Jesus Saves Us From Giant Despair

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 16:7

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.

Mark 16:7 rsv

Do you know who Giant Despair is? He’s a character in John Bunyan’s famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress. He’s one of the most formidable foes that Christian faces on his journey of faith. Giant Despair inhabits Doubting Castle. He tries to capture those on their way to the Celestial City. He aims to destroy their hope, to make them give up, to keep them languishing forever in his grim abode.

Bunyan knew what a terribly destructive thing it is to be discouraged. He knew how sincere believers can be sidelined, disabled, almost destroyed by dark despair. I want to think with you today about this villain, Giant Despair, and how the Lord can deliver us from his clutches.

The pilgrim I’m thinking about especially today is Simon Peter, foremost of the apostles. This is his story of doubt, despair, and deliverance.

DOUBT

In some ways, Simon Peter was a man of faith. He responded eagerly to the Lord’s call by the Sea of Galilee. He left his nets, his boat, his fishing trade, his familiar surroundings to venture everything in following Jesus. He strikes us as bold, affectionate and loyal. It was Peter, remember, who was the first among the disciples to recognize who Jesus was. At least he was the first to confess his faith openly.

Here’s how it happened. Jesus asked the disciples one day in Caesarea Philipi, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” The disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus made the question personal, “But who do you say that I am?” It was Peter who answered, speaking perhaps for all the rest, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirmed the genuine trust Peter was expressing. He said, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:13-17).

But for all his faith and enthusiasm, there was something in Peter that resisted the truth, especially the truth about himself. Peter at times placed more confidence in his own judgment than in the word of Jesus. When the Lord began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). Peter surely meant well. He was grieved at this grim prophecy of Jesus. He couldn’t bear the thought that his Master would suffer so. But he blurted out an objection that flatly contradicted Jesus’ word, “God forbid, Lord, this shall never happen to you.”

Peter must have been shocked at the Lord’s response: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Matt. 16:23). Jesus heard, in that attempt of Peter’s to turn Him aside from the way of the cross, a temptation from the devil. He warned Peter that he was serving as Satan’s mouthpiece. He was relying on his own wisdom and not on the word of God.

But Peter apparently didn’t take that warning to heart. Later on Jesus said to him, “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” (Luke 22:31-32). Peter was incredulous. He couldn’t believe that he was in any danger. He couldn’t take seriously the Lord’s concern about him. He answered with a solemn pledge of loyalty: “I’m ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Peter’s difficulty in accepting Jesus’ words appeared most clearly on the night before the Lord’s death. On the way to the Mount of Olives, Jesus said, “You will all fall away [because of me this night]; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered'” (Mark 14:27). Peter could accept this about the other disciples but not about himself. He said, “Though they all fall away, I will never fall away” (see Mark 14:29). In this claim, we sense something of pride. Where others would fail, he, Peter, would not.

Jesus pressed the point. “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times” (Matt. 26:34). Once more, in the most solemn, specific way, Jesus was telling him about his vulnerability and predicting his shameful denial. But still Peter refused to believe. He knew better. He vowed never to do the thing Jesus had said he would do. If ever a follower of the Lord set himself up for a calamitous fall, Peter did. Stiff-headed, self-sufficient, sure of his own fidelity, he was headed for trouble. All of us are when we dig in our heels and deny what the Lord is saying to us.

DESPAIR

You remember what happened then. In Gethsemane, after Jesus had pleaded with Peter, James and John to watch with Him and pray, they all fell asleep. Peter’s eyes were heavy with sorrow. Then came the nightmare of the arrest, the betrayal by Judas, the skirmish in the garden when Peter lashed out with his sword. After the Lord was arrested, he and all the others ran away.

Peter didn’t run very far. After the soldiers had led Jesus to the palace of the high priest, Peter followed at a distance and entered the courtyard. It was a cold night. He was soon sitting with the guards warming himself by the fire. One of the maids of the high priest saw the light of the blaze playing on Peter’s face and recognized him. “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” That came as a shock. Peter had no idea he could be identified. In a rash moment, he denied being with Jesus. “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” Getting up from the fire, he went out into the gateway. The maid was not to be put off. She kept after him and began to tell others in the courtyard about him, “This man is one of them.” Peter, on hearing that, became more vehement. He flatly denied being one of Jesus’ disciples.

By now a number of the bystanders were staring at him. Suddenly one took up the refrain, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” Peter was terrified. He began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” Just then the cock crowed a second time. While the sound rang in his ears, Peter saw Jesus being led through the courtyard. The Lord turned and looked at him. The sound of the cock crowing, the gaze of the Lord – all that was too much for Peter. He went out and wept bitterly. Peter, the rock, had crumbled into sand. The great apostle was locked up now in Doubting Castle, ruled by Giant Despair (see Mark 14:66-72).

We can dimly imagine what the next hours must have been like for the apostle. He heard the crowds yelling for Barabbas to be released and Jesus crucified. He watched his Master on the way to Golgotha, crowned with thorns, staggering under the weight of a cross. On the hillside he was near enough to sense the contempt of the authorities and to hear the cruel taunts of the crowd. He watched Jesus writhe in agony, heard the words He spoke from the cross, saw Him drop His head and die. Peter was crushed.

All of the disciples were numb with grief. All had seen their hopes dashed. But surely no other knew Peter’s bitterness and shame. He had claimed to be the strongest and shown himself the weakest. After professing deathless loyalty, he had denied the Lord again and again. He had done nothing to stand by Jesus, nothing to ease His sufferings. And now the Master was dead. Peter was desolate. What do I do now when my Lord has been crucified, when I have failed Him in the most dismal way? What’s left for me in life now? How can God or my brothers ever depend on me again? I’m a total washout. I’ve messed up my life as badly as a person ever could.

Judas, the betrayer, remember, had killed himself, filled with remorse over having betrayed Jesus. I wonder if Peter thought of doing that. It must have been hard for him to face the other disciples now. They knew the boasts he had made, and they must have known also about his collapse and his cowardice. It might have seemed easier for him to end it all than to face them again. “Peter, what will ever get you out of Doubting Castle now? What will save you from Giant Despair?”

DELIVERANCE

Friends, it took the resurrection of Jesus. It took this amazing word from the angel at the tomb on that first Easter morning, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you. . . .” (Mark 16:6-7). Did you hear that? “Tell his disciples and Peter.” This was the word from heaven. This was the command of the risen Lord, “Go and tell. Tell the disciples. Tell Peter.”

It’s fascinating to reflect on the fact that Mark’s gospel, in which these words appear, was written with reminiscences from Simon Peter himself. And this gospel tells the story of Peter’s boasting, his bullheadedness, and his debacle in the high priest’s courtyard. Peter, apparently, wanted all of that to be known. Something had happened in his life. Something had turned everything around. Surely it was that word of the angel from the risen Lord, “Tell Peter.” It was thrilling beyond words for the apostle to learn that Jesus was alive. Now he knew that the risen One was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God. He knew that Jesus’ words about giving His life as a ransom for many had been fulfilled. All His claims were true. His redeeming work had been fully accomplished. But what an ache there must have been still in Simon Peter’s heart.

“Jesus is risen, but I’m the one who failed Him so miserably. He’s alive as Lord of all but what will He have to do with me now? Three times I said I never knew Him. I denied Him, even with oaths and curses. I’m not worthy to be called one of His disciples.” But then came the message the angels had given: “Tell Peter.” Could it be that the Lord still has a place for me, that He still numbers me as one of His own? That He still has a work for me to do? That’s what it meant for Peter to hear that glad Easter message.

Do you know how Christian finally got out of Doubting Castle? He used a key called “the Key of Promise.” Just recently I was in a prayer meeting with one of my friends who had been visiting churches in England. He showed me a card which the pastors of one congregation had provided for all their parishioners. It says at the top, “Don’t be discouraged.” It quoted Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Those pastors were giving to their people this key of promise, “Don’t be discouraged. The Lord is with you.”

That’s what Simon Peter heard that Easter day. Don’t be discouraged, Peter. No matter what you’ve done, there’s forgiveness. There’s hope. The Lord is alive. He’s with you all the days. He offers you a new beginning.

The rest, as we say, is history. Peter became a mighty witness to the Resurrection of Jesus, finally sealing his testimony with his life’s blood. He spent the rest of his days telling the world of the One who had said, “Tell Peter.”

That, friends, is how Jesus saves us from Giant Despair. He dies for us. He rises triumphant from the grave. And as the Risen One, He accepts us in spite of all the ways we’ve failed Him, and even gives us, wonder of wonders, a great work to do. So let’s take heart when we’re locked up in Doubting Castle, when we’re oppressed by Giant Despair. Jesus puts the key of His promise in our hands, and we go free. Hallelujah!