Matthew 26:31 – Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of m this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”
Wow! Jesus’ last night on earth is proving to be emotionally draining to the apostles.
First, Jesus washes their feet (John 13). This was an utterly unexpected act, which the disciples were hesitant to accept at first. I am sure it made them uncomfortable. But they followed the leading of Jesus, despite its unconventional nature.
Just as things seem to get back to normal during the Passover celebration, Jesus makes the shocking revelation that one of them would betray him. All of them are alarmed and horrified. There would have been a great tide of raw emotion as each one questions if he might be the one. But then a wave of sweet relief washed over the eleven, as each one realized he was not the one.
I am sure they were expecting a typical ending to the Passover celebration; an ending like dozens of endings they had experienced in the past. But not that night! At the close of Passover, Jesus institutes a new sacrament – communion.
Again, a feeling of normalcy must have taken over as they sung the closing hymns and gave thanks to God. But as they depart for the Mount of Olives, Jesus blows their minds again: that very night, in a matter of hours, they will ALL abandon the Teacher/Messiah that they love so dearly!
Can you imagine the second wave of shock and disbelief that overcomes them? Furthermore, Jesus tells them that their abandonment of him was prophesied hundreds of years before:
Zechariah 13:7 – “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
In Zechariah, God speaks of awakening or permitting the sword of his wrath to fall upon the shepherd (Jesus) and smite him. This speaks of the suffering that Jesus would endure on earth before and during his crucifixion.
Once that sword of suffering began to fall, the sheep (disciples) would be scattered (run away, abandon Jesus). This was perfectly fulfilled on the night Jesus was betrayed.
Scattered is an interesting term. It means to strew about or to separate in different directions. In other words, once Jesus was arrested, each disciple immediately turned to the care of himself without regard for Jesus or their fellow apostles. When death drew close, it was instantly ‘every man for himself’.
Matthew 26:32 – “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
But again, words of hope and comfort are given to the followers of Jesus. They hardly had time to process the fact that they would abandon the savior before he assures them that their actions will not be the end of the relationship.
They will forsake Jesus, but He will be faithful to them. They are going to stumble, but He will pick them up. Once He is risen, He will tenderly and lovingly gather them together again. He will go before them, as a true shepherd goes before his sheep.
Matthew 26:33 – Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”
Peter adamantly rejects notion that he would ever abandon Christ. With the utmost confidence he binds himself to a promise – ‘I will not be offended and run away’. But he doesn’t stop there; he presumptuously claims that he would NEVER be offended in Christ.
Hmm… had his declaration been made in an attitude of humble dependency upon the grace of God, it might have been acceptable. But clearly, it was being made out of confidence in his own fleshly power and courage.
Evidently, down in his heart, he feels that he is better than his fellow disciples; they may fall, but he will not. His pride and self confidence are readily apparent in his conversation. He assumes that he is safe from any and all temptations and weaknesses that are common to mankind.
In reality, he has no idea just how weak he truly is!
Matthew 26:34 – Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
Peter is sure that he will escape the temptation better than any of his fellow apostles, but in fact, he will do worse. He would not only run away out of fear, but he would disown Jesus – not once, but three separate times.
Matthew 26:35 – Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
Clearly Peter knew what he SHOULD do – die with Christ rather than denying him (Luke 14:26).
He knew what he WANTED to do – be faithful to his Lord, no matter what the cost (Luke 9:62).
Though his intentions were noble, he was POWERLESS to stand when the trial/temptation came.
Peter would soon find out that although death does not look so formidable at a distance, it can be scary close up! When it draws near, your natural (fleshly) reactions are fear and flight. Sure enough, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, fear took over, and Peter fled the scene.
What about us? Are we in a position to stand firm when trials and temptations come to us? How can we avoid the same mistake that Peter made on that long ago night?
One thing we can do is make sure we are wearing the full armor of God:
Ephesians 6:11-12 – Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.
The apostles failed to stand that night because they were operating in their own fleshly power. It takes spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles. Spiritual attacks can only be thwarted with spiritual defenses:
Ephesians 6:13 – Therefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Let’s take a quick review of the spiritual armor available to us:
Ephesians 6:14 – Stand therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
Integrity, holiness and purity in life are automatic defenses against many of the assaults of Satan. There is an old saying ‘those who play with fire get burned’. Don’t play with sin – if you do, temptation will overcome you every time.
One of the greatest defenses you have is truth. This doesn’t mean just telling the truth in everyday life. The Bible tells us that God’s word is truth (John 17:17). It is vital that you know and recognize truth as defined in the Bible, because the world is constantly whispering lies into your ears.
- The world says that sexual perversions are legitimate alternate lifestyles. God says that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman.
- The world says that all religions can coexist; all roads lead to heaven. The bible says Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him.
- The world says you are descended from a monkey. The bible says that man was created in the image of God.
- The world says that God is either dead or powerless. The bible says that Jesus reigns and that he will one day put all enemies under his feet.
I am sure that each of us could give many other examples. The point is, if you want to stand in times of trial and temptation, you need to know what the truth really is!
Ephesians 6:15-16 – And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
Do you have your shoes on? Are you ready to give a simple account of the gospel message to those around you? If not, take the time to put together some scriptures so that you are ready to harvest a life for Christ when the opportunity arises.
What about your shield? Is it a big, thick, formidable one, or a small, thin weak one?
Good news: you can strengthen your shield of faith.
- Every time you pray, you are exercising faith. If you didn’t believe that God hears and answers prayer, you would not bother to pray!
- When you claim and/or speak one of God’s promises over your life or the life of someone you know, you are exercising faith in the promises of God. When he answers, your faith grows and is strengthened.
- When you obey the commandments of God, you are practicing faith in his word.
- When you testify about something that you believe God is going to do for you, even though you have not seen it happen yet, you are exercising faith.
The shield protects every part of the body by deflecting or blocking attacks. Likewise, your faith will protect every aspect of your life, if it is strong enough.
Ephesians 6:17 – And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
Are you wearing your helmet? Are you convinced of having salvation and the blessings of God in the next life? The assurance of an eternity spent with God can strengthen hope and resolve which can aid you in the fight against evil.
The sword makes another reference to the word of God. When Jesus fought with Satan during the wilderness temptation, what did he use to defeat him? That’s right – the word of God. The same word that is available to you right now. You should have some of that word hidden in your heart so you can use it on command when temptations and afflictions arise, just as Jesus did.
Are there other things that will help us stand in the day of temptation? Most assuredly!
1 Corinthians 10:13 – There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Here is an exceedingly great promise from God that we can use for our benefit. God has provided an escape route for us, in each and every temptation that the enemy throws our way. We must train ourselves to look for that escape hatch.
For instance, let’s suppose that you have a problem with envy. Anytime you see someone with something wonderful, you want it for yourself. Your desire is so great, that you are angry at the other person’s happiness.
What ways of escape might be open to you, as you fight this temptation/sin?
First off, you could use the sword of the Spirit to knock down the bullet of envy by quoting Luke 12:15 to yourself:
Luke 12:15 – And he [Jesus] said to them, Take heed and beware of covetousness; for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.
That would stop your envy quickly, wouldn’t it? During that moment when envy is pushed back, you could begin to list the things in your life that you are thankful for. As you begin to dwell on how good God has been to you now, and the wonderful things that will be yours in eternity, envy will have to leave. So in this case, thankfulness would be an escape hatch against envy.
Another idea would be to begin to worship God, the giver of all good and perfect gifts. As we enter into his presence through worship, no evil can follow; envy will depart from us when we are in God’s throne room. Remember David and King Saul? When the evil spirit came to torment the king, David would play songs of praise on his harp, and the demon would leave. Why was that? Because God inhabits our praise, and the demon could not stay in God’s presence.
Perhaps a third idea would be to call a spiritual friend. Let them know you are having an attack, and you need some support. The two of you could talk until your temptation passes.
So stop and think for a moment – what temptations/sins are the most difficult for you to battle against? What scriptures could you use to deflect an attack? How could you use your faith to block an attack? What possible escape hatches can you find? I encourage you to prepare now, before the next attack comes!
Of course, the ultimate source of power that God has given to every Christian is his Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that transformed the cowering, fearful disciples into mighty, fearless witnesses for God.
In Matthew 26, we found Peter running away in fear and denying Jesus. Yet, at the end of his life he was willingly crucified for his faith in Christ. Foxes’ Book of Martyrs tells us that Peter did not think himself worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus, so he requested to be crucified upside down. Can you imagine that?
Through the power of the Holy Spirit Peter lived a holy life, won people to Christ, performed miracles, refuted false teaching, wrote two books of the New Testament, brought the Gentiles into the church, and many other things.
It was the Holy Spirit who equipped him to carry out the divine mission that God had appointed for him. The Holy Spirit is still available to believer today:
Acts 2:38-39 – Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
His mission has not changed. He is here on earth, willing to baptize and equip any follower of Jesus with the power needed to stand in the time of temptation, and to fulfill the unique destiny that God has appointed for each one of us.
Why not spend some time in prayer this week, asking Jesus if you need more of the Holy Spirit in your life? If you do, be open to a move of God in your life.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
You are not helpless and alone in the fight against temptation and evil. Far from it! God has given you spiritual armor to aid in your battle. He has given you his word; the same word Jesus used to defeat Satan during His temptation. And He has given you (or is willing even now to give you) a new infilling of his Holy Spirit.
So don’t live your life discouraged. Live in victory by using the power and skills that God has given to you.
Let me offer you some relief:
Have you ever wondered whether or not you would be strong enough to be a martyr for Christ? I can answer that for you.
If you were to depend on your own power and determination, you would fail just as Peter did on that Passover night so long ago. Your flesh does not have the power to be a martyr.
But here is the relief – you don’t have to depend on your own power! If you are full of the Holy Spirit he would empower you to be victorious in all your spiritual struggles. Through Him, you would certainly be able to withstand evil, even to the point of death.
Let me offer you some strength:
God has created you to be victorious in the face of evil. He does not want you to be cowering and fearful. He will provide you with the strength necessary to be faithful to him until he returns or calls you home.
Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yea, I will help you; yea, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.