John 21:21-22, “Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.”
This morning, our culture and world is gripped with the “comparison game.” People are always measuring themselves by others and their general mood stems from how they “stack up” to those in their purview. Paul makes it very clear that this behavior is not wise (II Corinthians 10:12), and most games of comparison are either rooted in covetousness or pride. When people see those that are “better” than they are in their circumstances, they get jealous of what others have and they do not. When people see those that are “worse,” they get boastful that they are “not so bad.” Whatever the outcome (pride or jealousy), the focus on others really puts the light on self. The focus should be upon the real standard of the person, life, example, and love of Jesus Christ. Anything else is not just inferior but not worthy of consideration.
In our study verses, Christ has showed Himself to His disciples for the third time after His resurrection. If someone thought that we – as frail creatures of dust – could ever get to a point where all of our wrinkles are ironed out this side of glory, surely that point would be here with the disciples. They had spent 3.5 years walking with Him and hearing the gracious words that He spoke. Witnesses of countless miracles, they then fully experienced the witness of the resurrected Lord – several times. What greater standing could one have in this world than such an intimate fellowship with the physical presence of the Lord? What greater power could they witness than seeing Him on multiple occasions after His conquering victory over death and the grave? Yet, they still had wrinkles that needed ironing.
In the preceding verses of this account, the Lord performs another miracle reminiscent of one that He performed earlier in His ministry by giving a draught of fishes. As the disciples dine with Him on the shore, He has an exchange with Peter about love. Regardless of how nuanced someone wants to make this lesson, we should never forget the main point. Do we love the Lord and how much do we love Him? How far are we willing to go to prove it? I have heard a lot of discussions about what was meant when the Lord asked Peter if he loved Him “more than these.” More discussions have ensued about what kind of love is referenced when. Most of these discussions – while lively – draw us away from the main object of the lesson. If the “these” is the fish, the other disciples, or anything else that we could consider, does it change the main point? The main point is that we should love the Lord above all else with all that we are – regardless of what is under consideration. If we can prove that the references of love have nuanced meanings to them, does it change the fact that with all that we are and with everything we can do, we should show and manifest our love to Him, for certainly He has done so for us.
If we can solidify in our minds that Christ’s message to Peter was about love in totality and showing it through actions to one another, then we can apply the message to our lives as well, for the lesson is rich and generation-spanning. After Peter unequivocally states his love for the Lord 3 times (not coincidence that the Lord did it the same number of times that Peter verbally denied Him), the Lord then gives him the simple statement to “Follow me.” Do we – like Peter – say that we love the Lord? Yes? Then the command is simple. “Follow me” the Saviour declares. If love is spoken and declared, then the proof comes in the action that follows. Love is not some gushy-squishy emotion that we let ebb and flow based on how the circumstances vary our mood. Love is a fruit of the Spirit that is borne of service, sacrifice, and selfless action, regardless of the circumstances.
However, though the Lord ironed out some of Peter’s wrinkles with this exchange, our study verses show another wrinkle in Peter’s thinking that needed straightening. So it is with us today. We tell the Lord we love Him, and He commands us to follow Him. But, but, but what about So-and-so? Peter looks at John and wonders what John will do. How often does that thinking grip and paralyze our own minds? The Saviour simply and very succinctly tells Peter, “what is that to thee…” Should anyone else garner our focus and study for comparison purposes? The answer is obvious, and the reasons for it have already been alluded to.
Peter was just given a blessing from God to know some things about his future that you and I do not have today. Peter knew how he would die and that it would be years from that point. (Verse 18) Today, I cannot answer with any certainty how I will die or how soon or far it is from me. While we all might suspect certain things about our future, Peter knew what would happen to Him for the Omniscient One plainly declared it to him. Yet, even with this special blessing to know things that most do not, Peter still looked upon others. What about them? Though we might not know about our personal futures here in this world like Peter did, consider what we do know.
For Bible readers that are blessed to be part of the household of faith, what grand truths have been revealed to us! We know about God’s riches and grace more than some of God’s children in this world do. While sitting under the sound of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are blessed to glean in the light wondrous truths that not everyone knows. We have information about where we are going (heaven and immortal glory), that I would posit the majority of the elect family of God does not know while they live on this earth. When the gospel sounds forth in God’s house, we have His righteousness revealed to us in ways that it is not revealed otherwise.
Friends, this knowledge is wondrous and not to be taken for granted. I find myself greatly slacking in thanking God for such rich knowledge and hearty blessings here in this world. Too many times, I find myself looking on others like Peter did and saying/wondering, “What about them?” The Lord’s point rings true and fresh today just as it did then. What is that to me? Nothing. Following Him should be everything. No one else has done what He has done for my soul. No one else has been near the perfection that His mark established for my example. The only comparison that I should make is how well I measure up to His mark. Answer: lacking every time. So, what is there for me to do? Follow Him harder and straighter than before.
When I was a youngster, I was taught to hunt and fish by my father and some of the “moss-back” deacons of the church. One of those deacons was a true outdoorsman, and he quite honestly helped raise me. When I first started following him in the woods, we would oftentimes hunt by walking through a briar patch/cutover to “scare up” the deer that were bedded down there. At first, I would try to find “better paths” than the one he took. Over time I learned that it was always best to follow in his path. The two reasons were: 1. he was more experienced than I was at picking the least thorny path and 2. his trailblazing made his wake less thorny for me than it was for him. What a forerunner we have in Jesus! Not only has His path marked the way that is less thorny, but by following in His steps, He has removed so many of the problems for us. We get tangled up and bloody when we want to “blaze our own trail.” May He bless us to look less at others and more at Him. In so doing, may our steps align tighter into His path so that we might experience those blessed seasons with Him while walking in agreement with Him and His ways.