Since Jesus came from Heaven to walk among us, Christians tend to think that walking away from anyone, or letting anyone walk away from the truth, is a failure on our part.
But Jesus walked away or let others walk away… a lot.
There are forty-one such instances in the gospels of Jesus walking away or letting someone else walk away.
Sometimes Jesus walked away from others who wanted more of Him. Other times He walked away for His own refreshment and renewal or protection. The point is that Jesus didn’t let the needs, pleas, attacks, or unresponsiveness of others distract Him from the mission given to Him by His heavenly Father.
One important thing is we don’t see when others walk away is Jesus giving chase. As powerful as Jesus was, as brilliant as Jesus was, as pure as Jesus was, and as surrendered to God as Jesus was, not everyone He interacted with “changed,” repented, or agreed with Him.
Sometimes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk away from others or to let them walk away from us.
Take, for instance, the story of the rich young ruler. Jesus discerned this young man’s heart and the core issue in his life — he loved money. When the earnest young man couldn’t walk away from his money, he chose to walk away from Jesus.
Matthew 19:21-22 NLT Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell a.ll your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Notice that our Lord didn’t run after him. Jesus didn’t say, “Wait! I know asking you to give 100 percent is a bit extreme; if you give away just 50 percent, I think we can make this work. I need followers! Let’s bargain!”
No, He turned to His disciples and explained what had just happened and why it was so difficult for that rich man to join them.
Matthew 19:23-26 NLT Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
On another occasion, after giving a difficult teaching about eating his flesh and drinking His blood, Jesus lost a lot of previously enthusiastic followers:
John 6:53-58, 60-66 NLT So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.” Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.
Not just one, but many walked away. And not just casual onlookers; they’re called His “disciples.” Instead of chasing them down and begging them not to misunderstand Him and to please come back, Jesus turns to the reliable people, the Twelve, and says, “So, what about you?”
John 6:67 NLT Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
Jesus never appears desperate, manipulative, or controlling, as if when people didn’t agree with Him, His feelings would be hurt. He is mission-focused and others-centered to His deepest core.
Jesus also demonstrates the need to sometimes “verbally” walk away when dealing with a toxic person.
Luke 23:8-9 NLT Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been hoping for a long time to see him perform a miracle. He asked Jesus question after question, but Jesus refused to answer.
Matthew 27:12-14 NLT But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.
We don’t have to argue. When a toxic person is attacking you, you don’t have to participate.
Especially when you know it won’t make any difference.
Perhaps the greatest example of Jesus letting someone walk away occurred at the Last Supper.
Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him. He spoke about it in advance. And yet He allowed Judas to walk out of the room. He didn’t chase after him. He didn’t waste time trying to change Judas’s mind. Instead, He spent every last minute He had left investing in His faithful, reliable disciples and in prayer right up until the moment He was arrested.
Many plastic bracelets have been sold with the words “What Would Jesus Do?” If you’re dealing with toxic people, you may want to get a bracelet that reads, “What Would Jesus Not Do?”
Jesus didn’t just walk away from toxic people; He was also willing to walk away for purposes of ministry effectiveness and strategy.People wanted to be around Him but,He never allowed the desire of others to dictate who He spent his time with. Just when people most wanted Him to stay, Jesus often left:
Mark 1:35-39 NLT Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.
Matthew 8:18 NLT When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he instructed his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake.
Jesus wasn’t moved by either standing ovations or jeering ridicule. He was truly Lord of His life. Neither should we allow the neediness of others or the toxicity of others to determine where, when, and how we spend our time. Neediness can be a subtle form of toxicity. Our spiritual radar goes way up when someone forcefully attacks us, but a passive-aggressive neediness can slip in unawares and steal our attention even more effectively than a full-frontal assault.
If someone is trying to control you, that itself is toxic.
Whether they use force or guilt, direct attack or unreasonable neediness, it’s still all about control. Controlling someone (or letting yourself be controlled) is wrong.
As far as allowing Himself to be mistreated, though Jesus came to die the death of a martyr, He didn’t allow consistent and persistent abuse to continue throughout His life. He let Himself be tortured and crucified once, but there were many occasions before that when He “slipped away” from those who wanted to hurt Him.
John 8:58-59 NLT Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am ! ” At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.
John 10:39-42 NLT Once again they tried to arrest him, but he got away and left them. He went beyond the Jordan River near the place where John was first baptizing and stayed there awhile. And many followed him. “John didn’t perform miraculous signs,” they remarked to one another, “but everything he said about this man has come true.” And many who were there believed in Jesus.
John 11:53-54 NLT So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.
Matthew 12:14-16 NLT Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. But Jesus knew what they were planning. So he left that area, and many people followed him. He healed all the sick among them, but he warned them not to reveal who he was.
Your persecution may not be physical stoning, but emotional shaming, slander,someone who tries to defend their own reprehensible behavior or by making you feel crazy for calling them out on it (gaslighting). In the course of kingdom work, whether you’re serving God in an office, sports, or in a school, being abused is inevitable. For every Christian who is bent on seeking first the Kingdom of God, there is a corresponding number of Christians bent on telling those seeking first the Kingdom of God that they are seeking the Kingdom in the wrong way. We can’t avoid this pushback without leaving this planet, but we can learn to walk away when the time is right and as God leads.
Proverbs 22:3 NLT A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.
Jesus didn’t cede control of His life to anyone. He told His disciples that His death would be His choice, not His enemies’:
John 10:17-18 NLT “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
So then, in His words and in His practice, Jesus modeled how to let people go, how to walk away, and how to stay in charge of our schedule Follow in the footsteps of Jesus by boldly walking away and finding a reliable person in whose life you can make a worthy investment.