In this study we will note how quickly professed believers can disown their Lord in times of difficulty or persecution. The measure of our Christian faith is not found in what we say when all is going well, but when trouble comes our way. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
“And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Mark 14:26-27).
All the disciples were going to commit the same sin before the cock crowed that night. Jesus knew them before He called them, and their human weaknesses did not prevent Him from choosing them. He knew perfectly well that they would all desert Him on the night of His arrest. No matter how much they might protest against Christ’s words, they were destined to fulfil prophecy, “Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7).
It should encourage us to see that the Lord does not cast off those He chooses because of failures and imperfections. He knows that we will miserably fail Him too at times, either through sin or embarrassment, but those who return to Christ will find forgiveness and restoration. God knows our shortcomings, but He continues to work with us and in us to bring us to perfection, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) … “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
“But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee” (Mark 14:28).
It seems that the disciples did not really hear the promise Jesus made here. Their hearts were so blinded with thinking they had the ability to stand with their Lord that they did not acknowledge the promise of the resurrection. When He was betrayed, they deserted Him. When He was crucified, they were in despair. When He arose on the third day, they would not believe it. They had heard Jesus speak of His resurrection many times, but it had never made any impression on their hearts. It is of interest to note, that after telling His disciples that they would deny Him, Jesus, according to John’s Gospel, says, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).
How many times have we read a passage of Scripture or listened to a sermon only to forget what we read or heard a few hours later? To read the truth and not remember it is of no more value than having never read it at all! When we face days of darkness or despair, then it will be revealed just how unarmed and unprepared we are. Too many Christians are like Hagar; she was dying of thirst in the wilderness, but did not notice the well near by. “And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). We need to pray that our minds would be quickened and ready to receive God’s refreshing word now, and in so doing be prepared for times of sorrow and affliction.
“But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all” (Mark 14:29-31).
Peter would rather die than desert his Lord, “Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended” (Matthew 26:33). All the others agreed and added their “Amen.” Yet their confession was presumption rather than faith. Within twelve hours they all forsook Christ as their loud profession was forgotten. Their personal danger in associating with Jesus swept away all promises of faithfulness. Jesus had spoken directly to Peter about what was going to happen, “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:31-33). Peter was offended by these words, but the Lord knew him better than he knew himself. What was Peter’s presumption? He believed that he could hold up under the same suffering that Jesus was about to endure. “Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake” (John 13:36-37).
We need to remind ourselves that circumstances are able to alter our feelings. Solomon was right when he wrote, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). We may feel, and announce to those around us, that we would never fall away from Christ or disown Him, but there is much more wickedness in our hearts than we know. We cannot tell how far we will fall when presented with temptation or tribulation. There is no degree of sin into which the best Christian may not run, if he is not strengthened by the grace of God and if he does not watch and pray. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).
If we had stood with the disciples that night on the Mount of Olives, we too would have professed our loyalty to Christ, but like them we would run away also. They disowned the Lord that evening, but how many times have we been guilty of denying Him since we received salvation?