Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Matthew 26:30–35

Matthew 26:30–35 (ESV): Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

Synopsis

Following the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the last passage, Jesus and the disciples sing a hymn, which would have been part of the Passover ceremony. The ESV Study Bible suggests that it was probably either something called “the Hallel” (Psalms 113–118), or something called “the last great Hallel psalm” (Psalm 136). They then leave and go to the Mount of Olives (a name which always makes me slightly hungry).

Jesus then tells the disciples, point blank, that they are about to desert him, and that they will do it this very night. He says that this is prophesied in the Scriptures:

“For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (verse 31b (ESV), Jesus speaking)
However, he also tells them that when he is “raised up” (verse 32 (ESV)), he will go before them into Galilee.

Peter, however, doesn’t believe that he’ll betray Jesus. He tells Jesus that even if all of the other disciples fall away, he won’t. Jesus tells Peter that yes, he will do so this very night, that before the rooster crows (i.e., before sunrise) he will deny Jesus three times. But no, Peter tells Jesus that even if they have to die together, Peter will not deny him. The other disciples say the same.

Thoughts

This passage is poignant for us mostly because we already know what is going to happen: before we get to the end of Chapter 26 Jesus will be arrested, the disciples will scatter, and Peter will follow at a distance, only to deny Jesus, just as Jesus said he would. We can’t help but read the heavy irony in Peter’s words, when he tells Jesus that “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (verse 35 (ESV)). It’s a very sad passage, and all the more so because I can’t look down my nose at Peter or the other disciples; would I have fared better, had I been there? I think not. I don’t even handle normal, day-to-day tests of my faith consistently well, so how can I assume that had I been a disciple, with my world crashing around me and the seeming end of Jesus’ ministry (according to my understanding), I would have stuck by Jesus?

I think there is a lesson in here for us, though, as well. It’s more than just keeping our pride in check, by comparing how we might have done to how the disciples did. But pride is the key to this lesson: Why did Peter fall away, and deny Jesus? For that matter, why did he argue with Jesus in the first place, telling him that he’d never do what Jesus was saying he’d do? Because Peter was self confident, instead of being confident in Jesus. In Peter’s mind, he was such a great disciple that his loyalty to Jesus could never be shaken—so much so that when Jesus tried to tell Peter what was going to happen, Peter disbelieved him. Peter knew better than Jesus how he would handle things… except he didn’t know better than Jesus, and we know how this story turned out.

If we’re reading our Bibles and are warned about particular activities or dangers we should avoid, we need to heed what the Scriptures are telling us. We should never think to ourselves, “Well, that might be a problem for other Christians,” (by which we typically mean Christians who are “weaker” than ourselves), “but that would never be a problem for me!” Instead we should take these warnings seriously, and be careful. To cite some examples that might be of immediate relevance to 21st Century Christians (and which I probably mention on a regular basis, for that reason):
  • When the Bible tells us that money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:3–10 (ESV), especially verse 10 (ESV)), or when we are told that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, do we take it seriously? Do we truly and seriously give ourselves to self examination, and see if or how the love of money has taken root, and might be impacting our relationship with God? Do we make serious efforts to curb our lust for money?
  • When we are told to avoid sexual immorality—when we are told that even crude joking should be avoided (Ephesians 5:1–21 (ESV), especially verses 3–5 (ESV)), do we examine whether there are any sexual issues in our lives? Are we giving in to the lust that is promoted all around us? (Try to watch TV for more than twenty minutes without seeing at least one commercial that uses sex to sell you things—not to mention what might be happening in between the commercials!) Are we having sex, or inappropriate sexual activities, outside of marriage? Maybe not all-out adultery, but for those of us who are single, are we going further than we should with our partners? Are we giving mental headspace to the idea of doing so?
It’s very true that different sins tempt different Christians, and what I have a problem with you might not have a problem with, but I may be fine with the sins that tempt you. But to take that too far, and assume that there are areas of our lives where we don’t need to guard against temptation, is simply inviting disaster. It’s only through God’s Grace that I can avoid any sins; believing I can do anything on my own, or that I don’t need to worry about certain things, is to deny that I’m relying on Him for any good that I do, or evil that I avoid.
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