We all know the shortest sentence in the Bible (“Jesus wept,” John 11:35), but what do you consider to be the saddest? For me, it’s found in the account of the night Jesus was betrayed. Matthew and Mark both tell how, as Jesus was taken away, “Peter followed at a distance.”
Here is the guy who earlier in the evening proclaimed he would never fall away. The one who stepped forward, swinging with his sword, when the Roman soldiers arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane. In a few moments he will deny even knowing Jesus, with ever-increasing vigor. But right now, hovering on the edge, he’s caught between faith and fear.
Unlike many Christians who live in the crosshairs around the world, I’ve never been put in a situation where I’ve had to count the absolute cost of naming Jesus. I suspect I might crumble just like this “rock” did.
I can readily identify with him following at a distance. Unable to walk away entirely, but unwilling to stay too close. Just enough faith to know God is real, no matter how you try to persuade yourself otherwise. Just enough doubt to keep you from living like it. It’s a miserable place, the worst of both worlds.
It’s easy to be sniffy about people stuck in this in-between, reckoning that they just need to man up. But, perhaps because I have been there myself, I have a bit more sympathy. After all, Peter was still at least trying to follow. Most of the other disciples had deserted Jesus and fled—one of them even abandoning his dignity in his haste to get away.
It’s interesting to see things reverse in the tender encounter on the beach at Galilee, after Jesus had risen. John slipped out of his linen garment to get away when the mob came to arrest Jesus (Mark 14:51): no one stands on their dignity when they are running for their life. But then Peter slipped out of his outer garment to get close to Jesus when he saw Him from the boat after the resurrection (John 21:7): no one cares about reputation when they seeking true reconciliation.
If you feel like you’re standing alongside Peter in the courtyard of the high priest, following at a distance, let me encourage you. God knows about all the grand gestures you may have made in the past, the big promises, the vows. He wasn’t impressed when you made them, so He wasn’t surprised when you failed to keep them. And He knows that, like Peter, you meant them just as much as you knew how to.
Hang on and hang in. He will meet you and lift all that sense of failure and disappointment. And then, as He did to Peter on the seashore, He will give you another opportunity: “Follow me!” (John 21:19). And this time, it will be closer.