“Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:33)
These are the words of Jesus.
It is difficult enough when the world gives us the cold shoulder, when we are abandoned. Yet one of the most bitter experiences in this life is not that of being opposed by outsiders, but being abandoned by friends. David, the Psalm writer, expresses it with these words: “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in the throng” (Psalm 55:12-14).
There are many who want to share our successes, but our sufferings we usually have to bear alone. That has been experienced by many sincere individuals. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15). And in 2 Timothy 4:16, he says: “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” Yet Paul had another source of help, for he continues: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (verse 17).
This loneliness and abandonment was something our Savior experienced to a greater degree. It was shortly before the climax of His life, just before His suffering on the cross, which overshadowed all of the other tribulations in His life, that He was abandoned by His own. He knew He must drink that bitter cup of the passion, yet He was deeply grieved by being abandoned by His own disciples. Those who were closest to Him did not take part in His suffering. He knew what it meant to be misunderstood, to have His love ignored, and to have His teaching doubted. He trod the path alone.
In Matthew 26:56, we read: “Then all His disciples forsook Him and fled.” Whom did they forsake? It was not an enemy. It was their best friend, that Friend who loved them until the very end. It was Christ Jesus.
They got to know Him well in the three years that they were with Him. They had multiple proofs and reason to know that He was the Messiah. They were witnesses at His baptism and heard the voice from heaven saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). They had seen Him lay His hands on those who were sick, and the fever left them. They were there when He gave sight to the blind and healed the lame so that they could walk again. They had seen Him resurrect the dead, cast out demons, feed the five thousand with a few loaves and fish. Some of them had also been with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration and had beheld His glory.
Out of deep inner conviction they had confessed: “You are the Christ,” and “…to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69). Peter said: “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29), and “‘If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And they all said likewise” (Mark 14:31).
They had left all to follow Him. During the three years of active ministry, they had worked for their Master. In His name, they had healed the sick, cast out demons, and also preached the gospel to the poor and to those burdened with sin. Many blessings had been bestowed upon them by Jesus. Peter’s mother-in-law had been healed. Jesus saved Peter from drowning, and He calmed the sea when it threatened to destroy the disciples. He stood up for them when they were accused of transgressing the tradition of the elders. He had gifted them with salvation, eternal life, and peace with God.
Now their beloved Lord and Master was in deep anguish. If He ever needed the compassion and support of His friends, it was at this moment. How could they abandon such a Friend and Savior? In the actions of the disciples, the weaknesses of human nature are clearly evident. Paul writes: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall“ (1 Corinthians 10:12).
The disciples had neglected to watch and pray. “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) Even the strongest grows weak when prayer is neglected. There is no substitute for prayer. Are not many of the failures of those who want to follow Christ because of neglected prayer? Prayer is of utmost importance. Reading the Bible is important, but prayer is something one cannot do without. Christians who were unable to read the Bible because they were illiterate still were able to remain faithful because they did not neglect prayer.
The disciples abandoned their Master. He was alone and yet not alone. He could say: “I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:33). God is our source of strength in times of temptation and when we are alone. What does it matter if we are abandoned, as long as God is our help and the presence of God carries us through! The knowledge of the Father’s presence made it possible for Jesus to face the cross and the grave. The presence of God allowed Paul and Silas to sing praises at midnight, when they were in jail and their feet were in the stocks (Acts 16:24-25). God’s presence gave the early Christians the strength to endure incarceration and martyrdom, to face lions and the sword. It gave Martin Luther the power to face the wrath of the pope and stand up to the iniquities of Rome. It was the source of strength for the followers of Christ throughout the centuries, and it helps us today in the difficulties of life.
When it becomes necessary to tred the path alone, then may it be with our Master and His presence. He has promised us: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).