Connections 03.20.2016: Good Intentions

Connections_Jesus_JA16_350_c

Mark 14:26-31, 66-72

We have good intentions.

We mean it when we say we’ll be faithful, we’ll stand tall, and we’ll never run. We want to be strong. We want to be true. We want to be someone Jesus can count on.

And yet how often, when our backs are against the wall, do we give in to—well, in to whatever it is that makes us fail to live up to our good intentions?

We’re serious when we make our commitments to the Lord. We’re not just saying what we think we should say. We’re not playing games. We’re not working the angles.

I believe Peter, who could be the patron saint of those who mean it until it matters, was serious when he told Jesus he’d never desert him and wouldn’t deny him even if it cost him his life. Yet there he was, just a few hours later, saying he didn’t even know Jesus.

I have a theory about what happened.

I think it all goes back to the conversation between Jesus and Peter at Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8:27-9:1). When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter spoke right up: “You are the Messiah.” But when Jesus explained what that meant, that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” Peter would have none of it. He “rebuked” Jesus. And Jesus, right there in front of the other disciples, told Peter off in no uncertain terms: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

I think that Jesus’ rebuke was still ringing in Peter’s ears all those days later when Jesus and the disciples had gone to the Mount of Olives after eating the Passover meal together. I think Peter was looking for an opportunity to redeem himself. So when Jesus said, “You will all become deserters, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,’” Peter was ready. He wanted Jesus and the other disciples to know that he wasn’t “Satan” and that he was in fact capable of thinking and saying “divine things.”

So this time, he not only didn’t question what Jesus said; he affirmed that he was on board all the way, no matter what happened. “If all of that happens to you, Jesus, I’ll be right there with you. I’ll have your back. You can count on me!”

Again, I think Peter meant what he said.

But when he was all alone and put on the spot, maybe the rest of what Jesus said came back to him: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (8:34b-35). Maybe in that moment, it dawned on Peter that it was one thing to accept that Jesus was going to die, but it was something else entirely to accept that he had to die. Maybe he realized that he might just have to follow up on his pledge to die with Jesus.

And in that moment, Peter choked. He choked even though Jesus had warned him he would. He choked three times. He choked big time. His actions devoured his intentions.

But Peter learned. He grew. He became someone whose good intentions became committed actions. He became a courageous witness to Christ. He eventually gave his life in faithfulness to his Lord.

Everyone’s road to mature discipleship is partially paved with good intentions.

That’s all right, so long as we get there. . . .

Discussion

1. How would you feel if Jesus told you that you would desert or deny him?
2. People recognized that Peter had been with Jesus. How do people know that we are Jesus’ disciples?
3. Why do you think Peter denied Jesus? Why do you think he didn’t remember that Jesus had told him he would deny him three times until after he had done it (v. 72)?
4. What situations or circumstances tempt us to deny Jesus?
5. We’re not likely to say we don’t know Jesus. In what ways are we more likely to deny him?

Reference Shelf

Social pressure and fear are powerful forces to which few of us are immune. The fear that we might be singled out as “one of them” is not limited to school children and teenagers. At Gethsemane Peter could not watch with Jesus; in the courtyard he would not dare to be identified with Jesus. In an oppressive and potentially dangerous situation, Peter denied that he even knew Jesus. It would be easy to think that we would have been more courageous, but few of us have ever faced such an overt threat of persecution for our faith in Christ. The tests we face are usually more subtle. When someone speaks scornfully of faith or of all Christians because of the actions of one group or another, the temptation is to remain silent. When someone tells a racist story or puts down a particular group of people, the temptation is to let it pass rather than confront them or speak up for the victimized. When someone makes derogatory comments about the church or about values we hold dear, the temptation is to leave quietly, as Peter did. We live in a highly contentious society, where religious values have become the targets of scorn and the watch words for culture wars. Neither timid silence nor belligerent campaigns to impose our values on others represents the spirit of Jesus, however. When Jesus was silent (14:61; 15:5), it was a silence motivated by integrity and realism, but Peter’s silence was a silence born of fear and failure. When Jesus protested the corruption of the temple (11:15-17), it was a measured protest that echoed the Scriptures, and he returned the next day to answer those who questioned him. When the bystander at the arrest of Jesus lashed out with the sword, it was a defensive response that escalated the violence of the situation. Faithfulness always demands a rare and difficult blend of courage, integrity, and prudence if we are ever to be known as truly “one of them.”

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 533-34.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email