And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
(Matthew 26:30-35 ESV)
Traditionally the Passover meal ended with the singing of three Psalms called Hallel [Psalm 116, 117, 118]. These Psalms all offer up praise and thanks to God. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus was able to sing praises to God knowing that in about 12 hours He would be nailed to a cross of wood? I wonder how many of us, knowing that we were about to face tragedy or even die, would be able to do the same.
As Jesus and the eleven remaining disciples went out to the Mount of Olives (where Jesus would be arrested a couple of hours later) He dropped another bombshell on them. He told them that all (not some) of them would fall away that night because of Him. He goes on to say that this would be the fulfillment of a prophecy authored by God hundreds of years earlier through the prophet Zechariah [Zechariah 13:7]. Their running away was all part of God’s plan.
The reason for Jesus telling His disciples this is two-fold. First, when it happened (which, as we’ll read, it did) it would further prove His omniscience and claims to be God.
But second, it would have also revealed to the disciples their weak character. This didn’t happen when Jesus uttered these words. It became apparent to them later, after they flee from Jesus when He is arrested just like He said they would [Mark 14:43-50]. The disciples would certainly recall being told they were cowards in advance of actually acting like cowards.
These eleven disciples would be the ones through whom God would reach the planet with the good news of His new covenant and the availability of forgiveness by believing upon Jesus. Everyone who has ever heard the gospel message has done so because of these eleven young men (all but Peter were likely teenagers). But first they needed to be humbled. God cannot use people who are prideful or self-serving. Such people are not devoted to Him or to others. They seek their own glory.
Realizing we are weak when we think we are strong; or are dumb when we think we are smart; or are liars when we think we are honest is a humbling experience. The first step towards spiritual strengthening is to recognize and admit that one is spiritually weak [2 Corinthians 12:9-10]. Sometimes God helps us realize that.
Being told you’re not as great as you think you are by your mentor (which is essentially what is happening here) can change you, if you let it. Judas was not open to hearing such things about Himself. The other eleven were. And that made all the difference. They grew into great men because they (eventually) accepted the words of their teacher and learned from that negative feedback.
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