(John 21:15) So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, [son] of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. (21:16) He saith to him again a second time, Simon, [son] of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep. (21:17) He saith unto him the third time, Simon, [son] of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (21:18) Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. (21:19) Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. (21:20) Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; who also leaned back on his breast at the supper, and said, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? (21:21) Peter therefore seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? (21:22) Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee? Follow thou me. (21:23) This saying therefore went forth among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, that he should not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee?
Peter was chosen to be the “rock” upon which was built Christ’s Church, not because he was the most perfect of the disciples but possibly because he was the least perfect (not counting Judas Iscariot). Peter was iconic in that he demonstrated a broad range of base human traits that are so common in all of us–even today. He becomes a mirror for us. We can look at Peter and see ourselves. In spite of his proclamation of undying loyalty he was a coward who denied Christ three times–he tried to walk on water like Christ but he lost faith and immediately began to sink. He over-estimated his strength, nor could he even keep awake for his Master's sake in Gethsemane.
In the last chapters of John, Christ asks Peter three times, do you love me? When Peter replies the first time, his tone is sincere and loving, but as Christ asks him again and again, Peter becomes annoyed. All Christ wanted was for him to respond to the command to “feed my sheep” and Peter still doesn’t seem to get it, so Christ must tell him three times in all. How many times does God call to us to do something and we block it because we would rather reside inside the cozy comfort of our spirituality rather than step up to the hard task given to us? It is so much easier to say that we love Christ because that feels so good but like Peter, we don’t want it to require anything of us.
In the last several verses of John 21, we see that Jesus is preparing Peter for his future and eventual death at the hands of non-believers. In a classic response of petulant self-interest, Peter turns around and sees John and asks Jesus, so, what about him? What’s he going to do? What’s going to happen to him? Like a father responding to a child who wants to know why his brother isn’t getting the same bad deal, Christ tells Peter, “What difference does it make to you what happens to John? YOU follow ME!” And in an even more classic human misinterpretation, the rumor then gets passed around that Christ said John would not die. John sets this straight in verse 23 but more importantly, in this Scripture, we get a snapshot of Peter’s base humanity and thus our own.
Why would Christ pick such an imperfect disciple to build His church on? Perhaps it was so that, through Peter’s example, we could see how flawed we are also and be encouraged that, just like Peter, God loves and uses us anyway. But even better, Christ also gives us an opportunity, a way to change so that we can be freed from the worst of our failings, those strongholds of the flesh that restrain and thwart our spiritual growth and keep us at arm’s length from the knowledge that passeth all understanding. Christ offers us this opportunity and even paid the high cost of this way to true sanctification in two words, “Follow Me.”
And though we are most definitely imperfect, what is even worse, we are lazy and often determined to hang onto our old man, even as we seek diligently to be new in Christ. Frankly, we want both. We want to be all new without giving up anything. Certainly that which we know well is easier to cling to than stepping out into the great unknown, letting go of those things that are so ingrained in us. So, we allow Satan to convince us that we can’t really change anyway. We are who we are, we are who we were raised to be. We can’t give up those things that have been so much a part of our makeup. Those things our imperfect human parents instilled in us and those things we have gathered up on our own along the way as we are exposed to other flawed humans who have influenced us.
Pettiness, jealousy, mean-spiritedness, impatience, grudge-bearing, lack of compassion, lack of forgiveness, self pity, these things and more all spring from the same raw source which is love of SELF. We love and trust ourselves first, our own intellect, we lean on our own understanding and then we think, if we analyze enough, we can figure out God and get into His good grace and reap the rewards of salvation just because we are thinking and wondering about Him. We say the word “God” a lot, we pray and believe we are on the road to wisdom, we learn and use the language of religion, which might, by the way, give us a leg up in the world, imbuing us with “special” skills–like a magician with mystical powers.
But this is the dangerous, dead end path of fools (and apostate religion) because Christ is quite specific and simply says, “Follow Me.” It’s not a command; it’s an invitation to a narrow path that leads away from worldliness and self. Many who hear and initially accept this call, have no idea at first what this really means. It sounds like a good idea and initially has the ring of relief from the world’s troubles in it. But to pick up one’s cross and follow Christ requires a conviction of sin. We have to see our own flaws, just as we quickly see Peter’s. Thus we cannot really follow Christ until we feel the sting of conviction and humiliation for the reprobates we have allowed ourselves to be.
Scripture tells us we can’t put new wine into an old bottle. Similarly, you can’t ask the Holy Spirit to come into your temple until you have done some house cleaning first. Where would you put Him? Could He stand over in the corner behind old resentments? Maybe He could find a small spot next to vengeful thoughts or vain imaginings (translated as being offended at things fabricated in your own mind). Is it absurd to suppose The Holy Spirit wouldn’t object to sharing space with remnants of ingratitude, pridefulness, haughtiness, lust, greed, avarice, anger, vanity, self-will, self-love, and love of worldliness?
But when (or if) you do finally hit the ground upon being faced with your true wretched self and accept that indeed you cannot change yourself, but that Christ can, you then are prepared to reach that level of humility that is required to ask for the forgiveness He offers. This is the moment when the old man dies and the new man, in Christ, is born. It is death and rebirth at the same time. Oswald Chambers refers to this as “attending the white funeral.” There is no way out of attending your white funeral if you want to follow Christ. But when you do, that’s when an interesting thing happens. Christ attends this funeral and comforts you.
(John 14:13) And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (14:14) If ye shall ask anything in my name, that will I do. (14:15) If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments. (14:16) And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, (14:17) [even] the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you. (14:18) I will not leave you desolate: I come unto you.
And thus we are born again to be raised up and educated by a new flawless parent – Who fills our freshly cleansed space with His glory and then guides us with His perfect wisdom. We become truly new in all ways, with new vision, new priorities, new behavior, because… (Galatians 2:20) I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that [life] which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, [the faith] which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.
Finally as we grow up in Christ we realize we live, no longer for ourselves, but for Him. And as we live for Him, instead of for self, we find that as blessings flow to us, we offer them back to Him by paying them forward so that His perfect will is done, not just for us, but through us.