The Humility of the Disciples
Learning self-denial from Christ’s first followers
by Tony Woodlief
Walking with Christ in the flesh—the disciples had a great advantage over us modern-day Christians. They saw Him traverse the wind-whipped Sea of Galilee, they smelled the stench of hell on the writhing people He delivered from demons, they watched as a few broken loaves and fish were carried among the multitudes until their arms ached.
We might assume the disciples, of all people, would have been confident in their faith. We might think all but one would have scoffed, or argued, when Christ said to them, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me” (Matt. 26: 21).
They responded, however, with a humble fear. The disciples were “deeply grieved,” and each began to ask: “Surely not I, Lord?” Why would men who had witnessed the great deeds of Jesus, who had forsaken their lives to follow Him, worry about losing their faithfulness?
Perhaps because seeing the grip of sin’s sickness on mankind had made them acutely aware of the weaknesses buried in their own flesh. Perhaps because they knew, having walked alongside the living God, how far beneath His holiness they truly were, how prone to wandering. Perhaps because in His prophecy, Christ named the quiet rebellions each of them hid—the same rebellions you and I battle: rebellions against the command that we be patient, that we love our neighbor more, that we love ourselves less. Though they gathered around the Son of God at His table, they knew what lurked beneath their outward righteousness: the sinful, self-regarding heart of man.
So they grieved, and each asked if he might do the unthinkable. In doing so, they acknowledged that we are all capable of the unthinkable. Yet how quickly that moment passed, for Luke records their concern degenerated into a dispute over which disciple was regarded as the greatest (22:14). One moment they humbly asked, “Lord, will it be me?” The next they turned thoughts to comparison with one other.
It can be discouraging to see both the disciples’ humility and their sinfulness, and to know that I most frequently imitate them in the latter. I’m quick to assume others more capable of sin, to consider myself greater in God’s kingdom because of some small good thing I’ve done.
How much better it is to imitate their instances of humble self-regard, their acknowledgement that indeed the Devil is a prowling lion (1 Pet. 5:8) and that any of us might be brought low, especially when we imagine ourselves higher than we are. Any one of us can fall, and yet any one of us can overcome sin. We’re liberated by Christ’s triumph in human flesh, bringing perfection where corruption once reigned.
One could do worse than to make it a daily question and a daily prayer. Will I betray You, Lord? May it never be so, and may we be forgiven when it is.