Loyalty is a character trait that we all admire. Men and women with conviction who take up a cause and believe in it with heart and soul and who will not be deterred from the completion of their mission refresh and challenge us. Their loyalty to the cause and to the leaders of that cause is what propels the work onward.
It could be a Thomas Edison who will not quit working until he has the light bulb. It could be a Stonewall Jackson who will not turn back in battle until the victory is won. Etc.
On the other hand, nothing is more despicable than for a cause to fail because the people involved gave up and abandoned the project, the war, the cause or whatever. There ought to be more loyalty among the followers of Jesus Christ than to any other leader in the world! There ought to be more devotion to the cause of Christ than any other cause on the earth!
Jesus, and shall it ever be
A mortal man ashamed of Thee,
Ashamed of Thee, whom angels praise,
Whose glories shine through endless days?
Ashamed of Jesus, of my God,
Who purchased me with His own blood!
Of Him who, to retrieve my loss,
Despised the shame, endured the cross!
(Christian Hymns, #777)
And yet Christ has been disowned and denied by many who have most loudly professed His name! It happened with the twelve disciples of Christ. Men that loved the Lord and professed their allegiance to Him were found to be lacking in strength and commitment for our Lord’s most dreadful hour. The precious time spent with Christ at the Last Supper was soon to be replaced by disloyalty and cowardice.
Given the right set of circumstances, the most loyal of people can flee and run away. Had we been with Christ in the days of His flesh, would we have remained faithful even unto the death? On His way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that they would stumble.
I. A Shocking Prediction (31)
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'” Jesus had just celebrated His last Passover with the disciples and at the same time, instituted a new memorial meal to symbolize the establishment of the new covenant, to be sealed by the shedding of His own precious blood. While Jesus sat at the table with His disciples, He told them the shocking news that one of them would betray Him.
The story of our Lord’s betrayal is one of the most well known in all literature. Judas, one of the twelve, was the culprit. For thirty pieces of silver, a man who had been counted among the inner circle of Christ’s followers, sold Jesus into the hands of the temple guards, who in turn brought Him before Jewish and Roman courts. David had his Ahithophel. Washington had his Benedict Arnold. Jesus had his Judas.
Jesus said of Judas, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). But Judas was not the only disciple to fail His master! All twelve of the disciples deserted Him and disappeared during the hour of trial. Their defection was not of the same sort as that of Judas, but all of them failed Christ at the most critical time of His ministry.
Jesus shocks the disciples with the prediction of their failure. On the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night.” Jesus is not speaking about something which might or might not happen if the cards are right. He is speaking of what will happen and declares precisely when it will happen (‘this night,’ v. 31 and again in v. 34).
How fickle and loathing human nature is. At that particular time Jesus needed their support more than ever, yet all of His close associates would abandon Him! Not one of them would remain loyal. Jesus would stand utterly alone in His suffering and death.
Jesus was correct in His prediction. Matthew 26:56 says, “then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” John 20:19 informs us they hid themselves behind closed doors “for fear of the Jews.”
They were fearful for their own lives! They were afraid they would be arrested and crucified too. So they ran. Jesus said they would. ILLUS - Evangelical pastors in Germany during the 1930’s.
Jesus said they would be “made to stumble.” This literally means to take offense, to fall into sin. This same expression is used in 5:29-30; 11:6; 13:21, 57; 15:12; 18:6-9; 24:10. The reason Jesus gives for their stumbling is simple. He says it is “because of Me.” It is His own ordeal, it is because of what happens to Him that trips them up. “Their failure will be due not merely to fear for their personal safety, but the inability to grasp the purpose of Jesus’ suffering” (France). They later grasped this and suffered for the faith, but at the present, all they could was defeat spelled in large letters. Even heroes die for causes, and they couldn’t understand what the cause of Christ was.
Jesus also declares that their stumbling would be a fulfillment of Scripture. Jesus quotes (loosely) Zechariah 13:7… Zechariah’s prophecy indicates “that a day would come when God’s appointed leader in Israel would be cut off and his people scattered” (Blomberg). Chapters 9-14 of Zechariah contain a series of pictures of a humble rejected Messianic figure, the shepherd-king (France). The action in Christ being smitten and the flock being scattered is attributed to God. The “I” in the quotation refers to God the Father. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. He was smitten by God and afflicted (Isa. 53). Others were involved, of course, but “the action God commands, even when carried out by others, is thus derivatively his action too” (Blomberg). There was divine purpose behind all that happened to Christ. The disciples action, though tragic and irresponsible, did not fall outside of God’s sovereign plan (Carson).
Jesus knew all that would befall Him. He was not “a blind victim of fate but a voluntary sacrifice” (Carson). So He seeks to prepare His disciples for what was to happen.
II. An Astounding Promise (32)
“But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” This is the silver lining in the dark ominous cloud on the horizon. This is the good news which follows the bad news. Though Jesus will be forsaken by His disciples (and forsaken in another sense by His Father), He declares that He will be raised and appear to His disciples in Galilee.
When Jesus had spoken to Judas about His betrayal, He offered him no hope. Judas was lost; Judas was an apostate.
When Jesus spoke to the rest about their defection, He gave them a word of hope. They were His sheep and He would not leave them, so He once again, tells of His coming resurrection. In all the passion predictions which Jesus had made earlier, He spoke of His resurrection, however, they could not comprehend it at that time. E.g., Matt. 17:22-23.
While Jesus told them of His resurrection, He had not spoken directly this time about His death. He had only said that the Father will “strike the Shepherd.” But that is the meaning. He will be smitten like a lamb at the slaughter, for upon Him, the Father would lay all our sins!
But the climax of His sacrificial death is the glorious resurrection. Death would not be able to keep such a One in its grasp. The Father who would strike Him would also raise Him! The exaltation follows the humiliation!
He also tells them that they will see Him in Galilee. He actually says, “I will go before you to Galilee.” They will follow Him again in Galilee. Most of the resurrection appearances took place in or near Jerusalem (Morris) but Jesus would be back in the province where He gave so much of the instruction to His disciples. The fulfillment of this is seen in Matthew 28:7, 10, 16-17. This is a message of comfort for it speaks of restored fellowship! Jesus would not loose His sheep, though they would be scattered for a time. There would be a reunion between Him and His sheep.
The Good Shepherd would die and His sheep would be scattered, but He would rise to lead them again in Galilee before His ascension to heaven. “When they leave for Galilee, rather than leaving a corpse behind in Jerusalem, they will find a risen Lord is already there ahead of them!” (France).
III. A Presumptuous Protest (33-35)
Peter is the first to protest, but all of the disciples declare that they will do no such thing! Why, they are ready to die with Christ before they are prepared to deny Him!
Peter is seen as the foremost disciple throughout the Gospel of Matthew. He is always out front, in the lead. E.g. See 14:28-31 and 16:21-23.
Impulsive Peter is quick to speak up (he is often more impulsive than truthful). Rather than considering the weakness of his flesh he says, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (33). It doesn’t matter what the others do, self-confident Peter says he will never become a defector! He declares absolute loyalty to the end.
We admire the devotion and the determination evident in Peter. We all ought to be so characterized. Peter dearly loved the Lord Jesus and he certainly meant what he said at the time. He wanted to be faithful; he wanted to be loyal. He spoke these words from his heart, but “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Peter foolishly boasted of his ability to follow Christ by his own power.
Peter was presumptuous. The dictionary defines presumptuous as “going beyond what is right or proper; excessively forward.” Peter was self-confident to the point of being arrogant and offensive. He was placing faith in himself rather than the Lord and he found out the hard way how weak he was.
NOTE - We had better be careful of pride! We, too, can boast about our accomplishments, and our spiritual strength, etc., and fall as flat on our faces as Peter did his! The one who boasts that he is spiritually strong is the one who will soon fall. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Jesus said to Peter, “Verily, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (34). Jesus informs Peter of the exact manner in which he will fall short! Peter would be more disloyal than the other ten! He would go beyond them in sin. The others would forsake Christ and flee, but Peter would deny the Lord, not once, not twice, but three times. Jesus even gave Peter a sign that would impress upon him the weight of his sin. He told Peter the denial would come in conjunction with the crowing of a rooster. See v. 74 . . . After Peter denied the Lord and then heard the rooster crow, the words Christ had spoken to him came rushing into his soul with deep conviction.
Peter believed the One he had called the Christ, the Son of the living God, was mistaken on this point. He repudiates what Jesus had said. He declares, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (35). Peter affirms that he is willing to follow Jesus even to his death if it is necessary! NOTE - Peter uses an emphatic double negative, ou me. “I will certainly never deny you.”
All the others lend their endorsement to Peter’s words. They all add their “Amen” to his declaration of allegiance. But they too, like Peter, knew not the weakness of their flesh. In the hour of trial, they all “forsook Him and fled” (56). They would be weighed in the balance and found wanting. When the time of testing came they all were guilty of denying the Lord.
NOTE - It appears that Peter’s misguided words led the others to the same boastful conclusion. This is a lesson on how our actions and words influence others.
How do we explain the difference in what Judas did and what Peter and the rest of the disciples did? Clearly, they are put into different categories, but what makes that so? Craig Blomberg gives a good answer.
“Peter’s impulsive denial of Jesus is obviously not as treacherous as Judas’s premeditated betrayal, but Jesus has already said that any who disown him ‘before men’ he will disown before his Heavenly Father (10:33). So the difference between Peter and Judas lies primarily in their subsequent behavior. One may either deny or betray Christ and be forgiven if one genuinely repents. Without repentance (a change of heart followed by right action), both remain equally damning.”
There was a bishop of the Church of England in the 16th Century who had an experience somewhat like that of Peter. His name for Thomas Crammer.
The true believer may deny the Lord, but he will see the error of his way and repent of his sin. The apostate may have remorse but not true repentance. When you contrast the behavior of Peter with that of Judas after the sin, the difference becomes evident. See 26:75 with that of 27:5.
1)Judas, though he was numbered among the twelve, did not have a regenerate heart. 2)Peter and the others did. What they did was sinful, but they did not abandon the faith. They failed the Lord but came once again to trust Him. Lenski says, “The disciples took no offence because of Jesus . . . They were simply caught [trapped] and overwhelmed by what happened to Jesus” (in Morris). They had a grievous lapse which was out of character for them, but were restored to useful service in the kingdom of God.
You might ask yourself today, am I like Judas (no heart for Christ) or am I like Peter (still sinful but a heart for Christ)?
Let our boast be in the Lord, not in ourselves. That was Peter’s problem. That was the fault of the others. They felt they could withstand the assaults and pressure of the enemies of God in their own strength.
We sing a hymn with the words, “O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end.” The key to faithful service in Christ’s army is set forth so clearly by the writer in the first verse (Christian Hymns, #700).
I shall not fear the battle
If Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
If Thou wilt be my Guide.
The key is to have Christ in control, to be submissive to Him! And That begins by acknowledging our own spiritual weakness. See 2 Cor. 12:9-10 . . . Let us say, God helping me, I will not deny the Lord!
Let us be like Paul who said: “I am not ashamed . . .” (Romans 1:16). “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).