31 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.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31–35 ESV)
Jesus predicts the behavior of his disciples that they would never believe. They will all fall away because of Jesus this night during his betrayal, arrest, trial, and subsequent crucifixion. Peter rejects this prediction. The other disciples might fall away but there is no way he will. Jesus confirms to Peter that he will not only fail like the disciples, but will also deny Jesus three times. Peter’s words are powerful. “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” The rest of the disciples said the same. There is nothing that would cause them to leave or deny Jesus.
However, we read in Matthew 26:56 that all the disciples deserted Jesus and ran away once Jesus was arrested. Not only this, but Matthew 26:69-75 record the three denials Peter makes while in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial before the high priest. This account should be striking to us because just hours earlier all the disciples declared that they would never leave or deny Jesus. But they did. What was the cause? Why did the disciples fail in this moment? It was certainly not a lack of devotion. These disciples had been with Jesus for years. They had forsaken their careers and were traveling with Jesus wherever he went. They certainly had the desire to follow Jesus and were insulted when Jesus told them that they would all fall away that very night.
When we look at these accounts it becomes evident that fear is the reason why the disciples failed. They run away for their lives when Jesus is arrested. One unnamed disciple was seized by his linen cloth and ran away naked (Mark 14:51-52). In the courtyard Peter denies the Lord three times because it is a dangerous situation for him as those nearby him accuse him of being a disciple. The disciples fail because they were afraid. This is an important reminder for us.
Faith easily deteriorates when circumstances deteriorate. We understand this truth. It is easy to say that we have faith but faith is only proven through difficult circumstances. The apostle Peter said that the genuineness of our faith must be tested by fire (1 Peter 1:7). Faith is not shown or proven through easy, comfortable circumstances. Faith is shown and proven through suffering, trials, and hardships. Faith is shown when we are pressed. We see this exemplified with the wilderness generation in the days of Moses. When they lacked food, water, or fighting strength, the people’s faith failed. On different occasions, the people complained against Moses, complained against God, refused to enter the promised land, and tried to go back to Egypt. Moses said in Deuteronomy 8:2 that God brought hardships on the people to test what was in their heart, to know whether they would obey him or not. In short, serving the Lord with all your heart sounds good on paper. But faith will be tested to see if we will do what we claim. The whole wilderness generation failed except for Joshua and Caleb. Jesus’ disciples failed though declaring their faith would not fail.
To calm a nervous nation during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared in his first inauguration speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This is also true for our spiritual journey with the Lord. Fear is a great enemy to faith. Jesus warned his disciples about all the fearful situations they will experience. They will be taken to court, flogged, dragged in front of rulers, persecuted, hated, and have their family members delivered to death (Matthew 10:16-23). Jesus told them how a bunch of frightening things will happen to them. Jesus then says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The Lord knew fear could derail these disciples from their mission. There was a reason God came to Joshua and twice told him to be strong, courageous, and not afraid (Joshua 1). Fear easily rises up and keeps us from the work God has for us. So God tells Joshua to not let that happen. Jesus tells his disciples to not let that happen. Fear is a great enemy to faith. Faith easily deteriorates when circumstances deteriorate. God calls for his disciples to have faith in him and not fail when tested. Do not let fear block you from doing what God called you to do.
Fear can get the best of us. We may have denied Jesus in our words. We may have denied Jesus in our actions. We may have been unwilling to proclaim our faith in Jesus. We may have hidden our light under a basket. We may have avoided trying to be the salt of the earth. But here is hope. Jesus knew the faith of his disciples would fail when he was betrayed and arrested. But he told them he would go ahead of them to Galilee after his resurrection. They would fail but that did not need to be the end of their story. Jesus would be there for them when they came back to him (Matthew 26:32). Jesus is ready to take us back like he took Peter back after his repeated denial (John 21). The next time Peter and disciples were tested, they stood up before crowds and the Sanhedrin and proclaimed Jesus. Faith overcame fear. God forgive us for when we have caved into our fears. Strengthen our faith for the next test, knowing our hope is not in our perfection, but in our perfect Savior who compassionately loves us even when we fail. We know faith will be tested again. Next time, let faith overcome our fears.