Greg Laurie - How To Never Stumble Or Fall
Now you're probably aware that I've written a new book called "Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon". You're thinking, Greg why did you write a book about him? Well, I've always been fascinated with Johnny Cash. I have always liked his music. To me he's kind of a sound all his own. No one is really like him and he's not really like anybody else, but I grew up thinking I was related to Johnny Cash because I lived for a few years with my grandparents while my mom was out living her crazy life. So Charles and Stella McDaniel, and so whenever Johnny Cash got in trouble and he was arrested multiple times my grandfather would say to my grandmother, "Stella, your cousin's in trouble again".
And I thought, "What?! I'm related to Johnny Cash?"! And as it turns out, my grandmother's maiden name was Fowler-Cash and she was from a city in Arkansas not far from where Johnny Cash was born, so maybe I'm a distant, distant cousin you know, but I was aware of him way, way back and then when I became a Christian I realized that Johnny Cash was a Christian as well and of course he sang at many Billy Graham crusades but he was the man in black. He was called by some the godfather of cool. Another called him the voice of America. Chris Christopherson who knew Cash well said "He was like Abraham Lincoln with a wild side". But Johnny got himself into a lot of trouble and Johnny struggled with drug use and drinking and other things throughout his life and there were a lot of up and downs, but he had a deep faith in Christ.
Johnny once said, "Sometimes I'm two people. Johnny is the nice one and Cash causes all my trouble. They fight". Isn't that like a lot of us? Don't we have the dual natures that are constantly fighting? Certainly, Simon Peter had it because his name was Simon and Jesus gave him a new name which was Peter which means rock. He didn't have a new name for all the disciples, but he had a new one for Simon. "Here's your new name, buddy. You're the rock". That's pretty cool. Now Simon didn't always act like a rock. He got himself into trouble but Simon caused him all the trouble and Peter was the good one if you will. So I want to look for a few moments in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John at the steps that led to Peter's fall and how he got back up again. I think in these steps we'll learn about things we want to try to avoid.
Before we come to our first passage, let me sort of set the scene here in Luke 22. Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples. He's headed to the cross. He's told them he's headed to the cross. He's going to break bread with them and tell them to do this in remembrance of him, but before that he has a fascinating conversation with Simon Peter. Luke 22:31 Jesus says, "Simon, Simon, satan has asked to sift you as wheat, but I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail and when you have repented and turned to me again you'll strengthen your brothers". Peter said, "Lord, I'm ready to go to prison with you and even to die with you". Jesus said, "Let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even knew me".
Put yourself in Peter's sandals for a moment. You're just hanging out with Jesus. He's not his normal jubilant self. He seems very serious. Very intense. And then he turns to you and uses your name twice. "Paul, Paul, Cathe, Cathe, Greg, Greg, Cindy, Cindy, satan has been asking that you be taken out of the care and protection of God". Would that freak you out if Jesus said that to you? It'd freak me out, and it's interesting that he says, "Satan has been asking for you". Sometimes we'll say, "You know, the devil has been really hassling me lately. The devil has been tempting me". I seriously doubt most of us listening to this message have been tempted by satan himself. Now understand you were tempted by one of his minions, not those minions, not the cute ones. No. By one of his demons because demons are fallen angels. Satan has a network of fallen angels or demons that do his dirty work etc.
So, you are tempted by satan in effect, but probably not by him directly. You see, the devil is not the equal of God. God is omnipotent, which means all-powerful. Satan, though powerful, has limitations. God is omniscient which means all-knowing. Satan has knowledge but not equal to that of God. God is omnipresent which means present everywhere. The devil can only be in one place at one time, but here is my point. The devil himself came looking for Peter, but Jesus then says, "I, Peter, have prayed for you". And I want you to know that the Bible says Christ lives to make intercession for you at the right hand of the father. Jesus is, in effect, praying for you, so the next time the devil comes knocking at your door, send Jesus to answer it. That's what happened here.
"I prayed for you, Peter that your faith would not fail for when you have returned you'll strengthen your brothers". "Returned? Lord", Peter says, "I'll go to prison for you. I'll die for you". "Well since you brought it up, rock, you're going to deny that you knew me three times". So he warned Peter. That brings us to Peter's first step down and I would say that this particular attitude is at the root of any and every person who has ever fallen away from the faith or any person who has ever stumbled or fallen. I don't care what the particular sin is they're involved in. It always starts here and it's self-confidence. Verse 33 he said, "Lord, I'm ready to go with you to prison and to death". Jesus said, "Peter, the rooster will not crow this day until you deny three times that you knew me". According to Matthew's Gospel, Peter added this detail, "Even if all are made to stumble, I will never be made to stumble".
How did this come up? Jesus said, "One of you is going to betray me, and the one who is dipping with me right now is the one". And they would take their little pieces of bread and dip it into the sauces like we might have chips and salsa. Who likes chips and salsa here? I love chips and salsa. So here they are you know they're having chips and salsa so to speak, and Jesus says, "The guy who's dipping his chip in the salsa is the one who is going to betray me". At that moment Judas has his chip in the salsa. Everyone looks at Judas. He's like... Oh. "Whatever you do, do it quickly", says Jesus. Now he says these other things that Peter says, "They'll all deny you, I'm not a lightweight like Judas and even if these others betray you, i, rock, the guy you gave the new name to, will never betray you".
Be careful now. You look at someone who falls into a sin you'd say, "Pft. I'd never do that. I'd never be unfaithful to my wife. I'd never become an alcoholic. I'd never become a drug addict. I'd never do that thing". Hold on now, buckaroo. You have the capacity to do that and much worse. And it's when we think. I'll never do that, you're trusting in yourself instead of trusting in God. The Bible says, "Pride goes before a fall and an arrogant spirit before destruction". So this simply means that I go through life aware of the fact of my weakness and my vulnerability and my propensity to do the wrong thing. As the old song says, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the one I love".
Self-confidence and that leads to the next step down - prayerlessness. Now, I don't even know if prayerlessness is a word. How many of you think it could be a word? Raise your hand. Okay, we have quorum. It's a word. Prayerlessness, just not praying about things. Look at Luke 22:39, "Coming out he went to the Mount of Olives as he was accustomed and his disciples followed him to the place and he said to them, 'pray that you enter not into temptation'", now this place being referred to by Luke is the Garden of Gethsemane. "As he was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, he knelt down and prayed saying, 'father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done. When he rose from prayer, he came to his disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow. He said, 'why did you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation'".
So this second sin of prayerlessness was a direct result of the first sin of self-confidence. Jesus said specifically, "You guys, you need to pray". And they decided to sleep instead, so they're sleeping when they should have been praying. You know, understand this. Not praying about something can actually be a sin. It's a sin of omission. A sin of commission is doing what you should not do. A sin of omission is not doing what you should do because the Bible says, "To him that knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin".
Well let's see what happens next. So they're in the Garden of Gethsemane. They're sleeping when they should've been praying. Here comes the temple guard and along with them Roman soldiers. They've got swords and spears and shields and torches. And they're coming to arrest Jesus, but Jesus did not necessarily stand out in a crowd. Judas said, "It's the guy that I kiss. That's Jesus". So they're approaching and Jesus says, "Who do you seek"? This is in John's Gospel. They said, "Jesus of Nazareth". He said, "I am he". Now if you have an English Bible, you might notice the word "He" is italicized which means it is not in the original language, so a better translation would be Jesus saying, "Who do you seek"? They say, "Jesus of Nazareth". "I am. I am".
There's power in that statement. It's a claim of deity. It's what God said to Moses at the burning bush. We'll be looking at this together. Moses says, "Who shall I say sent me"? God says, "I am that I am". So in a statement of deity, "I am". And the Bible says they all fell backwards and landing on top of each other like dominos. Torches flying in the air. That shows he could've gotten out of that situation very easily. He could've said, "I am, and you were. Bye". End of story. But he submitted to this and they take him away and he's arrested and he's taken to the house of Caiaphas to be tried.
Now we shift over to John 18. I'm reading from the new living translation starting in verse 15. "Simon Peter followed Jesus as did another of the disciples", that would be the apostle John - the writer of this Gospel. "The other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest's courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The woman asked Peter, 'you're not one of that man's disciples, are you?' 'no,' he said, 'i am not'. Because it was cold, the household servants and the guards had made a charcoal fire. They stood around it, warming themselves, and Peter stood with them, warming himself".
Third step down for Simon Peter. Number one was self-confidence. 2. Prayerlessness. 3. He was keeping his distance from Jesus. He was following at a distance. You've seen those TV shows where they'll show you maybe a lion going in for a kill and lions, you know I have to say, are very cool cats. Okay. I don't dislike all cats. I like big cats and so lions you know they don't waste energy. They sort of lay there in the tall grass and wait for lunch to come and so maybe they'll see a herd of antelope. I don't know if it's a herd of antelope. Everything has a title now. It's a flock of seagulls. They were a band once too. Then there's a murder of crow and there's a pack of dogs and so forth so I don't know what you call a group of antelopes. I'll look that up later. But they're moving together. The antelopes are kind of funny because they're kind of like, they all do the jump. There they are and the lions are saying that's a lot of work to get one of those.
Then there's the one stray antelope following about 20 feet behind. Who do you think the lion is going to go in for the kill on? So, when he looks at a person to take down. Here we are the people of God, worshiping together, serving together, learning together and here are you 20 feet behind. You know, yeah. The person that says, "Do we have to go to church again? Didn't we do that last week? Really? The Bible? Really? Again"? Yes, again! The child of God hungers for these things. The compromiser only does it out of duty or obligation and if no one is encouraging him to do it, they don't do. You're the person following at a distance and you end up in the miserable no man's land of compromise where you have too much of the Lord to be happy in the world, and too much of the world to be happy in the Lord. Don't be that person. Peter is following at a distance.
4. He's warming himself with the enemy's fire. Verse 18, "They stood around this fire warming themselves". He hoped to go unnoticed in the larger crowd. He was with the wrong people at the wrong place about to do the wrong thing. Why does it come as a revelation to people that if you hang around ungodly people, they will pull you down? So you're hanging around the wrong people at the wrong places and next thing you know you're doing the wrong thing. Why? You want to fit in. I want to be cool. I don't want to think I'm some Jesus freak or self-righteous person. Okay. So you're going to do what now? And you find yourself saying and doing things you can't believe you're saying and doing. So here he is at the fire and now a woman asks him, this is his first denial, "You're not one of that man's disciples, are you"? He said, "No, I am not". Whoa! He just did it.
The first thing I would've said if I was Peter is, "Are there any roosters around here? Jesus said something about a rooster". Yeah. What did Jesus specifically say? "You will deny me three times". This is denial number one. Now you would've thought that he would've said hold on. I did the thing I said I would never do. I've got to get out of here. No one was holding him here. He could've escaped if he wanted to, but he did not do it. That leads me to his next step down. Verse 25, "As he was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, 'you're not one of his disciples are you?' he denied it, saying, 'no I'm not.' but one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, 'didn't I see you in the olive grove with Jesus'"?
Now, the word had spread. Everybody knew about what happened there in the Garden of Gethsemane, but here he is still hanging around this fire. Why was he doing it? Simple answer. Write this down. Sin makes you stupid. Doesn't it? Sin makes you stupid. You do things you never thought you would do. You're caught in the vortex of it and here is Peter now. It's his second denial. Why didn't he get out of there? Good question. That brings us to the third denial, and here's something you may have missed between the second and third denial there was a one hour interval - that's a long time. That's plenty of time to get out of there but he stayed there. He's compromised now. He's not thinking rationally and finally someone says to him. "Yes, you were with Jesus, and I know you're one of his disciples because your accent betrays you".
See, Peter was a Galilean and the people in Jerusalem thought of themselves as more sophisticated, so he had a sort of Galilean accent just like we have accents from different areas of the United States. You know, people in Texas they're a little different. They say to me, "You have an accent". I say, "Californians don't have accents. We're like devoid of accents". "No, you have the California accent". Why? Because I don't say, "Hey, how ya'll doing"? Or something like that? I mean. No. You know, oh, you must be from Boston because you just told me you're going to pahk ya cah, right. I was signing books the other day and some lady mentioned she's from New York. I said say the word "Coffee". She said "Cawfee". I said "Exactly". Right so, different ways we speak from different parts of the country. He had the Galilean accent. Hey, man, we know where you're from.
And then we read that Peter began to curse and swear and he took an oath saying, "I never knew the man". Now, when we read "Curse and swear", it does not mean that Peter used profanity or swore like a sailor, though he was one. It means he took an oath. He took an oath and swore to God he didn't know Jesus. Now this is the worst kind of taking the Lord's name in vain. The Bible says, God gave in the commandments a specific commandment, "Though shall not take my name in vain". And we heard people do it. Now, there's the obvious applications when people curse using the name of God, but even when someone uses the name Jesus to punctuate a sentence. You've heard that. Someone is like, "Jesus Christ! What's going on here"? When I see someone do that, I say, "Careful, he might answer you sometime". They're like huh?
I don't even think people realize what they're doing. But we can even take the Lord's name in vain at church because the phrase "To take it in vain" means to use it in an insincere and frivolous way. So I might be singing a song with the name Jesus in it and while I'm singing that song, I'm judging the person in the pew in front of me. "How could she wear that church"? Or I'm thinking about lunch. "Hamburger. In-n-out burger. Animal style". Wait, you're singing "Jesus, Jesus", and you're thinking "Burger, burger" right? You're doing it in an insincere frivolous way, but Peter did even more than that. Here's what he effectively did because people will take an oath today and say, "I swear to God. I put my hand on a stack of Bibles", like a stack will be more important. Not just one: a stack. A stack of Bibles. I swear!
Here is what Peter effectively said, "I swear to God I never knew Jesus". And guess what happened? At the moment he said it, Jesus was let out of the courtyard of Caiaphas and he made eye contact with Peter. So here's how it worked. "I swear to God", says Peter, "I never knew Jesus... Oh, hi Jesus". Literally. Right there. Oh, Jesus. And the Bible says Jesus looked at him. I wonder what kind of expression that was. You know we all have looks we give. Right. Parents, we've got these looks down. Kids are acting up, we say, "Johnny, look at me". All that means is stop. Stop it now. Or someone says something ridiculous. We roll our eyes. That's a look. Or we look at someone with anger because they cut us off on the freeway. We have our looks.
What kind of look did Jesus give to Peter? Was it an I-told-you-so look? Did he roll his eyes like, "Loser, why did I choose you"? I don't think it was. Now I can't say with certainty because the Bible doesn't tell us, but here's an interesting thing. The Bible says Jesus looked at Peter, or a better translation: Jesus looked through Peter. Have you ever had anyone look through you? I'll restate the question. Do you have a mother? You're out late. You come in. "Where have you been"? "Nowhere, mom". "Look at me. Look at me". "Whatever". He looked at him. Looked right through him. I think it was a look of love, and I'll tell you why I think it was a look of love - because Jesus predicted this right. He said, "You're going to deny me", but don't forget the rest of it, "When you have returned you'll strengthen your brothers. Peter, you're going to mess up. Trust me, it's going to happen. Roosters are involved. But when you have returned, you'll strengthen your brothers. Peter, you're coming back".
I don't think Peter heard the "You're coming back" part because the Bible says he went out and wept bitterly. Contrast Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Judas, going back to the Garden of Gethsemane, was given one last chance to repent. When they came to arrest Jesus, Jesus said to Judas, "Friend, why have you come"? What? Didn't you just say he would betray you? Jesus was giving Judas that one last chance. Well, of course, Judas went on, he betrayed the Lord, and he hung himself. So two men came short. Two men sinned against the Lord. One went out and took his own life: one went out and wept bitterly. One left to never return: one came back again and was restored and that was Peter because three days later, Jesus rises again.
Oh, yeah. Remember. He not only said he would be crucified, he said he would rise again from the dead. Here's the message that went up from the angels, "Go tell the disciples and Peter he is risen", not, "Go tell the disciples and Peter James and John", or "Go tell the disciples and Matthew", or "Go tell the disciples and Mary", no. "Go tell the disciples and Peter". Why was Peter singled out? Because he needed an encouraging word. Maybe there is someone here today that needs an encouraging word as well. You've fallen away and you don't know how to get back. You're like the lady in that commercial. "I've fallen and I can't get up". No. I'm not making fun of that lady, but I don't think she actually fell. I think she's an actor, okay, saying her lines not that convincingly in my opinion, but I've fallen and I can't get up. Okay. Sorry. But if you've ever fallen, you know what it's like.
I was playing racquetball a while ago and I went for some shot, and I lost my footing, went in the air and landed on my back. It was so loud, a guy upstairs on a treadmill stopped and said, "Are you okay"? I'm like laying there, "Yeah, I think so". I didn't plan on falling. Maybe you didn't plan on falling but you fell and you're wondering, "Can I get up again"? Well the answer is, not in your own strength. You need a helping hand. If you're flat on your back, someone says let me help you get back up again. Grab my hand. And you pull them up right. So maybe you're saying, "I've fallen and I tried to make this better and it's gotten worse. I've tried to overcome this addiction and it's become a worse addiction. I've tried to fix this. It's gotten worse". Okay, Jesus is saying, "Take my hand now. Let me pull you up. You have to reach out to me. You have to call out to me. You have to ask me for forgiveness and I will extend this forgiveness to you".
Listen, I don't know what trajectory your life is on right now, but I know this: God can change your story. He can change it today. "Yeah, well my dad did this and my mom did that and my grandparents, and this pattern of sin". Shut up. I don't care. If any man be in Christ, he's a new creation. All things have passed away. Everything becomes fresh and new. I'm sorry I said shut up, but I think sometimes we use a pattern of sin or bad behavior in a family to excuse our actions. There has to come a point where we just say, "I'm responsible for my own actions and I make my choices and then my choices make me. I have Christ living inside of me and he will give me the power to live the life he's called me to live".