31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” 34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” 35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.This scene from the days preceding Jesus' crucifixion comforts me. These guys were sincere. They loved Jesus. They still didn't exactly understand Him. Even after 3 years, they didn't fully comprehend the cost of following Him. Yet, they were sincere with what they understood at that point, and I believe in their minds they truly couldn't comprehend denying Him.
But none of them had understood what Jesus was saying when He predicted His death. Each time Jesus brought it up, He and the disciples seemed to talk past each other. Only Mary of Bethany who poured perfume over Jesus in John 12 seems to understand what was going to happen.
The neat thing about this scene from Matthew 26 is that Jesus doesn't just predict the disciples' denial of Him, but He also predicts that He will rise again and gather them back to Himself, which He does a few chapters later. These disciples have walked with Jesus IN PERSON for 3 years. They have heard His instructions, thought they understood what He came to do, yet missed some pretty important truths. They have boldly declared their fidelity only to fall away exactly as He predicted. And He gathers them back up after His resurrection, reaffirms His plans for them, and sends them off with His affirmation of power and authority. And they change the world! It's really quite beautiful and encouraging.
These are the very guys standing on the sidelines as the Cloud of Witnesses of which Hebrews speaks in encouragement to you and I.
Hebrews 12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.Thinking on their denial of Jesus and Jesus' grace to them in return encourages me just as Hebrews says – to run with perseverance the marathon before me; to fix my eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of my faith that I may not grow weary and lose heart. Because it's usually the unbelief within myself that most undoes me. It's not persecution or outside sin with which I most struggle. It's my own lack of trust in light of it all. It's my fears of denying Jesus when I'm faced with troubling circumstances. Yet the disciples failed utterly despite their best intentions, and God used them anyway. And they cheer us on from the sidelines in our own walk with sin and unbelief outside of us and the sin and unbelief within us. Endure, friend, and look to Jesus. Such instruction never grows old.