Monday, November 16, 2015

At a Distance

This morning I noticed something I hadn't before while reading the account of Jesus's arrest and trial before his crucifixion.

It's one subtle little line, but it whispered to my heart with tremendous weight.

"Peter followed at a distance" (Luke 22:54).

I can just imagine this scene in my mind, the tension disrupting the velvety night, how Peter must have trembled and his heart must have hammered in fear-stricken anticipation. They were dragging Jesus away, and Peter must have been rewinding the events of the past week in his mind, meticulously searching for Jesus's specific words of warning about this very moment. Had he misunderstood Jesus? Was this really the way it would all end? Surely Jesus could not be overtaken! How would he get out of the officials' grasp?

Peter showed his fierce love for his Master and his hot temper before; but this time was different--more final. There were no more rehearsals or lectures; this was the big production and the final examination. Time had run out, and Peter was panicking.

I read and re-read that statement: "Peter followed at a distance" again and again. Could Peter have not followed at all? Could he have run off and hidden himself away, shutting out the reality of what was happening to his friend? Maybe in body, but I don't believe he could have in spirit. Because when you love someone so fiercely and your very purpose is wrapped in something--someone--you must follow. You must see what is to come, what is next.

Even if all you can muster is to follow at a distance.

I don't know what would have been done to Peter had he followed more closely. Maybe they would have arrested Peter as well. I'm guessing that was his fear. I do know that he had followed close enough that Jesus could later turn and look at Peter.

That just chills me. I cannot imagine the despair I would feel in Peter's position at that moment of gaping open exposure. He could not hide, and he had spent every denial afforded him by Jesus's own prophetic words. There was nothing left but to stand in the nakedness of the truth--he had denied his Lord, his friend.

And it had begun with him following at a distance.

I wonder if Peter had somehow had the courage, the boldness to follow on the heels of Jesus instead of at a distance, if he somehow would have mustered the courage to stand with Jesus? I wonder if he had not allowed himself to be deterred by fear, if Peter would have turned other hearts toward Jesus in those hours rather than calling curses down on himself?

Of course we know that this happened to fulfill Jesus's words that Peter would indeed deny Jesus three times. But what about us?

What if we had the courage to follow on the heels of Jesus rather than at a distance? What if I allowed His teaching, His leading to be enough authority for me to follow closely and obey fully?

What if I wasn't afraid of what would happen to me if I followed my Savior a little more closely?

Like Peter, I know I must follow because Jesus is who He said He is. I must follow because He has seized my heart and I am drawn to Him. Because I know the truth and cannot deny it.

But how closely will I follow? That, I get to decide. And so do you. How intimately do we want to see Jesus's works, His miracles, His plans? My heart screams that I want to experience them right on His heels! But my fear warns me to shrink back, to allow some distance for safety...just in case. Scripture says that even if I do follow at a distance, His grace is sufficient for that. He will look on me with love even if I am tangled in my fear and can only stumble along behind. Because He understands us and He loves us in our afflictions.

But how will He look on me if I break the heavy shackles of fear that slow me down, if I shake them off and run to catch up to His side?

Jesus, may we follow you fiercely, may we drop the heavy blanket of fear that weighs us down and run with the freedom and weightlessness that will propel us forward closer to your side. So we can hear your words up close, even your sighs and your gentle whispers.

May we follow on His heels and not at a distance.
Peace of Christ to you,

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