Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.
These words startled me when I was reading my assigned passage from the gospels for the Bible Challenge the other day. I have read through Matthew many times, but for some reason, these words from the second half of Matthew 26:56 really made me stop and think that morning.
Peter’s denial happens later on in that chapter but before Peter ever denies Christ, Matthew tells us that all of the disciples have left their Messiah’s side when they realized that Jesus was being arrested. As I went on in the chronological reading, I discovered that Mark recorded this in much the same way–
Then they all forsook Him and fled. (Mark 14:50)
These eleven men (the twelfth had just betrayed Jesus), had seen Jesus, our Savior, Himself in the flesh. They had walked and talked with Him. And yet they fled from His side when the going got rough. They had seen Him turn water into wine (John 2:1-12), watched Him raise a dead man (John 11:38-44), and had witnessed the healing of the multitudes (Matthew 12:15). These same eleven men had watched as a few fish and several loaves of bread fed a huge, starving crowd–twice! (Matthew 14:17-21 and Matthew 15:33-39). Astonishing and incredible miracles were just part of the course of a day with Jesus and these eleven men had witnessed them over and over again as His disciples.
Not only did they see miracles, but they sat under the teaching of Jesus, the perfect Teacher. They had learned wisdom and doctrine from God Himself.
They have spent three amazing years following and serving the true Messiah. And yet, when things get a little frightening, they all flee.
All of them.
Not one single one of them stood by Jesus when He was arrested.
Thankfully, their legacies do not stop there, amidst failure and fear. Instead, every single one of those disciples (with the exception of Judas, of course) went on to live devoted and whole-hearted lives for Christ. They traveled to places like India, Russia, and Persia spreading the gospel. They all, without exception, went on to do big things for the sake of Jesus Christ. (See Below)
What encourages me about this is that, quite clearly, failures and lapses in courage do not disqualify us from running the race that has been set before us. God knows our thoughts and desires. He can see when our hearts are stubbornly rebellious or when we are repentant and ready to submit to Him. He sees every sin we commit. Every failure. Every time we cower in fear. And yet, despite all of this, He loves and forgives us.
Somehow, knowing that the disciples forsook Jesus at such a critical time but then went on to spread the gospel far and wide is reassuring for me. It means that we can forsake and we can run, but there is forgiveness waiting for us when we choose to continue moving on for the sake of Christ.
God’s free gift of salvation and forgiveness for sins is not for perfect people who have mastered their sinful natures. Instead, it is for me. And for you. It is for cowardly, sinful people who make really bad choices and fail over and over again. How thankful I am for God’s marvelous grace and mercy!
If you are not familiar with what happened to each of the disciples, here is a brief overview taken from this article at Christianity.com—
Into All the World
Reports and legends abound and they are not always reliable, but it is safe to say that the apostles went far and wide as heralds of the message of the risen Christ. An early legend says they cast lots and divided up the world to determine who would go where, so all could hear about Jesus. They suffered greatly for their faith and in most cases met violent deaths on account of their bold witness.
PETER and PAUL were both martyred in Rome about 66 AD, during the persecution under Emperor Nero. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified, upside down at his request, since he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
ANDREW went to the “land of the man-eaters,” in what is now the Soviet Union. Christians there claim him as the first to bring the gospel to their land. He also preached in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, and in Greece, where he is said to have been crucified.
“Doubting” THOMAS was probably most active in the area east of Syria. Tradition has him preaching as far east as India, where the ancient Marthoma Christians revere him as their founder. They claim that he died there when pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.
PHILIP possibly had a powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death.
MATTHEW the tax collector and writer of a Gospel, ministered in Persia and Ethiopia. Some of the oldest reports say he was not martyred, while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
BARTHOLOMEW had widespread missionary travels attributed to him by tradition: to India with Thomas, back to Armenia, and also to Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. There are various accounts of how he met his death as a martyr for the gospel.
JAMES the son of Alpheus, is one of at least three James referred to in the New Testament. There is some confusion as to which is which, but this James is reckoned to have ministered in Syria. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.
SIMON THE ZEALOT, so the story goes, ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.
MATTHIAS was the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition sends him to Syria with Andrew and to death by burning.
JOHN is the only one of the company generally thought to have died a natural death from old age. He was the leader of the church in the Ephesus area and is said to have taken care of Mary the mother of Jesus in his home. During Domitian’s persecution in the middle 90’s, he was exiled to the island of Patmos. There he is credited with writing the last book of the New Testament–the Revelation. An early Latin tradition has him escaping unhurt after being cast into boiling oil at Rome.