Jesus has restored Peter and called for his and the apostles to remain on mission: feeding Jesus’ sheep. After denying the Lord three times, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Peter is grieved but confesses that the Lord knows him and knows his heart, that he loves him. Though we had to end the last lesson at this point, there is more that Jesus must teach Peter and the disciples. Open your copy of God’s word to John 21 and we will read verses 18-25.
What Kind of Death He Was To Glorify God (21:18-19)
After telling Peter to feed his sheep, Jesus tells Peter what his going to happen to him to be his disciple. Right now Peter has the freedom to go where he wants and dress himself. But that is not going to be the case in the future. “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.” When Peter is older someone is going to exert power over him and it will bring about his death. Scholars note that the phrase, “Stretch out your hands” was an idiom in the Roman Empire for crucifixion. Being led where he does not want to go is an idiom for being led to his execution. Jesus is describing the outcome to Peter for following Jesus.
Why was Peter told this? This seems like such a depressing ending to the gospel. Why tell Peter that he is not going to live out his life peaceably and with freedom? Rather, Peter is going to be executed. Why say this? Carefully notice verse 19.
This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.
Notice that Peter was not told what kind of death he was going to suffer. The words are not that he was told what kind of death he would experience. Rather, he was told by what kind of death he was to glorify God. This reminds us an important theme in John’s gospel. In John 9 we are introduced to a blind man from birth. The disciples as Jesus if this man sinned or his parents sinned so that he was born blind. Jesus gave this answer. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
A little later we read about Lazarus who is sick and the sickness is going to kill him. But Jesus does not respond by going to Lazarus immediately. Rather, Jesus stays two days longer. The reason was also stated as this: “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
Your life, your disease, your suffering, and yes, your death all to be the praise of God’s glory. God is to be glorified in everything you and I do. God is not set aside for other activities. God is not sidelined for our work or family or anything else. Our activities must be to God’s glory. Peter was told this because he needed to be ready to glorify God in his death. We need to be glorifying God in our lives and ready to glorify God in our death. I have witnessed disturbing statements from those who claim to be Christians when the time of death came. When a disease or sickness about to kill them, there have been statements made that challenge God in what he is doing. Every moment of life is about the glory of God. We must be ready to express a faith like Paul, who is not at the end of his life because of old age or because of something he has done wrong, but because of his love for Jesus he will be executed.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6–8 ESV)
What an amazing “end of life” declaration the apostle Paul makes! How can Paul express this faith? How can be so ready for the time of his death? He gives the answer that he has the crown of righteousness awaiting him that the Lord will award to him on that day. He has given his life for God’s glory and the reward is awaiting him to be given by the Lord. Your life, your disease, your suffering, and your death are to be for the glory of God.
Recall in John 13:36 Peter asked where Jesus was going because Jesus said he was going to be leaving them. Jesus responded to that question, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter was not ready yet to give his life for the glory of God. He would fail in the courtyard of the high priest by denying the Lord three times. But now Peter has been restored and is ready to give his life for God’s glory.
After saying that this would be the way that Peter would die, listen to what Jesus says. “Follow me” (21:19). This is the only way we follow. We must live God glorifying lives. We do not forsake God. We do not avoid God. We do not do other things instead of God. God is everything to us and it is seen in our lives and in our death. Are you ready to accept this call? Follow me.
Who Else? (21:20-23)
We easily relate to Peter in so many of the things he says and does. This is another moment where we can certainly relate to Peter. After telling Peter that he is going to be martyred for Jesus, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” If I am going to suffer this way, what about others? What about another disciple?
Listen to Jesus’ response: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” Your path may be different than others. You may have great health and live a full life. You may have terrible health. You may have cancer. You may have diseases that are crippling your body. You may have a disability. You may not live very long in this life. You may not make it to be an adult. Your days may be drastically cut short. But here is the point: you have a calling given to you by Jesus and how life ends for others is not your concern. Your concern is to follow Jesus. God is sovereign over this life. It is up to God and not up to us. We must surrender our lives to this truth. We cannot control what will happen to our lives. We cannot control how we will die or when we will die. You may be suffering and others are not. This is not important. This is what is important: use what you are experiencing to the glory of God.
Jesus’ answer to Peter is simply, “Don’t worry about John. What does it matter to you if John remains until I return? You follow me!” In the same way, we must follow until he comes, glorifying God in everything we do.
The gospel concludes that Jesus did so many more things that were not recorded in this gospel or the other gospel accounts. But these things are all that we need for faith. Faith follows Jesus, all the way to death. Jesus told his disciples that they must take up their cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23-24). These are the words of voluntary sacrifice. You must take up the cross. That is your decision. It is your decision today if your life will be for God’s glory. It is your choice if your pain and suffering will be used for God’s glory. It is your decision if your death will glorify God. In the final analysis, our living and our dying are to make God look glorious. We must show that Christ, not this world or our lives, is our supreme treasure. Treasure Christ and serve with the strength, hearing, eyesight, mobility, and resources that you have from God.
I want to challenge those who think they are believers and think they are saved if they have the faith that has been described in this chapter and in this gospel. You were baptized. Maybe you grew up on the pews. You know the scriptures but you do not have this faith in Jesus that we have observed Jesus call his disciples to have. Other people and other things have become your priority. We justify that we must devote ourselves to our family, to our careers, and other things. What we are devoting ourselves to is not sinful. The sin is that God is not shown as the treasure of your heart. God is not glorified in all you are doing. John has penned this gospel so that you would truly believe. Recognize that your heart has been captured by things that are not necessarily immoral or sinful, but they have taken your focus and heart away from God. Put God back at center. Make every decision and action so that God is your glory and treasure. When we do this, then we will have marriages, families, and careers where God is glorified.