What are Jesus’ last words in the Gospel of John? ‘You must follow me.’ (verse 22). Jesus says this both at the beginning and at the end of this short section (verses 19 and 22).
Having revealed to Peter how he was going to die, Jesus wants to ensure that Peter is heading in the right direction, the only right direction, and so he says: ‘Follow me.’
If we go right back to the start of John’s Gospel, and to chapter 1, John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus is the lamb of God. When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want? (John 1:37-38)
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ (John 1:43)
So, this theme of following Jesus, of being disciples, is one which brackets the whole gospel.
1. Our responsibility as Christian disciples: following Jesus
Jesus has just informed Peter about how he was going to die (verses 18-19), and it must have been a shocking thing for Peter to hear, because it indicated that one day, like Jesus, Peter would be crucified. The phrase ‘you will stretch out your hands’ (verse 18) was a common euphemism for crucifixion. Jesus does not inform Peter when this would happen, only how. Most historians believe Peter was crucified towards the start of Emperor Nero’s persecutions, around 30 years after Jesus had made this prophecy.
How does Peter respond to all of this? He wants to know what will happen to John. Lord, what about him? (verse 21)
In effect, Jesus says to him: ‘Peter that’s none of your business! That’s not your concern. Your responsibility is to keep on following me.’
Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ (John 21:22)
What’s going on here? Jesus wants Peter to be single-minded about how he lives his life as a disciple. There’s one key thing to focus on: our responsibility to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, in our thinking, in our words, and in our actions.
Why is a laser beam so powerful? Because it is light concentrated on one spot. That narrow focus gives it its power. That’s why a laser can even cut through metal. Jesus wants Peter to concentrate his efforts in following him.
2. The danger of comparing
Principle : Don’t start looking at other people’s lives, and other people’s circumstances and comparing them to your own.
This leads to jealousy, frustration, lack of contentment and trust in God. Instead, concentrate on following Jesus, in whatever circumstances he has given.
Peter is going to be martyred, as almost all the other apostles would be. As it happens, John would not be, but would die peacefully in his own bed. However, John would experience other kinds of suffering; he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos for many years. Jesus knows that it would not be helpful for Peter to know John’s future.
What would Peter have thought, had he known what would happen to John? ‘Why must I suffer crucifixion but he won’t have to – that’s not fair.’ It might well produce frustration and jealousy in Peter’s heart. Doesn’t this happen to us when our circumstances are challenging. Aren’t we all like Peter, comparing our lives to those of others, especially when things go wrong? Rather than accepting the lot God has given us we can start thinking: ‘Why do I have cancer at this age, and my friend’s life always seems so much easier?’
Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. (Galatians 6:4-5)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
God is the master of our race. He has marked out our race and determined the track. And he wants us to get on with it and run. The conditions of the race can be quite different in different stages of our lives. Some more uphill!
3. Following Jesus is best: but it is costly and involves hard work
As Christians we struggle to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We might not be distracted by other people. However, it might just be the hard circumstances of life which we start to focus on, and so we lose sight of Jesus in that way. This is what happened to Peter when he was walking on the water. He began so well, with his eyes fixed on Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ (Matthew 14:30)
Personally, I can be so like Peter. Can you? I’m struggling with sin, or struggling with ill-health, or struggling with work, and my eyes start to focus on the circumstances, the wind, and I forget about Jesus, and forget to keep entrusting each day to him. And then I sink.
Let’s end our time positively with Jesus words reverberating in our ears: Follow me!
When are we to follow him? Now! And each and every day. We must follow him at school, at work and at home. We must follow him as young people, in middle age and in our retirement. We must follow him in times of uncertainty, times of depression, times of ill health, as well as in the good times.
The good news is that we’re following someone who’s been there before us. Even when it comes to our deaths, Jesus has been in that place before us, so we can follow him confidently then too.
In our temptations, we look to him for help, because he was tempted in every way, yet without sin. In learning how to treat others, we look to him, for no one is as loving, compassionate and good as Jesus.
Following Jesus is costly. Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23)
“Denying ourselves means different things in different contexts.
To a parent, it means not just seeking one’s own desires, but serving the child in their best interests in terms of the investment of time and energy.
To a spouse, it means not just asking what can be done for you, but considering how one can be a help to his or her partner.
To a neighbor, it means considering how one can be of service, and show concern in the affairs of life.
To a colleague at work it may mean not seeing how you can advance the responsibilities you have to undertake, but seeing how you can be of service to them.
Most importantly, to God it means seeking his will and spending time before him so he can lead and guide you in the way you should go. Discipleship means being a learner, a follower. It means that our attention is turned on how we can follow Jesus, not how we can make him follow us.” (Darrel Bock)