Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at the table close to him… When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remains until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” John 21:20-22
Have you ever wondered why God allows some Christians to suffer so much, and others seem to glide through life relatively pain-free? I know many godly men and women who seem to suffer without end. Their pain is more than I have ever experienced; they’ve faced more trials in a year than I’ve faced in my entire life. Why is that? Am I loved by God more than these people? Are they glorifying God more through their suffering than I can in my blessings? The comparisons go in all directions.
The comparison was Peter’s go-to when Jesus told him this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God). Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:18-19).
Jesus was foretelling that Peter, just like himself, would be led to his death, arms stretched out in his own crucifixion. Tradition points to Peter being crucified upside down during Nero’s persecution, not wanting to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.
I’m not sure if Peter knew then by what kind of death he would die, but no doubt he got the gist of what Jesus was saying. So it’s no surprise that he quickly disregarded Christ’s instruction to “follow me!” Instead, he looked around at the other disciples, spotted John, and exclaimed “Lord, what about this man?” I wonder if Peter was thinking, “I get what you’re trying to tell me, but what about that guy? Why should I go through this trial and not him? Do you love him more than me?”
Comparison is hard-wired in our sinful nature. When others seem to get ahead or are seemingly more blessed than us, we grow envious. When the tables are turned and we are the ones being blessed, we might fight the urge to brag or think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Both kinds of comparison are fatal to our faith, and Jesus knows it. So when Peter bluntly asked, “what about this man?” Jesus’ response was clear. “What is that to you? You follow me!”
Peter died a horrible, agonizing death. Most historians agree that most of the other apostles met similar, violent ends. Except for John. John died, presumably peacefully, in his old age. Why? Because that was how each “was to glorify God.” When God bestows on us blessings we should proclaim his glory joyfully and humbly. But when he allows us to suffer, we have the opportunity to proclaim him King through our hopefulness and faith. God’s glory is what’s important, not our circumstances.
“You follow me.” Fixing ourselves on Jesus is the key to fruitful ministry, the key to humility, the key to joy regardless of our circumstances. It’s the key to glorifying God – the true purpose of our lives and ministry.
Intersecting Faith & Life: How quick are you to compare your joys and sufferings to those around you? Comparing our circumstances to others is fruitless. Jesus desires us to follow him, and have faith in the plan he has for our lives.
“The only glory which Jesus ever sought for himself or offered to his disciples was to be caught up in God’s redemptive purpose.” – George Caird
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