This week is my birthday, and I am officially older, and have lived longer than…
As I am writing this, my wife, Pam, is in Juneau Alaska. She is there on a kayak trip with one of her best friends from college, Debbie, who is a professional kayak guide. We were both up there three years ago and heard stories about a black wolf who was stalking their neighborhood for stray dogs. The wolf would lay in wait under the cover of the forest and as long as the pet dogs stayed close to their owners, they were safe. If, however, the dogs ventured out on their own they were in mortal danger. Debbie estimated the wolf weighed 175 pounds. She, of course, could not confirm it because the predator would not willingly step on her scale! The point is it was big and it was hungry. She was able to capture a few photos of this majestic animal which were quite stunning. Two of the photos told the sad story of one of her neighbors’ beloved Pomeranian. The black wolf had seized the dog in its mouth and Debbie had caught the aftermath as the victor ran off into the wilderness with the house pet in its mouth.
This story has stuck with me because it reminds me that we all have a black wolf in our lives. Although we desire to do what it is good and right, there is a lower nature in us that is short-sighted, self-destructive and soft on patience. It competes for our attention and aggressively pushes us to do what is not in our best interest. John 13 contains one more example.
Jesus is sharing the last supper with his disciples. It is getting close to the most important event of his life where he will secure forever the ability for men and women to be forgiven and transformed. Timelines are shrinking. Emotions are rising. The spiritual battle is heating up. The first to act is Judas. He is the impatient one who wanted Jesus to act and take his rightful place as the military, political leader of Israel who would set them free. He was tired of waiting so he decided to betray Jesus to see if he could force his hand. The fact that he committed suicide after Jesus was arrested shows that he was hoping Jesus would rise up and thwart the current leadership. When Jesus didn’t act, Judas was overtaken with remorse and regret. He wanted something to happen but he just couldn’t wait. (John 13:21-30)
Then it was Peter’s turn. Jesus was clearly and eloquently laying out the truth for the remaining disciples. He told them that God was about to be glorified in a magnificent way. Something was about to happen that would bring great honor to both the Father and the Son in a way that would never be forgotten. It required an intense transition, however. Jesus was going to go away to a place where others could not follow for a while. He had to walk the path alone because only he possessed the power. He could not share the journey because only he could make a valuable enough sacrifice. The disciples could carry on the message, however. If they were willing to live by love and treat one another as well as they treat themselves, they would become a powerful example to the rest of the world of what it really means to love Jesus. I think you will agree that these are great words of hope and direction. Peter, however, got hung up on the phrase, “you cannot follow now.”
Peter wanted to be with Jesus. Peter wanted to be heroic. Peter wanted to demonstrate his loyalty. The black wolf couldn’t see the big picture though and his lower nature blurted out, “I will lay down my life for you.” (v. 36) You can almost hear the rise in his voice and the conviction in his heart. He truly believed what he is saying even though he has wrong.
Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (v. 38) I don’t think Jesus is being intentionally harsh here but he does want Peter, and the rest of us, to know that sincerity is not enough. We need to get a clear picture of the black wolf in our lives. It is lurking at the edge of the forest looking for opportunities to trip us up and create damage in our lives. As long as we stay close to the master and check with him first, we will run in paths of adventure and safety. If we venture out on our own, the wolf will be glad to see us.