Jesus says: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33). Few Christians are prepared to entertain this requirement.
We may not exactly walk away physically, but many of us have walked away spiritually. We may remain in the church but in antipathy with the doctrines of Christ.
We may still call ourselves Christians but, in actual fact, we are no longer believers if we ever were. Indeed, Paul gives us a completely different classification. He maintains that we are “enemies of the cross of Christ:” (Philippians 3:18).
Enemies of the cross are Christians whose lifestyles betray the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not preach a self-centred prosperity gospel. Instead, he said his disciples must deny themselves and take up their crosses in order to follow him (Matthew 16:24).
However, enemies of the cross are devoted to the gratification of their own desires. They live not to please God but themselves. They are proud of things they should be ashamed of. Such people are in for a rude awakening in the after-life:
“These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
Peter was initially one such enemy of the cross. The more he listened to Jesus, the more uncomfortable he became. When Jesus said He would be killed in Jerusalem, Peter could no longer restrain himself. He felt that that kind of message should be discouraged. It would drive people away from the church.
Peter was so disturbed that he had the effrontery to take Jesus aside and rebuke him for preaching a gospel that entailed suffering and dying. But Peter must have been shocked at the ferocity of Jesus’ reaction: “He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’” (Matthew 16:23).
When Jesus preached that rich men would be hard-pressed to enter the kingdom of heaven, Peter had a crisis of faith. He wondered what this could possibly mean. If a rich man cannot make it, Peter thought, who then can be saved? If a rich man cannot make it, what would happen to his expectations of being rich through the gospel?
Therefore, Peter sought some clarifications from Jesus. He reminded him that the disciples had left everything in order to follow him. What then was in store for them for all the sacrifices they had made?
Wisdom of God
Jesus’ response to Peter is a classic in divine wisdom: “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions- and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31).
Like many Christians, Peter received this word carnally, so he was satisfied with it. He did not know that when Jesus speaks, his words must be understood spiritually. (John 6:63). Peter never bothered to think that it is actually physically impossible to receive a hundredfold of brothers and sisters and mothers and children.
He probably thought about it only in terms of lands and houses, although even there, it is highly unlikely. I know of no Christian who has ever received one hundred houses or a hundred pieces of Landed property as a reward for following Jesus.
But when Jesus rose from the dead, he left Peter in no doubt as to precisely what the real rewards of discipleship would be for him in this lifetime. He said to him: “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”
“This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’” (John 21:18-19).
In effect, Jesus told Peter that he would be killed for his faith. It was now in the realisation of his impending martyrdom and not in the hope of the acquisition of choice real estate that Peter was now required to follow Jesus. But how does one follow a Saviour, knowing full well that it would lead to one’s death?
That is the challenge of the Christian faith. (1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 6:3-4).
Flabbergasted, Peter wanted to know what was in store for others. “What about John?” he asked. “What would happen to him?”
Perhaps he was hoping to hear that, in John’s case, he would be eaten by a lion, so that he could take some comfort from that. But Jesus simply told him to mind his own business. He said to Peter: “If I want him to live until I return, what is that to you? You follow me.” John 21:22).
As observed earlier, the salvation we want is not the salvation that Christ came to give. What we desire is the salvation of the body and not of the soul. We want a saviour who will shield us from the vagaries of life. We want him to make sure bad things will not happen to us but to other people. We want a saviour who will guarantee our financial prosperity and security.
However, Jesus is not that kind of Saviour. He is the Saviour of the soul, and of the spiritual body of Christ. (Ephesians 5:23). He is not the Saviour of the physical body of men. Indeed, Jesus himself did not even save his own body. When he was crucified, he died.
Jesus’ death is the most eloquent testimony of God’s complete disregard for the flesh. God despises the flesh and has determined that all flesh must die. (Isaiah 40:6-7). Even when His only begotten Son inhabited human flesh, God made no exception to Him.
He did not provide Jesus with a new and improved version of the flesh. Instead, Jesus was without beauty in the flesh. (Isaiah 53:2). He was despised in the flesh and was crucified in the flesh. Thereby God demonstrated conclusively that the flesh is irredeemably condemned.
But at the same time, God asserted the primacy of the Spirit by raising Jesus from the dead. Jesus himself teaches that: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” (John 6:63).
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4).