Scripture: John 21:22
I want to share with you eight simple words that can turn your life around. They are spoken by Jesus to Peter in John 21:22. Jesus says, “What is that to you? You follow me.” There is a question, then a command. There is an inquiry, then a directive. To get the full impact of Jesus’ words to Peter and to us, we need to put them into context. Peter had left everything to follow Jesus. He was not only one of the 12 disciples, he was one of the inner three of Peter, James and John. Peter was the outspoken leader, Peter was the one who boldly said before Jesus was betrayed that even though everyone else would deny him, he would never deny him. Then it was Peter who denied his Lord not once, but three times. He still loved his Lord deeply, he loved him all through that horrible experience when he stumbled and turned his back on Jesus. He was broken with grief not only over what he had done, but also over what had happened to Jesus. Jesus was taken and crucified by evil men after a farce of a trial. It was a shattering experience for Peter. Then he learned of Jesus’ resurrection – his Lord was alive! There was still however, the matter of his painful denial. What would Jesus think of him now? Would he love him any less? Would he still speak of highly of him as he did when he said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church?” Peter really didn’t know what to do or which way to turn, so he went back to doing what he knew best – he went fishing. The other disciples were with him very early in the morning, and just as the dawn was breaking someone on the shore yelled and asked, “do you have any fish?” They answered, “No.” The stranger said, “Put down your nets on the right side of the boat, and you’ll find some.” They did so, because nothing else had been working, and when they did their nets were so heavy they could hardly manage them! John recognized first that this stranger was Jesus, then Peter too. Peter was so glad to see him he threw himself in the water and went toward him – the boat just wasn’t fast enough for him. Jesus had breakfast of fish and bread waiting on them. He added the fish they had caught to it. After they had all eaten, Jesus had a talk with Peter.
Peter, do you love me? Then feed my lambs. Peter, do you love me? Tend my lambs. Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep. He said some more things to him about what his own future held, then he told Peter, “Follow me.” Peter has been reinstated fully by his Lord as a disciple. Questions about his future have been answered. A clear directive has been given. Peter should be content now, but he isn’t. In the very next verse he turns, looks to John, and asks Jesus, “What about him?” Even after being forgiven by his Lord and having such a moving, inspirational experience, Peter still can’t focus on just following Jesus. He just has to ask about John. Jesus’ response in verse 22 is timeless: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” Even then, the disciples, rather than getting the point that Jesus was making, twisted what he said to think that John was going to live for a long, long time.
What is that to you? You follow me.
I am sure Peter remembered that question for the rest of his life. It’s important we remember it today as well, for four reasons.
First, remember Jesus’ question if you are unsaved. It’s very tempting to try to hide behind the sins of people in the church. We’re a messed up bunch. The only one who is more dysfunctional than the members of the church is the pastor of the church! The thing is, each one of us is responsible how we respond to Jesus – what other people do doesn’t matter to God when it comes to your response. Romans 14:12 says, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” There are no excuses when we stand before God. “Well God, my parents never took me to church.” “Well God, my parents took me to church so much I’m now burnt out on anything to do with you.” “God, there are so many hypocrites in the church I just can’t accept Jesus.” “God, everyone else wasn’t obeying Jesus, so how could I be different?” “God there are too many bad things happening in the world. I just can’t trust you.” God’s response is the same as it was to Peter: “What is that to you? You follow me!”
If you are unsaved, stop making excuses. They will get you nowhere with God.
Second, remember Jesus question when you are wounded. Your wife or husband may have hurt you or failed you in some way. Your boss or neighbor may have treated you harshly or unfairly. You may be one of the many victims of church politics – you’ve gotten snared in something that seems to have defeated you and deflated you. How could God’s people act in such a way? How could such pain come from what is supposed to be a loving place? Words may have been spoken that have cut you to the core. Gossip can twist conversations into something that was never really said – we even see it in the context of this passage among the 12 disciples. When you are wounded, remember the question of Jesus, and his subsequent command: “What is that to you? You follow me.”
Then, remember Jesus’ question when you are envious. No good ever comes of comparing ourselves to others when it comes to following Jesus. One of two things will happen: We will be boastful, or we will be bitter. Peter could have been thinking, “I’m going to feed sheep. I wonder what John will be doing?” “I’m going to die as a martyr. Will John get to be a martyr too?” Don’t miss enjoying God’s best for you because you are envious of other people. Don’t compare your talent, your skill, your personality, your looks, your money, your home, your car, your family.
Don’t compare your church! Too many times members of a church get church envy. “I wish we were more like the church up the street or across the river.” I remember when pastoring at Oakwood for 13 years, it was a common thing then for folks to get Bible Center envy. Bible Center was the church up the road, and they were bigger, they were better — if we could only be like them. Oakwood is a good church in its own right. The same thing is true for First Baptist Church of Nitro. “But pastor, if we could only be like Gateway over in St. Albans, or New Baptist down in Huntington, then things would be just fine with us.” We are a good church in our own right – Jesus loves this body just as it is. He isn’t finished with us yet, but we don’t have to be like another church.
If you are struggling with personal envy or family envy or church envy, listen to Jesus’ words: “What is that to you? You follow me.”
Remember Jesus’ question when you are envious.
Then, remember Jesus’ words when you are distracted. Sometimes it is not lack of salvation, a past wound, or envy that is our problem. We just have a short attention span. I believe we all struggle to some extent with spiritual ADD, spiritual attention deficit disorder. Especially in this day and age, we have more to distract us than in any previous time. Peter had a wonderful conversation with his Lord, but then he was distracted by the sight of John. Immediately the wheels of his mind began turning in an entirely different direction. For younger generations it is even more of an issue than for older generations, but we all struggle with it. A professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary said, “We live in a distracted generation.” We have cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, a multitude of courses at school, a huge array of extra-curricular activities from which we can choose, shopping malls, crazy job schedules, emails, secular movies at the theatre, at home, at Redbox, online.
Then on top of everything else, this month we have March Madness. How in the world is it anyway that Ohio State loses to a school like Dayton? Do you realize how that just exploded my entire bracket? Speaking of brackets, I could use a good bracket at home for a project that needs to be done. Speaking of home, it’s about time to be leaving here because there’s food at home and I’m hungry! Oops, no I don’t have food at home because I didn’t have time to go the grocery store. I guess it will be fast food coming through the car window again today for me! I’m sorry, what were you talking about preacher?
Jesus is saying, “Listen carefully. Focus. What is that to you? What do all these things really matter in the eternal scheme of things? You follow me.”
Will you follow Jesus? For the first time? Despite the wounds of the past, despite any envy, despite any distractions, Jesus says “follow me.” Will you respond, or will you refuse? The choice is yours.