Text: Mark 14:27-31.
Everyday life is full of warnings:- health, flood, gale. Fire hazard, trip hazard, bio hazard, radiation hazard. May contain nuts, may cause offence. We will prosecute if you exceed the speed limit, park illegally, drink in a public place. No photography, no mobile phones, no noise after 11 pm…
We come to church to get away from all that! To be inspired, uplifted, encouraged, – not warned.
But ‘these things were written down as warnings for us…So, if you think you’re standing firm, be careful you don’t fall!’ (1 Cor 10:1f)
The focus is especially on Peter, and Jesus’ prediction that Peter would deny him three times v30. But let’s not be too hard on him. “You will all fall away”, v27. Where were the others when Peter followed Jesus into the ‘lion’ den’, v54? And are not we ourselves prone to failure, only with less provocation?
(a) Never say, ‘Not me’
Twice (v29, 31), Peter boasts about his ability to cope. “Even if I have to die with you…”
The word skandalizein (fall away) refers to entrapment, as when an animal is lured by bait into a trap. Let us not forget the traps that lie along life’s path.
Rather than exude self-confidence, Peter should have been on his guard. Years later, he would warn: ‘Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.’ 1 Pet 5:8.
Lk 22:32 – “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” But Peter doesn’t seem to think he needs that kind of help. But he did. And so do we. Instead of boasting, Peter should have asked for help. And so should we.
(b) Stop comparing yourself with others
V29 – Peter declares, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
James and John, those ‘sons of thunder’ might lose the plot. Thomas might be overcome by doubt. Andrew, sociable but not all that bright, might give up. Even Judas…where is Judas?… But not me.
We compare ourselves either negatively or positively. But each has his or her strengths to be nurtured and exercised. And each has his or her points of weakness.
A stalwart of the Church succumbs an affair, or develops a drink problem, or repeatedly loses control of his temper. Or maybe the danger for you is not sudden crisis, but slow decline. Apostasy is not usually a burst tyre. It is more often a slow leak.
Instead of comparing himself to others, Peter should have been on his guard. He should have been ‘watching and praying’ so that he did not fall into temptation, v38. And so should we.
(c) Listen with both ears
In v28, Jesus predicts his resurrection. For the 5th time. He adds that after his resurrection he will meet the disciples in Galilee.
What a prospect that was, if only the disciples could have realised: that beyond horrific death and entombment would lie resurrection and reunion!
But it seems to have gone straight over their heads. Each time Jesus has spoken of his death and resurrection, Peter and the others reacted only to the first, and never to the second.
When Jesus was crucified, they were devastated. When he was raised, they could scarcely believe it.
Instead of hearing selectively, Peter should have stored up all of Jesus’ teaching. Then, in the day of crisis, he would have been better and to see the hand of God in the sufferings of Christ and the glories that followed.
God: three and one. Jesus: God and man. Scripture: divine and human. Human nature: glorious and sinful. The world: God’s creation and the devil’s playground. Salvation: now and not yet. ‘Consider, Rom 11:22, ‘the kindness and the sternness of God.’ Acts 22:27 – ‘I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God’. Only a complete Bible can make a complete Christian.
There would come a time when Peter would be able to face all these things fearlessly. He would come to trust in God’s redemptive purposes, believe in Christ’s triumphant resurrection, experience the Holy Spirit’s energising power. Boastfulness would give way to boldness.
But let’s remember that to be fore-warned is to be fore-armed.
You do not wait until the boat starts to sink, and then say, “We’d better get some life-rafts.” Give up your 40-a-day habit now, not later, when it may be too late. Let’s not wait until a spiritual crisis hits. Let’s not imagine that it can never happen to us. Let’s stop comparing ourselves with one another. Let’s listen to Scripture with both ears.
But let’s be thankful too that Jesus does restore people after they do fail. Our Lord foresaw Peter’s failure, but that did not stop him choosing him in the first place, or confirming him as a leader of the apostles afterwards.
In fact, Jesus shared the Last Supper with Peter and the others, knowing that they would all fail miserably. So it is with us: he knows not only our past, but also our future, failures. But still he invites us to his table. Here we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Heb 4:16). Here we can find reassurance that the price has been paid for our failures, past, present and future. From here we can be sent out, as Peter was, to love and serve the Lord.