John 21:15-25 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 90)
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 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.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
I don’t know that this section should be called ‘the reinstatement of Peter.’ That sounds way too deep for what happened in Peter’s life. Maybe something like the reassurance of Peter is a better way to headline this section. Whatever the case, on thing is for sure: Peter jumped into the water before he was forgiven.
This is the last meditation in the 90 Days with Jesus series. I have enjoyed working my way through John’s Gospel even though it took much longer than I had hoped. It is the story of forgiveness. Really, that is about it. There’s a lot that can be read into it. There’s a lot of minutia that can be squabbled about. But at the root of this story is one of forgiveness. Out of that forgiveness grows an enabling and empowering conviction that life is about only One: Jesus. The forgiveness we have in Christ defines us. It molds us. It creates in us a life that is decidedly about Jesus as we continue to grow and become more and more like Jesus. Peter would be among the first to learn this. Out of this conviction concerning Jesus grows all else in the Christian’s life.
In keeping with the theme of these meditations that John’s Gospel is about Jesus, I’ll make a couple of observations.
First, Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” First he asks him, ‘do you love me more than these?’ I suppose this could mean, “Do you love me more (quantitatively) than the rest of the disciples do?” That is, is your love for me greater than, say, James’s love for me. It could be this, but maybe it is something else. It could also mean, “Do you love me more than you love everything you see here?” That is, do you love me more than 153 fish, more than boats, nets, more than the bread, the fish, more than the other disciples, more than success, more than anything else you can see? I think Jesus asks Peter this question three times because Peter denied Jesus three times. Eventually, Jesus will tell Peter that if he really loves Jesus his love will be tested by the threatening and taking of his own life in the same manner Jesus’ life was taken: Crucifixion.
But here’s the thing: Do you really love me more than these? If you do, then it won’t be a task to feed my sheep and take care of my lambs. If we truly love Jesus, loving people is no chore. But I think loving Jesus comes first. Love me. Love me. Love me. Jesus is clearly telling Peter that there will be a lot of thing in life competing for his affection and attention. Hey, all of the sudden Peter was a successful fisherman: 153 fish is nothing scoff at! But did Peter love Jesus more than these? I don’t know what Jesus pointed to specifically, but I do know this: ‘Me’ is specific; ‘these’ is not. Our love has a concrete, objective object. The object of our affection is not the randomly scattered, and abundantly supplied, ‘theses’ of the world but the One Resurrected Lord Jesus. The question is appropriate for us too: Do we love Jesus more than these? Is there anything we count more than Jesus?
Second, Jesus says that Peter will glorify God by the way he dies. It is hard when reading this not to recall what took place in chapter 12 of this Gospel:
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. (John 12:23-29)
So imagine you are Peter, you are happy to see the Lord Jesus. You have a great fishing expedition. You eat breakfast. You take a walk on the beach. Then Jesus drops this on you: “Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’” Just exactly how do the sheep get fed because Peter dies in a certain way or because Peter dies at all? Whatever the case may be with that, Jesus told Peter in no uncertain terms: Someday you will die—quite in the same way that I died—and your death will also bring glory to God—quite in the same way that mine did. (It’s not really complicated when you compare the Greek of chapter 12 and the Greek of chapter 21.) “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”
Would that we could (would?) live and die in such way that brings honor and glory to God! The gist here is what I mentioned above: Be prepared in this life to give an account of the love you claim to have for Me. Be prepared to live and die in such a way that demonstrates you are more interested in Me than these. Be prepared to live (next Jesus says, ‘follow me’) and die in such a way that demonstrates you are more interested in God’s glory than you are in your own. It’s a tall order and it is one that I suspect a number of Christians, in a number of Churches have thoroughly failed to grasp in their attempts to live the American Dream and be Christians (I don’t know if the two are as compatible as some would have us believe). I think it is quite fair for Christians to consider well if they are living and preparing to die in such a way that brings glory to God. The bottom line is this: Peter knew from that day forward what he had to look forward to if he continued to follow Jesus: Peter knew that some day he would die because of his faith and confession in/of Christ. Are you similarly prepared? If Jesus told you, “Some day you will die because of me,” would you continue to follow Jesus? Peter did. I suspect that is how sheep are fed by Peter.
Finally, Jesus tells Peter: “Follow Me!” In fact, he tells him twice: “You must follow me!” There can be no compromising. This is not a matter of if, or will, or might. It is a matter of fact: “You must follow me!” Now, what we experience in the world of American Christianity is, normally speaking, anything but this following of Jesus. It’s nothing new: Paul had to write to the Corinthian church on such matters:
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)
People have always had issues with the ‘who’ of ‘follow me.’ But what would happen if the church would, each day, every single person who confesses Jesus as Lord, take up their cross and follow Jesus? Isn’t this what Jesus is telling Peter? He just finished telling Peter, “You are going to die like me.” Now he says, “follow me.” In other words, “You are going to take up your cross and follow me.” What would happen, again I say, if every Christian truly lived this way? What if our sole ambition was not ourselves, not ‘these’, not dreams, not visions, but simply, profoundly, sincerely, the taking up of the cross and the following of Jesus? I know it sounds complicated, but I don’t think it is. Jesus is saying to Peter, “Don’t be afraid to go only where I went.” Life will be difficult, but keep the pace: Follow me. ‘What about that person over there?’ Don’t worry about him, follow me. Don’t look to the left, the right, or behind, side to side, up to down, keep your eyes fixed on Me. Follow Me. You Must follow Me. Or, this way:
“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, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s not strange that the book should end this way. It’s not strange that Jesus should demand such allegiance. What is strange is the manner in which we have failed and the ‘Jesus’ we have followed. But if we follow Jesus, we follow the Jesus that John wrote about: The Lamb of God who takes away the Sins of the World, the King of Israel, the One Moses wrote about, the One Isaiah Saw, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth and the Life, The I Am, The Living Water, the Bread of Life, The Word. We are not free to follow a Jesus of our own invention. We are free to follow the Jesus of Scripture. We are not free to determine the manner in which we follow: There is only one way to follow Jesus and that is in such a way that brings glory to the Father. This might mean a life of death or a death of life. But it always means that our sole purpose is to Love Jesus more than anything or anyone else and in so doing we will bring glory to the Father as Jesus did. Follow me, he says, all the way to the cross!
The forgiveness of God enables and empowers us to do these things. Forgiveness is not given so that we can live how we want to live. Forgiveness is given so we can live how Jesus wants us to live: In close fellowship (loving), in close suffering (glorifying), and close proximity (following) to Himself. It’s no easy thing to surrender ourselves to such a life.
I hope you have been blessed by this rather long series of meditations on John’s Gospel. I am sorry it took so long to finish them, but your patience is appreciated. I have thoroughly enjoyed studying this Gospel so intensely for so long. The only problem is that I was in the library at the Seminary last week and I noticed that there are about a thousand books on John’s Gospel alone. I have a lot of work to do and I realize that what I have written is in no way close to comprehensive. I could probably start at the beginning and do it all over again. Still, I hope that someone has been blessed in some way because of this work. I hope hope is that God was/is/will be glorified by this work.
Be blessed and a blessing. I hope soon to start a new series of meditations from Paul’s short letter to the Colossian Church. I am about half-way through my exegesis of chapter 1. When I have finished chapter 1, I will start writing. Until then, I remain yours for the glory of God alone.