The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: P-Q

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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 26:30).
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 end?

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 31).
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 33-35).
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 different?

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 11:29).

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 head.

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 "body"!

Two disciples

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 Christ.


"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 26:75).
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 toe, perhaps?

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 bitterly."


"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 unforgivable?

The difference

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 betrayed.

"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.

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