by William J. Stewart
After sharing the Passover with His disciples (Luke 22:15) in which He instituted the Lord’s Supper, a memorial of His impending death at Calvary (Luke 22:19-20), Jesus and His disciples departed the upper room in Jerusalem and made their way to the Mount of Olives. On this short hike from the city to the garden (compare Matthew 26:30; Luke 22:39) Jesus revealed to the eleven, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night” (Mark 14:27). This had to be a difficult thing to hear since they had left all to walk with Jesus. In fact, just before saying this, He acknowledged, “…you are those who have continued with Me in My trials” (Luke 22:28). But soon their devotion would fail.
One disciple objected vehemently, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matthew 26:33). Sadly, this was not faith; it was pride and arrogance. Not only did Peter contradict Jesus, but he stood against the prophetic word given by God’s Spirit. Jesus had cited Zechariah as His proof, “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7).
A short conversation ensued between Jesus and Peter. The Lord unveiled the larger picture for the apostle, saying, “Simon, Simon! Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). Despite this additional information, which included as assurance of his return to faithfulness, the stubborn disciple argued further, “I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Peter could not fathom a scenario in which his devotion to Jesus would fail. Once again, this is pride, not faith. Faith is trust in God; pride is trust in self. Unable to get through to Peter, the Lord bluntly predicted, “..the rooster will not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me” (Luke 22:34). And even then, Mark tells us Peter “…spoke more vehemently, ‘If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (Mark 14:31). Hearing such passion from their companion, the rest of the disciples began to affirm their resolve to die with Him if needed as well (Matthew 26:35; Mark 14:31).
Coming to Gethsemane, Jesus instructed the disciples, “Sit here while I pray” (Mark 14:32). According to Luke, He also told them to “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40), and then He went about a stone’s throw from them and knelt down to pray Himself. The synoptic writers use words like “troubled and deeply distressed,” “exceedingly sorrowful,” and “agony” to describe the turmoil the Lord experienced in the garden that night. Luke even tells us “…His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44). It was an exceptionally stressful situation and time. The instruction “pray that you may not enter into temptation” was not just for the apostles; it was for Himself as well. And so He prayed, “Abba Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me…” (Mark 14:36). Humiliating torture culminating with a cruel death were mere hours away. If there was another way, Jesus desired it. He faced the temptation to set the Father’s will aside, to find an easier more appealing way. Praying in faith He overcame, concluding, “…not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Returning to His disciples, He found them asleep. All slept, but when Jesus spoke, He addressed just one disciple. “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” Peter had boasted about his zeal – nothing would cause him to forsake Jesus. Blinded by his arrogance Peter didn’t find a need to pray. The Lord cautioned him, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:37-38). His claim to faithfulness affirmed in the comfort of friends would be put to the test when surrounded by harshness of enemies.
Twice more Jesus went away to pray. His flesh would not defeat His spirit, for He knew the value of prayer in the face of temptation. Jesus did not insolently approach the trials of that night – He humbly and prayerfully brought Himself into subjection to the Father’s will. And doing so, He was victorious.
Twice more Jesus returned to find the disciples, Peter included, sleeping. Before morning dawned, Peter would discover the willingness of his spirit was not greater than the weakness of his flesh. After a momentary but misguided attempt to defend the Lord with the sword, Peter followed his Master at a distance. While Jesus stood in the bitter cold being ridiculed and beaten by the religious leaders, the once bold apostle stood afar, warming himself at a fire. When recognized as a follower of Jesus, he denied it, even cursing and swearing that it was not true. And then a rooster crowed, “…The Lord turned and looked at Peter…” who “…went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61,62).
Friend, may we learn from Peter’s failure.
- Do not contradict God. The Lord knows what is and what should be. Not only does He know the truth, He is the truth (John 14:6).
- Understand the value of prayer. Prayer is communication with the God whom we serve. In times of trial, it is an essential appeal for His presence and help.
- Always be aware of the spiritual battle within. Hear the apostle Paul: “…the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another…” (Galatians 5:17).
Watch and pray always!