Prelude to His Suffering: Matthew 26: 31 – 35 (Pastor Joey Rountree)
Everyone needs a close friend. Especially, when times get tough. Chuck Swindoll states, “Hard times lead to lonely times.” In these times, nothing provides more sustaining strength than a true friend. Consider the friends in the life of Jesus. There were the twelve, although one would be His betrayer. Honing in even closer were Peter, James, and John, and it seems Peter may have been His closest friend. In this passage, only a few hours from His crucifixion, Jesus will share a tragic truth with His friends. They will all reject Him. Jesus will face His time of suffering without human companionship. He will be alone.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it was written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this night before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And so said all the disciples.” Matthew 26:31-35
The Lord’s Supper is behind them. They sang a hymn and returned to the Mount of Olives. It was here that Jesus recently conveyed the dire future of Jerusalem to His disciples. His words now will be much more personal.
This passage begins the most graphic account of the Lord’s humanity recorded. Here, He predicts that each of these men will be made to stumble. His words are, “Because of Me, you will be made to stumble.” The term, “made to stumble,” is a combination of Greek words meaning, “to be offended,” “to take offense,” “to not associate with,” and “to reject.” He will become a scandal and they will leave Him.
Jesus’ prediction includes a quote from the prophet, Zechariah. To gain the context, we read:
“‘Awake O sword, against My Shepherd, Against the Man who is My companion.’ Says the Lord of hosts, ‘Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered…'” Zechariah 13: 7
From Matthew’s account, there is a subtle hint of someone orchestrating the events of Jesus’ passion. He states, “Because of Me, you will be made to stumble.” Zechariah is not so subtle. His prophecy envisions a supreme authority calling upon a sword of judgement to strike this Man; this Companion; this Shepherd. At the striking of this Shepherd, all the sheep will scatter. This is metaphoric language of course. The sword is God’s judgement; the Shepherd is God’s representative. God is bringing His wrath upon His own Companion, His Shepherd.
Texts, such as Acts 2:23 bring this prophecy into perspective. There, Peter proclaims, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”
Men carry out their sinful activities, but God is sovereign. The Jews provided a false witness against this innocent man, Jesus. The Romans carried out the crucifixion. All Jesus’ friends would reject Him. But, as Zechariah prophesied 500 years earlier, God was carefully orchestrating His plan. God was delivering His wrath against His Son. God was placing His Shepherd on the cross. God was sacrificing His own Son for the sins of men. What love for His creation our God must have!
But there’s good news for the disciples. The stumbling is only temporary. Neither death nor desertion can end this story. Jesus said, “I’m going to be raised and I’m going to meet you in Galilee.” Resurrection results in re-gathering.
Note: We serve a risen Savior. Until we truly grasp that deep in our hearts, we have only religion.
Peter responds to Jesus’ words (v.33) as expected. The Bible does not attempt to hide the frailties of the created. Peter says, “Not this cat! Everyone else may leave You, but not me.” As all the disciples join Peter in self-edification, Jesus bluntly shares, “Not only will you reject Me; you’ll deny Me. Not once; but three times. Not some time in the future; this very night.” Jesus, without condemnation, is only sharing truth with His friends.
All but one of the disciples would see their fellowship restored with Jesus. Judas would not be in Galilee.
As the story unfolds, great comfort is found for the eleven and for us. When the difficult passages of Scripture bring questions of doubt, we have this narrative to strengthen our faith. Jesus said, “If you deny Me, I’ll deny you.” Eleven were restored, one was not. All twelve rejected and disassociated themselves from Him. Was Jesus partial in His forgiveness?
The difference between the eleven and the one is a matter of “no faith,” and a “temporary weakening of faith.” Judas did not believe and his actions gave evidence of that unbelief. After the scene in the courtyard, Peter ran out and wept bitterly. Judas hung himself.
The anchor that holds is the relationship with Christ. The Gospel is not about organized religion, church membership, or good works. The Gospel is God becoming a Man, entering a finite time to die and be raised. The Gospel is that Jesus paid it all. The debt we couldn’t pay; He paid. The right response to the Gospel is to believe. The right response is to declare Him Lord and enter into a relationship with Him.
God had a plan… we must have a relationship.