Today, we will continue looking at the last days of Jesus according to Matthew. Last week we saw where Peter declared his loyalty to Jesus until the end. Jesus let Peter know that he would actually deny him three times before the rooster crowed. Jesus was arrested, but as the men came to arrest Jesus one of those with Jesus cut off one's ear. *John identifies this sword wielder as Peter. So, today let's look at what might have led Peter to deny Jesus.
"At that time Jesus said to the crowd, 'Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.' Then all the disciples deserted him and fled." (Matthew 26:55-56)
This tells us that Peter was not the only one to turn his back on Jesus. No, according to Matthew, they all fled. Now, I think Jesus gives us some insight into their reasoning. His question here (Am I leading a rebellion) is directed to those arresting him, but I would suggest that while the authorities were fearful he was leading a rebellion, the disciples were hopeful he was. Was this why they followed Jesus? Was this the messiah they were expecting; one who led a rebellion? I believe that the answer is "Yes."
"Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome." (Matthew 26:57-58)
This is interesting. Peter went to the courtroom to watch the trial. He even sat down with the guards. Why? Often, it is speculated that the reason Peter denied Jesus was because he was afraid that he too might be killed. I am prepared to argue differently, at least based on the evidence Matthew gives us. Remember, when they came to arrest Jesus, Peter (going by John's account that it was Peter), drew his sword and cut off a soldier's ear. If Peter was afraid of dying he would not have done this. He was willing to fight for a cause. Remember, he was a Galilean, who according to Jewish historian Josephus, was always ready for war. No, I believe that Peter is giving Jesus one more chance to begin his rebellion. He waits as long as he can and goes as far as he can go.
Well, the trial does not go well for Jesus, nor Peter. Jesus is convicted without a fight. According to Matthew Jesus doesn't offer anything in his own defense. What kind of rebel is this? They "spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, 'Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?" (Matthew 26:67-68) And Jesus does nothing. "Now Peter was sitting in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. 'You also were with Jesus of Galilee,' she said. But he denied it all before them all. 'I don't know what you're talking about,' he said. (Matthew 26:69) Peter denies being with, or knowing Jesus two more times. Now, again, it can be argued that he is afraid of being arrested and treated just like Jesus. But, I still suggest that if Jesus had gone into the courtyard and said to the authorities, "Go ahead, you bunch of.....make my day." Then pulled out his sword, Peter and the gang would have been eager to battle it out right by his side. No, Peter is now convinced that Jesus was not the messiah he thought he was. He did not come to lead a rebellion at all. "Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, 'I don't know the man!" (Matthew 26:74) I think what he is saying under his breath is: "He is not who I thought he was."
Why is it that people today who have followed Christ sometimes abandon him? Is it because Jesus turns out not to be the Jesus they thought they were following? Could it be that we have preconceived notions of who Jesus is? We hear from the television preachers just how that if we do this, then God will....We see healing tale place with just the slap of a hand and the mention of Jesus' name. Yet, those who follow Christ in the real world often come to realize that to follow Christ is to do so through the valleys and rough places of life. Many are fine with following Jesus, as long as its the Jesus they expect to follow.
"Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken...And he went outside and wept bitterly." (Matthew 26:75)
Isn't it amazing how God speaks to people? Some of the most affective sermons ever preached were not preached by preachers. No, they were preached by donkeys, stillness, and roosters. I have several jokes that have just come to mind here, but I'll just chuckle to myself. But, what I am wondering here is this: Why did Peter weep? "Well, preacher! It's because he was sorry for what he did! Duh!" Hmm...I am not so convinced. Certainly, this confirms that Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew Peter. But, is Peter so broken because of his betrayal of Jesus? Or, is he weeping over the fact that this just did not work out? Is Peter also concerned about what the future holds, not only for him, but for his people? After all, the oppression continues. Then there is this question: Is Peter weeping because he is left to wonder if the messiah will ever come?
Tomorrow, we will conclude our look at the Gospel of Matthew. I invite you to join me. -Pastor Rick