Thou shalt follow Me afterwards.
Jesus answered him:
Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards (John 13:36).
Whoever has come to Christ, cleaved to Him with all his heart, and bound his life and fate with the life and fate of Christ on earth has no other desire and no other fear other than ever losing Christ. For such a soul, Christ is everything. Christ is his home, his family; Christ is his light, his bread, his health and life. Without Christ all of that is for naught. None of those things can replace Jesus in his life and heart, but Jesus can replace everything.
Having cleaved to Christ with heavenly strength and love, the holy apostle Peter sooner felt than understood what happened on that evening when so much happened, and so much more began. After all, real love always senses much more than it is capable of understanding. Furthermore it senses approaching danger and fears nothing more than the threat of separation with the One Who is irreplaceable. In the holy apostle’s heart there was no feeling stronger than the fear of losing Christ; after all, he had all that time lived and suffered, wept and walked, weighed down with cares, next to his Teacher, Christ.
Only once did that light flicker out for him, and only one temptation so devastating for his heart could eclipse it for a moment: the words he pronounced—although not with his spirit—that were fulfilled even before they were uttered (cf. Matt. 26:75). But what hot and bitter tears were later poured about this terrible moment, covering and cleansing him forever!
Nevertheless, where today are the blessed disciples who would exclaim, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake (Jn. 13:37). Or who would say together with the apostle Paul, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35, 39). Where are the disciple who could say, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee (Mk. 10:28)?…
Why can’t I now?
Lord, said Peter, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake (Jn. 13:37).
It is amazing how we sometimes prophesy our own future! It is as if the desire that we utter in some moment, or the vow we make, or warning we express have the power to suddenly change the course of our lives and make it so that what we had said in that moment truly does come to pass.
In that moment of his solemn announcement, the apostle Peter truly was ready to give his life for the Lord, so that also in death he might never be separated from Christ, as he was in life.
Why can’t I follow now? He asks. I have already thought it through, my heart is ready, my path is clear! There is nothing left for me to finish, not in the world, nor in my family, nor in life, no matter who I might be with! I am ready now!
How great is the soul that in a minute of strong temptation has nothing more to finish, and nothing can still hold back, and deems there to be nothing more to gain! How glad the Lord would be to see such hearts! How strongly the Lord loved the holy apostle Peter, precisely because he had such a soul! Even from the first minutes of his meeting with the Lord, Peter was ready. And even now, he has not changed that resolve and vow.
And how many more such people were there, and how many now?
Here is the measure by which we have to measure ourselves every minute—me, you, him, her, and everyone: Could we now, or could we never? If we could not now, then why can’t we now? I am ready! The holy apostle Paul says, I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus (cf. Acts. 21:13). And even if I must be given over to tortures so that if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice (Phillip 2:17).
If we regret that we could not now, then what is it that could shake our hearts, bind our resolve and deprive us of the strength to do it? What obstacles are there today that won’t be there tomorrow?
O brother, whoever is not ready now will not be ready later. He is waiting for you to come today, and not tomorrow—tomorrow others will be called. God asks each one only once. It is his time. And whoever refuses Him and does not listen to Him then is unlikely to hear His voice in the future.
You aren’t ready? You are still looking back? Do you have some dead whom you have to bury? Do you still have a cozy little nest that you hate to leave? So stay there then! Do not come! Tomorrow a fire may burn it down, and perhaps you along with it!
Take a look at least from afar at what is written in the Gospel of Luke: There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out (Lk. 13:28)!
O Lord, if this is the hour of exalted decision, then I am ready! Cry out and call me! I am ready right this minute! All of my accounts are reckoned. I have no more regrets for anything and regret nothing! Not one particle of my heart is attached to anything on earth. My luggage is gathered. I need so little to take along! Everything I had of value has already been sent ahead, and what was burdensome I have thrown away behind. I want nothing more than to never part from you, O Jesus, my sweet Savior and great God.
Lay down your life!
O Lord Jesus Christ, I stand before you with shame and cannot say a word, other than words of repentance and prayer!
There was a time in my life when I gave You boastful and light-minded promises. Perhaps in the depths of my heart I burned then with sincere love for You, but the measure that must be present in all things I said often deprived me of many words that I could have spoken with my own lips.
I was young, Lord, and the sacrifices, catacombs, and death that I boasted about, saying that I was ready to endure them for Your word, seemed to me no more than zealous and beautiful declarations that would forever become the subject of hymns and sermons. But when the time came and You asked me for experiential proof of these promises, and confirmation by deeds of these lofty and hasty promises of love and obedience that I had given You, only then did I realize what serious obligations I had accepted before You, O Lord, and what price is demanded to keep my promises.
O Lord, today I understand that I myself foretold then a huge part of my future, for in Your love and wisdom You allowed me to fulfill what I wanted and what I had foretold to myself then in that beautiful, youthful impulse.
But when I looked back at all my weaknesses, at that fear and bitterness with which I walked those bygone paths, I am filled with a deep sense of shame, and I do not dare to stand before You with anything other than prayers for forgiveness and tears of repentance.
No matter how many exalted moments I have had on this path, no matter how great were the victories and blessings I might have acquired, or how I walked self-sacrificingly through the darkness of these temptations, nevertheless, nothing stronger has remained in my mind than that feeling that I was not always and in all things ready to lay down my life for You. For there were sometimes moments of weakness, when I let sorrow conquer me and could not walk hymning through the deep and cold valleys of the shadows of death (cf. Ps. 22:4).
Today, Lord Jesus, my heart is filled with temerity and fear when I stand before You. In my life there are inexpressibly many moments when I was ready to give my life for You without any regrets and without any earthly desire. But there are such moments when something seems to frighten me and hold me back… I would like that there would never again be such moments, O Lord, in my heart and life! And so that there would never again be even a shadow of doubt in the actuality of Your works, in which I came to know the grace of such great, angelic souls and hearts so strong.
May I ever look with eternal hope at all of this, and unwaveringly and invincibly give my life to You at any moment, neither boasting nor doubting, to the glory of Your name, my great God and Savior Jesus Christ. For Thine O Lord is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.