This post covers the final few verses of John 13. In this section we’ll look at the denial of Peter, and the effectual prayer of our Lord, among other things.
13:36-38 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”  Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”  Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
Jesus promises Peter that he will follow him where He is going “afterward.” This promise is tantamount to Christ saying, “you will be with me in heaven”, and yet the promise of heaven is not yet able to be perceived by the disciple. So dull is his mind to the great heights of the promises of Christ even after three years of walking with Him. This ought to accentuate in our minds the great privilege of having God’s own Spirit dwell within us that we may be able to perceive the great mysteries and promises that He has given unto us.
Though Peter does not yet realize these great promises here, later he will:
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3b-5)
True Courage is Revealed and Refined by Testing
And so it follows that his complaint is that he ought to be able to go with Jesus wherever it is that He is going. Peter’s remark is sealed by his (supposedly) courageous statement, “I will lay down my life for you.” But as D.A. Carson points out, he is “less interested in the new commandment (in 34-35) than in the departure of their Master.”
Let us learn this, dear friends, from the statement of Peter: untested boldness manifests itself in words, but those who love Christ suffer much and endure much for His cause (Luke 6:46-49, 11:28). As Carson articulates in stingingly honest words, “Sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob.”
Listen again to what Peter says later in his first epistle:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)
And so it is that through “various trials” your faith will be tested, and that as a result your faith will end in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” These trials Peter did not realize at the time, but later came to understand the fullest sense of the meaning (both spiritually and physically) of Christ’s command to “take up your cross.”
But let us also learn by Peter’s example not to be arrogant about the trials we face in the future. Who are you boasting in, truly? Is it Christ, or is it your own experience when you say “I’ve been there and done that; I can handle it!” It is a great truth that through trials we can have confidence that Christ will never leave us or forsake us. Indeed, no power or tragedy can come between us and our Lord Jesus (Romans 8:31-39), and yet let us not spit into the wind and foolishly and arrogantly face the unknown in the power of our flesh.
As J.C. Ryle says, “Like Peter, we may think we can do wonders for Christ, and like Peter, we may learn by bitter experience that we have no power at all.”
It is instructive at this point for us to listen to Luke’s account of what Peter said:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” (Luke 22:31-35 ESV)
If you feel as though you can carry the cross of the Lord on your own, and do not stop to pray or saturate yourself in the word for the renewal of your mind and heart, you will indeed have no armor of God to protect you from the Evil One and He will “sift you like wheat”!
And so it is that through trials we are tested, and proven true. Thanks be to God for the testing of our faith, that we might know He is truly with us and watching over us.
Why Peter Could Stand, and Why We Can Stand
As we turn to examine Peter’s denial some more, we have to ask the question: what is the difference between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal? And what kept Peter from being caught up in utter shame and despondency after it was over? Well there are significant differences between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal. First, Peter didn’t intentionally and methodically betray Jesus. He fell into sin, but didn’t hatch a plot. Peter was a true believer, Judas was not. These are the foundational differences I believe.
But there is still another, that is significant and one I want to draw some attention to now. Namely, once the deed was done, why is it that Peter was not completely ruined and anathematized, as it were, from Christ? Simply this: Christ prayed for him. It is the sovereign intercessory work of Christ that keeps the feet of Peter from being forever caught in the net of Satan.
The next thing we ought to notice is that in Luke’s gospel Jesus says, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Later in John we read Christ say this as He’s praying to the Father, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:14-17 ESV)
And so it is both the intercession of Christ’s spoken Word on high on our behalf, and the written word of His Scripture that safeguard His pilgrims!
Look how plainly we are also told by Paul that it is the Word that protects us as a sword to fight the battles that rage around us:
…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:17-18)
And so we stand by power of Christ’s intercession, and have His Word to help fight off the flaming arrows of the Evil One. We stand in the “evil day” because He is standing next to us and has given us armor and sword.
You Will Deny Me
Now as we consider more specifically this final verse, I want us to think for a moment what Peter must have been thinking. I imagine a million thoughts must have rushed through his impetuous mind, and he must have felt Jesus’ statement drop like a bombshell in his heart. So quickly and so fervently had Peter just pledged his every loyalty to Christ, only to be put down in such an odious and embarrassing manner, surely it must have cut him to the quick.
There is a great deal to learn from this, but I want to focus on two things:
- We do for Christ what He has called us to do, not what we want to do
- God who is sovereign over all matters, is sovereign over those which hurt us as well
First, we notice that Peter is overanxious to do what he feels is necessary. He is ready to die, or to go to prison (as some other gospels record). And there is at least some truth to this, for as Morris points out, “His use of the sword in the garden shows that he was ready in certain circumstances to face death boldly. There was truth as well as error in his words. But he was not ready to stand for Jesus when all seemed lost. That demanded a different brand of courage and devotion.” But the lesson here is plain: we must not be so impetuous to die for Christ if that is not what He has called us to do. He wants obedience more than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22; PS/ 40:6-8; Prov. 21:3). We must be obedient to His calling, and bear the cross He has given to us not to someone else. And you can only know what that calling is through diligent time spent in His word, because it is there that the Spirit speaks to you and you become convicted of what you must obey. This is about obedience, I’m afraid. But the beauty of obedience is that when we love Christ, and are walking in the Spirit, obedience is a lot easier. In fact, God’s will seems a lot more clear when we’re in step with the Spirit.
We must not seek to gratify the flesh and take on the calling of someone else simply because it seems to be the grand and noble thing to do. For Christ only minutes later would tell the group the following:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
It may be that you’re not called to preach but to clean. It may be that you’re not called to clean but to evangelize. It may be that you are called to lead a small group or a Bible study, but not yet. Too often we mistake our own passions for the will of God. We frequently want something so badly that we project those feelings onto what we read in Scripture. We must be careful not to rush headlong into something unless we have tested it, prayed about it, sought counsel from godly people about it, and truly have a peace about the way forward.
Peter was a sort of traitor here, not to the level of Judas, for he didn’t mean to betray Jesus, but he did deny Him in utter cowardice nonetheless. But if you think about it, we are all traitors against God’s law, are we not? This is what R.C. Sproul called “Cosmic Treason” because we have all sinned against the God of the universe. For instance, consider these passages:
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (Colossians 1:21-22)
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10 ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Yet He has chosen some of us traitors to be His children. Though we still continue to fall – if Peter call fall, certainly we can also – He still welcomes us to His cross and His throne. He reminds us that there is no righteousness we have to earn in order to be welcomed into His family – He has already done that for us. That’s the measure of His love for us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
And so I want to conclude by listening to Christ’s own words, which drip with such mercy and love that their beauty cannot be denied. Because He has interceded for us, like Peter, we can rest in His work and His love:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-21, 24-26)