Leave It All Behind
Every journey has a starting point and a destination. There’s a stepping forward towards a specific goal, and then there’s the working forward to the goal in the journey.
Sometimes journeys aren’t what we expect. We make our plans and prepare for the journey, but much to our amazement, we find surprises and detours along the way. Those surprises and detours give us pause and force us to reflect.
Peter was a disciple of Jesus, and one of Jesus’ closest disciples at that. He was an entrepreneur and people-magnet. Everyone followed him. He was the speak-first, think-later kind of guy. He was the guy that jumped out of the boat — and for a little bit — found himself walking on water. He was both complimented and corrected by Jesus in the same conversation. He would always say what everyone else was thinking. He had no clue how much his life would change the day Jesus asked him to leave everything behind and follow him.
Three years in to following Jesus, everything seemed to be going to plan. Peter was happy to follow this miracle-working, religious-leader-confounding, sinner-forgiving rabbi from Nazareth in Jesus. Jesus was supposed to revive the Jewish religious system and overthrow the Roman government. Jesus was messiah and that’s what a messiah was supposed to do. But things were changing. Jesus kept talking about dying and suffering. It didn’t sit well with Peter.
Even in the upper room with all the disciples, Peter made promises to Jesus. He proclaimed he would never leave Jesus or deny him, or even let Jesus die alone. Jesus speaking the truth in love, told Peter, “I tell you the truth, Peter — this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
That very night, Jesus was arrested and Peter tried to take things into his own hands. He did the modern-day-equivalent of pulling out his gun and shooting a group of trained police officers who actually know how to use a gun. Peter cut off a man’s ear, but Jesus quickly put the ear back on the man and healed him completely.
Peter followed at a distance as Jesus was questioned by the religious authorities. As he waited outside warming his hands by a fire, a servant girl came over and ask him if he was with this Jesus who was just arrested. He denied ever knowing the man. Another servant girl walked by, repeating the question. Peter denied Jesus a second time. Finally, some bystanders asked him, and Peter said he never knew Jesus.
A rooster crowed and Jesus turned to look at Peter as he was leaving the place where the religious leaders questioned him. At this, Peter’s heart sank and he remembered what Jesus said to him. He walked away terrified, depressed, and at the end of himself. Nothing had happened according to plan, and now Jesus was sentenced to death. The end of a dream, the end of what was supposed to be the rise of messiah in Judea.
Maybe your journey with Jesus is a lot like Peter’s. You had a plan and idea of what Jesus would do in your life. You had your future mapped out and religion was supposed to help you get to where you were supposed to go. You started your journey with certain expectations and hopes. And yet…
The surprises and detours have overwhelmed you, and you are fearful of what it all means. Maybe you found yourself in a place just like Peter. In that moment of testing and trial, you came up short. Maybe you denied Christ in what you said or did or maybe in your thoughts. You might feel like you’re at the end of yourself and your faith is teetering towards the edge of unbelief.
Just like Peter, you are at a crisis point, and unsure of the journey ahead. Should you keep going? Should you stop? Should you turn around? These questions lead deeper to the issue of why you followed Jesus in the first place. I hope to help you answer that and more. Let’s keep going in Peter’s story.
Peter had no idea how to work through his feelings and emotions. Jesus was dead and three agonizing days followed. But something dramatic took place. Jesus rose from the dead! It was entirely unexpected and beyond anyone’s imagination. Peter was one of the first to visit the empty tomb. His messiah had risen from the dead. But something still wasn’t right and Peter knew it.
Jesus recognized his relationship with Peter wasn’t right. Before he went back to heaven, he needed to talk to Peter and set things straight. Peter and a few other disciples were out fishing again, and that’s when Jesus decided to show up.
When Jesus first called Peter, there was a miraculous catch of fish. There Jesus asked him to leave behind his old life and follow him. Now after three and a half years, Peter went back to fishing — his old life. Jesus understood this and wanted Peter to remember again. He wanted Peter to reflect on their first encounter.
In Peter’s second encounter, Jesus did the same miracle again. There was a miraculous catch of fish; Peter recognized Jesus and stands in awe again. God often orchestrates events to get our attention. When time has passed and we’ve forgotten, God often tries to get our attention again. But the miracle wasn’t the point; a reconciliation in relationship was what Jesus was after, so they began to talk.
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” John 21:5 NLT
Peter had followed Jesus for the wrong reasons, which led him to deny Jesus. Peter wasn’t about following Jesus, but about following his ambition. Peter had goals, aspirations, and expectations about a Jewish messiah who would do specific things for the Jewish people. Jesus broke free of that narrative. He lived, died, and rose again by doing something so different and unexpected.
Jesus knows that if our dreams don’t match his plan and purpose for our lives, then our attempts to follow him fall flat. Why? Because we’re not following Jesus, but hoping Jesus fulfills our plans and desires.
In this first question, Jesus referred to Peter by his old name Simon, rather than his new name Peter. At a certain point in Peter’s journey, Jesus had changed his name to Peter. Simon means pebble and Peter means rock. God can’t build on your life, when you’re so stuck in your old life.
In this moment, Jesus was talking to the old Peter, the one who went backwards, and asked him to come forward into his new life. Sometimes Jesus needs to remind you of your past so you can stop and step forward into his future. When you are Simon, you are simply a pebbled moved, shaken, and tossed around. If you are Peter, then you’re a rock that God can build on. When you allow your old nature — that ‘sin and death’ part of you to rear it’s ugly head, you pick up the chains of a former life you were set free from.
If you’ve got a backup plan in case Jesus doesn’t work out, then you’re not really following Jesus. You are fooling yourself. Jesus calls you out from that place of control and having your life figured out. He asks us to follow him even when it doesn’t make sense, to simply trust him completely. Jesus asks you to let go of your old life. Leave behind your old ways of thinking, speaking and living. Recognize your old life for what it is. Jesus has something better for you. There’s something better on the other side of your decision to follow him.
I knew God’s best for me didn’t look like what my parents had thought up for me. God was calling me to pastor, preach, teach, and love on people. He was calling me to vocational ministry and I couldn’t shake that feeling off. In my second year of university my dad passed away at the age of forty-seven. It gave me pause and reminded me that life is short. I was determined to stop pleasing my family by following the prescribed narrative.
Almost a year after that ordeal, I found myself at Portland Bible College studying theology and pastoral ministry. I had no clue what the future would look like. I didn’t know God would place mentors and pastors in my life. I had no clue that I would struggle and grow, and then struggle and grow again. I had no clue I would meet my wife there. I had no idea I would be a youth pastor working in student ministry. I didn’t know that God would give me amazing friends I didn’t deserve, who would love me through the ups and downs. I didn’t know what I was in for, I just knew I had to take the step and leave behind my old life.
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.John 21:15–17 NLT
Three years earlier Jesus had said to Peter, “I will make you a fisher of men.” Jesus had given him a life purpose and calling, but we see that Peter had left it behind. Here was a natural born leader, a man of great influence. In going back to fishing, he didn’t go alone, but took some of the other disciples with him.
The journey of faith is never simply just about you or me, but it’s about us and we. Your journey of following Jesus is not just a you-and-God thing. It always affects the people around you. When God calls you out, He calls you up and into a community. You have a role and and place. You are needed and someone needs you. When we recognize our place and calling in God’s family, we will steward our influence well.
Jesus reminded Peter of his place and role in God’s great family. Peter’s natural ability needed to come under God’s supernatural leading and placement. Peter had to settle it in his heart and make the choice once and for all. Would he follow Jesus to whatever end?
The moment you choose to trust God with your life is the moment you step into the supernatural fulfillment of God’s plan for you. Stop trying to make your way. There is incredible joy on the other side of what you don’t want to do. Step into God’s best for your life by taking that first step of trusting him with your future.
“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” John 21:18–19 NLT
Jesus ended his conversation with Peter by speaking of Peter’s future. And it was not the positive, encouraging, life-is-gonna-get-better sort of message. Jesus told Peter he would one day give his life for preaching the gospel. This isn’t your average pep talk or salesman pitch. Quite the opposite actually!
As Jesus-followers, it’s easy to think God is all about our comfort, pleasure and security. It may very well be that God’s plan for our lives includes pain, unpleasant experiences, and suffering. Jesus reminds us that regardless of what we get in this life, we have an amazing inheritance and relationship waiting for us on the other side.
Jesus asked Peter to follow him to whatever end, to leave everything behind. Jesus asks you to let go of your pride, your plans, and whatever is holding you back. He calls you forward into a life that’s beyond your imagination, and a future after this life that’s better than anything this life could offer.
If you’re too in love with what you have and where you are, you’re not ready for what God has or where he wants to take you. If you’re too addicted to your lifestyle now, then nothing and no one can pull you forward into God’s future. Jesus asks you to let it go. There is an incredible life God has been preparing for you. It is a life of relationship and true fulfillment. Are you ready to follow?
Maybe you’re ready to follow, but you have excuses for why you can’t. They might be legitimate excuses, well-thought reasons for why you can’t follow Jesus. The way you attack those excuses has everything to do with how much you value God and his plan for your life. Excuses will come and go, but if your priority is to follow Jesus, then those excuses will pale in comparison to where God is taking you and what he is asking you to do.
The gift you receive in Jesus, salvation, eternal life, and a community around you is worth whatever the cost. It is worthy of anything and everything. Following Jesus means you die to yourself. Because Peter had died to his old life, there was nothing holding him back from stepping forward into his new life.
About 150 years ago in a small village in a northern state in India, there was a family who had just become Jesus-followers. A husband, wife, and their children were called out in front of the whole village, and were asked to renounce their faith. The village elders were ready to publicly punish this family for stepping out in their faith.
In the face of extreme opposition, this family stood up for their faith and didn’t turn away. The man proclaimed in front of the whole village, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” They began to hurl insults and threaten his family. He would continue, “Though no one joins me, I still will follow.” They would murder the entire family for their faith, but their last words were, “The cross before me, the world behind me.”
That proclamation of faith by a murdered family would eventually lead the entire village to Jesus. The sacrifice of one family would lead countless others to faith. Years later an Indian Christian mystic would pen the words to a song many still sing to this day, based on this family’s experience.
I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus; No turning back, no turning back.
Though I may wonder, I still will follow; Though I may wonder, I still will follow; Though I may wonder, I still will follow; No turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me; The world behind me, the cross before me; The world behind me, the cross before me; No turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow; Though none go with me, still I will follow; Though none go with me, still I will follow; No turning back, no turning back.
Will you decide now to follow Jesus? Will you decide now to follow Jesus? Will you decide now to follow Jesus? No turning back, no turning back.
Peter never struggled with his faith again. He never went back to his old life. It was settled in his heart and there was no turning back. After this encounter, Peter became one of the great leaders among the first Christians. He traveled, preached, wrote, pastored, and ultimately gave his life as an apostle. He understood what Jesus called him to and followed completely. No ifs, ands, or buts… Peter was all in.
Before we can step into God’s plan and purpose for our lives, we need to completely let go of our old lives. There can be no more backup plans, no fail safe. Jesus is all and he asks us to step into that place of abandoned trust. Wherever you are at on your journey, Jesus asks you to step forward into beyond-this-life fulfillment and follow him