Peter and Judas
"Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve... And as they did eat,
he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were
exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it
I?" (Mat 26:20,22).
They came together as a body of believers, they looked upon
their Lord, and they questioned -- each one individually -- their commitments to
Jesus. This attitude of humility, of awareness of frailty, and of
self-examination, became an integral feature of the memorial instituted there,
as much so as the bread and the wine themselves. Thus Paul commands:
"Let a man examine himself, and so (ie, in that spirit of self-examination, and
in that spirit only!) let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup" (1Co
11:28)."Thou shalt deny me"
"And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives" (Mat
Leaving the brilliant candlelight of the upper room, and the
warmth induced by wine and fond memories, they went out into the murky shadows
of the city, and the cold of an early spring night. The mood of their leader was
not the same, and though he continued to speak to them in his usual fashion,
they sensed that a profound change had taken place. They had walked many miles
together on dusty roads. But just now he had knelt before each one of them and
washed their feet. Could this mean their journey with him was coming to an
Now they had reached the familiar confines of Gethsemane. Here
they had spent wonderful hours with him, comforting their souls -- they the
sheep, he the shepherd. But now... all was different, strange, frightening. The
time of testing was at hand:
"All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written: I will
smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered..." (v
Peter's mind was in great distress. Waves of shock and
incredulity poured upon him. Had not the Master just told them, "One of you will
betray me"? And Peter had looked at the Lord whom he loved so, and at himself;
and he had found the answer to his troubling question: "No, it is not I!"
But now, how could Jesus say such a thing? There must be some mistake!
"Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of
thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee,
That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said
unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise
also said all the disciples" (vv
Don't we all deny Christ? We say, "I will never
deny thee." But likewise said all the disciples, and their vigorous
assertions availed them not, only hours later, when their feet developed minds
of their own. "They forsook him and fled." So why should we be any
Every sin, even one of weakness, and every evil thought are in
reality denials of God's majesty and supremacy, and denials of Christ's power
and authority to judge his followers. Or when we know of someone's distress or
trial, and we don't bother to help and encourage... or of someone's need, and we
neglect to offer aid. We smile our best Sunday-morning smile, shake the hand
firmly, ask the traditional "How are you?" and then hurry on without waiting for
an answer. But as we pass along in our self-centered thoughts, do we hear an
echo from the epistle of James?:
"Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled" (James 2:16).
This too is a denial of Christ, since he has said that what is
done (or left undone) to the least of his brethren is done (or left undone) to
him (Mat 25:41-45)
We wrap ourselves in the "fig leaves" of conventional
Christadelphian exercises -- Bible readings, study classes, breaking of bread --
until finally it becomes commonplace, ordinary. But meanwhile we may be guilty
of forgetting Paul's warning. We may eat and drink unworthily because we have
failed to discern the Lord's body (1Co
The Lord's Body
And what is the Lord's body? It may seem obvious, but I
would suggest that there are several answers, some not quite so obvious as we
might first think:
There was of course the literal body, symbolized in the bread
and wine, which was soon to be torn and mutilated and drained of blood on the
cross. Christ's body, given for us. Even this was not obvious to the men in the
upper chamber. But it should be to us! We were purchased from "King Sin" with a
great price. For us, God gave up His only-begotten Son.
And there is the spiritual "body" of Christ, the ecclesia. Do
we fail to discern the ties that intertwine and bind us all together, all
the brethren for whom Christ died? Look around you: This is the body of
Christ! Do you perceive it? We are members of one another, and Christ is our
We see that Christ's body is single, it is plural, and it is
singular again: If a prominent or well-to-do brother comes into our
midst, he will probably be besieged with offers of care and hospitality. But
when an obscure, poor brother ventures into our meeting, do we rush forward to
greet him with the same generosity and love, to make him feel as much a part of
us as the influential or the rich? Do we see in him the face of Christ?
If not, then this too is a denial of Christ, and a failure to discern his
In the Gospel records we meet two followers of Christ: Peter
and Judas. Both sinned against their Master in some way -- as, lest we forget,
all the others did.
If we say today that we do not deny Christ, then we are
either proud or fools (the same thing?). So let us start with that assumption:
We all, at one time or another -- probably many times -- deny
"And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock
crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly" (Mat
How do we react to the awareness of our denials
of Christ? Do we "weep bitterly"... or do we instead excuse ourselves? Do our
sins "afflict" us... or do they just annoy us a bit? Are they a massive burden,
like leprosy (so the Scriptures teach!)... or just a minor inconvenience, a sore
The words were wrenched from his parched lips as he hung on
that cross: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" Why indeed? Because
Jesus, though sinless, was treated by God as a sinner, separated for a short
time from God's presence. It was his worst trial.
Our sins separate us from God more or less constantly
(Isa 59:1,2). Do we grieve at our loss of communion with God? Do we weep
bitterly? Or do we act as though it scarcely bothers us at all?
For Peter, there was no one else to blame. He had been so sure
of himself, so proud, so "strong". Now he stood face to face with his own sin,
his own weakness, and there remained no pretense, no "fig leaves". His sin was
naked and open before God. "And he went out and wept
"Then Judas... repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver
to the chief priests and the elders... and departed, and went and hanged
himself" (Mat 27:3,5).
Judas was "grieved" -- that is what the word here translated
"repented" really means. But he did not weep! He could not change
-- which is the true test of Scriptural "repentance". He tried to hide the
reward of his betrayal, to undo what had been done. But he could not. All hope
was lost (or was it?) -- he went out and hanged himself.
Was Judas' sin unforgivable, while Peter's was not? Or did
Judas, when faced with the enormity of his sin, only suppose that it was
The real difference between Judas and Peter was not in
the degree of sin, but in the attitudes toward sin. Peter saw his sin exposed
before God, and he wept. Judas tried to cover his sin by returning the money,
but found it did no good. He could not weep, and he gave up hope.
If we are rejected at the judgment seat of Christ, it will not
be because we have sinned, -- all have sinned! It will not be because we
have denied or even betrayed Christ -- for all disciples do so.
We will be rejected because we are too proud to see our sins
for what they really are... because, during our probation, we made excuses and
sought to hide ourselves from God. "Is it I?" we ask. "Is it I, Lord, who
betrays you?" But we do not really want to hear his answer. We hastily
eat and drink in his presence, and then -- like that tortured twelfth disciple
-- we look for the first opportunity to escape the searching look of our Lord.
Real self-examination? No, thank you! Not for me!
Why? Because, if we really heed his answer, it will mean that
we will have to change, to cry bitter tears, to face and dethrone the sheer
vanity of entrenched, comfortable human pride which we worship so fondly! Judas
could not do this -- he was too proud. He could not change. Why, he would
rather die! And he did.
"Feed my sheep"
On the shore of the Galilean Sea, for the second time in a
month, Peter kneels by an open fire and gazes into the eyes of Jesus. It is
painful, it is humiliating, and there is no evading it... to look closely at
one's own sins, and see the sadness in the eyes of the one we
"Simon, do you love me?" Three times, and it felt as
though his heart would break. "Then feed my sheep."
We are all betrayers, all guilty. We eat Christ's body and
drink his blood, and then we grow fearful and deny his claims upon us. We say,
"Lord, is it I? But I would never betray you!" And he says, "Yes, you
will". And we do.
And, because I am a sinner, it would be easy to give up hope,
to go out and hang myself from the nearest tree.
But if we find the grace to cry, and wait out the days after
the cock crows and sorrow breaks our hearts, then, finally, he will be there.
His words will burn like fire, but a fire that purifies even as it hurts: "Do
you still love me?"
We hear that question, in different forms and from unexpected
sources, whenever a new opportunity arises to serve Christ through helping our
brethren. "If you still love me, if you are truly repentant for your wrongs
against me, then prove it by demonstrating your love for my brethren. Feed My
sheep. Inasmuch as you help one of the least of these, you repay me for your
denial." And when Christ gives us such a chance, then we know that our sins,
though grievous, have not conclusively separated us from him. We know that he
has provided yet another way that, despite our repeated sins against him, we may
still show our humbled and repentant love.