Deserting Jesus

Jesus’ last evening with his disciples had highs and lows. They shared a Passover meal and Jesus changed the emphasis. They sang hymns together. But Jesus knew that it was not going to be a good night for the disciples: before it ended they would all have turned their backs on him.

“‘You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written: ‘ “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘today – yes, tonight – before the cock crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.’ But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same.” (Mark 14:27-31 NIV)

It must have been sad for Jesus to have to tell his disciples these things, and even more sad to listen to their denials that they would never forsake him. And of course there is Peter, insisting strenuously that even if he had to die he would never disown his Master. But notice that it wasn’t just Peter saying this – they all did.

Then came the betrayal in Gethsemane by Judas one of the twelve, one of their own. This must have shaken the group! Peter even drew his sword and attacked the servant of the high priest, severing his ear. Jesus promptly healed the man’s ear and told Peter and the disciples to put away their weapons. This was not the way his kingdom would be.

“Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” (Mark 14:50-52)

They all fled. All twelve of the disciples and, we discover, there were others following as well. This young man is unnamed but many believe this is John Mark, the writer of this biography of Jesus. After all, how would he have known about this incident if it were not him?

Peter and John followed those who had taken Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest. In John’s account of this incident we discover that he was able to get in and also to get Peter let in. Peter’s problem was that he was recognised.

“‘You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus’… ‘This fellow is one of them’… ‘Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean’.” (Mark 14:66-71)

With each accusation Peter seems to have become more fearful. Each time he denied knowing Jesus and even reverted to curses and swearing to get the people to believe him when he said, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about” (Mark 14:71). Although Jesus had said this would happen and Peter, with much bravado, had stated that he would never do such a thing, in the heat of the moment he denied even knowing his Master.

“Immediately the cock crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the cock crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72)

Hearing the rooster crow brought home to him what he had done – he had denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus had said. Luke recorded that it was at that moment that Jesus looked right at Peter. No wonder he left in tears!

But that isn’t the end of the story for Peter – or for the rest of the apostles. They returned to Jesus. They were restored to him and became the courageous apostles we read about throughout the book of Acts.

When we turn our back on Jesus make sure that isn’t the end of our story either. Return to him, confessing our weakness and sin, change our life, and resolve to once again follow him.

Photo: Statue of Peter’s denials at Gallicantu, Jerusalem (site of Caiaphas’ house) by Jon Galloway, January 2018.

Readings for next week: Mark 10-14

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