Cross Walk Devotional: The Rest of the Story

Before Gethsemane—before Jesus asked Peter and James and John to keep watch while he prayed in anguish, Please, not this.  But not my will (Matthew 26: 36-46); before sorrow forced blood out of Christ’s body with his sweat; before the betrayer kissed Jesus’ cheek and soldiers arrested him–before all this, Jesus told his disciples that they would fall away.  The word Matthew uses is skandalizo, from which eventually comes our English word scandal, and which literally means that the disciples would be ensnared, or trapped.  The enemy had fresh-dug a monsterous pit, and all of the disciples would fall right into it while Jesus went to the cross.  Jesus knew this, and yet his comments on the matter hardly come off as rebuke. Instead, the gospel writers share this revelation a bit like a resurrection weekend itinerary:  “You’ll fall for the trick, guys.  But after the resurrection, I’ll meet you in Galilee (Matthew 26:31-32,my paraphrase).”

Pride and passion, that brash confidence that made Peter a natural leader, also made him blind to his own potential for error.  “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will,” Peter argued that night (Matthew 26:33). Peter felt certain he would see the nasty teeth of the thing on the ground before he ran into it.  And, worse case scenario, he had a sword (John 18:10). Peter had made up his mind some time ago that no matter what Jesus said, nothing resembling death and sacrifice would befall them (Matthew 16:22).  Sometimes we refuse the Cross with equal resolve.

It’s interesting to notice how carefully Jesus prepared them, especially Peter, for the dark, terrifying days that would precede Jesus’ resurrection.  “Your thoughts are only filled with man’s viewpoints and not with the ways of God,” Jesus had corrected Peter (Matthew 16:23). I believe Jesus offers that same correction to us when we want to side-step His suffering.  And then Luke, in his careful account of the events preceding Christ’s garden arrest, includes a bit more of the “before the rooster crows” conversation, wherein Jesus tells Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32).” It seems as though Jesus knew that in order for the disciples, especially Peter, to become disciple-makers who would later testify boldly and in public—who would “rejoice because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace” for His Name (Acts 5:41), who would rely solely on His power (instead of the force of their own will and “godliness”, see  Acts 3:6,12), they had to come face to face with their own lack of understanding and weakness.

So, it’s a surprise to Peter, but not to Jesus, when in the courtyard Peter so vehemently denies Jesus that profanity rolls out of his mouth along with his denials (Matthew 26:74).  Jesus had said, “You’ll aparneomai me,” that is, “You’ll refuse even to recognize me.”  In the Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases that Peter left that courtyard “with a shattered heart (Matthew 26:75),” and rightly so, for our scandalous denials of Jesus betray the truth of our love for Him.

Maybe you feel it now as I do, the truth of all our collective Peter moments, when some embittered soul has said, “You’re a Christian, what do you say about this?” and we’ve shrugged or, when forced to acknowledge the ugly, suffering truth of the Cross, we have unwittingly minimized the power of the gospel.  Maybe, seeing yourself warming your hands at the courtyard fire, you’ve wondered as I have if you could ever be a Dietrich Bonhoeffer or a Corrie ten Boom or a Rachel Scott. At the same time, we witness Peter’s denials and feel stung by our own moments of foolish pride.

But I submit that these conclusions fall short of the motive of the text.  We’re not meant only to read about Peter’s scandalous hours and drop our heads, weighted down by the truth a similar inadequacy.  Notice that when Jesus tells the disciples that these things will occur, he simply says, “But after the resurrection, I’ll meet you in Galilee (Matthew 26:32),” or specifically to Peter, “But when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:32).”  Jesus never sees his disciples’ failures as the end of their story any more than he sees the Cross as the culmination of God’s achievement. And we’re also meant to appreciate the entire story, not just a part of it. Even before these events occur, Jesus knows that because of the resurrection, the enemy’s snare will be broken.  The trap will be sprung forever. Once freed and restored, Peter and the other disciples will continue in Christ with the life-changing understanding that Christ–not they–holds insurmountable and reliable power, even over death. Peter’s denial ultimately teaches Peter to rely on Jesus. The power of Christ—only that power–transforms men and women into disciples like Peter and John and Paul, like Bonhoeffer, ten Boom, and Scott.

So whether we humbly see our own potential for error now or discover it to our surprise while we’re warming our hands over a refining fire, the moment when we own our desperate need for more of Christ will be the moment we become those of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38).

You are loved!

Elysa Henegar