Many of us are waking up on the mountain for our USA National Run. Many of you are in your respective hometowns ready for the weekend ahead. It is my prayer that this year’s Going Deeper studies every Saturday have been a blessing to you and to your walk with the Lord Jesus. We will begin our new study on Monday and I am excited to tell you that we will read through the New Testament this year, for our daily bible reading. Pass the word along to encourage others to join us, and let’s keep God’s word the center of all we are and do.
To help set the table for this final interaction that John records in his Gospel, let me remind us of what has just taken place in this conversation on the shore of the Sea of Galilee between Jesus and Peter. Jesus and seven of the disciples have just finished a great fish BBQ for breakfast, and Jesus takes this opportunity to prepare Peter and the disciples for leading and feeding his sheep—His Church. In verses 18-19, Jesus declares that Peter will die by crucifixion in his old age—a death that will glorify God. This news comes on the heels of Peter declaring his love for Jesus three times—an important moment of restoration for Peter since his failure to stand with Christ at his arrest when Peter denied knowing Him three times.
Jesus finishes this leg of the conversation by saying to Peter, “Follow me.”
As Jesus approaches his ascension to the right hand of the Father, and as the disciples will go on to launch the church, write the New Testament, and die for their faith in Jesus, they are now preparing to truly live out the teaching of Jesus that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
This is the life of the Christian—to die to self every day and give one’s life joyfully for the glory and gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our high privilege to follow Jesus and to give our lives for Him. Peter got this better than anyone. But, Peter is also a human man which means he is susceptible to comparing, judging, fearing, and boasting among other men, which we see play out in the last leg of this conversation.
John 21:20-21 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”
Peter is blessed to hear that he will finish his race faithful to the Lord, which is a beautiful truth to his soul even if it means he will die for his faith. But, even in the good news of this revelation of the Lord, Peter’s flesh is still quick to jump in and say, “What about that guy? Is he going to die for you, too?”
The man Peter refers to is identified by many, clear indicators but not by his name. The disciple Jesus loved was John.
The one who leaned back against Jesus during the Lord’s supper was John—the one who asked, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” It was John. So, it is about John, our author of this Gospel, that Peter asks, “Lord, what about this man?”
Now, what Peter is asking Jesus in this is, “Will John die for you as well? You just said I am going to die for you. And as much as that is good news, my flesh is quick to want to know about those around me and who will die, also.”
What is it in our flesh that is so concerned with everyone else’s business? When we do something wrong, we are so quick to deflect and point out what the other person did even though we know we were wrong. We are quick to put the focus on another. We are so quick to concern ourselves with others; not in a “good, loving, looking-out-for-you way”, but in a “nosy, selfish, looking-for-life-to-always-be-fair kind of way.”
Peter is given this amazing moment to really hear what Jesus is trying to tell him to help him grow and be ready. And yet, in Peter’s flesh, he so quickly focuses on others. Let’s look at Jesus’ reply:
John 21:22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
I love Jesus’ response to Peter. Jesus sets Peter straight by saying, “It is none of your business what I, the sovereign God, decide to do with John or anyone else.” When Jesus says, “What is that to you?”, it is His way of saying, “How does this help you in any way? This is a distraction from where your focus should be, which is on yourself and the faith-walk and ministry I have called you to do for me.” Jesus reorients Peter by saying, “Follow me.” This is Jesus’ way of saying, “Get your eyes off of others and focus on me.”
Jesus was not declaring that John would not die until He came again. That would mean John is 2,000 years old and still hanging around. Jesus simply meant that if it was His will that he would remain, then he would remain.
John 21:22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will …” This brings us to the important reality of God’s providential will.
We must stop and ponder the power of Jesus’ words here. This is the word of God. The one who created, sustains, and purposes all things according to His perfect will. I don’t want us to miss what Jesus is trying to do for Peter here. It is what God did for Job, too. God is reminding the created of the providential rule of the Creator. Oh, how we need this reminder, too. In our sin, mankind has been guilty of thinking we can give God counsel and/or cause God to follow our will. We must know and embrace the reality of God’s providence and honor Him as the One who is over all things.
Understand this: When God acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act.
According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure. He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence.
God’s word says this to us again and again:
Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ “… upholds the universe by his word of power."
In Colossians 1:17, Paul says of Christ that "… in him all things hold together." Such teaching is also affirmed by Paul when he says, "In him we live and move and have our being; …" (Acts 17:28)
God continues to give us breath each moment. Elihu says of God, “If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34:14-15; cf. Ps. 104:29)
In Ephesians 1:11, Paul says that God "… works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
It is God’s providence to fulfill His plan, and it is our job to joyfully and faithfully follow Him in obedience to His will. This is Jesus’ simple yet potent charge to Peter as a follow-up to his rebuke. He simply says in John 21:22 “… You follow me!”
He is saying, “What I ordain to happen to John is my decision, and right and it is not your concern; but, what you are to focus on is following me.” This is a massive lesson and a much-needed reminder to us who are God’s people and to those who are studying this passage. Because we, too, are regularly guilty of worrying about what will happen or what we think should happen, and not concerned enough with leaving that up to God and focusing on the mission that God has given us to live out.
Brother and sister in Christ, are you worrying about what tomorrow will bring? Are you working to make things go your way? Are you busy telling God how He should act? Are you constantly thinking about others and what they need to do and not do instead of doing the one thing the Lord has saved you and called you to do—to follow Him?
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
This is such a central charge of Jesus for his disciples. We, who are His disciples today, must stop and consider with urgency: What does it look like to follow Him?
It is sin to get caught up in looking left or right, and looking for fair, or worrying about what someone else has, or what you don’t have. It is coveting. It is greed. It is selfishness. It is no being thankful to God for His amazing grace. Instead, let us say with James, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)
This last scene of Jesus in the Gospel of John is Him with His disciples reorienting them and preparing them for what is to come. John doesn’t give us a view of Jesus’ ascension or the beginning work of the church. But what we do have, is poignant and potent for us, still today.
The last words of Jesus in the Gospel of John are to his disciple. He says, “…You follow me!” (John 21:22)
a fitting word for each of us today… You follow me!