Keeping a Safe Distance
"Then seizing Him, they led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance" (Luke 22:54).
The leading priests and Temple police take Jesus from the Garden. Where are 10 of the disciples? What happened to them? verse 39 tells that they followed Him to the Mount of Olives. Something has happened to his company on the trip from the Garden to the home of the high priest.
We can surmise that we do know where two of the disciples are. Since Judas has switched sides, he is presumably with the folk who have been plotting and planning to get Christ. That's no good. And then there's Peter. Peter is with him. When we know that Judas has betrayed and the other 10 are nowhere to be found, Peter is hanging in there! Well, Kinda sorta. He's following Him in His own way. The text says that Peter followed "at a distance."
I feel Peter's inner conflict. He loves Christ. He doesn't want to see anything bad happen to Him. So he's following. But it appears that the Master is in trouble. And I can almost hear Peter's thoughts, "I must not be the only one who's got that funny feeling in my stomach because the other 10 disciples have already left!" Things look like they might get a little heated and I'm not sure if I'm ready for the fire, so I'm gonna just keep a safe distance just in case things get a little out of hand.
Peter had committed himself to Christ declaring that he would go with Christ even to death. It's easy to make great declarations of undying fealty in times of peace. And I believe that Peter meant what he said, that is, when he said it. But the trials of life reveal what is really in us. Proverbs 24:10 says, "If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small." In other words, it is trouble that tests our metal, helps us to understand whether our thoughts about ourselves are really who we are.
Peter's words didn't match up with his actions. I don't know if Peter anticipated leading the other 11 disciples in a fight against the enemy. When he said he would fight with Christ to the death he probably thought that he'd at least have a band of courageus colleagues with him. Maybe he never pictured that it would just be him by himself with Jesus. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that he was left alone was just too much for him. We imagine the future one way and often it does not happen quite how we had dreamed it would be.
Whatever happened, Peter's strength in the face of not just trouble -- but anticipated trouble -- was weak. His following Christ at a distance spoke volumes. Oh sure, you can justify keeping a distance all kinds of ways: he could be on a the lookout if he's at a distance. You've got a better perspective of where everybody is just in case someone tries to sneak up if you're at a distance. We can all make up stuff to justfiy Peter.
We can all make up stuff to justify why we keep a safe distance with respect to declaring our connection to Christ. We play it safe until we know that it's okay to be identified with Christ. We try to appear normal, not too religious around certain people we meet. You know, we don't want to seem like a "fanatic." We're keeping a safe distance. You may have certain convictions about how you care for your body because you see yourself as the Temple of the Holy Spirit, but when you're out you quote studies from nutritionists to Hollywood celebrities as the reason you are refusing some food or drink item. You're keeping a safe distance. Over and over again. We have this need both to stay connected to Christ and simultaneously keep a safe distance because we fear.
Let's just put it on the table. That's the reason we keep a safe distance. Peter was scared. And so are we. We're scared of being rejected by people. What will they think of me if I tell them the truth about what I believe? And despite what Christ has done for us, we treat him like a lover we are too ashamed to bring home to our parents or to be seen with in public.
If you read the rest of the story that ends in verse 60, you'll see that following at a distance is indicative of how you will finally behave when tested. Peter followed at a distance because he didn't want to be identified with Christ when Christ went down. And when asked directly if he was one of Christ's followers, he declared that he didn't even know the man. What makes you and I believe that we'll do any better than Peter in the time of trial when we're always trying to play it safe today?
While there is something within me that wants to give Peter some credit for at least following Christ, even if it was at a distance, in the final analysis, he wasn't any more good to Christ than the other 10 who were no where to be found. And I question whether or not we who are always trying to play chameleon (a worshiper around the saints, just a normal person around the secular) are really any better at advancing the principles of the Kingdom than those who don't follow Him at all.
I want to follow Him, but not at a distance. The hymn writer says:
Nothing between my soul and the Savior,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor,
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.