Now we are moving. The meal has finished and Jesus and his disciples are on the move now. Everything that happens from here on out is one more step closer to the cross. As they approach Gethsemane, Jesus says, “You will all become deserters because of me this night”. I don’t know about you, but I was struck by the word “deserters”. The only context in which I’ve heard that word is when a soldier deserts his or her post trying to flee the war in which he or she is charged to fight. In many ways that imagery fits here, but looking it up in other translations reveals something else. The King James says, “ye shall all be offended”; the NET and NIV say, “you will all fall away; the NASB also says, “fall away” but with a note saying “or stumble”. The Greek word is defined as “to cause to be brought to a downfall”. It is the same word used when Jesus warns us about being a stumbling block or causing one to sin. So prior to this verse, Jesus says things like, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6), yet here he says, “you will become [stumbling blocks] because of me”. Let’s make sure we’re reading this correctly. He is essentially saying, “you will be caused to sin because of me”. Is Christ, “the solid rock”, also a stumbling block? Is Jesus causing us to sin? Or is something else using the context of Jesus’ arrest, trial, suffering and death to cause us to sin? I think it’s the latter, otherwise I think it would read, “I will cause you to sin this night”. It’s a curious statement by Jesus, and with all the warnings he’s given about his suffering and about stumbling blocks, it’s no wonder that Peter (and all the disciples) deny that this will happen.
What strikes me in this is that at some time we all become deserters. We all turn the other away, turn our backs to Jesus. And yet, from the very beginning, Jesus has been saying, “repent… turn around for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Our backs are toward Jesus, yet he makes the first move in coming to this earth to be with us. Even with him right in our very midst, we will again turn away. But then he makes a second first move towards us by going to the cross. God’s love is always moving towards us even though we may turn away. God’s love is always pursuing us, even though we may be fleeing. God’s love is always making the first move to capture us, and though we may run, the pursuit of God’s love is relentless. In a very real way, we can run, but we cannot hide. God’s love is there, whether we want it or not. So slow down. Stop. Turn around. Quit deserting and look upon the gracious, loving face of the Christ who calls you beloved.