Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: May, 2019



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.”



Judas had now left the room, and Jesus was now free to address those who remained as His genuine disciples.  And He begins by addressing them as “little children” (John 13:33: NKJV).  This is significant because it tells us how He saw His relationship with His disciples and, by extension, us.  On the one hand we are “little children” – we are not His equals; there is a vast disparity between Him and us.  And so He is a kind of father-figure to us – strong and wise, and able to take care of us in our need.  And we, for our part, are finite and limited, and absolutely dependent on Him.

But “little children” is also a term of endearment.  We bear a special relationship with Him, and because of that He has a special, warm, personal love for us.  It is reminiscent of the description of a father’s love found in Psalm 103:13,14:

“As a father pities his children

So the Lord pities those who fear Him.

For He knows our frame,

He remembers that we are dust.”

And so, as Jesus looks around the table at His remaining disciples, His genuinely committed disciples, and He reflects on what is about to happen to Him and where that will leave them, He is filled with compassion and concern over their well-being.

And so He continues: “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 way to you” (v. 33).  In other words, He was leaving, and was leaving them behind in the world.  They will seek Him, they will want to be with Him, but He will not be there.  And then He repeats to them what He had previously told the Jews: “Where I am going, you cannot come” (cf. Jn. 7:34; 8:21).  The disciples probably did not understand what He meant by this – it was an oblique reference to the fact that He was about to be crucified, resurrected from the dead, and the then ascended into heaven.  It was all a part of the special mission to which He was assigned by God the Father.  The disciples themselves would eventually be martyred, but not right away.  And that meant that there would be a length of time during which they would be separated from their Master.

The question then is, how were they to function in His absence?  And the first thing that He tells them is, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).  God has always required human beings to love each other.   Leviticus 19:18 in the Old Testament reads, in part, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and Jesus had previously said that this was the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39,40)  How then is it a “new commandment”?  This answer lies in the phrase “As I have loved you.”  What was new was Christ’s personal example – His willingness to die on the cross to save lost sinners – something that was unique and unprecedented in human history.  And Jesus says that this is the way we should love one another: “as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

This, in turn, is to be the distinguishing mark of the church: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (v. 35).  It was this kind of brotherly love that sets Christians apart from the fallen world around them.  It is the kind of love that is possible only through the inward renewal by the Holy Spirit, transforming us inwardly and making us more like Christ.  And this is what should strike unbelievers when they look at the church – a fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters who genuinely love and actively care for one another.

This can only happen, of course, if the church is a believers’ church with a regenerate church membership.  On this point the 16th Century Anabaptists were absolutely right, and it is one of the so-called “Baptist distinctives.”  And so far have modern Baptist churches, and evangelical Bible-believing churches generally, strayed from the biblical ideal, that oftentimes outsiders can see little difference between the church and the world.  It is a sad commentary on the current state of affairs that James Baldwin, the prominent African-American writer and civil rights activist, could tell an NAACP gathering in 1973:

“I am obviously opposed to the Christian church.  It has a pretty

shameful record.  Let’s leave it at that.  But to be opposed to the

Christian church and to loathe its history is not to say that I hate

you or anybody else.  In fact, that’s my argument with the Christian

church: precisely that there is no love in it.”

(European Stars and Stripes, Feb. 27, 1973)

That an outsider could say such a thing about the church is an absolute scandal.  What a reproach on the name of Christ!

Part of the problem stems from the fact that many churches have weak views on conversion and regeneration, taking people into their membership who show little evidence of repentance or a changed life.  The problem then is often compounded by lax standards of church discipline.  The end result is that the church’s testimony in the community is ruined.

What the world needs to see is a fellowship of believers in close communion with God and a loving relationship with each other.  Only then can we manifest the life of Christ to the world.