Mark 14:27-31 “‘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.’ Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ 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.”
The ancient Greeks had a saying, “Know yourself.” It was carved on the entryway to the temple at Delphi. It was a theme the philosopher Socrates picked up from time to time. Before you can dig too deeply into other subjects, you need to understand yourself. And if you are really going to understand yourself, you need to be honest about the good… and the bad. And that’s where “know yourself” becomes really hard.
When they heard Jesus’ announcement, it was good that Peter and the rest didn’t just shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh well. If we fall away, we fall away.” Jesus should mean too much to us to be content with our sin.
But where does Peter put his confidence? What is the point of comparing himself to all the others? On whom is he depending to stay faithful? “I…I…I…” Peter’s confidence is all in himself. What makes it worse, he is contradicting his Savior. As he had done other time’s in Jesus’ ministry, he is trying to correct his Lord. That never turns out well.
It is never our job to be Jesus’ teachers. No matter how much we learn, no matter how “spiritual” we might think we have become, we are always, only, Jesus’ students. He has much to say that contradicts conventional wisdom. He has much to say that contradicts popular opinion. He has much to say that contradicts the best and most respected minds of our time. Yet, we are only his students. Our only job is to learn from him.
But when Jesus says things that point out our sin, when his word confronts our pride and exposes our weakness, then we want to rationalize what we do. We want to deny our weakness and sin. We don’t want to know ourselves. Then we put our own souls in danger. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
The strength to maintain our faith doesn’t grow from guilt. It grows from Jesus’ promises. Did you hear his promise hidden in his warning? “‘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.’”
The shepherd in this quote from the prophet Zechariah is Jesus himself. Who is the “I”? Not the prophet. God the Father is the one who strikes the shepherd. Everything the disciples would see over the next 24 hours–his mistreatment, whipping, crucifixion, death, and burial–was under God’s own control. God used the anger of Jesus’ enemies to work something good. This was the sacrifice of the Messiah prophesied since the Garden of Eden.
You hear the promise, don’t you? The death of God’s Son isn’t meant to shake our faith. It’s the supreme gift of love that inspires our faith. What looks like the worst thing that could ever happen, the death of God on a cross, turns out to give us the best thing we could ever have: rescue from our sin and life that never ends. It is every reason to own Jesus in trust and love no matter what challenges may come along.
The other promise was clear and undisguised. “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Jesus wasn’t going to stay dead. Death was not his end. Listen all the way to the end of what he is saying, and he is predicting not his defeat, but his victory.
We 21st Century disciples don’t honor and remember a dead hero. We serve and follow a living Lord. No matter how dark things look, no matter how much danger we see, no matter who opposes us, the one who rose from death is on our side. He transforms our failures and crosses into blessings. There is never anything to be gained by disowning or denying him.
It’s helpful to know yourself, but that’s hard work. It is even more important to know Jesus and all he has done to save us. More important still, he knows each of us, and claims us as his very own.