While recently reading in Luke, chapter 22, I was particularly struck by verse 40, where Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples, about to begin the process of taking upon Himself the sins of the world:
And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
Temptation? They are in a garden at night; what temptation do they need to work so hard to fight?
Then I remembered what was happening. Jesus was about to embark on the hardest journey anyone can go on, the one absolutely necessary to allow us to return home to our Heavenly Parents. What happened the last time Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen (Mark 8:31-33)?
31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
Peter was there to witness the thing he feared most, the thing he most wanted to deny could ever happen. Peter had to witness his Savior, his God, take on the sins of the world, suffer, and die.
The temptation was to try and stop it from happening.
This certainly would be the greatest temptation Peter and those with him would face. This wasn’t a simple, “help us with some vague temptation”, this was a “He’s right over there, suffering, soon to go to his death, and I need to let it happen.” What an impossible task!
I’ve had prayers in the pit of despair, praying with such energy that you are physically drained. I can’t imagine how much effort it would have taken to stay there and pray that you will not interfere in this case. I find it no wonder that they fell asleep, not from boredom, but from exhaustion.
Even then, Peter couldn’t completely escape from the temptation. Remember, Jesus had already told them what would happen, even dropping the bombshell earlier in the evening that one of their own they had trusted, worked with, and loved would be the betrayer. Yet when the mob comes for Jesus, Peter lashes out and cuts off an ear (John 18:10). Jesus calms the situation, but Peter knows he succumbed to temptation.
Unfortunately, Peter’s bad day only gets worse. While he is witnessing the trials and accusations, he is accused, three times, of being His disciple. Instead of being able to boldly give his own life, as he said he would, Peter denies he knew Jesus each time, at the end being reminded of the prophecy he’d just passed off as impossible earlier in the evening.
I’ve often heard people wonder how could Peter do such things, when he’d been the strongest of the Twelve. How could “The Rock” the Church would be built upon when Jesus was gone be so weak? I don’t know of anyone who could have done as well as Peter did. He didn’t just have a witness of Jesus as we may have, he knew Him personally, worked, prayed, cried, laughed with Him. I don’t know how many hours of weeping it took for Peter to be able to get back on his feet and try to continue with life, but there is no doubt; Peter had a bad day.