The disciples had just finished singing a hymn when Jesus led them to the Mount of Olives. They eagerly followed him, as they had done for the previous three years of their lives. But this time around, things were different. This night was different. This would be their last night together. And what an unforgettable night it turned out to be. This night would end with them deserting and denying their master. A night that none of them would have anticipated.
As Jesus led the way he knew that his most trusted followers were yet to fully understand what laid ahead of him. They did not know that death awaited him, and they probably couldn’t have imagined the kind of death that awaited him. So he tells them, “You will fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered'” (Matt. 26:35).
Peter, sensing that something terrible was soon to befall Jesus, declares his unflinching devotion to his master. “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away,” he boldly declares. But Jesus knew Peter better than he knew himself, and he informs Peter that this night he would deny his master. “Even if I must die with you,” Peter replies with confidence, “I will not deny you!” The others join Peter in declaring their devotion to their master. But they were ignorant of their weakness. In reality, they thought too highly of themselves.
These men truly loved their master. They had left brother and sister and mother and father to follow him. He had called them and they had responded to his call, and they had stayed with him for three years. But their devotion to Christ did not change the fact that they were weak men. This is not to say that they were men of little spiritual stature or little faith, but to simply state that they were men. And men are weak by nature.
After their conversation, Jesus takes Peter and the two sons of Zebedee to a part of Gethsemane and asks them to watch with him because he was in deep sorrow. One would expect these men, who had just spoken so confidently about their devotion, to pray through the night with their master. But they couldn’t. “Watch and pray,” Jesus admonishes them, “that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus provides an excuse for their weakness. He knew that they had the desire to pray with him, but he also knew that they were weak men. He points to the fact that their bodies were weak. They had the desire to act a certain way, but their bodies failed them. Their hearts were willing to join him in prayer, but their flesh strongly disagreed.
It is not strange to see many Christians with genuine desires to serve God in one capacity or another, but who are unable to serve as they would because of certain weaknesses. These weaknesses come in various forms. They could be physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual. It is common with men to hide or deny their weaknesses. We would rather pretend that we are not as weak as we really are, if only to show the world that we are “okay.” But we all are weak creatures. We all are deficient in some way. We all have imperfections that come with life on this side of eternity.
The proper thing to do with our weaknesses is not to hide them. It is proper to admit them. Also, ignoring our weaknesses would only lead to failure. When the guards arrested Jesus, his disciples “all left him and fled.” Peter denied his Lord multiple times, with an oath and a curse on himself. So much for dying with their master!
But the Lord had known this all along and had informed them of these things. In Luke’s account, he prayed for Peter (Luke 22). We are his people and he knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. We also should remember that we are dust. We should never overestimate our strengths or underestimate our weaknesses. In reality, we all are weak men and women. Imperfect creatures. Frail and in need of help. Let us never think too highly of ourselves, and we would see God using our weaknesses for his glory.
If we trust our Bibles (and church history), then we know that God has always used weak men. And he can use the things that embarrass us for his own glory. Indeed, we may even say that he delights in using our weaknesses. For when we are weak he is strong, and his strength shines best when we have come to an end of ourselves. Let us then “boast all the more gladly of [our] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [us]” (2 Cor. 12:9).