Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “ Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Jesus answered him, “ Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:36-38)
In this brief exchange between Jesus and Peter, I think we can discover an issue of superficiality that exists in the lives of many believers today. I do not believe that Peter was being disingenuous when he declared his willingness to die for the Master so much as he was overestimating the level of his commitment. On the one side, Peter had left his trade and all that he knew to follow Jesus, and later when the moment of Judas’ betrayal came, Peter demonstrated his willingness to stand at his Master’s side when he struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. However, when Jesus healed the man, telling Peter to put away his sword, the dynamic seemed to change. Though he had warned the disciples of His impending crucifixion in the days preceding the event, I’m not so sure that it wasn’t until this moment that they really realized that their presumptions about the Messiah’s mission were wrong. He was not going to put down Roman rule and restore the Kingdom to Israel as they had assumed days before when they were debating on the road who among them would be first in the Kingdom, seated on His right and on His left.
Peter’s resolve to stand at his Master’s side evaporated along with his presumptions about the Messiah’s mission as “all the disciples forsook Him and fled” in that desperate moment in the garden (see Matthew 25:47-56). Most of us know the story of how Peter followed at a distance to see what the fate of His Lord would be. These men had cast in their lot with this miracle working teacher, forsaking everything to follow Him and have a stake in the Kingdom He would establish, and now as the events of the night and following day unfolded, their world seemed to crumble before their eyes as they witnessed the unthinkable. As far as they were concerned, their dreams died with Jesus on that cross, and their hopes were buried with Him in the tomb. Peter finished the night in bitter weeping; having fulfilled the Messiah’s prediction that he would deny he ever knew Him.
All of us have played the role of armchair quarterback in life, I’m sure. Sometimes we do so literally, as we watch our favorite team make mistakes on the field that we can easily identify from the comfort and safety of our recliner, with no large, heavily-limbed linebackers ready to crush the life out of us if we fail to accurately read the defense quickly enough. It’s easy to see from a safe vantage point, away from the heat of battle, or even in retrospect, what others should have done in their crisis moment. We might even conclude our critique of their performance by presumptively asserting to ourselves that we would have done things differently. We would have done better.
That’s what Peter had thought. He even stated it in the very presence of the other disciples. “Peter said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.’” (Mark 14:29). However, as we know from the story, Peter did not stand the test. He denied the Lord, and was not present, as John was, at the foot of the cross as Jesus breathed his last. However, I am certain that Peter had no less love for the Master than any of the others who followed Him. His genuine repentance, subsequent restoration by the resurrected Christ, life of service, and ultimate martyr’s death, proved that Peter would rise to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Lord he loved.
Like Peter, we can all become more than we are. God is not done with any of us, so there’s hope, even for those of us who think our commitment is made of sterner stuff than it is. I can’t speak for you, but I disappoint myself sometimes in my commitment and walk with the Lord. It seems that while I want to speak great swelling words of self-sacrifice, like Peter did, I too seem to struggle with what should be the more basic issues of commitment. Daily disobediences belie the words of dedication I may speak in those “all on the altar” moments in church. Love for mundane, worldly pleasures can rob me of my appetite for spiritual things, causing my Bible to spend too many lonely hours without my attention or cause my prayer life to suffer. I allow in the “little” sins, the evidence of my tattered commitment, then confess them and pledge to do better, giving God a quick “high five” because He’s so good, without appreciating the fact that His grace and forgiveness are only available because of the unspeakable tortures the spotless Son of God suffered on my behalf.
We can talk to some good talk, but before we start saying we’ll go the distance, we should really stop and ask ourselves where we are in the present. If we’re not committed to the most basic of biblical demands; paying our tithes, being faithful to the house of God, living separated, holy lives, and denying fleshly lusts, for example, will we really make the ultimate sacrifice? No, we won’t, because we’re not. If we’re not faithful with that which is least, we will certainly not do better when truly great demand is placed upon our undeveloped spiritual muscles. The very fact we haven’t faced some temptations may be because God is faithful not to allow us to be tempted above what we are able (see 1 Corinthians 10:13), so we can forget about condemning the brother or sister that fell from heights we can’t even see from where we stand.
This is not meant to be a harsh criticism of other believers. We all share the same liabilities and must overcome the same inherent weakness of the flesh. However, I do think that we in North America in general, and the United States in particular, need a wake up call to the prerequisites of discipleship. It would seem that believers today are like modern furniture; not made of the same stuff they used to be. I love the stories of men like C.T. Studd, who gave up a lucrative career as an English cricketer to become a missionary to China, and later established the Heart of Africa Mission, which later became the Worldwide Evangelistic Crusade (now WEC International). He penned the now famous poem that contains the verse, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” He gave his inheritance of £29,000 away to the work of God, believing God would meet his needs as he served Him. He famously said, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”
His is just one story in the vast procession of men and women of true faith who paid a great price to advance the cause of Christ, some of whom gave their very lives; men and women of whom the world was not worthy. The work of these true disciples, like that of the early disciples, continues on, still producing fruit that remains until the present day. It is from these men that the Church must learn today, taking a page from the book of their devotion. Men whose lives, as well as their deaths, expressed a commitment that was not coerced or forced, but given freely as the only fitting offering to the Lord Who had given His all to redeem them.
It is possible, though unlikely, that many of us in this part of the world will be asked to pay with our lives as Peter ultimately did. But more importantly, we must rise to the challenge to truly give our lives, each and every day, in faithful service the One we call Lord. I have fallen short, as have perhaps some of you who will confess along with me, but I am encouraged by Peter, whose story started with big words and poor deeds, but finished with deeds for which no words are adequate. We too can become more than we are at the present time. The Lord still knows how to take the raw timber of our humble surrender and build a disciple whose foundations go down to the very rock of His Word and whose light can shine out across the troubles seas of this world to lead men safely home.