30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
31 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
33 Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
34 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.
I suppose that at some point we are all like Peter and the apostles, claiming we will never deny Christ. But as my pastor likes to say, the real test is when the rubber meets the road. When truly faced with fear, pain, danger, and adversity, the real test is how we react. All our actions up to that point, all our good works and giving and service, they mean nothing if our REactions fall short, if we fail the test of trials and tribulations. In Greek, the word most often translated as “to tempt” is πειραζο (“peirazo”), which comes from a root word that means “to pierce.” When we are pierced, will we stand up to it and never deny Christ?
At the Last Supper, Jesus knows that the apostles will not deny Him of their own accord. Rather, they will be MADE to stumble–or as Robert Young’s literal translation puts it, they will “BE stumbled.” That’s a bit different than simply “fall away,” as some Bible versions have it, because “fall away” implies that one does this by accident. But being made or caused to stumble is quite different from simply falling down. The root verb in Greek is σκανδαλίζω (“skandalizo”), which means to put a trip or trap in front of someone. You see, we don’t simply trip over our own pride or little faith, we trip over something that is put in our way by someone else. We are made to stumble.
What is it that causes us to stumble? Or, more importantly, who puts it there? The answer to the second question is: Satan. Knowing that the devil is putting stumbling blocks in our way, we can start to understand what he puts out there to trip us up. Jesus says of Satan, “When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44b) Lies, doubt, deception, distortion, pride, envy–these are the tools of Satan. He tempts and goads us with our own doubts and desires, inflates our fears and our anxiety, twists the Word of God to make it sound different than it is. He even tells us we stumble on our own, simply fall away, rather than him taking the blame for the traps he puts in our path.
However, don’t be deceived in the other direction, either. Don’t think that our falling away, our yielding to temptation, is always Satan’s work. He cannot be everywhere at once, and even his demons have their limitations. As sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we are quite able to sin all on our own. The way to avoid both the stumbling blocks of the devil and the traps of our own sinful nature is to watch and pray.
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Yes, the “temptation” of which Jesus speaks is πειρασμον (“peirasmon”)–that goading, that testing we undergo every day as Christians–and we must be ever watchful and ever praying, or else we’ll walk right into trials. Yes, like Peter, James, and John, we WANT to stay awake for the Lord Jesus, but we ourselves are too weak. We cannot face the task alone, and so, because we so often rely on our own strength, we fail.
Satan loves to capitalize on those who have doubts, on those who fear for their own lives or reputation. That’s what the devil did with Peter that night, playing on Peter’s entirely human fear of persecution and death. Having seen his Master arrested and facing kangaroo courts, Peter was afraid of a similar fate. On one level, he ached to be near his Lord, but on another level he feared for his own life. And even though Peter came so close to being at his Master’s side, he still failed, he still was caused to stumble.
The important lesson that Peter learned is not to doubt his Lord. Jesus said his disciples would fail that night, and they did. Peter was singled out because he alone followed Jesus close to the courts. Peter denied his Master three times, but once he knew he had done so, he lamented it. From that moment, Peter had a different heart–a broken heart, a heart bereft of prideful boasting about not being made to stumble. In short, Peter finally had a heart ready to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.
And perhaps that is the lesson for all of us, that we must be broken and be aware of our brokenness before we can truly be disciples of Christ. Calling Jesus our “Lord” and “Savior” is quite different from being Christ-like. All the lessons Peter had learned about obeying God, never doubting his faith, serving others–those were all lessons in being like Christ. But the final lesson is that we will face the goads and snares of Satan, and so we must be watching and praying (without ceasing!), or we will stumble.
Today is as good a day as any for building ourselves up in the Lord. Let us reflect upon our lives as they are today, examining them for stumbling blocks, for spears and traps. Let us pray and fast to bring the Holy Spirit alongside us as our watchman, our shield-brother. We need the Spirit in our lives so that, whether we face the traps of Satan or the temptations of our own lives, we can never be made to stumble. And if by some chance we do stumble, the other lesson to remember is that God will forgive us if we repent and seek Him always.
Father God, it is only by Your grace that I can stand at all, because I stumble so much. Come into my life today, Lord, and be the center of my life. Be my Rock and my smooth path, be my light and my salvation, my strength and my song. Jesus my Savior never denied You, Father. So, please strengthen me so I can never deny Your Son. Amen.