THE COLLAPSE OF PETER
We now gather together the passages which tell the story of Peter.
THE MASTER’S WARNING
Then Jesus said to them, “Every one of you will be made to stumble because of me during this night; for it stands written, `I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you into Galilee.” Peter answered him, “If all are made to stumble because of you, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “This is the truth I tell you–During this night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.” So also spoke all the disciples.
In this passage certain characteristics of Jesus are clear.
(i) We see the realism of Jesus. He knew what lay ahead. Matthew actually sees the flight of the disciples foretold in the Old Testament in Zech.13:7. Jesus was no easy optimist, who could comfortably shut his eyes to the facts. He foresaw what would inevitably happen and yet he went on.
(ii) We see the confidence of Jesus. “After I have been raised,” he says, “I will go before you into Galilee.” Always Jesus saw beyond the Cross. He was every bit as certain of the glory as he was of the suffering.
(iii) We see the sympathy of Jesus. He knew that his men were going to flee for their lives and abandon him in the moment of his deepest need; but he does not upbraid them, he does not condemn them, he does not heap reproaches on them, or call them useless creatures and broken reeds. So far from that, he tells them that when that terrible time is past, he will meet them again. It is the greatness of Jesus that he knew men at their worst and still loved them. He knows our human weakness; he knows how certain we are to make mistakes and to fail in loyalty; but that knowledge does not turn his love to bitterness or contempt. Jesus has nothing but sympathy for the man who in his weakness is driven to sin.
Further, this passage shows us something about Peter. Surely his fault is clear; over-confidence in himself. He knew that he loved Jesus–that was never in doubt–and he thought that all by himself he could face any situation which might arise. He thought that he was stronger than Jesus knew him to be. We shall be safe only when we replace the confidence which boasts by the humility which knows its weakness and which depends not on itself but the help of Christ.
The Romans and the Jews divided the night into four watches–6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; 9 p.m. to midnight; midnight to 3 a.m.; 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. It was between the third and the fourth watch that the cock was supposed to crow. What Jesus is saying is that before the dawn comes Peter will deny him three times.
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