“Whither goest thou?”
“Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now.”
“Why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.”
The scene is the upper room. The exchange was between two men, one a mere man, the other the Son of man. Both make what amounts to a declaration of faithfulness to the other. Listen.
“Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. . .”
“Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. ”
“. . . but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.”
In our consideration of the fruit of the Spirit, as the manifestations of that fruit are outlined by Paul in Galatians 5. we have come now to “faith.” The faith of which the apostle speaks in this context is not faith in God (the “certain knowledge” and “assured confidence ” of which our Heidelberg Catechism speaks), but rather faithfulness – faithfulness “in what we profess and promise to others” (Matthew Henry). A “faithful” person is therefore one who is trustworthy, dependable in all of his dealings with others. Cheating on a test in school; using a false balance in the store; concealing from a prospective buyer the fact that the house has termites and the roof leaks like a sieve; understating income and overstating contributions when preparing Form 1040; taking “smoke-breaks,” or whatever, on company time – to none of these may a faithful child of God give place in his life. Reliability, loyalty, honesty, strict adherence to the truth in all our assertions, all of our promises, all of our engagements – these are marks of the Christian who demonstrates in his life the fruit of the Spirit which is called “faith.”
Of the ungodly it can surely be said that “there is no faithfulness in their mouth” (Ps. 5:9). But how about us? How do we measure up when it comes to this matter of “faith”? That’s an important question, for honesty and dependability are not just social obligations. They are that too. “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble,” says Solomon in Proverbs 25, “is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.” But, more importantly by far, they are spiritual obligations. God is concerned about our faithfulness. In fact, He has made it clear in His Word that a man who is unfaithful is not fit for fellowship with Him. “Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle!” asks the Psalmist. ‘Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” (Ps. 15:1). In response, the Lord Himself, by His Holy Spirit, gives the qualifications for citizenship in Zion, for habitation in the heavenly Jerusalem; and among them there’s this: “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not” (vs. 4) – that is, he who, when he promises to do a certain thing, and later finds that he cannot do it without damage to his worldly estate, will nevertheless not waver from his vow. He keeps his word, always, even when it hurts.
We ask again: What about us? How do we measure up? The truth is that, viewing ourselves in the mirror of God’s perfect law, we see that, apart from any other consideration, our unfaithfulness alone is enough to bar us forever from His presence. But the law leads us to Christ. Writes Spurgeon, “Truly humbled souls often shrink under a sense of utter unworthiness, and would not dare to approach the throne of the God of holiness if it were not for Him, our Lord, our Advocate, Who can abide in the heavenly temple, because His righteousness endureth forever.” Yes, only Christ’s righteousness can withstand the refining fire of the Great Refiner. And His righteousness has been given to us. Who then can stand, accepted, in the presence of the Majesty on high? Only the sinless Lord Jesus. . .and those who are by God’s grace conformed, not to this world (Rom. 12:2), but to the image of the Son of God (Rom. 8:29). And “conformed to His image” means, among other things, that faithfulness will be evident in our lives. We will be, in every relationship of life. trustworthy, dependable – even as Jesus, our Lord, was faithful. Not perfectly, of course, for we are no better than Peter. . .but it will most emphatically be clear in our lives that we strive to be like Jesus, also with regard to this fruit of “faith.” “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20).
Peter failed. And it was in the way of his unfaithfulness that the faithfulness of Jesus was made all the more remarkable. Let’s look a little more closely at this particular aspect of Christ’s suffering in the night in which He was betrayed.
We find Jesus leading His disciples from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane. He did that, knowing full well that the traitor would anticipate that move. To have escaped Judas at this time would therefore have been so exceedingly simple. Jesus would only have had to choose a destination other than the Garden. But His hour had come, and Jesus voluntarily chooses the way which He knows will lead to the cross. Knowing, further, that events in the Garden will soon enough make it clear also to the disciples that He is in effect choosing death, Jesus forewarned the Eleven that they would all be offended because of Him that night. Once again it is the impetuous Peter who speaks up: “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I!” And once more Jesus warns Peter of his imminent fall: “Verily I say unto thee, that this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.” But, just as adamantly as ever, Peter continues to contradict the word of the Lord. “If I should die with thee,” he insisted, “I will not deny thee in any wise.”
Once in the garden, Peter found himself left alone with John and James, with these instructions from the Master: “Pray that ye enter not into temptation. ” He should therefore have remained alert, not only to provide the company that Jesus seemed to desire of them, but also to prepare himself by prayer for the severe trial of his faith of which Jesus had forewarned them. But he slept.
Shortly thereafter, however, when in the dead of night a “great multitude” arrived in the garden, Peter snapped very much to attention. Hearing the captain give the order, seeing the soldiers advance to take hold of Jesus, Peter made his move. Before him was a detachment of Roman soldiers numbering probably 200, and perhaps a like number of temple police. But that meant nothing to Peter. Out flashed his sword. He was ready to take on the whole lot, singlehandedly if need be, in what he saw to be the cause of his Master. “Lord,” he asked, “shall we smite with the sword?” And, without waiting for an answer he struck the first blow. But that was all. “Put up again thy sword into his place,” Jesus commanded. Not only that, Jesus also did what was necessary to repair what little damage Peter had managed to do in his misdirected zeal. There could be no doubt about it – Jesus wanted to remain defenseless before the enemy. To the disciples, at that moment, Jesus was an embarrassment. They were offended in Him. He would not let them even try to help Him. What useful purpose could possibly be served therefore by remaining with Him, and sharing in His fate? So “they all forsook him and fled. ”
Two of them, however, apparently had second thoughts about that sudden flight into the darkness of the night. Turning back, they found that they were easily able to follow so large a company of “captors” to their destination, which, as it turned out, was the Palace of the High Priest. The Palace was not open to the public, of course, especially at that hour of the night; but, because of some acquaintance with the high priest, John was able to gain entrance for himself. And, once inside, he was able to use his influence to arrange for Peter’s admission also. Their ways must then have parted, for Peter soon found himself running into difficulties by himself in the inner court. He had gone to the fire, partly for warmth, and partly in the hope that, by mingling there with the temple police he might be able to learn something of the progress of the case against Jesus. From Peter’s perspective, there was no reason to believe that the night would be for him anything other than uneventful. He was therefore mentally prepared for nothing – in spite of the fact that Christ had specifically warned him that he would this very night fall into the snare of the devil. As it happened, the maid who kept the door had kept her eye on him. Having gathered from John’s remarks that Peter was also a sympathizer with the man who had been brought in captive that night, she felt that she was privy to information that the men at the fire knew nothing about. So, perhaps for no other reason than to make herself look important, she decided to go to the fire and expose Peter.
“Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee, ” she announced before them all. A cold sweat come over Peter. What would happen were he to acknowledge the truth of her claim? Would the officers seize him? Would they throw him in prison? Would they make him the butt of their jokes? Or would they simply pass this information off as being of no consequence? Peter had no time to consider the possibilities. He knew only that he was surrounded by the very men who had participated in the taking of Jesus and who would therefore have to be viewed as the enemy. So. . what did he do? He made a quick, simple, almost ambiguous denial of it – “I know not what thou sayest.” Now the matter may be dropped, he thought, whereas to admit the truth of the girl’s allegation would be to court disaster for no good purpose.
How like us! How often do we not, either by silence or by some off-hand, casual remark make it appear as if we are part of the world – in order to avoid embarrassment. As Calvin put it, “Peter’s fall. . .brilliantly mirrors our own infirmity.” That reflection becomes all the clearer as we mark the progress in Peter’s unfaithfulness. Feeling terribly uncomfortable because of the lie he had told, and feeling threatened in the place where he was, he eased himself away from the fire and sauntered casually out to the porch. The first thing he heard on the porch was the crowing of a cock; but it didn’t really register in his mind because he found himself at once in further difficulties. Again, it was a maid. He heard the girl remark to others standing by that “this fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. ” One of the men then chose to follow the girl’s lead by challenging Peter directly: “Thou art also of them.” Peter gritted his teeth and, hoping to set the matter to rest once and for all, declared with an oath, “Man, I am not!”
Then it was back to the fireside, and join in with the conversation, to give the appearance of being just one of the guys. But he succeeded only in giving himself away. “Surely thou art one of them,” another man insisted at length, “for thou art a Galilean, and thy speech agreeth thereto.” Convinced from the beginning that Peter was lying, they were determined not to let him get away with it. And what clinched it was the observation of a relative of Malchus, from whose head Peter had sliced an ear. “Did I not see thee in the garden with him?” Ah, by now Peter is frightened. frantic, ready to do almost anything to extricate himself. Cursing and swearing he shouted, “I know not this man of whom ye speak!”
The words were not yet out of his mouth when, for the second time, the cock crew. This time Peter heard. And why did he hear? Because he had a Friend Who, in circumstances infinitely more trying, had remained faithful. Consider: that godless Sadducee Caiaphas had just finished rending his garment in pretended horror at Jesus’s supposed blasphemy in affirming that He was the Son of God. Not content merely with condemning Him to death, the Sanhedrists then fell to abusing the Christ. They spit in His face. They buffeted Him. They struck Him with the palms of their hands and demanded, “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who is he that smote thee?” Forgetting the dignity of their high office, they act like savages. All the rage which for three years had been building up in them comes out in a torrent now that Jesus is at last seemingly in their power, to do with Him as they will. They leave Him bloodied and bruised.
Then there were the Eleven. They had recently pledged to Him a devotion from which they would not be turned even by the threat of death. But He had seen the backs of those men as they fled into the darkness of the night in Gethsemane, rather than run the risk of being taken captive with Jesus. And Peter? This is the disciple who would not so much as be offended at Jesus – even if every other person in the whole world would be offended. Where is he now? Out in the courtyard, calling God to witness, and wishing himself to be accursed of God, if he even so much as knew “that man. ”
Think now. Have you ever been told that someone you know, said something really unkind about you? A talebearer is able to separate chief friends (Prov. 17:9) only because we can’t take that. It is so hard for us to be like Jesus. When His friends were acting like enemies, when they were showing themselves to be disloyal, undependable, and untrue, He remained faithful Who had promised. “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
But is it perhaps true that Jesus was not bothered by such things as the desertion of the Eleven and the denial of Peter? Don’t believe that for a moment. If the Holy Spirit can be “grieved” because of our sins (Eph. 4:30), how much more the Son of God incarnate, “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15)? Jesus knew what was going on in that courtyard. And He was wounded by it. True, He understood that Peter, being a true child of God, would come to repentance. But that didn’t take the sting out of the offense as it occurred. Peter was out there disassociating himself from Jesus, and adding a volley of profanity for emphasis. What if we had been on the receiving end of that kind of abuse? Do we need that much from a fellow saint before we let him know in one way or another that it’s just fine with us that any previous bonds which may have united us in the past are and remain broken. . .and if reconciliation is ever to be affected, it will only be after the one who has offended us comes crawling? Jesus didn’t do that. Instead He “turned and looked upon Peter.” “It was,” writes Calvin, “no ordinary look (since He had already looked on Judas, who became none the better for it). but with the turning of His eyes on Peter, there went the secret power of the Spirit piercing his heart with the radiance of His grace.” It was a look which was intended to bring Peter to himself, to his spiritual senses. And it accomplished exactly that, for, crushed now by the consciousness of the terrible thing he had done, Peter “went out, and wept bitterly.”
For Peter, that was indeed a bitter experience. But, by the mercy of God, it served him well. And it’s written for our instruction. We see our own weakness, of course, in Peter’s fall; and we see too a wonderful display of grace for fallen sinners. Beyond that, however, we are given yet another example of what it means to be Christ-like in our relationships with others. Peter, after his fall from the heights of his sinful pride, would be the first to say, “Don’t be like me.” Most probably reflecting on his own failure of “faith” in this instance, he warned, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Jesus on the other hand, might very well say with respect to the matter of faithfulness, as He did concerning meekness, “Be like Me! “