“Peter told him, ‘Even if everyone falls away, I will not.’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to him, ‘today, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he kept insisting, ‘If I have to die with you, I will never deny you.’ And they all said the same thing.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever made a promise you couldn’t keep? Perhaps it wasn’t your fault. You had every intention of keeping it, but the circumstances of life made it impossible. That’s bad enough. Have you ever made a promise, though, you couldn’t keep, and you insisted on making it even when someone else warned you that you wouldn’t be able to keep it. You took the warning as a personal challenge. You made the promise, fully intending to keep it, just to show them they were wrong. Except they weren’t. Peter did that with Jesus, and this morning I want to talk with you about it and what it means for us.
I’ve tried to make the point as clearly as I could as we’ve gone through this chapter, but the emotional impact of Jesus’ revelation of His forthcoming betrayal on the disciples was immense. The fact that they remembered anything else Jesus said to be able to pass it along to us after that point is an absolute wonder to me. Their heads were still spinning as they left the upper room where they observed the Passover (calling it a celebration at this point doesn’t seem right) and headed for the Mount of Olives. You would think Jesus understood they had had enough, but whether they had or not, He had many other things to say to them and He didn’t have a lot of time.
We know from the apostle John many of the things Jesus said as they walked to the Garden and talked a while once they arrived. Mark doesn’t give us much of that. Instead, he focuses in on one particular conversation that Peter, his primary source, no doubt remembered all too well. Jesus had already blown their minds by telling them one of their number would betray Him. As much as they all denied that could be and wished that it wouldn’t be them, though, He had another rhetorical punch to throw. He looked at them and said, “All of you will fall away, because it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'”
The hits just kept coming. Not only were one of them going to betray Him, but now, they were all going to abandon Him? And this as a fulfillment of Scripture?!? Come on, Jesus, there’s no way we would do something like that! We’re committed to you. But whereas all the other guys were a bit more reticent to speak up to Jesus, Peter had no such reservations. He had been listening to a whole lot of things coming out of Jesus’ mouth without opening His own, but he couldn’t take it anymore.
It’s not going to be me, Jesus. Even if all these others guys leave you, I’m not going anywhere. And I have to wonder what the look on Jesus’ face was when He responded. Was it frustration at Peter’s empty bravado? Was it a bit of wry humor as his thinking he had the strength for what was coming next on his own? Was it compassion because He knew the mental and emotional anguish he would face? Personally, I lean toward that last option. “Truly I tell you, today, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Peter had to feel like he’d been slapped in the face with those words. His own denial of Jesus – which in some ways was even worse than a betrayal. Judas may have turned Him over to the chief priests who then orchestrated His death, but at least he never denied even knowing Him. He walked up and kissed Him when he led the mob into the Garden to arrest Him. “You’re going to deny you even know me,” Jesus said. And this is not something that will happen someday. This is going to unfold in the next few hours. And you won’t just do it once. You’re going to do it three times. Three times – a number of completion and wholeness – you are going to deny that you even know me.
If you think about it, given their culture, Peter didn’t have any choice but to respond as he did: “If I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” Jesus had just ascribed incredible shame to Peter. To deny your master in that culture would have been one of the worst things you could do. All of them were shocked to hear Jesus say this. They were shocked because Peter tended to be the boldest in his commitment to Jesus. They were shocked because if Peter could do something like that, then they could too. It’s no wonder they responded with their own similar affirmations right on the heels of Peter’s doing it. The emotional distress they were all experiencing would have been enormous. They would have been going through something like grief and the worst part hadn’t even gotten to them yet.
I think what made this so hard for them all to hear is the same thing that would have made it hard for us to hear. Jesus looked them in the eye and told them they were all going to fail. And not just a little failure either. This was about as monumental a failure as they could have had. They were going to get the chance to affirm their faith in Him when it mattered most, and they were going to fall flat on their faces. The thing is, we never want to believe we could fail. We want to know that we are enough, that we have what it takes to accomplish whatever it is entirely on our own. Because then we can tell the world to look at us and how great we are. That’s part of the deceit of the fall. We want to be enough all by ourselves, without having to rely on anyone else including God.
The trouble is, our strength is not what we wish it could or would be. Not on our own. After the revelation of someone in the group’s betraying Jesus, none of the disciples wanted to believe it would be them – especially Peter. But on their own, their strength wasn’t enough to avoid that path. Their betrayal wouldn’t be like what Judas was off doing, but it wouldn’t be any less hurtful to Jesus – or to their own pride.
As heavy as all of this is, I think there are two things worth our attention here. The first is the reminder that we cannot rely on our own strength. It will fail us every single time. Now, I’m not necessarily talking about every single situation we face throughout the day…but I kind of am. If we rely on our own strength for any of them, we’ll be responding on with what we have inside of us. The trouble is, we don’t have a lot inside of us; not nearly what we might imagine there to be. We need God’s strength supplementing and extending our own. We don’t need it just to get through the situations we will face, but rather to get through them in a way that honors Him and keeps our faith and character fully intact. In addition even to that, having the added strength of other believers to support us matters and awful lot as well. This is why you need to be active and involved in a church community.
The second thing here comes out of something else Jesus said here that I haven’t mentioned yet. Right after predicting their failure, He immediately followed it up by saying this: “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Now, what’s that? That, my friends, is restoration. Jesus was going to meet them in Galilee so that He could prepare them for the mission He was going to send them on once He returned to the Father. They were going to betray Him and deny Him and fail Him in as painful a way as they possibly could. In response, He was going to restore them and love still. He predicted their failure in one breath and their restoration in the next. His love just won’t quit.
The same is true for you and me. Our strength will fail us if we try and rely on it. And unfortunately, we try and rely on it an awful lot. So we fail. A lot. Daily even. Jesus knows this. He knows it will happen. None of it surprises Him. Ever. The betrayal of the disciples not only didn’t surprise Him, He told them all about it before it happened. And then He restored them. Friends, He will restore us as well. No matter how grievous your failure, return to Him. He is waiting to restore you and love you.