After the last supper Jesus and the disciples went out to the Mount of Olives. In keeping with his desire that there be no surprises, Jesus told the disciples they would all fall away from him that very night. This was to fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah, which said, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” (Verse 31, Zechariah 13:7) Peter said in reply that even if all the rest of the disciples fall away, he would never fall away.
Jesus then operated a word of knowledge saying that not only would he fall away, but also Peter would deny him three times that night before the cock crowed. Peter’s bravado and pride came to the surface then when he said, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of the rest of the disciples said the same.
Did Jesus gain any reassurance from their statements of bravado? Did he expect that they would do as they swore to do and not fall away or deny him? No. Jesus knew that it was just talk and that they would all flee when the time of testing came.
Often today when we are put to the test we too flee. We sometimes turn away from the Lord when the going gets tough and sometimes deny him as Peter did back then. We do this because we are weak or we lack faith and trust in the ability of the Lord to deliver us from the thing causing us problems at the time. When we do fall away as the disciples did, should we worry and condemn ourselves? Let us look at what Jesus did when he spoke these words to the disciples.
We see this same discussion recounted also in Luke 22:31-34. What is interesting in this section is that the Lord, being aware that Simon Peter would deny him said to him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32) Jesus knew that Simon Peter would fall, so he was consoling him here with these words. He was telling him that it would not be held against him for he knew Peter’s weaknesses. Instead though he said, “When you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” That is, when you have repented and returned to the Lord in faith, help your brethren and the other disciples who likewise fled to be consoled. Strengthen them so that they will not suffer condemnation and sorrow over their weakness. So rather than condemn Peter and the rest for their failures, Jesus was saying not to worry about it and move on.
In John 14:1 he shows Peter what he must do when he turns again saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” He tells them to have faith. Don’t worry about your failures and weaknesses, even when they denied him on the eve of his death. Instead they were to trust God, lift up their hearts and have faith. This was the message to Peter in particular who was to help the other disciples lift themselves when they fell into condemnation over their failure to be strong with the Lord.
The message is the same today. When we fall through our human frailties and weaknesses, we are to pick ourselves up and have faith in Jesus Christ. We have already been forgiven. When we were baptised we were already set free from sin, past, present and future and we were also set free from the law of sin and death. At baptism this has already occurred and Jesus says there is no condemnation in him. If this then is true, why condemn ourselves for our failures? Instead, let us accept the grace of God, repent and return to the Lord, walking in his truth, and learn from the experience so that we may be stronger next time temptation comes our way. We may fall again many times, but as we claw our way back and hold firm to the faith we have in Jesus Christ, we will eventually have the victory through him.
When we do fall, if we are truly seeking to follow Jesus, we suffer a Godly grief. Paul wrote, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting; for you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10) So when we suffer Godly grief it leads to repentance and then to salvation for our desire is to be cleared of the wrong we had done. On the other hand when we are not looking to the Lord and we suffer grief, there is no one to console and forgive and that leads to death.
The key to this issue of repentance and returning to the Lord as Jesus explained to Peter and the disciples is to have faith. Trust in the Lord, repent and have faith that in Jesus Christ he will cleanse away all our sins and all our misdeeds. We can take comfort over these things as he shows us, “…if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13) It is our faith in Jesus that can lift us up and set us free when we repent. It is faith that Jesus told Peter and the disciples to rely on when they repented of their failures to keep their word. And it is faith that will eventually lead us to life.