Jesus has finished a banquet with his disciples in which he himself is the food and drink, knowing full well that they will all fall away.
The word Jesus used to describe this “falling away” wasn’t simply falling off the bandwagon, shirking from duties, or quietly slipping off into the night, hoping no one would notice. It meant complete and total desertion. It meant apostasy. It meant willfully being led astray away from truth and into sin.
“Falling away” was a serious thing.
Jesus quotes the prophets to them, as he was prone to do, knowing that when there is no one there to lead the sheep, they run away out of fear. He knows that he, as the shepherd, is about to be struck down, and that even his closest followers will cower in fear and fall away.
But Peter is adamant. Never he.
Peter, big, bombastic, bullinachinashop Peter, vows to be the rock Jesus wanted him to be. Dependable. Steady. Strong. Even if he has to die, he promises, nothing will come between him and his Lord. Everyone else may fail, but not Peter.
Don’t worry, he assures Jesus, I got this.
This disciple, a leader from the get-go, sometimes asked too many questions and couldn’t seem to let things go. He had a hard time following and made mistakes, but he was always the first to speak up, to step up, to get his hands dirty, to jump in the deep end. Literally. He had all the elements of a good leader, but like an unfinished diamond, Peter was still in the rough.
And if this disciple on whom Jesus would promise to build his Church, he was also the disciple Jesus had to lay into from time to time and for good reason. People that headstrong need some refining now and again from people who love them and Jesus was quick to give it, knowing a little pressure could produce a wisdom more precious than rubies.
It’s been said that maybe at this moment, Peter was starting to get it. He knew this Messiah business was no child’s play and that maybe he was a part of something worth giving his life for. He’d heard Jesus hinting at impending doom, but hadn’t yet realized its full implications.
I’ll stick with you, Jesus.
But Jesus says, “No, Peter, you will personally deny me three times.”
Three times. In the first century Middle Eastern culture, if someone broke their word three times, it would be appropriate for you to break relationship permanently with that person. This is still custom in part of the Middle East today. Jesus is telling Peter, "Your sin will be serious enough that I could rightly be done with you."
But Peter pledges his allegiance. He promises with the best of intentions. He means every word.
And it wouldn’t be the first time.
The word Jesus chooses for “disown” or “deny” is used only once before this in Matthew. And it’s with Peter.
In chapter 16, Jesus rebukes Peter for telling him that he would protect him even from death, reminding his followers that the true disciple must deny even his own life. Not only does Jesus intend to die, but anyone who wants to be his disciple must be prepared to go the same way.
This is not a mere verbal pledge Jesus asks them for. It is an emphatic invitation; the true disciple must deny herself thoroughly. There is no other way.
And yet here, Jesus prophesies - and correctly - that his disciples will not deny themselves but him.
I’m telling you the truth, Peter. This very night the unthinkable will occur. You will not deny yourself but me....Et tu, Peter.
Jesus never asked Peter to deny his personality, his leadership potential, or his chutzpah; he asked Peter to deny his own desires to follow, his need for power, for control, to be the alpha male. Peter was a natural leader who thought critically and took risks for the Kingdom, even though sometimes he acted dumb as a box of rocks. Jesus loved who he was and when Peter finally gave his life to Jesus’ mission, Jesus redirected his personality for God's purposes, to become a Rock for the Church.
Here’s how C.S. Lewis described it:
“To become new (people) means losing what we now call ‘ourselves’. Out of our selves, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to ‘have the mind of Christ’ as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be ‘in’ us all, shall we not be exactly the same? It certainly sounds like it; but in fact it is not so...The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’, all different, will still be too few to express Him fully.”
In asking us to deny ourselves, Jesus invites us not to overcome who we are, but to surrender who we are in devotion to him as rocks redirected, ready for refining.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
What does it mean to deny yourself for Jesus? What does that kind of discipleship look like in your own life? How can you use your personality for Jesus instead of just for yourself?
Today, spend some time meditating on Romans 12:1-2. What words or phrases stand out to you most right now and what do you think draws you to them?
Pick up a stone to carry around with you today. Feel its stony-ness. Notice the things that make it different from the other stones. Whenever possible, keep it in your hand wherever you go today. Remember that you are as that rock: distinct, unique, strong. You were made with a personality and were given gifts that are uniquely your own, but as rocks, though unique, we need Christ's refining.
*We've spent a lot of time this week focusing on Jesus' disciples, and specifically on Judas and Peter. Join us for worship tomorrow as Pastor Brynn leads us in exploring the difference between Judas' betrayal and Peter's denial. 9am at 211 Bridge Street in Salem.
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Prov. 8:11.
- Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar.
- Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.