I mentioned the other Sunday when talking about the response of the crowd at Pentecost, that we like to think, with the benefit of hindsight that we would be among the believing faithful. However, I suspect that most of us fear that if we had been there, that we’d actually be among those confused, bewildered and even cynical.
The same is of course true as we read the accounts of Jesus’ desertion and betrayal.
Read Mark 14:27-31
Jesus again predicts his death and warns of the consequences. He draws on Zechariah 7:13 to show that when the shepherd is struck down, the sheep scatter. However, he continues to promise hope. The other side of this tragic event is resurrection and Jesus will meet them on the other side in Galilee.
Peter is adamant that he will not be among those who desert Jesus. He will stand brave and strong even as the others fall away. His response is “Not me! I’m not like that. You can depend on me.” Against his growing protestations, Jesus insists that Peter will deny him and even sets out the circumstances. The rooster will crow twice.
Read Mark 14:66-71
Jesus’ prediction is shown to be true. Peter had made a brave attempt to keep his word. Yes, he’d fallen asleep as tiredness overcame him whilst Jesus prayed (v37) but it was Peter who had struck out to defend his master (v47) and then he had followed on with John arriving at the High Priest’s courtyard, maybe even thinking that he could stand up for his Lord there.
However, there in the courtyard when confronted by servants who recognised him as having been with Jesus he folded. He denied his king with oaths. He swore blind that he did not even know Jesus. The cock crowed and Peter remembered Jesus’ words. He fled, weeping bitterly.
What utter failure for Peter. Yet, this was no surprise to Jesus who had predicted it. Jesus did not give up on Simon Peter. The other side of the resurrection we will see restoration and forgiveness for him. That’s perhaps why, if as tradition holds, Mark based his account on Peter’s sermons. This forgiven man could speak honestly and humbly about his failings.
There is a warning here for us. It’s easy to make strong commitments and promises in the emotional safety of church gatherings. Harder to keep to them through the week when challenged by work colleagues. Whether this is about failing to speak up and tell others that we belong to Jesus and share the Gospel or whether it is allowing others to draw us into temptation, we all know too well the experience of failure and the shame that goes with the guilt.
First of all, there is the challenge not to make so many big promises but to learn, quietly to put our trust in Christ, to rely on the Spirit’s power and to seek to be faithful. Alongside that is the good news that Christ’s death on the cross brings forgiveness not just for past sin and failure but even for when we fail Jesus in the future. Jesus knows our weakness and yet still has chosen to love and call us.