A Great Savior for Great Sinners
“And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all.” (Mark 14:26-31)
When John Newton was an old man he once said, “I am an old man now and cannot remember as well as I used to; but I remember two great things: I remember that I am a great sinner; and Jesus Christ is a great Savior.” Truly, the Lord Jesus Christ shows himself the great Savior of great sinners in these six verses of Inspiration. Christ’s greatness as our Savior is set before us here in three things: The people he saves, the punishment he suffered, and the perseverance of his love.
The People He Saves
Our blessed Savior knew exactly what he was getting when he saved us. That shows his greatness as our Savior. My sin often astonishes me; but it never astonishes him. The Lord Jesus knew when he chose me, long before he saved me, what a vile, fickle sinner I would be. He knew before he saved me that I would constantly be in need of his grace and his forgiveness. Just in case you are wondering, he knew the same about you.
We see this clearly exemplified in this passage. Our Lord knew the weaknesses, sins, and infirmities of his disciples. He told them plainly what they were going to do. Their pride was offended when they heard it. None of them really believed they were capable of such evil. He said, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night.” He told Peter, specifically, “Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.”
Yet, our Savior’s knowledge of what poor disciples they would be did not prevent him from choosing these men to be his disciples, even his apostles. And his knowledge of what poor disciples we would be did not prevent him from choosing us. The Lord Jesus loved us and chose us, though he knew we would never choose him and would never love him in return, except he create that love in us and cause us by his grace to choose him. Our Savior loved us, though he knew that our love for him, as long as we live in this world, will be an alloyed love at best. The Son of God chose us, as he did these disciples, to be his intimate friends and companions, though he knew beforehand what great evil we would do.
With such a charitable, gracious, forbearing Savior, you and I ought to be charitable, forbearing, and gracious with one another. We ought never conclude that a person has no grace, or does not know Christ, because we perceive that he or she has many weaknesses and much corruption. We are all weak, sinful, fallen and falling creatures. Our only hope is grace. Our only salvation is Christ. As such, we ought to pity one another. God the Holy Spirit puts it this way, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children” (Ephesians 4:32 - 5:1). — Our Savior’s greatness is to be seen in the people he saves.
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
The Punishment He Suffered
Next, our blessed Savior’s greatness as our Savior is displayed in the punishment he suffered as our Substitute. — “And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (v. 27). In making that statement the Lord Jesus was quoting Zechariah 13:7.
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.”
In order to redeem and save us the Son of God assumed our nature, became one of us. bore our sins in his own body on the tree, was made sin for us, and voluntarily suffered all the infinite fulness of God’s holy wrath to the full satisfaction of his justice as our Substitute. Look at this verse line by line.
“Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd.” — The Lord Jesus Christ is Jehovah’s Shepherd. These are the words of God the Father concerning his Son as our Mediator. He calls the God-man “My Shepherd,” because he was chosen, appointed, called, and trusted by God the Father as the Shepherd of his sheep in the covenant of grace before the world began. He is the One on whom the Father has laid the iniquity of his sheep. And he is the one responsible and accountable for the sheep.
Those words, “Awake, O sword,” speak of the violent death of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the glittering sword of divine justice, which was drawn out against him, when he was made sin for us. That sword, once unsheathed in Jehovah’s angry hands of omnipotent wrath, was never sheathed again, until it was sheathed forever in Immanuel’s heart!
The sword of justice is here called to “awake,” because it appeared to sleep, and to have been asleep for a very long time. It had been a long, long time since sin first entered into the world by our father Adam demanding satisfaction. It had been a very long time since the Son of God, our ever-blessed Christ, stepped forward and became our Surety, pledging himself in eternity to satisfy the justice of God for us. It had been a long time since the promise was first given that the Son of God would be stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted as our Substitute.
“Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts.” — He who is our Redeemer is and must be a man; and this man, who is our Substitute and Savior, is and must be Jehovah’s fellow — God incarnate!
“Smite the Shepherd!” — The order was given by God himself to the sword of his justice to smite his darling Son to death. The Lord Jesus Christ was delivered to death and slain by the hand of God, according to the decree of God, at the command of God, for the glory of God.
Next, we hear the God of Glory who slew his Son for us declare, “and the sheep shall be scattered.” This is the part of Zechariah’s prophecy that our Lord Jesus applied to his disciples, when he said, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night.”
“Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad…But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.” (Matthew 26:31, 56)
“Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” — I am so thankful that the text does not end there. The Lord God goes on to say something else, something great and glorious! — “And I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.”
These “little ones” are the sheep who were scattered, the straying, scattered sheep, the disciples of Christ who forsook him. Yet, the text in Zechariah clearly speaks of more than just those sheep. It speaks of the certain salvation of all the Lord’s sheep. Zechariah’s prophecy asserts emphatically that all those sheep for whom the Shepherd was smitten at Calvary shall be saved.
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.” (Zechariah 13:7-9)
There is a remnant according to the election of grace (here called a third part of the earth), which shall be saved because Christ died for them. The Lord God says, “I will turn mine hand upon the little ones,” not his hand of wrath and justice, but his hand of mercy, grace, and power.
The Perseverance of His Love
We see our Savior’s greatness in the perseverance of his love, too. I will say nothing about the perseverance of his love for us through all the ages of time and all the stages of our rebellion and ungodliness. Let me simply remind you of the perseverance of his mercy, love, and grace to his erring, fallen, sinful people.
What great comfort there is for our souls in this! The Lord Jesus does not cast off or forsake his people because of their faults, failures, and sins. He knows what we are. — “He remembereth our frame. He knoweth that we are dust.” Like a loving husband who has taken a wife, takes her forever, and never dreams of putting her away because he later finds some fault in her, so Christ took us, knowing our deformity, to be his bride forever.
Yes, the Lord Jesus chose us, redeemed us, called us, and took us for his bride, knowing full well what he was getting! He is a merciful and compassionate High Priest. It is the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ to pass over iniquity, transgression, and sin. “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing” (Proverbs 25:2). Our Lord Jesus knew what we were before he saved us; yet he saved us. He knew what we would be after he saved us; yet he saved us. He cannot be induced for any reason, by anything, or at any time to cast us away now! He says, “I will never leave the nor forsake thee.” He is our unchanging, unchangeable God, “Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, and today, and for ever!”
A Great Thief
What a great thief unbelief is! Our Lord Jesus spoke to his disciples often and plainly about his death and his resurrection. He said, in verse 28, “But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.”
He could not have been clearer. Yet, his words seem to have just passed over their heads altogether. Not one of the disciples laid them up in his heart. Not one of the disciples remembered them. When he was betrayed, they all forsook him. When he was crucified, they were almost driven to despair. When he was raised from the dead, and they were told about it by credible witnesses, none of them were quick to believe it.
Only in eternity will we know how much we have robbed ourselves by our unbelief. Our unbelief robs God of his glory; and robs us of more peace, joy, and contentment than we can imagine. Like Hagar’s well in the wilderness, we have the truths and promises of our God right before our eyes in his Word; but we do not see them, because of unbelief (Genesis 21:19). What anxiety, what tears, what misgivings, what sorrows we might avoid if we simply believed God!
“But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all” (vv. 29-31).
What great and horrible sinners we are! There is in all of us an enormous measure of pride that must be abased, a huge portion of self-confidence that must be destroyed, and a hideous mass of self-righteousness that must be slain. Peter simply could not believe what the Lord Jesus said. He argued in defense of himself. He was highly offended and insulted that the Lord should even think he might forsake him. He said, “If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee.” But Peter was not alone in his arrogance. All the other disciples were of the same high opinion about themselves. — “Likewise said they all.”
Peter told the truth. He was truly willing to die with his Lord, and eventually did. But Peter, as well as the others, was unaware of the great evil still in him, which had to be exposed and dealt with. In just twelve hours, all these men forsook the Master. Their bold, proud claims were forgotten. Their promises of fidelity were swept away. Their imagined strength withered. Their great faith failed.
Yet, even in this, we see the overruling hand of our God in goodness, grace, and providence. Had Peter not trembled before the maid and denied his Lord here, he could never have preached so boldly as he did at Pentecost or confessed Christ so fearlessly as he did in Acts 4. Had Peter and these disciples, our brethren, not forsaken the Lord Jesus, we could never have known the goodness, grace, love, and faithfulness of our great God and Savior in his absolute immutability toward his fallen saints as it is here revealed.
Though redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, justified, forgiven of all sin, regenerated and kept by the grace of God, we are still such great sinners, that there is no sin into which the most eminent saint will not run, except God hold us by his grace. — “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Wisely does Solomon counsel us, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).
“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
What great reason we have to ever give thanks to our God that salvation is by grace alone, without works!
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