The Dangers of Following at a Distance
“Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off.”
Immediately following the betrayal of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, an interesting yet disturbing incident captures the attention of each of the Gospel writers. This is one of the few incidents in the life of Jesus that is cited by all four of the Gospels, (Matthew 26:58; Mark 14:54; Luke 22:54; and John 18:15).
This occurrence is one that discloses an aspect of human nature which every honest person is familiar if the truth were told. It deals with having an inflated opinion of oneself and being in denial about one’s limitations. Exaggeration and unrealistic expectations coupled with denial seem to go hand-in-hand. Have you ever overestimated your ability/capacity and had an experience abruptly awaken you to the truth? That is the crux of this pericope*, which contains this brief statement, “And Peter followed at a distance.”
All of the records except the one in Luke break up the incident with what was happening in the house of the high priest, (Matthew 26:58, 69-75; Mark 14:54, 66-72; and John 18:15-18, 25-27). Luke presents it as one continuous uninterrupted scene (Luke 22:54-62).
John relates a detail of the occurrence which none of the other writers share. John explains how Peter was permitted access to the inner court of the house of the high priest. “There was another disciple along with Simon Peter who followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known by the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard, but Peter was left outside the gate. So this other disciple, who was known by the high priest, went out and spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter into the courtyard” (John 18:15-16).
Oscar Wilde is credited with citing an ironic insight. He said, “There are two tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want and the other is getting it.” Be careful what you ask for, you may get it. Then you will have to decide what to do with it. The poet said, “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”
Be careful of your associations. They can get you into places where you will be confronted and challenged beyond your wildest imagination and tested in ways that measure your allegiance courage, integrity and loyalty.
What Peter did may have seemed commendable at first glance. Even though he was following at a distance, he was following nonetheless. That is more than the others had done. We are told that “they all forsook him and fled” (Mark 14:50). Maybe something positive can be said for good intentions and noble motives. He was concerned about Jesus. He wanted to know what was going to happen to him. Matthew tells us that Peter followed because he wanted to know the outcome (Matthew 26:58).
In retrospect, we know that what Peter did was not commendable, but cowardly. He was afraid. He wanted to be close enough to know what was going to happen, but far enough away to be safe from the dangers of being associated with Jesus. It could have cost him his life. While he loved Jesus, he did not know himself well enough to know that he was not willing to die with Jesus. This is so true to life and characteristic of human nature. We want what we want from our faith without accepting the corresponding reality that our faith requires something of us. We want assurance without accountability, comfort without challenge, confidence without commitment, delight without discipline, faith without fortitude, grace without the acknowledgement of guilt, liberty without limits, mercy without the admission of mistakes, salvation without sacrifice and solace without service. Life is not made up that way. Along with the comfort that Christ provides comes the challenges and claims that Christ makes. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
Consider what it means that your faith requires something from you in order for you to receive what your faith can provide.
pe·ric·o·pe | \ pə-ˈri-kə-pē \
Definition of pericope: a selection from a book
As the scene unfolds, what happens to Peter discloses some of the dangers of following at a distance.
When you follow at a distance, you create a gap between you and the one you are following.
Nature abhors a vacuum. All sorts of intrusions can get in the way. All kinds of obstacles/obstructions can obscure your sight and block your vision. We are admonished in Hebrews 12:1-2, “to lay aside every weight and the sin that clings to us so closely and run with patience the race which is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
You would think of all persons, Peter would have kept his focus on Jesus. It is not like he has not already experienced what it means to lose sight of the Lord. He was on familiar territory and traversing terrain that has already been explored. He had taken his eyes off Jesus once before and started to sink (Matthew 14:22-31). Certainly he knew the benefits of keeping his eyes on Christ.
There is so much that gets in between believers and the Lord. Adversity and affliction, bewilderment and blight, circumstances and calamities, delightful desires and devilish designs, guilt, mistakes, sorrow, trouble and you name it. They all get between you and the Lord, clouding your vision and distorting your view.
The composer, Charles Tinley cautions about permitting anything to come between you and the Lord. Nothing between my soul and my Savior / Naught of this world's delusive dream / I have renounced all sinful pleasure / Jesus is mine, there's nothing between/ Nothing between my soul and my Savior.
Consider what it means to have distractions and intrusions interrupt and intercept your intent to closely follow Jesus.
When you follow at a distance you run the risk of getting lost.
Have you ever been lost? Can you remember how frustrating it felt and how disconcerting it was? Lost, you don’t know where you are. Lost, you don’t know how to get where you want to go. Lost, you have no sense of bearing. You meander in confusion, sadly disillusioned, groping in darkness and looking for light. Being lost is an awful condition and state. So terrible is the condition of being lost, that it is used to refer to those who have not discovered the revelation of God in Christ. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
Peter got lost. He got lost from the purpose that caused him to follow Jesus in the first place. He followed Jesus because he believed the testimony of John that “Jesus was the Lamb of God” and his brother Andrew, that “Jesus was the Messiah, the Lord’s Christ.” His first encounter was so persuasive that he accepted the call and the challenge to become a follower of Christ. Jesus even told him who he was and who he would become (John 1:40-42): “And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jonah: thou shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone.”
Peter got lost from the reason he followed Jesus to the high priest’s house. All he wanted to do was to see what was going to happen. His concern compelled him while his curiosity controlled him. Peter lost his purpose and reason for following Jesus. Pushed as it were by his concern and curiosity, he was ambushed by his cowardice when confronted by those who queried him. Cowardice can ambush you when you are motivated by concern and curiosity rather than commitment.
Consider what it means to get lost from the reason you desire to follow Jesus as a disciple.
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
When you follow at a distance you don’t live up to the best that is in you.
Jesus has already informed Peter that he would deny him, “Before the rooster crows this day you will deny me three times” (Luke 22:34). However, Peter refused to admit that the Lord knew him better than he knew himself. When the unnamed disciple, who was known by the high priest, petitioned the damsel that kept the gate to permit Peter to enter, she said, ‘Art you one of this man’s disciples?’ Peter said, ‘No, I am not,’ the first time.
With the disappearance of the sun beyond the western horizon, the light left taking the warmth it provided. The evening shadows engulfed the world in a blanket of darkness bringing with them the chill of night. The cold that filled the air pushed and nudged Peter to seek warmth by the fire in the courtyard. As the crackling flames of the fire pointed their fingers toward a nocturnal sky darkened by the absence of light, the illumination emanating from their glow exposed the shadowed faces of those seeking warmth. Someone else said to Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?” Peter said, ‘No, I am not,’ a second time.
Finally, one of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” (John 18:26). Peter for the third time said, ‘No,’ according to Matthew and Mark using language that was unbecoming as he adamantly denied knowing the Lord.
There was a book of some years ago entitled, Living Up To Your Potential and
the author suggested that ninety percent of people only live up to ten percent of their potential. Imagine, only realizing one tenth of your potential. This means you are wasting ninety percent of your capacity. What a travesty! How much of life do we just waste and throw away because we don’t live up to the best that is in us?
Former President Jimmy Carter cited this reality in a book entitled, Why Not the Best. This title was prompted by a question from Admiral Rickover, who was the commencement speaker at President Carter’s graduation from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The President was boasting at where he placed in his class at the academy. Admiral Rickover wanted to know if he did his best? Mr. Carter had to honestly admit that he did not do his best. I am afraid that the story of most of our lives can be summed up that we have not always done our best.
Distance precludes, prevents and prohibits full development. Imagine being a distant disciple, a marginal member, a peripheral participant. Picture what they look like. They sound as contradictory as the oxymoron they are.
Consider what it means to admit that you have not always done your best in following Jesus as we have been admonished: “If we come after him, we are to take up our cross and follow him.”
When you follow at a distance you disappoint the Lord.
Luke alone shares this distressing detail. While Peter was yet denying the Lord with uncomely language, the rooster crowed and the Lord turned and looked at Peter. It was then that Peter remembered the words of the Lord. Imagine all of that happening simultaneously: Peter tenaciously denying, the rooster instinctually crowing, and Jesus passionately looking. Ah! What a scene it must have been. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Oh! What a look it must have been! Imagine the expression on the Lord’s face, the unmistakable nuance of his countenance with a glaring stare into the eyes of the one who boldly asserted, “I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Can you see the penetrating look of sad reproach? Picture that compassionate look of tender interest.
I wonder how the Lord looks at us. Do you think that there is an approving look of admiration or a disturbing look of disappointment? In his book entitled, Beyond the Broken Lights: Simple Words at Sacred Edges, Charles Poole makes the bold assertion that “There is a gap between the church’s Lord and the Lord’s church.” This gap is not new. It is as old as the church itself. You cannot get through the book of Acts, Galatians, Corinthians and Philippians without encountering tales of fragmentation, manipulation, and the jealousy in the body of Christ. The church cannot make it through its infancy without stumbling off in strange directions that open up a gap of space between Jesus and the church. There is a gap between the absolute integrity and unfailing courage of Jesus and everyone who has ever lived. The gap between Jesus and the church is, to some degree, inevitable. After all, we don’t live in first-century Palestine. We cannot all be Jewish carpenters who live beneath the stars. A part of the gap between Jesus and the church is the gap between the first century and the twenty-first century. The Lord found his followers netting the surf; now he has followers surfing the net. There is nothing bothersome about that gap; it is natural, inevitable and a progressive gap of time. What is bothersome, troubling and complex is the gap of Spirit – the gap between the Spirit of Jesus and the life of the church. The only way to face that gap and shrink that gap is for the church to measure what it does by the standard of the
Spirit of Jesus, (pp. 103-104, 108).
Jesus was clear about his mission as stated in Luke 4:18-19: 18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
The church through the ages has struggled with depicting and defining itself in light of her Lord. It’s sad to say, she has not yet arrived or become what her Lord intended. She has been responsible for some of the most heinous acts in history and the perpetrator of divisions that seem impossible to bridge, i.e. sexism, classism, militarism, racism, etc.
Consider what it means that believers disappoint the Lord when following afar off and neglect to fulfill what the Lord expects of his followers.
When you follow at a distance, you cheat yourself.
You cannot disappoint the Lord without cheating yourself.
The Psalmist reminds us of who the Lord is to us. The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23). The Lord is my light and my salvation (Psalm 27). The Lord is my refuge and strength (Psalm 46). Thou will show me the path of life: In the Lord’s presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures evermore (Psalm 16).
If Peter had followed closely, he would have seen what John saw. He would have seen how the Lord laid down his life becoming the lamb that takes away the sins of the world. He would have heard what Jesus said and seen what Jesus did as recorded in scripture: Forgive them, for they know not what they do. This day you shall be with me in paradise. I thirst. My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? Woman behold thy son, son behold thy mother. It is finished. Into thy hands I commend my spirit.
Don’t cheat yourself out of what can happen when you follow closely. You get a different understanding of God. You get a different view of yourself. You get a perspective on life. You gain insight into life beyond what we know existence to be. You get a brand new way of being and living.
Consider what it means that you cheat yourself when you disappoint the Lord.
The composer says, I am thine O Lord, I have heard thy voice and it told thy love to me. But I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to thee. Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to the cross where thou has died. Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to thy precious bleeding side.
Consecrate me now to your service, Lord, by the power of grace divine. Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope and my will be lost in thine. Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to the cross where thou has died. Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to thy precious bleeding side.
Consider what it means to reconsecrate yourself to the Lord in order to closely follow him.