David Jeremiah - Disapproval: The Fear of Rejection
From being the last one picked for a team on the playground, to being overlooked for a promotion, everybody has experienced rejection to some degree and it's never any fun. You see, rejection can make us feel unworthy, even unlovable. Ironically, it's one of the most loved figures in Scripture that can help us put rejection into perspective, the Apostle Peter. Now, wasn't Peter the rowdy, rugged fisherman who himself rejected Jesus denying that he knew him? Certainly, but today we'll see that behind Peter's bluster and bravado was a man crippled by fear. If you've ever tried to mask your fear, you need to see how God can replace and reverse it as we look at Disapproval: The Fear of Rejection.
Humans have a built-in longing for approval. It originates probably in the human psyche where we have embedded the knowledge that we're not what we were created to be, that Romans 3:23 is accurate, that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Believing that we have lost God's stamp of approval, we search everywhere for some affirmation. And the longing for approval is so strong that we spend our lives chasing after it often sacrificing our values and priorities in order to get it. It happens usually, for the first time around, as teens we encounter peer pressure. Then as young adults, it's people pleasing, and we've even invented a new term called co-dependency. But it's all roughly the same thing. In every age group people live in self-imposed slavery to others and their opinions of us. But the Bible has a name for this, the Bible calls it the fear of man, the fear of man.
King Solomon put it very well in a proverb that he wrote. He said in Proverbs 29:25, "The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trust in the Lord shall be safe". In this message today, I want to share with you a biblical character who shows us the danger of fearing man's disapproval. And the person I want to talk with you about is the Apostle Peter. The story of Peter disowning Jesus three times is one of the best known in the Bible, and even is recorded as one of the best-known stories in world literature. By way of summary, here's how it all happened. At Jesus's last supper with his disciples, he predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. And shortly afterward, a band of soldiers and Jewish officials arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and took him to the high priest. Peter, and some of the other disciples, wanted to see what happened and they followed it at a distance.
And he and another disciple were allowed into the high priests' courtyard to await the outcome of Jesus before the high priest. While they waited, three different people asked Peter if he was one of Jesus's disciples and each time, he denied it. After Peter's third denial, a rooster began to crow just as Jesus had predicted and Peter knew that he had done just exactly what Jesus said he would do. Now, Peter's fear you see was rooted in the Jewish leaders' disapproval of Jesus and his followers. He feared that their disapproval could easily result in his own arrest, so he lied and he denied knowing his leader. And the crow of the rooster brought home to Peter what he had done in the Bible says he went out and he wept bitterly. The reality of the fear of disapproval is on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter encountered people representing three different dynamics.
Let's look at how he responded to all of them. These are all very interesting. They're unique and yet Peter shows us what happens when we fear disapproval in every situation. It begins with what we might call an unexpected fear, and John 18:17 has the story. The first person that Peter encountered was a servant girl at the high priest's house who was assigned the task of keeping the door. And she brought Peter into the courtyard and she asked him, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you"? And caught off guard Peter just mumbled the first thing that came to his mind he said, "I am not, I am not". Peter's unexpected fear is a warning. Decide in advance what you believe. Decide in advance who you are loyal to so that when you are under pressure, you don't have to stop and consider what to do, you already know what to do. It's embedded in your soul. It was kind of an unexpected fear. And then the next one is sort of an understandable fear.
Again, in the 18th chapter of John we're told the story. After leaving the servant girl, Peter moved quickly to disappear into a group of servants and officers who had made a fire of coals in the high priests' courtyard. John 18:18, "And Peter stood with them and warmed himself". This group was already in place when Peter showed up. He didn't know any of these people, obviously. He had no relationships with any of them, he just sort of nonchalantly and unobtrusively stood around the fire sort of to disappear among the group, but he hadn't been there for but a moment. And verse 25 tells us that someone said, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you"? And fear came over Peter, and he lied a sec at time denying his association with Jesus. Peter was caught in the classic peer pressure of one person being intimidated by a group.
That person said, "You are not also one of his, are you"? And I see Peter looking around at all the eyes that are staring at him, not one of them friendly toward him, and he said, "I am not". Flashback to your junior high school days. You're in a social setting with kids from your school, and they offer you a cigarette, or some alcohol, or even a pill. And you hesitate and then the pressure starts, "What are you afraid? Hey, look, it's mama's boy, Mr. Goody Two Shoes. It's probably past your bedtime, kid. Maybe you should call your mommy to come and get you". And so it goes, on that moment hangs everything you've wanted since you were in the second grade, respect, inclusion, acceptance, and status. If you say yes, you're in. And if you say no, there will be no more invitations to any parties to come your way. And all of us are kind of shaking our heads up and down because we remember that. We know what that was like.
Now, the third time is the one that makes the most sense in many respects, but for you to understand this, I have to give you a little background to it. This is what we'll call an unsurprising fear. Once again, it's also in John chapter 18, but let me set the stage for what happened. The third accusation against Peter seems to have been the most threatening and the least surprising. It gives us another window into the nature of fear. Now, if you remember, when the Jewish leaders came to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, they came with soldiers, and Peter wasn't afraid then. He took out his sword and he cut off the right ear of one of the servants. The man's name was Malchus, servant of the Jewish high priest. And he rebuked Peter and he told Peter to put his sword away, and then Jesus reached out and healed Malchus's ear.
Now, back to the courtyard of the high priest where Peter's warming himself at the fire and he just become the center of attention when someone suggested that he was one of Jesus's disciples. And for the second time he had said no, but suddenly another high priest's servant became very interested. If you have your Bibles open, this is in verse 26, "One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, 'Did I not see you in the garden with Him?'" Now, Peter knows he is in real trouble. This isn't just an incidental, this isn't some servant girl or a bunch of strangers. Here's a relative, a kinsman of the person who Peter cut the guy's ear off. But once again, Peter had to stick to his lie, and he denied again that he knew Jesus. And verse 27 says, "And immediately, a rooster crowed". And Peter remembered what Jesus had said. He had so buried himself in his lies about Jesus that he couldn't change it.
How many of you know that when you tell one lie, you often have to tell another to cover up the first one and before you know it, you're just telling the same thing over and over again, at least trying to be consistent in your lying? And that was Peter succumbing to the disapproval of men. Now, you all know that story, and I've just kind of given you a refresher on it. But let me go back now and let's take this apart and see if we can discover the reasons why Peter failed and why he succumbed to the fear of disapproval. First thing we notice is that Peter was filled with himself. When we fear others, it's usually because we're too enamored with ourselves.
Here's another interesting thing that comes out of the greater context, he failed to pray. It's interesting that people who depend on themselves usually don't pray because, what is prayer? Prayer is our declaration of dependence. When we pray, what we're saying is, "Lord, I haven't got this all sorted out yet, and I really need you". If we think we've got it all sorted out, we're not very prone to pray. I mean, why would we pray? We don't need God. We got it all together. When we find ourselves fearful of others' disapproval, it may be because we haven't spent enough time in prayer reminding ourselves of our dependence on Christ. Here's the third reason, we function in the energy of the flesh. In Matthew's account of what happened in Gethsemane, we know that Peter was walking in the energy of the flesh because, most obviously, it was demonstrated by his attack on the high priest's servant. Peter wasn't in the spirit when he did that?
You say, "Well, didn't God tell Peter to do it"? Absolutely not. No one in the high priest's party had attacked Jesus. Peter went on the offensive on his own, making an unprovoked attack with a sword. What was he thinking? You see how absurd this is. When Jesus responds, listen, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels," thousands of angels. If I had been Peter, I would have turned beet red with embarrassment. Here I am a lowly fisherman wielding a seldom-used sword trying to defend someone who had legions of angels waiting at his command to strike. Give me a break. Why didn't Jesus call his angels? He didn't call his angels because John 18:36, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight so that I should not be delivered to the Jews".
Here's what Peter was doing, and we do it too. Peter was trying to help God out. He was saying in essence, "I don't think the Father in heaven can take care of the Son on earth so I'm gonna have to intervene and help God". Isn't that what we do sometimes? We see something and we go off half cocked in our own energy, in our own flesh, and we think we're gonna fix it. We don't pray so if we don't pray, we don't have any Word from God so we get in a situation where we could be under pressure, and we just go bull, bull ahead and we get in trouble. That's Peter. That's classic Peter. Here's the fourth thing, we follow Jesus from afar. This is one of the most interesting parts of the story in my estimation. Luke 22:54 says, "Having arrested Jesus, they led him and brought him into the high priest's house, but Peter followed at a distance".
Now, what's going on here, class, is this, Peter was following afar. He was a follower of Jesus, but not really, not really, let's don't go too far with this. If we're not careful, we follow Jesus afar off, and then number five, we find our fellowship in the wrong place. He had, in so many ways, switched sides. Because of his fear of what they might do to him, because of what they had done to Jesus, he's over here on their side trying to make peace with them so that the same thing that's going to happen to Jesus doesn't happen to him. And so, it's a reminder to us that who we hang out with usually has something to do with how we function. If you can hang out with people that don't know the Lord and be called and strong in your testimony so that they know who you are from the outset, then you have a chance. But if you don't allow that to happen, you will be victimized. Those are the realities of the fear of disapproval and some of the reasons for it.
I want to finish up with some resolutions to help us get on the other side of it. And there's an act three to all of this. The Bible tells us in John 21 that Jesus went after Peter, and he met him and the other disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And it was there that Peter discovered this good news, that even though he had miserably failed the Lord in the test of loyalty, it was possible to be restored. And here's what Jesus did for Peter and what he can do for us, replace our fear of others with his approval of us. I want you to know all of us, who at one time or another have been afraid of disapproval and have, in our own way, denied the Lord, all we have to do is come back and ask for forgiveness and the Lord will forgive us. And as we're going to see, he can do more than forgive us, he can change us.
The next thing I noticed that we can do is to replace our fear of others with our love for him. As you read John chapter 21, you read about this interchange between Jesus and Peter and three times in three verses Jesus asked Peter the same question. He says, "Peter, do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me"? And you can almost sense in Peter's responses, he's a little annoyed by it. "Jesus, you know that I love you". Three times he solicited a response from Peter to solidify the relationship that he had with him in love.
Thirdly, replace our fear of others with love for others. When Peter answered the question that he loved to the Lord and he said, "Lord, you know that I love you," Jesus told him to do something again three times. In a little different wording he said, "Tend my sheep, feed my sheep, take care of my sheep". You say, what is that all about? Well, Jesus is saying to Peter, "Now that you've got it straight, now that you know where your loyalty lies, live out your life for others. And when you're so involved in serving God in the lives of other people, you don't have time to be afraid of what they say".
Number four, we can replace our fear of others with faith in him. Jesus now gives Peter a little forecast of his life. The Lord Jesus said, "Peter, I want you to know this, now that you've come through this test, I want you to know life is not gonna be easy for you". He said to him in John 21:18 to 19, "'But Peter, when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish', This Jesus spoke, signifying by what death Peter would glorify God".
And if you know the story, the secular historians tell us how it happened. Peter was arrested, and they crucified him but before he was crucified, he requested that he be hung upside down because he did not believe that he was worthy to be crucified in the same way that Jesus was. He faced a lot of other tests. The Lord Jesus said to Peter, "You're gonna face some challenges". In essence, "In the world, you will have tribulation, but the rest of that is, Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world". After Peter was restored by the Lord and took a new look at what God had called him to do, he was a changed person. With the other disciples, he preached a powerful sermon to the massive crowds in Jerusalem who were gathered on the day of Pentecost. And when he got done, he gave this conclusion to his sermon.
See if this sounds like Peter before or Peter after? Here's what he said, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ". And the Bible says the sermon was so powerful that people came from everywhere, and 3.000 souls were converted on that day. Here's Peter failing because of his fear. And here's Peter excelling because of his faith. And we have to live our lives out in one of the two ways, don't we? We either live in fear, or we live in faith. Here's how it works, if you are in the right fear relationship with God, you need fear no man. If you know who God is and you understand how important he is, and if God has approved you, you don't need anybody else's approval. If God is for us, who can be against us?