Following Afar Off

And they seized [Jesus], and led him away, and brought him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed afar off (Luke 22:54).

The night’s confused events were taking place rapidly.

They had all spent the night eating the Passover with Jesus, and they all knew that the time was near. Jesus had indicated that He would not drink the fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom had come (Luke 22:18). He had served His disciples and instructed them in many things regarding His imminent departure (John 13-17).

And then, in the garden, Judas had come with the band of soldiers. Peter felt that this was the time to act, and he cut off Malchus’ ear (cf. Luke 22:47-51, John 18:10-11). Jesus censured him for the move, and healed Malchus. All of the disciples then turned and fled while Jesus was led away (Matthew 26:56).

Soon after, Peter remembered exactly what he had told Jesus and what Jesus had said. Peter said that he would go with Jesus both to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). He could not abandon his Master now, and so he followed from afar.

The pieces were then in place. Peter sat with others and warmed himself by the fire (Luke 22:55). It was in this setting that his courage failed him. He had three opportunities to confess Jesus, and he denied Him three times (Luke 22:56-60). Then Jesus turned and looked at him (Luke 22:61). We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

Thus Peter betrayed Jesus. It was really classic Peter, exhibiting the same type of initial brashness and then wavering as seen when he walked on the water and then began to sink (cf. Matthew 14:28-31). Peter as a man of little faith was exposed again.

That exposure was unnecessary as we can see. The disciples had fled, and Peter could have continued to flee. He could have waited out this tempestuous time away from the danger and would not have had the opportunity to deny Jesus. Yet Peter, as impetuous as always, followed Jesus into the danger zone, and, as usual, failed.

But would Jesus have really wanted Peter to flee and not experience the testing of faith? That is a much more difficult question. As much as Peter’s denials must have pierced Jesus’ soul, Peter was at least willing to suffer the danger of being near Him. The abandonment was not entirely complete, as it certainly was for some of the other disciples.

After Pentecost the day would come when Peter would again step forth into the danger zone, but this time he would not fail– he boldly stood before the Sanhedrin and confessed Jesus as the Risen Christ (Acts 4:1-23). Peter would be the one to stand and preach the first Gospel message to Jews (Acts 2:14-36) and Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48), and, according to tradition, follow his Lord and Master to death by crucifixion (John 21:18). All of this was because Peter was not one to flee but to be willing to, if nothing else, at least follow afar off.

There are many times in our lives when confused events take place rapidly. Times of distress and difficulty come upon us; many times we do not expect them. When our faith is tested, and we feel as if we are going to be bereft of our Lord, how will we respond? Will we be as many of the disciples and run away, attempting to avoid all the possible dangers? There is a time and place for that, assuredly, but not always. Or will we be like Peter, willing to follow even if it is afar off, willing to risk our livelihoods and our lives to follow Jesus?

Perhaps we will find ourselves in that kind of situation and we fail like Peter failed. We should then “turn again” and “strengthen our brethren” (cf. Luke 22:32), repenting and seeking to do better. Or maybe we will succeed and stand firm, proclaiming through our word and deed in distress and difficulty that we are servants of Jesus Christ. Then God receives the glory (cf. 1 Peter 4:11).

We have no reason to believe that Peter the Apostle could have been the force for good for the Kingdom that he turned out to be had he not been Simon the disciple who was willing to follow and yet failed. Likewise, we will never be the disciples of Jesus Christ we can be, and we will not be able to be the force for good for the Kingdom that we should be, if we never take the risk of following Jesus in difficult, distressing times. We might very well stumble and perhaps even fail; the flesh is weak even when the spirit is willing. We can learn from our failures and move on. And perhaps we will succeed and God will be glorified and it will be evident how wise it was to follow and not flee. But that day will never come if we always flee, never taking the risk, never being exposed to the danger.

What kind of disciples of Christ are we? Let us seek to follow Jesus, even when the times are difficult, even when the danger is evident, take the risk, and stand firm for Him and His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Victory!

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. So much of what takes place in life involves “winners” and “losers.” We see it most clearly in sports games or in armed conflicts. It is also present in competitions in business, school, and in life in general. Everyone wants to win and be part of the winning team. No one wants to lose, and few have patience with constant loss.

Winning is sweet. Far too often, winning goes unquestioned. Everyone is happy when there is victory. But when people begin to lose, everything is questioned. Flaws and challenges come to the surface. Discord often rears its ugly head.

Losing, however, is not always such a bad thing. Humans tend to learn only by making mistakes. Losing tests endurance and resolve. Losing forces people to confront the difficult questions, and either continue to lose or to find a way to win.

So much of victory and defeat is mental and emotional– or, as it is said in sports so many times, games are most often won or lost before the players take the field. Some teams win because of talent and skill– others just have a stronger desire to win. Yes, many teams lose because of a lack of skill or poor execution, but far too often, such teams lack the will to win. It is not as if there is ever a perfect team or a perfect situation– challenges, flaws, and discord can always exist. Somehow, in some way, people find ways to be successful and victorious despite those flaws. And yet there are also times when people with so much talent, opportunity, and ability fail to achieve the victory that would seem to come to them, either through indolence or someone else just wanting it more!

These matters are profitable for Christians to consider, for the Christian life is compared to sporting competitions (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-2), spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6:10-18, 2 Timothy 2:4-5), and even in terms of business success (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27). We run the most important race there is; we fight the most important battle in history; we earn the most valuable profits. If we ever must pursue victory with everything we have, it must be in the spiritual arena!

When things go well in our lives as Christians, we do not question a lot of things. We are happy. It is when our lives begin to fall apart and/or we begin to fail that we begin to question. Our flaws, challenges, and discord are made evident. And yet those flaws and challenges were always there. Discord is always just around the corner. We must endure difficulties and struggles in our faith in order to be refined and to be made ready for the ultimate victory (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9). These are not pleasant, and we always wonder why we are not always successful in God. Character does not develop and mature through complete success– it is only when we are forced to confront our difficulties that we prove our mettle and whether we will shrink away and fail or endure and overcome (cf. Revelation 2:7, 12:11).

Victory and success is also an important mindset. It is too easy for us to expect failure so as to never be disappointed. This is precisely what losers do, and such losers, while rarely disappointed, do not amount to much. Instead, we must believe that we can and must win, trusting in God’s firm Word to us that we shall have the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. That victory may not seem very possible at times, and the situations we find ourselves in may be bleak. This is when we must have the most fervent resolve to win no matter the circumstances, and trust in God’s power that we shall win.

A day is coming when the results of the ultimate contest will be made evident. Those who have failed through their ignorance, desire to lose, or failure to serve God will obtain eternal condemnation (Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Those who trusted in Jesus for victory, who wanted that victory more than anything else, and devoted everything in their power to obtain that victory will share in that victory (Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 15:54-58)– and the taste of victory will never have been sweeter (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6). How much do we desire to win it all? Let us trust in God through Christ and devote all of our energies to His cause so as to gain the ultimate victory!

Ethan R. Longhenry