By Robert C. Oliver Contributing columnist
May 9, 2014
On the night that the Lord was betrayed by Judas, He told His apostles that they would all be scattered from Him. To this Peter “answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended”. The Lord assured him that he would deny Him three times before the cock crew. After reaching the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord prayed three times and the mob led by Judas arrived to arrest Him (Matt. 26:31-50). “And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end” (Matt. 26:57-58). We all know what happened, we know that Peter did indeed deny the Lord three times that night. Many have ridiculed Peter for his lack of conviction and dedication to the Lord. It is true that Peter was lacking in complete faith on a number of occasions, this being one of them. One might well wonder if Peter had followed the Lord as closely as possible, rather than afar off, would he have denied Him those three times? It would be much more difficult to deny the Lord with Him standing by your side. But, maybe we should take a good look at ourselves before we start casting stones at Peter. When the Jews brought the woman that was caught in the act of adultery and demanded of Jesus whether she should be stoned to death as the Law of Moses taught or not, Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground. They continued to ask and He then told them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:4-7). The point of this is that there may be many like Peter who are following Christ afar off, many further off than was Peter.
There are many who call themselves Christians, yet they make no real attempt to abide by the doctrine of Christ. Whole institutions have been established by mere men, following the doctrines and practices of man and yet calling themselves Christians. Jesus spoke of some saying, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). A couple of verses later, He said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:13-14). Those who claim to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but then follow the doctrines and practices of mere men are following the Lord at such a distance that they cannot see Him and He will not see them.
There are still others that profess to be following Jesus, but they too are afar off, for their allegiance to the Lord is in word only. Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah saying, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with the lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8; Isa. 29:13). Almost every church will have some who only attend a couple of times a year, usually on some holiday. These too are following the Lord at such a distance they can never receive the blessings provided by the Lord.
Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). One might ask, “which commandments?”. The answer to that is all of the commandments of the gospel of Christ. It’s not like grocery shopping where one goes up and down the isles and picks and chooses the items he or she wants and leaves all the others on the shelf. Yet, many are following Jesus at such a distance that they are able to do this very thing with His commandments. Some will say, “I want some of this faith and even some of this confession, and certainly I want some forgiveness of sins, but I don’t want baptism for the remission of sins, I don’t want living in purity of life, I don’t want being actively involved in taking the gospel to others as well as many other commandments of the Lord. Such are certainly following Jesus afar off.
There is also a group that is following Jesus afar off by way of remaining ignorant of His word. Paul spoke of his fellow Jews saying, “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2-3). One cannot walk with Jesus rather than following afar off without diligent study of His word. It is the Gospel of Christ that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), by which we can be saved (James 1:21) and by which we will be judged in the last day (Rom. 2:16; John 12:48).
Had Peter stayed as close to the side of Jesus as was possible, he may not have denied the Lord three times that night, we will never know for he followed the Lord afar off. In like manner if we follow the Lord afar off as many are doing at this present time, we too will fall far short of having an eternal home in heaven.
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