Jesus and the disciples had just finished their final Passover meal. The next twelve hours would be the most dramatic in all of history. According to John’s gospel, Jesus still has a lot to say before Judas plants that (temporarily) fatal kiss on his cheek. He wants the disciples to be prepared for the coming day (which we, ironically, call Good Friday) but He never tells them straight-up what will happen. I think maybe that’s because they would have overreacted, refused to step aside, gathered more swords. Instead, He repeats how they can’t go with Him into this next thing.
Peter won’t leave it alone. I’m not surprised; he’s the impulsive, brash, head-strong disciple. Probably the oldest, he often serves as spokesperson for the group…and often that open mouth finds his own foot stuck in it. (See Matthew 16:23, for example.) He presses Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” (13:36a) but Jesus sticks with the same statement about how they can’t follow.
Of course, I don’t know what tone of voice either Jesus or Peter had in this exchange, but I wonder if there was a bit of…petulance, let’s say…in Peter’s response. Here’s the line. Try it with different emphases, and you’ll see how it sounds.
Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you. –John 13:37
Maybe he was remembering the Mount of Transfiguration, where only he and two others accompanied Jesus up the mountain (Matthew 17:1-13). Maybe he recalled how only he walked out onto the water to meet Jesus that one night (Matthew 14:22-33). Regardless, Peter has turned the attention toward himself, like the kid who bounces in her seat with hand raised, her whole body begging the teacher to call on her. (I was that kid, by the way, so I’m casting no stones here.)
“Look at me, Lord. I’m special.”
Peter had so much confidence in himself. He was sure he could handle it. Check out the other gospels:
Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you. –Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:31
Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death. –Luke 22:33
Jesus looks at Peter, seeing into his heart. I think he saw love, dedication, passion, and zeal. But he also saw foolishness, misplaced confidence, and ignorance. When Jesus told Peter about those three impending denials (John 13:38), they must have been difficult words for Him to say…and painful for Peter to hear.
Jesus was right. Peter’s denials came before the sun rose. (Want to read more about that?)
How many declarations of undying loyalty have I made to Jesus over the years only to turn in the following days and fail Him even more profoundly than usual…often in the exact area to which I had committed? I can think of a few that are too painful to tell you.
Peter’s declaration suggested that
he was in control, rather than Jesus.
This was Peter’s error: the I. His declaration suggested that he was in control, rather than Jesus. “I will never disown You.” “I will lay down my life for you.” Peter was leaning on his own strength and determination. He spoke from his heart, but as Jeremiah told us (17:9), “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Was it God’s will that Peter lay down his life. Actually, it was, but not this night. This night was for Jesus’ sacrifice. Peter needed to stay strong and faithful, but he didn’t need to follow Jesus all the way to death just yet.
Dare I suggest a different statement for Peter? I will, but only because I’m sure he, too, looked back on this night and considered what he should have said differently. Peter needed to keep Jesus as the subject. Perhaps he could have said, “What is your will for us tonight, Lord?” or “You just tell us what to do, Jesus.”
We’re called to keep
our focus on God.
Because we’re naturally selfish, it’s incredibly easy for us to blink ourselves into the spotlight. Such thinking puts us in the subject line. Regardless of circumstances, however, we’re called to keep our focus on God. You’ll find this principle throughout the Bible: Habakkuk 3:16-18, Psalm 59:16-17, Psalm 121:1-2, Philippians 4:12-13. You can probably add a few more examples.
Peter finally learned his lesson. Check out what he said later in life:
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. –1 Peter 1:13