Week 19 (May)
It was the night before the crucifixion of our Lord. Jesus and His disciples had celebrated their last Passover together. In what should have been a sacred moment, the disciples fell to boasting about their individual service and piety. Their voices may have even risen in intensity as they argued over which of them was the greatest.
Jesus reprimanded the ones who were arguing and then turned His attention to Peter. In a voice choked with emotion, Peter declares his readiness to go to prison and even to die for Jesus' sake.
As I read this narrative in Luke 22 and the bitter story of Peter's denials of His Lord that follows, I'm reminded of testimonies I heard years ago in youth camp. Most of these testimonies sounded about the same: "I love the Lord with all my heart and I'm going all the way with Him."
Our voices had a convincing ring to them as, no doubt, did Peter's. We were sure we were all going to be strong Christians. Trouble was, once we'd gone home from youth camp we didn't stand the pressures of the world much better than Peter did around that courtyard fire.
Peter's error -- and ours as well -- was not in the intention to be faithful. No one could fault us for that. The error lay in our being too sure of our own strength and resources rather than relying on Jesus.
We failed to understand (as did Peter) that you cannot follow Jesus on the basis of human strength and wisdom. We teen-agers, like Peter, had not yet fully understood the meaning of Jesus' mission and its implications for our relationship with Christ. Jesus calls us to be servants- like himself, empowered by His spirit. He does not call us to argue over who is the greatest.
We can, of course, take comfort in what this passage shows us about Jesus' love and compassion toward His followers, even when they fail to comprehend important spiritual truth. Jesus knew, for example, that Peter would deny Him within a few hours. Yet we see only love and compassion in what Jesus has to say to Peter.
The fact that our Lord is like this should spur us on to guard against any presumption of selfish ambition in our spiritual lives; against our being too sure of ourselves.
On our first furlough (or home assignment) from Italy I spent a few days with my long-time friend, Dr. Glenn Jones, who was then the district superintendent of the East Tennessee District.
Dr. Jones was gifted as an evangelist. So he spent some time each year preaching in local church evangelistic events and district camp meetings. While I was with him during that furlough, he told me of an encounter he had had with a young evangelist. The young man seemed quite confident that he was a good preacher, equally as good (if not better) than Dr. Jones. What the young man wanted to know from Dr. Jones was: How does one go about getting invited to preach in the "big" camp meetings?
Of course, it's not only brash young preachers and pre-Pentecost disciples who are guilty of selfish ambition or presumption. The devil can trip up any of us at the point of becoming too sure of ourselves.
In the process, we risk missing significant spiritual growth opportunities. Remember the disciples? They squandered their last few precious moments with Jesus in boasting about themselves.
Truly great Christians will take the path of service. When they does, they'll discover the divine footprints of the Master there before them.
I wrote these devotional thoughts while we were missionaries in Italy. They originally appeared in the May 11, 1980 edition of Standard, a take-hoe piece for adult Sunday school classes.
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132
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