“He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But who do you [yourselves] say I am? Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'” Matthew 16:15-16 (AMP)
Early in Jesus’ ministry, the apostle Peter got it. At this time, at least on an intellectual level, the apostle Peter understood Who Jesus is.
If we fast forward to the night of the Last Supper, after Jesus had shared His Body and Blood with the disciples, the apostle Peter still maintained what he knew about Jesus:
“Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples. Matthew 16:15-16 (NRSV)
The spirit is willing, and Peter knew in his rational mind that Jesus is Who He claims to be. Head knowledge, in this instance, wasn’t Peter’s problem. Unfortunately, the things we humans do when our hides are on the line sometimes defy rationality. Our flesh is weak, especially when that primal self-preservation instinct kicks in.
Head knowledge is something to be sought after, but not simply for the sake of knowing facts and figures. Knowledge without practical application is at best, superficial, and at worst, pointless. Knowledge that rests on the surface, but that really hasn’t sunk in and become part of one’s deepest heart of hearts is not of much value.
There’s a reason why the Israelites were commanded in the Shema, which is the primary prayer in Judaism, (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) to keep on repeating and meditating on Scripture at all times:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)
It is a good thing to internalize the Scriptures, and the act of reading, reciting, teaching and memorizing them does serve to write them not only on our minds but also on our hearts.
Even considering that the apostle Peter would have been taught the Shema from his earliest days, and he spent three years with Jesus, it’s still one thing for us weak humans to know Who Jesus is, but it’s quite another for us to act accordingly.
Jesus knew the disciples’ weaknesses, including Peter, who shared with us the human flaw of having a crocodile mouth but a canary patoot. It’s one thing to pledge to follow Jesus to His death, but the irony is that it’s impossible to do that apart from the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ statement directed toward the disciples on the night of the Last Supper is telling: “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”(Matthew 16:15)
Apart from the Shepherd, no matter how much they might know, the sheep don’t have a chance.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6 (NRSV)
There are deep spiritual benefits of studying and meditating upon Scripture, but the point of any spiritual discipline, and the point of our faith is always to remain connected with Jesus. Knowledge is meaningless if there is no practical application of that knowledge, and faith is pointless if we believe in the wrong things. The scattering of the disciples after the Last Supper simply proves that we humans (even disciples who walked and ate and took part of the Body of Christ in an intensely tangible way) cannot stay faithful to God apart from Jesus. It’s impossible to stand strong, no matter what you know, no matter what kinds of high spiritual experiences you can claim to have experienced, if you are apart from Jesus.
Jesus said that if a person loves his/her life, he/she will lose it. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25 (NRSV)
This statement speaks to our self-preservation instinct. Most of the time it’s wise and prudent to heed that instinct, but if and when our choices come down to this life and this physical body versus things of God’s Kingdom, we should choose the things of eternal life over ease and expediency in this life. It’s easy to say, but infinitely hard to do.
The good news is that Jesus came to live in this world to show us how to do that, and to give us the strength we need to do what He calls us to do.
I pray that we will find strength in sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ with other believers, and that Jesus will hold us up to stand for Him when our weak flesh cannot.