“21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’” John 21:21
Last time in John 21, we finished focusing on the feeding stage of discipleship where Peter began to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). The risen Lord Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection to reaffirm Peter’s leadership position as one of His apostles. After Peter had publicly denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to confess his love for Jesus (John 21:15-17). After Peter did this, Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, and then he tells Peter to follow Him (21:18-19). Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. Jesus knew Peter was affectionately drawn to Him, but now Jesus tells Peter to be totally committed to following Him without any reservations. According to church tradition, Peter would ask for crucifixion upside down because he felt unworthy to suffer as Jesus had. This is followed by the focusing stage found in John 20:20-22.
In the next scene Peter is walking along with Jesus away from the other disciples who had gathered for breakfast on the beach. “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ ” (John 21:20). Not wanting to miss any of Jesus’ teachings, John, “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” was following a short distance behind Jesus and Peter. John was already doing what Jesus commanded Peter to do – he was following the Lord Jesus. The relationship between Peter, John and Jesus is a most interesting dynamic. Peter is the Lord’s obvious choice as leader of the disciples, but John is Christ’s closest friend. Surely the memory of the Last Supper is fresh in Peter’s mind. The future leader of the church had to depend upon John to find out who would betray their Lord (John 13:21-26).
So, when Jesus solemnly predicts Peter’s future crucifixion on the cross (John 21:18-19), Peter’s immediate reaction is what John could expect. “Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man? ‘ ” (John 21:21). Peter had just learned from Jesus that following Christ would cost him his life. Now he wondered what John could expect. “What about John, Lord? You are asking me to follow You unto death… What about him? Aren’t you going to give him the same responsibilities and perils as I?” It seems like Peter is comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus? “I always knew you liked John best, Lord, and he would have it better than me.”
Let me ask you this: Who is your John? Who is it that you present to the Lord and ask, “What about this person, Lord? Why does he or she have it so good when I have got it so bad? Their marriage is marvelous but mine is miserable. His ministry is soaring while mine is stalling. He gets all the attention, but nobody even notices me.” Or “It seems they never have any problems, but we are drowning in ours. It just isn’t fair!” we say. Do you struggle with this? You don’t like God’s will for your life, so you focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life – and on and on it goes, the games we play with the Lord.
From this we learn that the first way to follow Jesus without reservation is to AVOID COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHER FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST (JOHN 21:20-21). When Jesus instructs us to do something we are uncomfortable with, it is easy to avoid it by focusing on His will for someone else. This is what Peter was doing when he asked Jesus what John could expect. When we start comparing God’s will for us with His will for another Christian, we can easily start to feel sorry for ourselves. Why me? Self-pity can quickly lead to failure to follow Jesus. Why? Because if we are using all our energy on self-pity, we will not have any energy left over to follow Christ. Self-pity takes all the energy that we have and more. It drains the energy right out of us.
The great thing about Jesus is that He knows our future. He knew what Peter was going to face in his life as he followed the risen Lord Jesus. So, He told Peter about the difficulties he was going to face in advance (John 21:18-19). Although God has not told us specifically that we are going to be crucified in the future like He did with Peter, He has told us that we can expect “hatred” (John 15:18-19; 16:1-4) and “tribulation” (John 16:33) in the world. Following Christ includes pain and suffering. To think otherwise is unrealistic.
Therefore, the apostle Paul wrote when he was in prison for preaching Christ, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Suffering for Jesus’ sake is purposeful, not purposeless. God uses suffering in our lives for our good and for His glory. “As believers in Christ the Philippians could expect to suffer for Him as did Paul. Suffering for Christ matures a believer (James 1:2-4), and Christ will reward those who persevere through suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17b).” 1
When Peter’s focus was directed toward Christ’s will for John, it reminds me of something significant about Peter. His problems always came when he got his eyes off Jesus. For example, when Peter and the other disciples were caught in a storm and Jesus walked on water to them, Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-29). But when he took his eyes off Jesus and onto the wind and waves, he began to sink in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:30). After Jesus predicted His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter gets his eyes off Jesus and onto the success the disciples are having (Matthew 16:21-22), so Jesus chastises him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23). When he takes his eyes off Jesus and onto his fears, he denies Jesus three times in the courtyard (John 18:15, 25, 27). And then when he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on another disciple, he is drawn away again (John 21:20-21). He is setting himself up for another failure.
Whenever we compare ourselves to another Christian, we are setting ourselves up for failure? Why? Because God doesn’t intend for us to be carbon copies. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people are alike. We are not in competition with anybody else. It can be tough for us as Christians to believe we are unique because there are two competing pressures in the world:
First, the pressure of conforming in everything – peer pressures, advertising, pressures to conform to be alike. We are pressured to do what others do; to look like others look.
Then there is the pressure of comparing. In America, we have made comparing a science. In this competitive environment, we compare everything – how we look, our clothes, our cars, our homes, our intelligence, our background, social and economic status – as if it really matters. You are unique and nobody can be like you so why compare?
The Bible says that since we are all unique, we should not compare ourselves. “Each person should judge his own actions and not compare himself with others. Then he can be proud for what he himself has done.” (Galatians 6:4 NCV). Don’t compare yourself to others; just be proud of what you have done by the grace of God.
Also, when we compare ourselves to others, there will always be someone worse off -which can lead us to become prideful. Or there will be someone better off – which can lead to discouragement. Either way, we become more vulnerable to failure.
None of us are responsible for another’s commitment to Christ, only our own. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said we must answer for anyone else except ourselves. When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future to receive rewards from Jesus, “each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). We won’t stand before Christ to give an account of other Christians. We will only speak for ourselves when Jesus asks us to tell Him what we did with what He gave us.
If you have never been tempted to look at another believer and focus on somebody else, you probably have not been a Christian more than ninety seconds. The truth is it is a temptation in all our lives. Jesus is reminding us to keep our eyes on Him, not on someone else. When our eyes are locked onto Christ, we will find unspeakable joy, peace, and life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must confess that all of us can fall into the comparison trap just like Peter did, especially when Your will for our lives is difficult for us to accept. It is easier to focus on Your will for another’s life when Your will for our lives is not what we want. Forgive us our Lord and our God, for focusing on Your will for others instead of Your will for us. Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It does not matter to us what other disciples do. It doesn’t matter to us what other Christian leaders do. We are not following them. We are following You. So, Jesus, tonight, we renew that simple commitment to follow You no matter what the cost. In Your matchless name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1081.