When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. (New International Version)
Learning to Trust
I have two sisters-in-law who were lifeguards when they were teenagers. One day I watched one of them handle a group of kids experiencing their first swim lesson. She went to each child and told them to put their ears in the water and their belly buttons in the air while she was holding them up. “When I count to three, you won’t feel my hands underneath you, but they’re there,” she said. Most of the kids frantically jerked their knees toward their chins and flailed their arms. Truth is, almost all people float when they assume a posture of rest. But people who think they will sink don’t keep their posture for long.
The disciples had a hard time trusting Jesus. They just couldn’t seem to rest and relax with Jesus holding them up. After all, Jesus said and did things they were not expecting him to say and do. Jesus preached the necessity of humility and loving one’s enemies. He focused ministry on the least and the lost.
The disciples had not yet really bought into Christ’s kingdom agenda. They kept pulling their knees up, thinking Jesus was going to lead a rebellion against the Romans and put Israel back on the map. Bless their hearts, the disciples mistakenly believed Jesus was there to immediately restore the glory days of Jewish dominance in the land.
Despite Christ’s teaching and ministry, some folks believe God’s agenda ought to be restoring prayer in public schools and The Ten Commandments back in courthouses. But Jesus has a different agenda. Christ goes to the heart of the matter. New life is what he is after. Transformation leads to observance of God’s will so the least and the lost persons among us will be reached.
Jesus turned the world upside-down by insisting not that people come to the temple but that the temple worshipers go to the people. It was not a popular teaching with the disciples, let alone everyone else. The disciples had greater (or so they thought) ideas about how things ought to go.
Christ followers might neglect the upside-down teaching ministry of Jesus because we believe ourselves to be good people. We already assume we know what God wants. And we would never betray Jesus, right!? O, sure, we sin occasionally, but not like murderers and child molesters. Our sins are respectable – a little resentment here, a little prejudice there, or a smidge of gossip just to make sure outsiders know and respect their place.
However, we must first hear the bad news before we can hear the good news. And once we hear the bad news and accept it, we need to receive God’s remedy for it. The disciples Peter and Judas are contrasting figures in grasping Christ’s message and responding to it.
Peter and Judas
Peter and Judas had similar ideas about how the future should look – seeing Israel restored to its previous glorious prominence. Judas was a religious and political Zealot. And Peter had no problem picking up a sword when it seemed the time was ripe for a political rebellion and takeover.
Peter insisted he would never turn on Jesus. Yet, Jesus flat-out told him that would happen. Sure enough, Peter did a big belly flop in the pool of denial by disowning Jesus three times.
Then there was Judas. He caught on quicker than Peter that Jesus wasn’t going to lead a military coup. Talking about wasting time on marginal people who couldn’t help usher-in a glorious revolution was the last straw for him. After Judas clearly saw Jesus had no intention of fulfilling what he thought should happen, he actively sought an opportunity to betray him.
In fact, none of the disciples wanted to take a step of commitment into the world of suffering as the means of reaching others. They wanted glory, not suffering. But Jesus chose the cup of suffering.
Both Judas and Peter realized, after denying Jesus, they had made a terrible mistake. However, that is where the similarities end. Judas responded to his guilt by completing suicide. Rather than throw himself upon the mercy of God, Judas handled the guilt himself. It was a refusal of grace.
Peter, instead, wept bitterly. He realized his poverty of spirit. He mourned over his sin. Later, Peter became a genuinely meek person with God’s righteousness taking root within him. Having received grace, Peter became a preacher of truth and grace.
Renewal comes from spiritual transformation. It requires a brutally honest assessment of self and others. “I will never fall” comes from a heart that believes “I’m not so bad.” Our failures of faith stem ultimately from pride and a lack of trust. We keep pulling our knees up because we are too anxious to let the agenda of Jesus control our lives.
Proud people have little need for prayer because they are self-sufficient. However, humble people pray a lot! They don’t want to fall into temptation and defame the name of the Lord. They pray because apart from Jesus Christ they know they’ll act like a cockeye little dog who thinks he is a big dog. Even Jesus himself felt the need to watch and pray so that he could face his hour of pain and suffering on behalf of humanity.
When Jesus was arrested, Peter followed him at a distance. That describes too much of our own following of Christ. We want to see how everything will shake-out before we commit. Jesus invites us to trust him, to commit, to make and keep promises before we even know what it all means.
It could be that we need to acknowledge we’ve made a mess of our lives through being stubborn. Perhaps we have willfully held to our own ideas of how things ought to go, for far too long.
If you find yourself in a mess, whether it is of your own making or of somebody else’s, grace is the thing that can handle it. That is, coming to God with honesty and humility. Being willing to rest and relax when Jesus is telling you to. It’s okay to let your knees go down and stick the belly button out – to rest in Jesus.
Give us honest hearts, O God, and send your kindly Spirit to help us confess our sins and bring us the peace of your forgiveness, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.