Following God From A Distance
May 9, 2020

Following God From A Distance
Luke 22:54-62

{Watch on YouTube at https://youtu.be/xMHmAwWvRDk}
{Listen to message at https://mega.nz/file/2EFwQCbK#UbaiJ3nvR3rxj1LK7-cYF5eNvjVmEEK2csDTJC77oUw}

Today, I’d like to kind of pick up where we left off last week in our message, “Going Further In,” as we looked at Jesus’s desire for us to go further in with Him from the Garden of Gethsemane story and the benefits when we do.

In that message we looked at two types of Christians, those who sit on the sidelines, and those who do go further in, but not all the way. From today’s story, I’d like to look at a third type of Christian, one who follows, but at a distance.

After Jesus arrest in the Garden, while everyone ran, we see Peter following after Jesus, but He wasn’t following close, instead He followed at a distance.

When we look at the life of the Apostle Peter, we see one massive roller coaster of a ride. During his time with Jesus he was up and down so many times it makes our heads spin.
• In one instance he’s walking on water; and next he’s sinking beneath the waves.
• At one point he boldly confesses Jesus as the Christ, the son of the Living God, and then shortly thereafter he tries to rebuke Jesus.
• Peter also boldly says he’ll go to prison and even die for Jesus, but then we see him following at a distance, staying out of sight and denying that he even knew Him.

It’s this last incident that I would like for us to look at in our time together.

As the Jewish guard approached Jesus to arrest Him, Peter courageously pulls out a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants, but then ran for his life with the rest of the disciples, but he didn’t run far, instead turned around and began to follow, but he followed behind at a safe distance.

“Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed at a distance.” (Luke 22:54 NKJV)

And so the question becomes, “Why Did Peter Keep His Distance?”

Let me share with you a couple of reasons that I see.

1. Peter Had a Problem with Discernment

“Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.” (Luke 22:55 NKJV)

It’s not that Peter didn’t want to be close to Jesus, he just didn’t want to be close enough to be connected. Peter showed a real lack of discernment, because he ends up smack dab in the enemy’s camp. He went into the courtyard of the high priest, the very person who had Jesus arrested.

As I see it, Peter wants to maintain some contact with Jesus, but not close enough to do any good.

Many who want to be a Christian don’t want to identify themselves with Christ in their everyday lives. They want to have some contact, so they come to church occasionally, but continue to live their lives on their own terms.

But while Peter warms himself at their fire he ends up getting burned in the process. We can’t warm ourselves at the world’s fire without our consciences becoming burned as well.

When we follow Jesus from a distance we’ll begin to lose contact and closeness with Him, and soon we’ll find ourselves not only in the enemy’s camp, but we’ve set up our tent as well.

2. Peter Had a Problem with Denial

Jesus even told Peter of this upcoming problem.

“I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:34 NKJV)

And this is exactly what we see in Luke’s account.

“And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, ‘This man was also with Him.’ But he denied Him (Jesus), saying, ‘Woman, I do not know Him.’ And after a little while another saw him and said, ‘You also are of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, ‘Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are saying!’ Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.” (Luke 22:56-60 NKJV)

Earlier Peter had the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. What a profession of faith. But after following Jesus at a distance and warming himself at the enemy’s fire, Peter completely denies knowing Jesus.

But this happens on a daily basis with most of us. We make the same declaration when we come to faith in Jesus. We make the declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but then by our actions and words we deny Jesus a little bit more every day.

We deny Him in our actions. We take short cuts, lie, and cheat. We deny him in our words, that is, when we had the opportunity to share our faith, we instead choose to keep quite.

When our relationship with the Lord is distant, we lack discernment and soon find ourselves in the wrong places, hanging with the wrong crowd, and denying our relationship with the Lord. The real danger is that we’ll soon find ourselves departing the faith all together.

Maybe you’ve started to grow a little distant from the Lord? You’re still following, but not as close as you once did. You no longer attend church regularly, or you’re not in your Bible on a regular basis. Maybe you’re starting to hang out with others who don’t believe and are leading you away from God.

So we need to be careful where we stray, stay, and in what we say. Since I mentioned the word “danger,” what are the dangers of following God from a distance?

Danger in Following at a Distance

1. Fall out of Communion

Among the different denominations there are various names used to describe Peter’s condition of following at a distance, warming himself at the enemy’s fire, and denying Jesus with his actions and words. The more common definitions are “backsliding,” and “falling away.” But there is a phrase that is rarely used, but is quite telling, and that is that we fall out of communion.

Dr. Wilbur Chapman, Presbyterian evangelist in the late 19th century, said about falling out of communion with the Lord that “It takes the look of joy from your face; it takes the peace from your heart; (and) it takes the power from your life.”

So the question becomes in what ways do we fall out of communion?

a. With Christ

These are Christians who professed belief, but they’re not 100% sold out, and this is evidenced in the life they’re living. Something has gone wrong. Things haven’t turned out as they planned, and in their disappointment they’ve backed away and follow at a distance.

Peter never expected Jesus to go the cross. He expected Jesus to be crowned King. He never expected to experience the suffering that comes with faith; instead he expected to share in Jesus’s kingdom rule. And now with his hopes and dreams dashed, he follows at a distance.

But instead of pulling away from God; what we need to do is to draw closer to Him.

We need to remember that Jesus suffered and died for us. He suffered as no one has ever suffered, therefore He knows how we feel and can sympathize with us, and what this means is that not only can Jesus enter into our suffering, but He can help us through it. So we need to press into Jesus instead of distancing ourselves from Him.

b. With Christians

Peter also separated himself from the other disciples. Maybe it was because he was disappointed with them for not standing up for Jesus the way he did? But whatever the reason Peter now found himself out of communion with them as well.

I find it disappointing when people leave church because they have problems with others. Instead of learning how to deal with their problems, they separate themselves from church.
• Some won’t go to church because they say it’s filled with hypocrites, not realizing they’re hypocrites as well.
• People stop coming to church because the church, or the believers, aren’t doing things their way, as if their way is the only way.
• And there are those who end up doing nothing but criticize, condemn, and complain, which is no way to win friends and influence people according to Dale Carnegie.

Another danger of following at a distance is that we tend more toward evil than good.

2. Tend Toward Evil

Notice where Peter ends up once he started following at a distance: in the camp of the enemy. Once we start following at a distance we start heading back to our old haunts and our old ways, and once that happens, it begins to corrupt our walk in the Lord.

“Do not be deceived: evil company corrupts good habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NKJV)

I once knew a pastor that was on fire for the Lord. He had a great gift, but started to distance himself from the Lord through business dealings and what some would call the good life. He ended up living on the street, and he died homeless with none of those he knew and pastored even knowing.

Pastor William Riley, known as The Grand Old Man of Fundamentalism, said, “When we get into evil company we are likely to strike a level with it, and we not only lower our reputation, but carry down character as well.”

The third danger of following at a distance is that fear begins to set in.

3. Fear Sets In

Peter, a grizzled fisherman, as tough as nails, cowered before a little serving girl fearful over what she said.

There’s a story of an Irish soldier who was always boasting of his bravery, but when the order came to attack, he found himself retreating. When confronted he said, “I have a brave heart, but somehow whenever danger approaches my cowardly legs run the other way, taking my brave heart with them.”

The Bible says in Proverbs 29:25 that the fear of man is a trap, but those who trust the Lord will be kept safe. This idea of trusting in God to rule over us more than our fear is found during the time of the Great Tribulation.

In his vision the Apostle John saw the throne of God, and before the throne stood all those who were beheaded for their witness of Jesus and the gospel message during this time of Tribulation. They knew the outcome of standing firm for their faith, but fear didn’t dissuade them from their witness.

The Apostle Paul said, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)

Now, if I could, I’d like to take this discussion to another level.

God created us and called us into a love relationship with Him. He’s called us to be on a mission with Him in redeeming this lost and dying world. But without God this is an impossible mission.

Yet Paul declared we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). In fact, the Lord says that His requirements aren’t hard at all.

“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 NIV)

Keeping God’s word, therefore, is not beyond our reach, and as believers in Jesus Christ we have the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us along the way. In fact, it was Peter who said that God has given us everything we need that pertains both to life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)

With this being said, What keeps us following God at a distance?

I believe God said it best.

“But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish.” (Deuteronomy 30:17-18a NKJV)

What Keeps Us Following At A Distance?

A Heart Shift

Moving away from God doesn’t begin with wrong activity; rather it begins with a move or a shift in one’s heart. It begins with a heart shift away from God. It’s where we no longer love the Lord the way we once did, which begins when we don’t obey God’s word thinking it’s no big thing, and we start substituting the philosophy of the world for God’s word.

To the church of Laodicea Jesus said, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works.” (Revelation 2:4-5a NKJV)

They were doing church for church sake. They were acting the part, but their heart wasn’t in it. They left their loving relationship with Jesus for ritual and tradition.

But such a drift takes time, and involves a period of neglect, carelessness, and rebellion against God and His word. You see this in statements like,
• “Well I don’t have to go to church to be saved.”
• “I don’t have to give the tithe, God doesn’t care, and He doesn’t need it, I do.”
• “God is a God of love, and besides, marriage is just a piece of paper.”

Statements like these reveal our drift, and that we’re beginning to follow God at a distance.

So, what are the Signs of a Heart Shift?

1. Lack of Obedience

Jesus made it clear that our obedience comes from the heart, and is a sign of whether or not we love Him.

“Those who obey my commandments are the ones who love me…All those who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and live with them.” (John 14:21a, 23 NLT)

If we want to solve the disobedience problem, we need to return to that first love relationship we had with Him. How do we get back to that loving relationship?

First, we need to love others as Jesus has loved us. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

Next, we need to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Jesus said, “If you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25 NKJV)

The second sign of a heart shift is when we…

2. Develop God Substitutes

Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord talked about how Israel began to drift, and follow from a distance.

The Lord said, “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” (Jeremiah 2:5 NIV)

And then He said, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

There exists an emptiness inside of humanity that only God can fill. He is the living water. He’s like a well of water springing up giving life. And only He is able to fill what we long for.

Unfortunately we neglect Him for cheap substitutes, that is, broken cisterns that don’t hold water. We substituted work, religious activities, sexual immorality, addictions, and relationships. Instead of turning to God, we turn to the ways and methods of this world. But these cannot compare or substitute for the living water of God’s word.

Conclusion

But we don’t need to despair. There is good news. It’s not over for us just as it wasn’t over for Peter.

Just before the Garden experience, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32 NKJV)

Our salvation and following after Jesus doesn’t depend upon us, but upon Jesus. Jesus allowed Peter to be sifted, or what we would call, “Going through the grinder.” But Jesus was praying and interceding with the Father on Peter’s behalf.

Our faith doesn’t rely on our faithfulness, but rather our faith relies upon the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, who is faithful.

Jesus is on our side. He’s praying for us. It says Jesus is at the right hand of the Father even now making intercessions on our behalf. Jesus knew Peter would stumble, and He knows we will stumble as well, and He is praying for us. Jesus knows Satan is out to trip us up, and He’s there praying for us and for our ability to get back up.

Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail, and that he would be restored. And what we see is that it wasn’t Peter’s faith that failed; rather it was his performance. He still loved Jesus, that’s why he felt so guilty. Yes he stumbled, but his faith didn’t fail.

In the end, like Peter we need to come to our senses, ask forgiveness, and repent. Let’s not wait until the rooster crows, let’s do it now, let’s do it today.









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