The Now and Then of Following Christ
John 13:36-38
Simon Peter said to him, Lord, where go you? Jesus answered him, Where I go, you can not follow me now…

The first words spoken to Peter were "Follow Me"; almost the last were "Thou canst not follow Me now." After a long attachment to the Saviour it was a hard word. There is, however, always a "staying hand" in life as well as a "beckoning." The pillar of cloud moves and halts.

I. THE NEGATIVE PRESENT. When had it been that Simon could not go with his Master? He had accompanied Him to Bethany when seeking rest after tumult and turmoil; to the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was pre-glorified. Now he may not follow Him. Nor was this strange. The high priest only could enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, and Peter might not understand, but we do, that the great Day of Atonement had dawned. On to the cross, into the tomb, within the veil, only Jesus must go. Yet by this access to God was given. And now into the crucified life, as dead with Christ to the world; into the risen life, as new creatures in Him, we may follow Jesus; but further than this we may not go now; into the ascension life we are forbidden to enter at present, but we shall be permitted afterwards.

II. THE POSITIVE FUTURE. It was in the human life Jesus commanded Peter to follow Him, saying He would make them "fishers of men." They were to observe His modes of action and drink of His Spirit. And so with us. But is it not rather into the higher risen life that He bids us follow Him — the life of pardon, peace, sanctity, and spiritual power? And to this He is "the Way"; and by following that Way we shall reach the "afterwards" of His presence and glory (1 John 3:2).

(I. Watts.)

Why cannot I follow Thee now?

1. Why, indeed? There could be no doubt of his sincerity and attachment to his Master. I cannot believe that our Lord merely referred to the time for Peter's departure. Further, Peter did follow Christ so far as he could without dying; for there was still a considerable portion of ground to be traversed by those sacred feet. There lay before Him the way of sorrows, crowned with the cross on Calvary. Up to that point Simon Peter might have followed Christ, although he did not. Our Lord was referring to this first, though His words may have reached on to the glory that was at last to be revealed. The time was already come when His disciples were to be scattered and to leave Him alone. And knowing this, He says, "Whither I go," etc. And it is equally true that this same Simon Peter did follow the Lord Jesus Christ afterwards in the same sense in which he was now precluded from following Him.

2. As we ask Peter's question, we are led to consider our own experience. Is it not true that there sometimes seems to rise up in the very path of our inclinations and spiritual aspirations a strange, indescribable barrier — an inexorable "cannot" — that seems to bar the way to further progress? It is wise to ask this question, for if it be honestly put, the Holy Spirit of God will sooner or later show us what gives strength to this cruel and pitiless "cannot." Why could not Simon follow Jesus then? Because —

I. HE THOUGHT HE COULD. "I will lay down my life for Thy sake." There is nothing more common amongst Christians than the admission of our frailty and weakness. But what a great difference there is between making orthodox admissions and having a real consciousness of our own helplessness and dependence on a higher power. Sometimes, feeling ourselves to be a little weaker than we should be, we are ashamed of our infirmity. And sometimes, taught by many disasters, we entertain serious apprehensions about ourselves; but it is wonderful how self-confidence rebounds from the most distressing humiliations. We are quite determined to be more careful in the future. But how slow we are to abandon all confidence in the flesh! And it is not until we have learnt our helpless dependence that we can hope to follow Jesus. For flesh and blood can no more participate in the fellowship of Jesus' sufferings than they can inherit the kingdom of God. But Simon Peter was a man of strong determination; and such characters find it very hard to renounce all confidence in their moral vigour. It seemed incredible that he should turn his back upon his Master, and we can scarcely bring ourselves to believe that we could condescend to the sin, which subsequently we commit; and then by and by we learn our weakness amidst bitter tears, as Simon Peter did.

II. HE WAS AT THIS TIME WALKING BY SIGHT RATHER THAN BY FAITH. We do not reach the life of real faith till we are fully conscious of our own helplessness. How can we really trust Christ unless we have thoroughly learnt to distrust ourselves? Peter, walking by sight, his firmness was greatly dependent upon outward circumstances. As long as he saw Christ performing prodigies, or greeted by hosannas, it appeared easy to follow Him; but when all His glory seemed departed, his courage forsook him. Ah! how many of us are fair-weather sailors 1 and how few in their daily life by faith possess themselves of God.

III. HE WAS WALKING IN THE FLESH RATHER THAN IN THE SPIRIT. This same Peter, only a few weeks afterwards, when baptized with the Holy Ghost, stood before the rulers of his country with unblanched countenance, for that Master whom He denied. And for us also that Spirit is given. This qualification for following Jesus is closely connected with the other. They represent the two sides of a healthy spiritual experience. Faith on our side brings us into contact with the Divine, and puts the soul in the attitude of reception; the gift of the Holy Ghost on God's side brings the Divine into contact with us, and fills us according to our capacity. "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? But, if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit;" and Paul's charge against the Galatians is that, having begun in the Spirit, they had gone on to be made perfect in the flesh. Is not this where many of us lose our capacity to follow Christ? The energies of the flesh may be never so strong and well-intentioned, but they cannot take the place of the powers of the Holy Ghost; and there is a point beyond which they cannot go in disposing us to follow Christ.

IV. BECAUSE HE WAS OUT OF SYMPATHY WITH CHRIST'S MIND. "Can two walk together except they be agreed? "Christ was meditating on the Father's will, while Simon Peter" savoured of the things that be of men." And if we are to follow Jesus we must rise into the inner circle of His fellowship, and see things from His point of view. It is not by saying, "I will follow Thee" that we succeed in following Him. It is by bringing our hearts into full harmony with His Divine will. And the first step towards accepting the Divine will is taken when we repose our full confidence in it. Jesus Christ was at this moment fulfilling in His own experience the language of the Psalm, "Lo! I come to do Thy will." Peter, on the other hand, preferred to trust to his own will. He had daydreams of material aggrandisement, and political power, so that he had no room for the fellowship of the mind of Jesus Christ. And when Jesus began to open up His own purposes to him, he shrank from them with aversion. Now, here is our lesson. You, who seek after popularity, who are wishing to be on good terms with the world, how can you follow Jesus until you are in sympathy with Him and with His aims? "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me."

V. HE WAS INWARDLY CLINGING ALL THE WHILE TO A BESETTING SIN — self-assertion, or self-confidence, mingled with not a little worldly pride. We see this evil habit of soul exhibiting itself in his attempt to dissuade his Master from facing the Cross; and in his conduct at the supper table. How many of you are kept back from following Jesus now by some cherished sin? Conclusion: Perhaps some of you are asking, "Can we not go to heaven without all this?" We are not discussing the minimum qualification for heaven. What it is God only knows. We are talking of following Jesus, and that is far more to the purpose. I have no desire to solve the problem. Here is a consideration which is very profitable: How much spiritual benefit is it possible for a man to get out of his religion?

(W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards.

WEB: Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going, you can't follow now, but you will follow afterwards."

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