Jesus desires, that we believe and stand firm in His word, then what is it that seeks to prevent this? Consider the reaction of not just Peter but all the disciples:
1. “Even if all are made to stumble yet I will not be.” Peter seems to be saying that he is different from everyone else. They all might fall away, but not him, because he knows who he is. What Peter had said sounded like loyalty but it was really deliberate unbelief in what Jesus had just said. His pride was made to sound like piety and it became a cause of stumbling. The moment we begin to think of ourselves as somehow better than others, more able to resist sin or more worthy of God’s confidence in us… we stumble.
2. “If I have to die with you, I will not deny You.” Again it sounds very noble except that it runs dead against what Jesus had just proclaimed as truth. Peter seems to be saying that he willing to make a great sacrifice for Jesus. Yet it’s just the other way round, Jesus is about to make the greatest sacrifice for them. Again it’s pride but this time it’s masked as courage. What do you suppose would have been a better response? I think Jesus wanted them to simply agree with what He was saying, to wonder about it, to be struck by it but overall to agree with Him. Perhaps we too are slow to simply agree with what Jesus declares is the truth. We may offer Jesus great sacrifices on our part, we might act with what we think is considerable courage yet what God is really asking of us is belief in the truth of Who He is, what He has done, is doing and what He is about to do. Eternal life in Christ hinges on this belief, personal sacrifice and courageous effort follow belief.
III. Yet IN Christ We Stand.
Look at the directives of Jesus in Mark 14:32 to 42:
1. Sit here while I pray. The One who is doing the work is Jesus, the disciples are commanded to sit and wait.
2. Stay here and watch. Again the Jesus leaves the smaller group as He undertakes the task at hand. The command this time is to watch, be on guard, wait with anticipation.
3. Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation. Jesus again leaves to meet the task at hand, the disciples are now to watch and pray. Is the temptation referred to the temptation to sleep? Temptation is the lure that draws us away from reality. It’s purpose is always to replace what God has in mind.
4. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand. In all things Jesus not only leads the disciples He readies them for what He knows is about to occur.
So what is it that Jesus looks for in us that would enable us to stand and not stumble? Perhaps the biggest clue is in verse 38, “The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak.” The flesh here does not refer only to the physical bodies of the disciples as they fought off sleep, it refers also to the mind that gives permission to body to do this or that. We’ve already seen that the flesh can have an over confidence in itself and yet not really know the inner man. So:
A. Know that sin in us is deep and is deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
B. God knows the heart of man, even the heart that will deny Him thrice.
C. Once we actually see this as being true we come to the conclusion that apart from God we can do nothing. It is Jesus who prayed, Jesus who said, “Arise let us go”. It’s Jesus who died for us on the cross, Jesus paid the debt of our sin, Jesus rose again as the One who could say to us clearly, the debt of sin is paid, belief in Me is now the door through death. Apart from God we can do nothing.
D. Through belief in Jesus, we now are IN Christ. His right standing before the Father is what we now stand in. He directs us through His Spirit and Word to know what it takes to rightly represent Him. He changes the inner man by causing the old self that used to be us to die in its authority over our bodies. There’s a new authority in us, a new man that has the heart and mind of Christ to guide it. He calls us to watch what we think about, watch what we let our hearts yearn after. Jesus constructs in us a new view of the world and of all time. He awakens eternity in our hearts. Now we no longer stumble as before, but IN Him we stand.