“Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Peter is right of course, he will end up laying his life down for Christ, but he will do so on God’s terms, not his terms. By the Sea of Galilee, the risen Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). Oswald Chamber drew this application:
“I must never choose the scene of my own martyrdom, nor must I choose the things God will use in order to make me broken bread and poured out wine. . . Determination and devotion, protestations and vows are born of self-consciousness, and must die out of a disciple.”
We follow Jesus on his terms and in his way, not our own. We never graduate from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount beatitudes. And why would we want to? All eight beatitudes, from “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” to “Blessed are those who are persecuted,” apply to us. John the Baptist’s famous line, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” is our line, too. Like the apostle Paul we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). The God who kneels washed our feet and commands us to wash one another’s feet.
Jesus worked against the grain of the fallen human condition. He called Peter on his heroic boast. “Will you really lay down your life for me?” Jesus asked. And then, without waiting for a reply, Jesus added, “Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” The early church turning the crowing rooster, a symbol of Peter’s denial and repentance, into an icon for watchfulness and vigilance. Early paintings of the apostle Peter show him holding the keys of Heaven with a rooster pictured nearby to remind us of his denial. But the rooster does more than recall Peter’s denial, it causes us to think of our own susceptibility to pride, our fear of standing up for Christ, and our vulnerability to denying Christ.
This last extended conversation between Jesus and his disciples lacked nothing. It had the character of full disclosure and intimate friendship. Jesus left nothing unsaid that should have been said. He washed their feet, filled their minds, shaped their hearts, and transformed the Passover into the Last Supper. He spoke words of comfort, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1); “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). He challenged disciples everywhere when he said, “A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16:2). Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit and he prayed for them: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15-16).
Everything Jesus said that night in the upper room prepared the disciples for what was coming. The future involved betrayal, denial, persecution and death, but Jesus in the upper room revealed so much more. He offered his abiding fellowship: “I am the vine; you are the branches…” (John 15:5). He promised the comfort and counsel of the Holy Spirit. He spoke of a deepening experience of the glory of God. Jesus prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
The emotional range in the upper room swung from “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me” (John 13:21) to “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Jesus was confident, encouraging, and bold, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). But his tone was also ominous and sad. Jesus warned the disciples that they would “all fall away on account” of him. He quoted from the prophet Zechariah: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 26:31). Yet the sober realization that he was about to be betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by the rest of the disciples, did not distract Jesus from preparing and praying for all the disciples, including us. There is no place for heroic spirituality either inside or outside the upper room.
Upper Room Reflection
Why do our dreams of Christian service often clash with God’s will?
How do we know we are following Jesus in the Jesus way?
What does falling away on Jesus’ account look like in your culture?
Are you more fearful of personal humiliation than you are of disappointing your Savior?
 Oswald Chambers, So Send I You (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, © 1930, 1964), 19, 69.