Andy Stanley - Can God Really Forgive Me?
Well, here's something that we all have in common. We all have those embarrassing moments in the past that were so embarrassing in the moment that we were embarrassed. And then a month later, six months later, years later, we can tell those stories in public and laugh about it. For example, when I proposed to Sandra, actually she's still laughing about this, and I'm still getting over it. When I proposed to Sandra, she said I was white as a sheet, and I was so nervous that, when I asked her to marry me, she said, and I quote, "You know, you don't have to do this". And I was mortified in the moment. But of course, we can laugh about it now.
And we all have those moments, right? Things that we look back on and we laugh about. Then, the other thing we have in common is, there are things in our past that are so humiliating and so shameful that not only do we not laugh about it, we never speak of it, and we don't even like to think about it, moments in our past that we would all like to go back and unlive or redo. And the interesting thing about where we're going today is that Simon Peter had one of these. And the reason we know Simon Peter had one of these is because he told us about it. And the reason he told us about it is because he wants you to know, and he wants me to know, and he wants us to know that there is a place to take all of that stuff.
There is a safe place to take all of that stuff and leave it. We can take what's shameful, and we can take what's painful, and we can leave it somewhere safe. He wants us to know that our past may always remind us, but our past does not have to define us. So here's the good news. If you're carrying around some shameful and some painful stuff, I cannot tell you how glad I am that you've joined us today. We're actually in part seven of our series, You're Not Far. It's a story that should have died in Nero's Rome, but it didn't, it actually survived. It's the story of Jesus of Nazareth as told by Simon Peter, as dictated to and edited by John Mark.
And as we've said throughout this series, Peter's story comes to us as the gospel of Mark. And eventually, this first-century document was collected with the other three gospels, along with the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter's writings, along with the Jewish scripture, combined, and it comes to us as the Bible. But what's so important about this series, and especially about today's message, is this. Please don't hear me reading from the Bible. And here's why I say that. Because Mark wasn't writing the Bible. Mark was simply documenting Peter's experience with Jesus of Nazareth. And Peter tells us through Mark that, when Jesus began to preach and teach, he had a single theme that he went back to over and over and over and over.
And the single theme was simply this. The time has come that something new has come to planet earth, that the kingdom of God has come near, which means you are never far. And the appropriate response is to repent and to believe this good news. And the good news, and this is so important for where we're going today, the good news that Jesus preached over and over and over, and the reason Peter was convinced it was good news, the good news was not that I've come to die for your sins so you can go to Heaven someday. The good news was this. I have come to earth so that you could know what God is like. I have come to earth to reinterpret for you what your heavenly father is like.
It was one thing to believe that Jesus came from God, but the most difficult thing for Peter to believe, the most difficult thing for first-century Judeans to believe, perhaps the most difficult thing for you to believe, is that God, the father, is like Jesus. Jesus said it this way. If you've seen me, you've seen the father. Jesus also said no one has seen the father at any time. Jesus said, if you've seen me, you have seen the father. And perhaps the reason you've had such a hard time with faith, perhaps the reason you walked away from faith as a teenager or a college student, or maybe even recently, is that you didn't understand the message of Jesus. And it was so much more than you can go to Heaven when you die. The message of Jesus was this. I have come to reveal the father. If you wanna know what God is like, keep your eyes on me.
Now, previously on You're Not Far, Jesus and his disciples have made their way from Caesarea Philippi, through Galilee, through Judea, and they end up in the city of Jerusalem. And he spends about a week in the city of Jerusalem disturbing the peace. Now, the disciples were hoping, once they got there, they would make friends because they needed friends in Jerusalem. But instead, Jesus would go to the temple day after day after day and say the strangest things and teach the strangest things. And the religious leaders would try to trap Jesus. And over and over and over, he would humiliate them with their own words. And then finally, he gathers with the 12 for a Passover meal.
The 12 assume, hey, this is gonna be the big reveal. He's gonna tear off his rabbinic robes, and there's gonna be a big M, you know, he's the Messiah. He's gonna establish himself as the king. They're gonna establish a brand new kingdom. And Jesus reveals something, okay, but it's not at all what they expected. In fact, we talked about this last time. Here was the big reveal. As they settled down for the Passover meal, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and then he gave it to each of the disciples, and then he said the strangest thing. He said, "Take it, this is my body". Then, in the same way, he took the cup. And when he had given thanks, he gave it to them. And after they all drank from it, he smiles and he says, "And by the way, this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many".
A covenant between God and everybody. But they were thinking, yeah, a covenant's fine, but what about the kingdom? We thought you were a king. And it turns out there wouldn't be a kingdom. They leave that upper room, you'll remember this. They go to the garden of Gethsemane. Judas shows up with the temple henchmen, the temple soldiers. They arrest Jesus. And then Peter, I'm sure Mark tried to a talk him out of revealing this detail. Peter tells us that, when Jesus was arrested, that everybody including Peter deserted him and fled. And this was understandable because it was over. He was clearly no king. There would be no kingdom. It was obvious in that moment that, in spite of what Jesus had taught, the kingdom of God wasn't near, and God certainly wasn't near.
Now, what happens next is fascinating. And Peter gives us all kinds of detail about Jesus's trials. He talks about who was there, what they said, how they went back and forth. And if you're a shrewd Bible reader, you might find yourself asking the question, how in the world did Peter or Mark know what went on in the privacy of these conversations between the high priest, the chief priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, and Jesus. And here's how they discovered what happened. Later on, some of the very same men who prosecuted Jesus and some of the very same Pharisees that tried to trap Jesus with his own words, they became Jesus's followers.
In fact, in the book of Acts, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, some of these men show up in the story, and they're Jesus followers, to which we should ask the question, how in the world is it that some of the very men who are responsible for having Jesus arrested and tried and ultimately crucified, how is it that they became followers of Jesus? And my answer to that is, don't miss next week. So here's what happened. They took Jesus after they arrested him in the garden. They took him to the high priest. And all the chief priests and elders and teachers of the law came together. These are groups of people that never got along, but in Jesus, they found a common foe. And Peter tells us that he actually followed at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest, and there he sat down with the guards, the very guards that had arrested Jesus, and he warmed himself by the fire.
Now, as he begins to tell this part of the story, I'm imagining this. I think Mark says to Peter, "Okay, Peter, are you sure you wanna tell this part of the story"? You realize that we don't know who's gonna read this. We don't know how far and wide this is gonna spread. Are you sure you wanna tell this part of your story? And I think Peter would have said this. Of course I wanna tell it. I was no hero. In fact, that night, there were no heroes. The chief priests, the text continues, and the whole Sanhedrin, their supreme court, were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they couldn't find any. And they brought in all of these witnesses, and many of these witnesses testified falsely against Jesus, but their statements didn't even line up.
And eventually, the high priest kind of loses his temper. He realizes they are getting nowhere with this. And he gets right up in Jesus's face, and here's what he says. He says, "Are you not going to answer"? I mean, "Are you not going to respond? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you"? But Jesus remained silent, and he gave no answer. And this just drives them crazy, and here's why. These were the most powerful men in the city. These were the most powerful men in the nation. When they walked through a crowd, when they walked through a town, people parted ways. They were usually so respected. And to find this Nazarene day laborer who would not give them the respect they do and wouldn't even answer their questions, they just didn't know what to do with Jesus.
Again, the high priest gets up in his face and asks him, come on, "Are you or are you not the Messiah? Are you the son of the Blessed One"? And this was a significant moment in history, and here's why. Because Jesus's destiny hung in the balance of his answer to this question. And I think Peter would say this. Not only did Jesus's destiny rest in the balance of how he answered this question. Peter would say, "My destiny did as well". And then, I think he would say, and your destiny as well. And Jesus answered, and here's what he said. I am, I am. And he condemned himself with his own words. The high priest, the high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses", he said. "You have heard the blasphemy from his very lips. What do you think"? And they all condemned Jesus as worthy of death.
And then, some began to spit on him. They blindfolded him, and they struck him with their fists. And again, if we could pause in this moment and not allow this to be some sort of a literature that we read, but if we could pause in this moment and feel what was going on in this room, it is so unnatural, it is so horrible. It's the part of the story of Jesus that we pass over too quickly. But for minutes, maybe a half an hour, maybe more than an hour, they basically just beat Jesus. And all this pent up rage, and all this pent up anger, all the humiliation they had faced at his words, it all came out, and they all wanted a piece of Jesus. They struck him with their fists, and they said, "Prophesy", and the guards took him, and they beat him. And then, before Peter can begin the next part of the story, I think maybe one more time, Mark leans in and says, "Okay, Peter, this is your last opportunity. Are you sure you wanna tell this part"? And Peter would say, "Yeah, people need to know".
They need to know how far and wide the grace and mercy of our heavenly father is. They need to understand that, not only did Jesus come to reveal God, that God is like Jesus. And the mercy and the grace I receive from my Rabbi is the mercy and grace of God. "Because after all", Peter would say, "I did the unthinkable. I committed the unpardonable. While he was being interrogated, while he was being beaten, I did nothing, worse than nothing. I sat and warmed myself by a fire". And then Peter says, "So Mark, let's tell the story". While I was sitting there, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. And when she saw me warming myself by the fire, Mark says that she looked closely at Peter.
She leaned in, and then she said, "You also, you also were with that Nazarene Jesus", she said. But Peter denied it. And Peter says, "I got up, and I stepped away from the fire so that my face wasn't so recognizable. And this young girl, she followed me". And again, she said, standing around, to the people standing around, "This fellow, he is, he is one of them". And Peter said, "And I denied it again". And then, all the people standing around the fire began to stare at me. And they said, "Surely you are one of them. We can tell by your accent, you're a Galilean". And Peter said, in that moment, I began to call down curses. And I swore to them that I did not know this man. "I do not know this man you're talking about".
And in that moment, a rooster crowed. And in that moment I remembered that Jesus had predicted I would do this very thing. And then, Mark writes these words, because this is what Peter said happened. And Peter, Peter the rough-and-tough fisherman, broke down and he wept. And this would be the moment, like we all have those moments. This would be the moment that he would give anything to be able to go back and unlive and redo. Now, after this, Jesus was taken to Pilate. And as you may know, the reason they had to take Jesus to Pilate was because the Jews didn't have the authority to execute anyone. And this drove them crazy because it was a reminder that they did not even have control over their own nation. But Pilate, he loved these moments. He loved it when the Jews had to come to him for a favor.
So they take Jesus to Pilate to get permission to have him executed. The chief priest accused him in front of Pilate of many things. And so Pilate asked Jesus once again, "Aren't you going to defend yourself"? But Jesus made no reply. And Pilate, Pilate was amazed. And the reason he was amazed, because this was the moment when a man would drop to his knees and grovel and beg for mercy, not beg to be released, beg for mercy to have a merciful, quick death. And Jesus says nothing. But Pilate knew that Jesus hadn't done anything worthy of death. So he takes Jesus, and he has him flogged, thinking that, if he brings him out battered and bruised and bloody, perhaps he would perish from the fact that he'd been flogged anyway, he thinks that's gonna be enough for the people. But it's not. They wanted him dead.
So Pilate asked, "Okay, then what shall I do? I've had him beaten, I've had him flogged. He may die anyway. What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews"? And of course this was a dig, because the Jews did not consider him their king. And the crowd had been stirred up by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees and the high priest, and they shouted, "Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him". As you know, Pilate decided to give the crowd what they wanted. And the soldiers led him away. And they called together the whole company of soldiers.
Now, it's important to know who these soldiers are. These were not Roman legions. These were not Roman citizens. We know from history that Pilate had around him what they called Roman auxiliaries. These were men, these were soldiers, taken from the surrounding regions. And the surrounding regions hated the Judeans. And the idea of a Judean king was disgusting to them. And this explains the violence, and this explains the hatred they had toward Jesus. They put a purple robe on his back, and they twisted together a crown of thorns. And they set it on his head. And then, they began to shout and to call out, "Hail, king of the Jews".
And again, they struck him on the head with a staff, and they spit on him. And then, when they had mocked him, when they were finished with him, they took off that purple robe and they put his own clothes back on that bloody, beaten back. And then, they took Jesus to the hill. They took Jesus to Golgotha. And then, a simple line that for first-century men and women meant so much, that to us means virtually nothing, "And then they crucified him". No details are given because no details were needed in the first century. Everybody that heard Peter's story for those 30 years that he told the story, and everybody that would read the gospel of Mark in the first and second century had already seen one. They had seen the aftermath of one. They didn't need the details. They knew what crucifixion was all about.
And even in our modern portrayals, there's a sense in which we glamorize it, in some sense we almost romanticize it. We sand off the rough edges because it would be too gruesome to show. But here's what we know for certain. In that moment, when God was most glorified, we would have been most horrified. In that moment, when God was doing for you and doing for me the unthinkable, the unimaginable, we would have turned our faces, and we would have looked away. But not the crowd. The crowd wasn't finished. The story continues. "So", they said, as they watched Jesus hanging from the cross, "You who were going to destroy the temple and then build it back in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself". And then they said something they had no idea how significant this statement was.
And as Peter stood in the back of the crowd, he had no idea how significant this next statement was. Here's what they shouted. They said, "He saved others. He saved others, but he can't save himself". And 30 years later, as Peter recounts this story to Mark, he must have smiled because, looking back, with the advantage of hindsight, he understood this. Jesus's desire to save others was precisely why he didn't save himself. Or to say it this way, if he had saved himself, he would have been unable to save others. If he had saved himself that day, he would have been unable to save me. If he had saved himself that day, he would have been unable to save you. But they weren't finished. Let this Messiah, this false Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and that we may believe.
And I think Peter must have thought, as again he remembered those days and he told the story so many times, that they, as he stood in the back of the crowd, he had no idea how significant these words were. I mean, see and believe. The truth was, what he would see two days later was why he continued to believe 30 years later. And then Peter tells us the strangest thing happened. This very man who had spoken to the wind and the waves and had the ability to control nature in that moment became a victim of nature. At noon, darkness came over the whole land. And at three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "My God, my God". And then he asked a question that no one in the moment had an answer for. "Why have you forsaken me"? But as Peter tells this story 30 years later, he knows the answer. He knows why the father forsook the son.
In fact, in a letter he had written to Christians a few years earlier, Peter gives us the answer to the question. Why did God forsake the son? Here's how Peter answered that question. He wrote this. He himself, speaking of Jesus, he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross. That's why. God placed your sin and my sin and Peter's sin on Jesus. The father withdrew from the son so that the father could draw near to us. The father withdrew from the son so that the father could draw near to you, so that you would never be far. But in the moment when this took place, nobody understood that. Jesus died alone. And then, Peter says, "I'll never forget". With a loud cry, Jesus, my Rabbi, my friend, breathed his last. And then Peter smiles, and he looks at Mark. And he said, "And the thing is, we didn't know it at the time".
We found out later that, when Jesus breathed his last, something extraordinary happened at the temple. It's like God created a divine visual aid. It was sort of like divine vandalism because in the temple, at that very moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, not from the bottom to the top, but from the top to the bottom. Now, there were two curtains in the temple. One was visible to the public, and one was an interior curtain. And we're not told which one of them was torn from the top to the bottom, but it didn't matter, the point was the same. The old order had come to an end, that something, just as Jesus said, something greater than the temple had come. Something greater than Moses had come. Something greater than the Sabbath had come. Something greater than the prophets had come. Something new, something better, something all-encompassing.
There would be no more separation between God and man. In that moment, the covenant that Jesus talked about at Passover, the covenant between God and the human race had been officially ratified. And everyone was invited to participate in it. And Peter would smile and say, "Even me. Even me who had been so disloyal to my king, even me who did not even deserve to be a part of the kingdom". And then Peter would look at Mark. And if he were here, he would look at you. And he would say, "I got precisely what I did not deserve".
Isn't it interesting that Peter includes himself in this verse? I wanna read it to you one more time. Here's what he wrote. He said he himself bore not your. He said he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross. That Peter includes himself, he includes yourself, and he includes myself. He includes his sin, and Peter includes your sin. And here's the most fascinating thing of all. And I don't want you to miss this. Peter did not learn this from the Bible. Peter experienced this personally. He experienced it face-to-face. He experienced face-to-face forgiveness and restoration in the presence of his resurrected Rabbi and his friends.
And so the message was clear, that same forgiveness, that same reconciliation, that same restoration is available to you. This was indeed good news. This is why the message of Jesus throughout his ministry was so simple. Indeed, the time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. That means you are never far. And I think Peter would tell us, "If you had seen what I saw, if you had experienced what I experienced, you would quickly repent and believe this good news", not simply that Jesus came to earth to die for your sins so that you could go to heaven, but Jesus came to earth to reveal what the father is like.
Once you get a glimpse of Jesus, you have seen the father. And he is a good father. He is a reconciling father. He is a father who says, "I know your past may always remind you, but I want you to know, from my perspective, it does not define you because of what my son did for you on the cross that afternoon". And we will pick up the storyline right there, next time on You're Not Far.