Years ago (ages, eons, generations- I’m talking 1971) I took drivers education through my public school. Do you remember when our tax dollars used to provide that service for us? It was one of the “hidden tax increases” levied upon us by shedding services our tax dollars once covered. But I digress.
When I took drivers education, there was one phrase that stuck out to me. It was the principle of keeping a “safe assured distance” between you and the car ahead of you. The idea was that at whatever speed you were traveling, you were responsible to make sure you kept a “safe assured distance” in order to stop should any unexpected maneuver of the car(s) ahead occur. This is why the vast majority of rear end collisions are the fault of the car/driver in the “behind” vehicle. They did not maintain “safe assured distance”. Even if conditions were slippery, the fault is on the car following because they also disregarded another responsibility, traveling at a safe speed give the conditions of the road.
In the last fourteen months we have heard much about a “safe distance”. This is the ubiquitous warning of keeping a safe social distance between yourself and other people in order to stem the spread of the corona virus. The theory is, that if you never came in contact with another human being, you could guarantee that you would not get the virus. Good luck, right? We have proven that to be practically impossible.
But there is one area in which it is increasingly difficult to maintain a safe distance.
In Matthew 26 we have the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. Upon his arrest, all his disciples fled. The arresting officers from the Sanhedrin then marched Jesus to the place where the High Priest, the Scribes, Pharisees, and the elders were gathered. But Peter, either out of residual loyalty and love, or simple overriding curiosity, we know not, decided that he would “follow at a distance”. I think we must admit that Peter’s driving motivation at this point was his own safety. That becomes apparent in the following narrative as Peter ends up denying Christ three times before the cock crowed. So, in essence, he was following Jesus at what he thought to be a “safe assured distance”.
This becomes a metaphor for how many Christians want to follow Jesus. They, like Peter, have some loyalty and some love for Jesus. They are interested in Jesus, the Bible, the church, etc., but they want to maintain a “safe distance” that will assure that they will not have to endure the same fate as Jesus, i.e., derision, attack, mocking, false accusations, etc. It is not that they are “non-caring”. They care… some. But not enough to be in close association with the scorn, mocking, and derision that can come when one closely follows Jesus in a society that is decidedly against Jesus, at least the Jesus Christ of the Bible. If one accepts the world’s view of Jesus as the kind philosopher who went about doing good, but not the divine Son of God who lived a perfect life and died a substitute for our sinfulness, well then, you will have no problem. The world loves THAT Jesus. The Jesus that would never condemn or judge sin or ask us to stand against sin is very easy to follow. People will love US if we love THAT Jesus.
But if we love the Jesus that is not only merciful, compassionate, and kind, but the Jesus to whom all judgement of all people will be given, people will hate us because they hate that Jesus. They hate the Jesus that condemns sinners to hell, that is the personification of biblical morality, and who teaches that he alone is the way to salvation.
So many Christians are in a quandary. They do love Jesus. They love the biblical Jesus. But they do not want the static, the problems, the stigma that is coming more and more in our culture to anyone who actually holds to a biblical view of Jesus Christ. So, here is what many Christians have decided to do. They have decided to follow at a distance. Without totally abandoning the Lord, his church, and the Bible, they have determined to follow Jesus at a safe distance. They do not want to associate with teaching in the Bible on sexual morality that today clearly contradicts new societal norms. They don’t want to be seen as those “fanatical” ones who claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation. They don’t want to stand up against the transgender confusion of our day. They just want to live and let live. They don’t want to be noticed. They want to be quiet on these subjects. They want to follow Jesus… but at a safe distance.
You may think I’m just talking about high schoolers in the public system. I’m not. I’m talking about Pastors, and churches, and church leaders, and congregations who have excised the “controversial” aspects of the gospel so as to “fly under the cultural radar”. It is the “go along to get alone” idea.
There is quickly coming a time when no distance from the biblical Christ will be safe enough in our society. Peter found that out. Peter’s safe distance culminated in outright denial of Jesus. And that is where so much of evangelicalism is headed today. This lends greater clarity to what Jesus said in Luke 18:8 “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Will he? Will he find you standing for the faith, or cowering in the shadows as Peter was, following at a safe distance?
For the faithful follower of the biblical Jesus… there is no “safe distance” that will protect us from the worlds scorn. We should rather “plight our troth” with him, the sinless Son of God and be unashamed of him and his gospel.