Jesus had just told His disciples, “Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you” (John 13:33; NKJV). This, of course, pricked their curiosity; and it was Peter, impulsive, impetuous Peter, who asked the obvious question: “Lord, where are You going?” (v. . 36). But instead of answering the question directly, Jesus gave him a cryptic answer: “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.”
What Jesus understood, of course, was that He was not simply going to another location. He was about to experience death and resurrection, and be removed from this world altogether. Peter, and the rest of the disciples, would be left behind, at least for the time being.
But Jesus intimated that there was more to it than that. What He told Peter was, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” But how would Peter follow Him afterward?
In Peter’s case the path actually would eventually lead to martyrdom. According to ancient church tradition he was eventually crucified head downwards (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.1). But this raises an interesting question: if God loves us, if He has saved us and forgiven our sins, why would He allow any of us to suffer persecution?
The answer is that we must still live in the world, and the world hates Christ. When Jesus sent His disciples out on their first preaching tour He forewarned them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves . . .” (Matt. 10:16), and “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake . . .” (v. 22). And as He would eventually tell them later on in the Upper Room Discourse, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18,19). And so it is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12), and “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Fallen man wants to deny God; he wants to deny the eternal and divine. But the strongest testimony we can bear for the existence of the eternal and divine is to be willing to die for it. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (II Cor. 4:7). “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). “Precious in the sight of the Lord / Is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15).
Peter, however, being his brash self, says, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for your sake” (John 13:37). Peter had already heard Jesus say on previous occasions that He would be returning to His Father in heaven, and he had just heard Jesus predict that He would be betrayed by one of His disciples. And so fervent was his love and devotion to the Master that he impulsively declared that he would even be willing to die with Him. It would be an exciting adventure!
Peter’s zeal was certainly commendable, but what Jesus said next must have come as a shock: “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 (v. 38). The thought that Peter would deny Him at all was shocking enough. That he would do it before daybreak the next morning the next day was even more shocking. That he would do it no less than three times was utterly beyond belief. And yet that was exactly what would happen.
One might wonder how such a thing could be possible. How could someone like Peter, one of the Lord’s disciples, filled with love and zeal for his Master, fall so fast and so far? The answer is that Peter was very much a human being, and as such was much more prone to weakness and failure than he himself realized. And this, in turn, is a solemn warning to us all of the danger of overconfidence.
What Peter forgot, and what we would all do well to remember, was the proverb that says, “Pride goes before destruction, / And a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). And as the apostle Paul would eventually put it, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12). The sad fact of the matter is that we are weak in and of ourselves, constantly subject to temptation and prone to fall. We are completely dependent on God’s grace to deliver us from temptation and to keep us from falling. As John Brown of Edinburgh put it, “What can secure us? Christ’s prayer for us, and the supply of Divine influence which that prayer alone can infallible procure; and if we would have the security which Christ’s prayer gives, we must, relinquishing all dependence on ourselves, lean entirely on him” (Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, Vol. 2, p. 518). Or as Peter himself would later put it, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time . . .Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:6,8).
One of the characteristic faults of American Christians is our sense of self-sufficiency – our “can-do” attitude. We plan and organize; we raise funds and we build. And we do it all in the proud assurance that we are completely sufficient unto ourselves. And some celebrity pastors are able to point to the mega-churches and multi-million ministries as evidence of their success. And yet we do not see the gospel making the lasting moral impact on American society that it should. What is missing is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit which alone can change hearts and minds and produce genuine conversions. Oh that the church would fall on its knees, humble itself before God, and acknowledge its dependence on Him! Only then can we hope to see the “showers of blessing we need.”