Before going into today’s subject matter, some of you might be interested in my previous posts for Good Friday:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Readers might find this an odd theme for Good Friday, but I have read three pastors’ studies of events leading up to and during the Crucifixion and noticed an unusual word common to all of them.

That word is ‘trust’.

In my recent post on Judas, I cited the Revd P G Mathew’s sermon, ‘The Failure of Materialism’. Mr Mathew says (emphases mine):

Judas’ confession was not like the true confession of David found in Psalm 51 or the true confession of the prodigal son that we read about in Luke 15. No, the confession of Judas was like that of Pharaoh recorded in Exodus 9:27 and 10:16, when Pharaoh told Moses he had sinned. It was like the confession of Saul to Samuel when he was caught. In 1 Samuel 15:24 and 30, Saul told Samuel “I have sinned.” But the truth is, this was confession without the forsaking of sin. It was confession without turning to God in faith. It was confession without godly sorrow, without trusting in God and asking for the forgiveness of sins

Judas did not trust in Christ. He never exhibited the true repentance demonstrated by David, Peter, or the dying thief on the cross, who trusted in Christ, was gloriously saved, and died in faith. We must realize that this true repentance, which Judas failed to experience, is a gift from God … 

A fool is one who wastes all of his life to amass cold cash that will only leave him cold and empty. The Bible is full of examples of materialists. Achan trusted in money but it failed him. Joshua confronted Achan with his sin, and in Joshua 7:20-21 we read, “Achan replied, ‘It is true!’” Here Achan is demonstrating remorse, not repentance …

I am against trusting in money instead of trusting in God. Like Lot’s wife, Judas is a warning to all of us. Money did not save Judas. Money did not save Achan. Money did not save Balaam. Money did not save Demas. Money did not save the rich young ruler.

A little over a year ago, the Revd David Kautt of Northwest Christian Church in McKinney, Texas,  preached a sermon ‘The Generous, Faithful, Compassionate and Saving God’. (I hope that he, his family and congregation were kept safe during the recent tornadoes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.)

Mr Kautt’s sermon discusses Christians who are undergoing personal trials causing them inner pain.

Is there something God’s people need when they are hurting? And, is there somewhere they can go to find that something? …

It is God’s generous nature that comforts us in the day of trouble! The psalmist said it like this in Psalm 37:25, “I was young, and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread!” It is God’s generous nature that encourages God’s people when they are wounded and weary. Psalm 34:8-10, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed it the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him! The young lions lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord shall not lack ANY good thing!” …

Look at Jesus’ life the last few hours of His life, before He died on Calvary’s cross, who helped Him as He wrestled with the thought of drinking the cup of God’s wrath poured out on Him because of our sins? Did the disciples help Him? No! They were snoring there in Gethsemane! Did Judas help Him? No! He was off plotting and pulling together Jesus’ betrayal! So, who helped Him? Luke 22:43 – Scripture says that His Father, the faithful God of heaven, helped Him by sending His angel to strengthen Him!

Or, what about His trials before the Sanhedrin, before Herod, and before Pilate? Who helped Jesus through all of that? Peter didn’t help Him. In fact, 3 times he denied he even knew Jesus! What kind of help is that? What about the other disciples? They were long gone, saving their own skinsWho helped Jesus as He [hanged] there in agony, on that cruel Roman cross? The very same faithful and true God to whom Jesus said, “Father into Your hands I commit My spirit!”

… People of God, it is your God’s great faithfulness, His absolute truthfulness and trustworthiness that shall comfort you in your time of distress! It is! And, it is God’s great faithfulness and truthfulness that calls you to be faithful! Psalm 50:14 – “Offer to God sacrifices of thanksgiving and pay your vows – fulfill your promises to the Most High!” Read 2 Timothy again sometime, and be careful to observe how both sides of that marvelous equation – God’s faithfulness AND the faithfulness of God’s people – are played out in the final days of the apostle Paul’s life!

John MacArthur also mentions ‘trust’ in one of his sermons on Good Friday, ‘Jesus’ Unjust Trial, Peter’s Shameful Denial’. He takes for his text John 18:12-27:

Jesus Faces Annas and Caiaphas

 12So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

Peter Denies Jesus

 15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves.Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

The High Priest Questions Jesus

 19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Peter Denies Jesus Again

 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

Before we get to John MacArthur, remember what Peter said in John 13:36-38:

36Simon 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.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Jesus 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.

Peter was sure that he could handle the challenges which were looming just a few hours from the time he made that statement. It was a plea — he almost begged to follow Jesus. Yet, when the big moment came, Peter bailed out.

Jesus knew that most of the disciples were not ready for what was coming. In addition to Peter’s plea to follow Jesus, we also read what Thomas, Philip and Jude said in John 14. After three years, they were still infants in the faith.

Incidentally, only the Apostle of Love, John, the author of this gospel, was at the foot of the Cross.  A reminder for Church complementarians: John was there with three women (John 19:25-26) — Jesus’s mother Mary, Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdalene (from whom Jesus had previously cast out several demons). Where were the other men, especially the apostles with whom Jesus had spent the last three years?

To begin with this passage of John 18, I explained (with the help of another John MacArthur sermon) more on Caiphas here. MacArthur describes Annas, who oversaw the sales of animals for sacrifice in the Temple, as corrupt and despised:

… at least one Passover time had a quarter of a million sacrificial lambs. That’s a lot of money. That’s quite a business. And Annas had made his money on extortion. In fact, the whole temple ground became known … that area became known as The [Bazaar] of Annas.” And he ran it. In fact, the Jews themselves hated Annas. They hated him. The Talmud … says about Annas … : “Woe to the house of Annas. Woe to their serpent’s hiss. They are high priests. Their sons are keepers of the treasury. Their sons‑in‑law guardians of the temple and their servants beat the people with staves.” They had a monopoly going. They had … they were in control of everything. So the Talmud gives us an indication of the Jewish hatred of Annas and his house.

Now, to add to that problem, not only was he the brains behind the whole scene, guess who had twice messed up his operation? None other than Jesus who when He began His ministry went in there and chased everybody out and evidently did it again at the close of His ministry. This did not make Him very popular with Annas. So naturally if they wanted to get an indictment of Jesus, they would go to Annas …

Annas hated Jesus because he had been hit right where it hurts, in the moneybag. He hated Jesus because Jesus represented to him something threatening the security of his office, even as he did to Caiaphas who was scared that Jesus was going to take over, start a revolution and Caiaphas would lose his job. He was purely a paid politician, paid by the Romans.

Now to Peter’s first denial of Jesus to the servant girl in verse 17. Peter trusted in his own ability to be loyal to Jesus, but as we all know from our own experience, human ability is fallible. We are drawn to temptation and open to Satan’s influence.

Earlier in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10):

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

Jesus subsequently healed the man’s ear and ordered that the violence stop (Luke 22:51).

Overcome with overconfidence, Peter followed Jesus and another disciple to the Court of the High Priest. Scholars are divided on who this disciple was, but he knew the High Priest and was admitted with Jesus.

Peter, who had no such connection, had to wait outside until he was cleared for admittance.  The servant girl probably had some time to scrutinise him and when the disciple brought him into the entrance, she asked Peter if he, too, followed Jesus.

Peter instantly became vulnerable and started questioning his own resolve. So, it wasn’t long at all before he caved in and denied knowing Jesus.  He was going to follow Jesus to the end, but he couldn’t now because he had taken the easy way out by lying. He couldn’t go back on it, because word would have spread that one of Jesus’s disciples had lied — which would have reflected similarly (and badly) on Jesus.

MacArthur advises:

… take the lesson, it’s all there. If you’re not really trusting in God at every moment, you’ll get shot down on the little thing that you don’t even expect. You get that kind of self‑confidence and that kind of smugness that says -‑ I can handle this deal, I’m looking forward to this, and I can make it through that … I’ve got it all figured out how I’m going to handle that and not get tempted. And then on the way something happens and tears you up because you’re confiding, in the flesh, you see. And you’re strengthening yourself in the flesh and the trust that you need in the Lord is a moment by moment thing.

Now if Peter had trusted Jesus, he would have a) been patient about his destiny (John 13:36), b) he would never have cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear and c) he would not have lied, enabling him to be right where he wanted to be — standing close to our Lord.

After that first denial, Peter’s bravado left him. He no doubt felt uncomfortable on several levels. Physically, he was cold in the very early hours of the morning. His guilt about having proclaimed to Jesus that he wanted to go wherever He went just hours before followed by a denial of any connection with  Him no doubt aggravated his physical discomfort. He would find no relief from his guilt, because as long as he was around the Court of the High Priest, he would have to maintain his lie.

Because he was feeling chilly, Peter then went to warm himself by the fire shared by the servants and officers of the Court of the High Priest.  He was mingling with the enemy.

Peter comes in for a lot of criticism from Protestant theologians, but as MacArthur said above, we can learn from this episode. How many times have we relied too much on our own self-confidence only to stumble, sometimes spectacularly? With more trust in Jesus and imitation of His example, we can avoid these pratfalls more often.

Jesus bailed Peter out in Gethsemane but He didn’t this time. Perhaps we fall when we’re in a similar state of mind to Peter’s at that moment. Perhaps these are providential exercises in humility — not punishments but lessons to bear in mind for the future.

I’ll return to this in a moment. First, let’s look at verses 19 through 24, where Annas, the high priest in this passage, questioned Jesus about His doctrine. Jesus replied that He has preached openly in synagogues and in the Temple. This is significant, because when a religious teacher says something unorthodox, he is normally banished from houses of worship and forced to go into an open-air setting. We saw this example in my posts about non-conformists and pietists. The established churches forced them out of town into fields and hillsides.

Jesus invited Annas to question people who heard Him preach to find out more. Then a strange thing happened: one of the officers struck Jesus, accusing Him of disrespect before the high priest. Jesus pointed out that if what He said is false, then the officer should have explained why.

MacArthur unpacks what happened and observes that Annas should have ensured Jesus had reliable witnesses:

Maimondides, the great Jewish medieval scholar said: “Our true law does not inflict the penalty of death upon a sinner by his own confession.” That was part of Jewish law. And Roman law agreed with that as well. They had to have witnesses. He did not have to prove Himself innocent; they had to prove Him guilty. So Annas violated the principles of Jewish justice when he questioned Jesus. But that was nothing different ’cause the whole thing was illegal anyway. And he wanted Jesus to say He was training His disciples for a revolution, or He was teaching heresy. Either way they’d get Him.

Then he explains why Jesus responded the way He did:

You see, they wanted to get the trial over with in the middle of the night when there weren’t any witnesses. Now sooner or later they came up with some and they were false witnesses … And Jesus is not being uncooperative, He’s simply says ‑- I want a legal trial, why don’t you do it right?

You say -‑ Well, did He expect to get a legal trial? No, but He just wanted to make it clear from the very beginning that it was illegal so when it was all over the guilt would be theirs and it would be true what is said that He was hated without a cause. And He was crucified in innocence in a mockery of a trial. And Jesus wants us to be aware of that, to know that.

So, the whole thing was a plot with no evidence. And Jesus really left Annas nonplussed, unable to proceed, with egg on his face. He turned the tables and Annas doesn’t know what to say. This isn’t legal, Annas.

As to the officer’s striking Jesus, MacArthur surmises that he was no doubt an ambitious man who wanted to be a big shot and get a promotion. Nonetheless, not only was it extremely cruel but also quite illegal:

Now, it’s interesting that the word rhapisma, which is the word for “struck with the palm of the hand,” also can be translated “struck with a stick.” And since it is evident that the temple police carried sticks or clubs, it is more likely that he hit Jesus across the side of the face with a club. Again, this was illegal. Not only unkind and ruthless but illegalnever to strike a prisoner. But he hit Him with a club. But there’s something even wonderful about that … Micah 5:1, these words: listen to this, “They shall smite the Judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.” Perfect fulfillment. Do you think that guy knew what he was doing? Fulfilling prophecy. And I love the fact that Micah calls Him the Judge of Israel. They didn’t know it. Annas was sitting up there playing judge butwho was [the] real judge? Jesus Christ.

Back to Peter’s second and third denials, which occurred in rapid succession (verses 25-27). These took place when Peter stood with those connected with the Court of the High Priest. As soon as Peter uttered his third denial, the cockerel crowed. It all unfolded just as Jesus had foreseen in John 13:38.

Luke 22:61-62 tells us:

61And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62And he went out and wept bitterly.

How awful.

Yet, Peter repented and became a great apostle and martyr. We can learn from that, too!

Ending where we entered — here are a few closing words on trust from John MacArthur:

Number one, his problem all began ‑‑ self-confidence. I can make it on my own. I don’t need a daily prayer life. I don’t need a daily time with God. I don’t need a daily time in the Word. I don’t need that, I can make it. I mean, I’ve been around a long time in this Christian deal, I mean, I’m a disciple. I can hack it in the world … And wham! First mistake.

Not only self‑confidence but the second big tragedy in the life of Peter was unpreparedness. He wasn’t ready … He thought he was big stuff, he was little stuff, he was no stuff.

And the third thing, he wound up standing with Christ’s enemies … How many Christians have you know that’s happened in their life? How many times in your life? You started to think you’d arrived spiritually, Satan moved in, tempted you, next thing you knew you woke up one day and you were standing with Christ’s enemies and things were all backwards. That was Peter. That’s exactly the pattern of backsliding. And that’s happened to so many Christians and then they come back to the church or they come to see the pastor or they come to see somebody and they say, “Oh, my life’s all fouled up, I don’t know what happened, I got into this and I got into that. What went wrong?” And you go back and you say ‑You started out by thinking you could make it on your own so you moved into the world, you weren’t ready, you got shot down, you wound up standing with sinners and that’s where you’ve been.

If you’re reading this and you’re in a world of pain wondering why you believe and feel no relief, please think about the matter of trust and ask our Lord for His help. Allow yourself to confide in and rely on Him.

It’s a matter of faith — and trust.