I have a friend who left a large medical practice at the peak of his career. I couldn’t believe it. “Why did you quit?” I asked him.
“Many have asked me the same question,” he answered. “When I entered medical school, I only had a partial picture of what being a physician was like. I was acquainted with the positive sides of a doctor’s life. Financially, in my case, it was very lucrative. We had money to buy houses, cars, travel, and do just about anything that came to mind. I was a respected person in the community and sought out by people who needed my services. All of this was attractive to a young man wanting to make his mark in life. But there is another side to the doctor’s life which I had not considered as thoroughly as I should have done. The demands on your time are unreal. Night and day you live with a telephone by your side. While the majority of patients thank you for your work, others can be very cruel in their criticisms of you. The responsibility is also overwhelming. I had the life of a father or mother in my hand. Their kids needed their parent. What if I goofed up? So it finally got to be too much for me and I decided to do something else.”
“Didn’t anyone take the time to tell you the whole story about the doctor’s life?” I asked.
“Of course they did. Besides, during the years of training, I was around doctors and saw what their lifestyle was like. I heard their complaints about the profession, but I was so emotionally thrilled about becoming a doctor, I didn’t give these negative aspects of the profession, and how I would respond to them, much serious thought.”
So it is with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we are so enamored at being one of God’s children that we forget Jesus’ words, “If you want to be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me.” Some parts of the Christian life will be very difficult. That’s what our text is teaching us.
Jesus was having His last personal talk with Peter about being His disciple. “Are you ready to move on, Peter?” was the Savior’s question. Are you ready to move on from being a believer to becoming a disciple? This question has to be faced by every Christian.
Let’s do a quick summary of the last three years of Peter’s life, which climaxed one day at a breakfast meeting by the sea of Tiberias. He had listened to Jesus teach. He had watched Him perform miracles. He had confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. He had received the highest praises from Christ and the most severe criticisms. Peter had said he would never deny nor leave Christ, and yet he denied the Lord in a very critical hour. It had been a period in his life where there were ups and downs. There were times of great maturity and other times of great immaturity.
Now Jesus had his third post-resurrection meeting with the disciples. It was during this time that He called Peter aside and asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” Each time Peter had confessed that he did love Jesus. Each time Jesus answered, “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” Someone has interpreted Jesus’ questions to be: Do you love me enough to care for my little ones, to discipline the stubborn ones, and to watch over the older ones?
Jesus did not question that Peter believed He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He had a place for Peter in building the Kingdom, but he wanted him to face the question, “Are you ready to move on to be not just a believer, but a disciple willing to lay down his life for Christ if necessary?”
Peter’s experiences had taught him that there were many blessings in being a disciple of Jesus. During the three years of training with Jesus, he was proud to be one of those called by the Savior. There was the opportunity of living with Jesus and being taught by Him. He witnessed Jesus’ miraculous power of doing that which was beyond human ability, like healing the sick, raising the dead, quieting the sea, and feeding five thousand people with fives loaves of bread and two fish. He dreamed of having a place of great importance in Jesus’ Kingdom. He was like the doctor in my introduction who had spent so much time thinking about all the positive aspects of being a physician that he had not realized there would be difficult times too.
When those tough times came, Peter turned from Christ. He denied the Savior in the court yard, and he was nowhere to be found when Jesus was being crucified. He feared for his own life. Now Jesus was telling Peter that if you want to take that next step and be my disciple, you will have tough experiences. In fact, Jesus assured Peter that his discipleship would cost him his life, and so the Lord asked, “Are you up to it, Peter?”
History shows Peter was ready to give his life for Christ. Tradition tells us that he was martyred around 64 A.D. and requested to be crucified head down, for he did not consider himself worthy to be crucified in the same position as Jesus was.
Did Peter ever fall after that time with Jesus? Yes, many times. Daily we sin, and daily our Lord forgives us. He continues to strengthen and use us, in spite of our imperfections as ambassadors, making His appeal to the world through us.
There are many who are Christians. They trust Christ for their salvation, but are not disciples in the Biblical sense of the word. That’s why we talk about “making disciples” which means taking the next step toward becoming a mature witness for Christ. Christ calls for disciples in the great commission, “Go and make disciples.” He is asking for people who will carry the faith and not count the cost of doing it. Therefore, He is continually asking the Christian, “Isn’t it time to move onto a deeper relationship with Him? Isn’t it time to not only enjoy all the blessings we receive from Him, but to become a blessing to others who do not know Christ by sharing Him with them?”
The Biblical writers are sounding this note when they say, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” (I Corinthians 3:2) “By this time, you ought to be teachers, but you need someone to teach you the elementary teachings of God’s Word.” (Hebrews 5:12) We need not only to be comforted by His grace and forgiveness, but we need to experience some uncomfortable times when we take a firm stand for Christ, no matter what the cost may be.
Dietrich Bonhoffer had reached this maturity in his relationship to Christ. He was living a very comfortable life as one of the world’s great theologians. Though a German by birth and training, he was a member of the faculty at Union Theological Seminary in New York. No one would hurt Bonhoffer there. But in the midst of all of these comforts, he chose to return to Germany and stand with his Christian brothers and sisters as they resisted the Nazi attack on the Church. Eventually, he was arrested and executed only days before the war ended in Europe. God, in His Word, had led this man to a maturity in his faith.
Apply this to our lives. The Christian moves on in his or her relationship with the Lord. Christians are no longer content to talk about the days when they were converted. There is more to their Christianity than attending worship services and Bible studies. They are involved in a spiritual war as soldiers of the Lord Jesus. And believe me, it is a spiritual war, for society is no more ready to follow Christ today than they were in the early days of Christ’s Church on earth.
Are we ready to move on in our relationship with Christ? This was the question Jesus was discussing with Peter, and it is the question He is asking us today. Amen.