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Being Humbled (Mark 14:29; Matthew 26:33)

“But answering, Peter said to him, ‘if all of them are scandalized by you, I will not be scandalized!’”

(Matthew 26:33)

“But Peter stated to him, ‘Yet if all are scandalized, even so, I will not.”

(Mark 14:29)

You almost have to wonder what the rest of the disciples are thinking when Peter makes statements like this. Certainly, this is not the first impetuous and thoughtless statement in the three year ministry, not was it the first on this night, for just a short time ago, Peter was telling Jesus what he could or could not do with respect to washing feet at the last supper. Here we find Peter making another such statement. Essentially, Peter is saying, “No, Lord, you are mistaken. Even though all of the other guys are the type that will fall away, I won’t.” What John must have been thinking. What Andrew, Peter’s own brother, must have been thinking. What James, the other “Son of Thunder” must have been thinking at Peter’s statement. What, of course, Jesus must have thought, knowing what would come next. Were I in their shoes, I would have probably wanted to reach out and smack him…or worse.

There is a lesson to be learned by us on two levels. First, are we not all too often like Peter in boldly telling God how wrong he is about our weak and fragile character? Aren’t we also guilty of saying to God, “I will not fail you! I will not fall away! I will not be scandalized by the cross of Christ or by your name!” Yet then, shortly after leaving the prayer closet our children fall into mischief or our wife says something amiss or our neighbor’s dog digs up our garden again, or a coworker confronts us where we have tried to cut a corner, or the militant non-believer at work jeers at us again, or the person in the pew at church bungles what you have asked of them for the hundredth time, or, or, or. How often we read this account of Peter’s proclamation and say, “no, that wouldn’t be me saying things like that” or “no, I would not have denied Jesus as Peter did” and then found ourselves doing just that very same thing within hours of the thought. While you might want to say, “but that is different,” you must come to confess that, no, the denial is not any different at all, just the circumstances are changed. How we need to humble ourselves and repent of this, our weakness.

The second lesson that can be learned is the lesson from the rest of the Apostles. Though, after the fact, there must have been a sinful desire to rub this event into Peter’s face, they did not—or at least we have no record of them doing so and no indication that such a sinful event ever took place. They chose as Christ chose, to reinstate Peter even after his terrible denial of Christ. It was written of as the Holy Spirit instructed, but the record is not a malicious one, it simply records the events first, so we can see the humanity of these, our fellow brothers in Christ, and second so we can draw instruction from their failures and successes. Yet how often are we want to hold onto people’s failings even in the church. A deacon, for example, champions the support of a local family in need only later to find out that they have been using the church’s money for alcohol, gambling, or worse. An elder begins a new program that turns out to be a flop and ends up costing the church a bunch of money. A pastor engages in ministry in the community, bringing homeless folks into the church and they end up stealing from the congregation. The list can go on and on and the point is not that we make mistakes in ministry, but what we do with them. Do we rub the mistakes of others in, do we pick at sore wounds by reminding them over and over again of their failures? Or do we move forward together in ministry affirming Christ’s call on the person? Beloved, such is the model of the Apostles. They affirmed that Jesus had called Peter to be one of them and this call of Christ was enough.

My prayer, as we reflect on this, is that we would not find ourselves guilty of being on either side of this equation of sin. Let us not create ledgers of the failures of other Christians around us, constantly reminding them of their failings and using those failings to discourage them from trying again or others from supporting them. At least the folks that fail have sought to step out in faith and try some things. Also, do not be so afraid of failure or the commentary of nay-sayers that you are unwilling to try. But secondly, do not fall into Peter’s trap, of thinking that you are the most faithful or even only faithful person in the group you happen to be with or in the church you happen to attend. Beloved, such is most likely not the case and a mindset like that is simply asking God to humble you. Just remember, the humbling is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, much as Christ did with Peter, that your life may honor and glorify Christ and not man.

“But the God of all grace, who has called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, and to a little suffering, will restore, support, strengthen, and rebuild the foundation.”

(1 Peter 5:10)

The Scandal (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27)

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be scandalized by me tonight, for it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’’”

(Matthew 26:31)

“And Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be scandalized, because it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the flock will be scattered.’’”

(Mark 14:27)

“Scandalized?” We mean something a little different today when we speak of a scandal than they did two-thousand years ago, but not as different as you might think. The word that Jesus uses here is the Greek word, skandali/zw (skandalizo), which is where we get the English word of the same root.  Today, we refer to a scandal as any action that we feel is morally wrong and that gets folks upset. There are political scandals, celebrity scandals, and social scandals. We consider them both shocking and outrageous, though we are often drawn to them out of morbid curiosity, which is why scandals sell so many newspapers and magazines.

In Greek, the term skandali/zw (skandalizo) means either to cause someone to fall into sin or to be shocked and offended by someone or something. In other words, a scandal could be much like we use the term today, but it can also refer to a case where something is so far outside of societal norms that people simply cannot accept what is taking place. Typically, though, in the Greek language, a scandal was a statement or an event that would cause others to fall into sin, and certainly the abandonment of Christ by the disciples was just that: sin.  But why would Jesus set his disciples up for such a scandal?

Some, I have heard, have suggested that Jesus permitted this to protect his disciples from arrest or harm, but this view seriously underestimates the power of the Son of God who could call down a host of angels with but a word. Likely a better answer is that Jesus is showing his disciples (and us) the nature of man. In fear, we will flee and fall into sin if left on our own. We do not naturally do what is right thanks to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and these disciples will clearly fall into that pattern. And thus, God permits them their sin to show them their own depravity. After the resurrection, not one of them would be able to say to the other, “I stayed behind, I was faithful while you were not!” No, even the spokesman for the Apostles would have to say, “I denied the Lord not once, but three times.”

There is no room for pride of personal achievement in the service of Christ. We, like the Apostles, would have fled and do flee on a daily basis as it testified to by our actions. When the subject of Christian faith is brought up at the store, at a family gathering, or amongst coworkers, we typically hush up or comment that religion is a personal thing and a decision that everyone has to make on their own. Of course, we do not keep our opinions of politics or economics to ourselves in the same settings. What is the difference? Apart from the fact that one is infinitely more important and objectively more correct than the other, like the apostles, Christ often is a scandal to us. Jesus said, “Confess me before men and I will confess you before my Father” (Matthew 10:32). I wonder sometimes at how often Christ is confessing our names before his Father’s throne.

Beloved, this event would show the Apostles their depravity and would break them and humble them, taking them to the very brink of despair. Judas committed suicide over what he had done (Matthew 27:5). Learn from their failure. Jesus preserved his own through this event, but he permitted their sin nonetheless. If pride is seeping into our lives, God will do the same with us; yet, how blessed is the man who learns from those before him and speaks honestly and boldly about the truth of Christ to the glory of God. May we all strive toward that end.