Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:19-22)
This last chapter in John’s Gospel has an amazing sequence of events. The resurrected Jesus engages His disciples, specifically Peter, who had denied that he knew Jesus 3 times before the rooster crowed on that Good Friday.
The chapter begins with a night of unsuccessful fishing by Peter & John and some others. They had returned to a life that was familiar. Whether this was recreational fishing or a move toward their life before Jesus, we’re not told. We can imagine…
The Man from the shore yells the instruction to cast their empty nets to the other side of their boat, and the miraculous catch of 153 fish that were eventually towed to shore takes place. John points out to Peter who the Man must be which triggers Peter to jump out of the boat and wade to the shore.
Then comes those most wonderful words: “Come and have some breakfast.” (I love those words!)
The men eat breakfast together. There’s no recorded conversation during breakfast. They’re men. Following the meal together Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves Him. “Yes, Lord” is the reply each time. “Then feed my sheep.” Peter is emotionally hurt over the questioning (especially the final one), but there’s no mistaking the connection with the 3 denials of Peter. Many call this the ‘reinstatement of Peter.’
In verse 18 Jesus describes the martyrdom of Peter and ends with ‘Follow Me!’
Following Jesus during the good times is good. Peter, I’m sure, loved the teaching. He loved it when Jesus rebuked those Pharisees. The feeding of the thousands with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish… come on! How awesome was it to be a disciple of Jesus in those days?
It wasn’t so great seeing His crucifixion. The death of a dream. The death of a friend. The death of His Teacher and Lord. Hope was lost. Hope was regained in the resurrection, for sure! But now Jesus is saying that Peter was going to die the same way that Jesus did on Good Friday. And the command to Peter was to Follow Jesus there.
Follow Him to death. Follow to a crucifixion.
Peter wasn’t to go back to his familiar life of fishing, he was to feed the Lord’s people. He would be a witness for Christ and that witness would lead to his death.
Peter points to John and asks, “What about him?” Jesus tells Peter that it’s none of his business where He will lead John… but Peter must follow!
There would have been some consolation in knowing that he wasn’t alone in the Journey toward martyrdom, and although Peter wasn’t, his following Jesus wasn’t to depend on if others would or not. He was commanded to follow. ‘You must follow me!’
There is strength and encouragement in the community of faith. We are helped by being in relationship with others who are following Jesus, but my discipleship cannot be dependent on whether others are following Jesus too. I must follow Jesus. Comparing my love, life and sacrifice for Jesus with others is never good. Instead of comparing, I can be inspired by how the Lord leads them. I can appreciate the sacrifice they are making for the Kingdom. But comparison is never good.
If they are sacrificing more for Jesus I might feel guilty. If they are sacrificing less I could easily become proud… and even demanding toward them. Each disciple is responsible to their Lord and Teacher in how He leads them. The encouragement we get from one another is that we’re following Him, however He leads us individually.
He leads us corporately too, but that’s another line of thinking… for another time.
Jesus said to Peter, ‘You must follow Me.’ And Peter did. The tradition is that Peter was crucified, but by his own request, was crucified upside down. He did not feel worthy to be martyred the same way that Jesus died.
Where is Jesus leading me? Will I follow even when my flesh doesn’t want to sacrifice like that? Will I die for Christ?
Lord Jesus, I will follow You. Thank You for the grace that saves and forgives when I don’t follow perfectly. Give me a heart to discern today how and where You are leading. I live for You today.