“This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” John 21:19
When studying Peter’s life, Dr. Charlie Bing identified several different stages of discipleship. 1 First, there is the finding stage where Peter finds Jesus the Messiah-God and puts his trust in Him for the gift of eternal life (John 1:40-2:11). This is followed by the following stage which involves submitting to Jesus’ purpose of living to reach the lost (Mark 1:16-18). Third, is the forsaking stage when Jesus taught the importance of wholehearted trust and obedience to Him, especially in evangelism (Luke 5:1-11). Fourth, is the failing stage when God uses failure to equip us to strengthen others (John 13:36-38; 18:15-17, 25-27; cf. Luke 22:31-32, 61-62). Then there is the feeding stage when Peter begins to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). This is followed by the focusing stage in John 20:20-22. Currently we are looking at the feeding stage.
So far, we have learned in this feeding stage that for the the risen Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, we must…
– Make loving Jesus our first priority (John 21:15).
– Receive His forgiving grace into our hearts for our greatest sins (John 21:16-17).
Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times when standing around “a fire of coals” in a courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17-18, 25, 27). After His resurrection while standing around “a fire of coals” on the beach (John 21:1-14), Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him (John 21:15-17). Each time Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, Christ commanded him to feed or tend to His sheep to indicate that Peter was forgiven and restored to his position of leadership. Jesus was going to use Peter’s failure to help others grow in their love for Jesus. And He wants to do the same thing in our lives.
After restoring Peter to leadership, Jesus warns Peter of what his love and service for Jesus will cost him. After Peter told Jesus, “Lord, You know all things” (John 21:17b), Jesus demonstrated that as God, He truly did know all things when He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” (John 21:18).
Jesus contrasts Peter’s youthful freedom with the restrictions he will experience in old age. As a young man (“when you were younger”), Peter dressed himself and went wherever he wanted (“you girded yourself and walked where you wished”). But a day would come when he is old (“when you are old”) and he would no longer have control over his life and activities. He would live to an old age in which he would have to depend on others to dress him and to provide an arm on which he could lean. 2
When Jesus says, “you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you,” He is using a “euphemistic reference to crucifixion in the Roman world.” 3 “This stretching took place when the Roman soldiers fastened the condemned person’s arms to the crosspiece of his cross. This often happened before they led him to the place of crucifixion and crucified him.” 4 To be carried or led “where you do not wish” is clearly a reference to death. 5
John confirms this when he explains, “This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.” (John 21:19a). Peter’s commitment to follow Jesus would ultimately mean martyrdom. “Peter had formerly confessed his commitment to lay down his life for Christ (cf. 13:37). Someday he would indeed follow through on that commitment and by so doing he would glorify God.” 6
Tertullian, an early church leader (C. A.D. 212), reports that Peter was crucified in Rome under Nero (Scorpiace 15) around 64-67 A.D. 7 “Clement of Rome (ca. A.D. 96) wrote that Peter died by martyrdom (1 Clement 5:4; 6:1).” 8 Another early church leader, Origen, stated that Peter was crucified with his head down because he did not feel worthy to suffer as Jesus had. 9
Jesus refers to Peter’s death as that which “would glorify God.” Peter, who had struggled with pride and prayerlessness, was learning through his failure to depend more and more on the risen Lord Jesus. Later in life, he would be so in tune with God’s will and purposes that even in death he would magnify the character and reputation of God. 10 Instead of trying to control his future as he had tried formerly to do, he would commit his future to the risen Lord’s control.
“The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.” 11
“Peter later wrote that Christians, who follow Jesus Christ faithfully to the point of dying for Him, bring glory to God by their deaths (1 Pet. 4:14- 16). He lived with this prediction hanging over him for three decades (cf. 2 Pet. 1:14).” 12
After Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, John writes, “And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” (John 21:19b). Here again Jesus is giving Peter an invitation to follow Him. He is inviting Peter to step it up in his commitment to Christ. There is always a sense in which a disciple can grow deeper in his commitment to Christ. For Peter to fulfill his love for the Lord and provide spiritual care for other Christians, he must follow Jesus. The same is true for us. So, the final way for the risen Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, is to RENEW OUR COMMITMENT TO FOLLOW JESUS NO MATTER WHAT THE COST (John 21:18-19).
These words to follow Christ take place 2 ½ years after Jesus’ initial invitation to follow Him (Mark 1:16-18). Now these words have a lot more significance. Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. These words are much weightier than Jesus’ other invitations to follow Him. But this is the feeding stage, and it depends on our love for Christ.
The night before His crucifixion, we saw Christ’s loving service to others when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16). He then said to them, “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). When you see the purpose God has given us – to love other people, to serve them, to feed them – it is hard to go back to doing the old things we used to do. Before Jesus said, “feed My sheep,” the question He asked was, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). He didn’t ask, “Peter will you walk on water for Me?… Peter, will you fight for Me?… Peter, will you build monuments in My name?” No, He asks Peter, “Do you love Me?”
What’s the most important qualification for ministering to God’s people? Loving the Lord Jesus. If you don’t have a love relationship with Christ, you are not going to have His love for His people. John writes in his first epistle, “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11). When Jesus died on the cross, He was shouting out to you and me: “I love you!” When we receive God’s love for us through Jesus Christ, we can then share His love with others.
The person who has this kind of love is “born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7b). The phrase “born of God” refers to a Christian. Before you can ever produce this kind of love in your life, you must first be born of God. How? The Bible says you must simply believe or trust in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Notice that you are not born of God by following Christ, keeping God’s commandments, being baptized with water, surrendering to Christ, or living a good, moral life. No, the only condition to be born of God is believing in Jesus Christ alone, not behaving.
The moment we place our trust in Jesus for eternal life, we become God’s child and God comes to live inside us and love us always. As we get to know Him and trust Him, He pours His love into our lives so we can begin to love others (cf. Romans 5:5).
But if we are going to develop loving relationships after we become Christians, we must refill ourselves with God’s love daily. The person who loves God’s way is “born of God and knows God.” Once we have begun a relationship with God by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, the key is to stay close to Jesus. Get to know Him. Staying close to God is not complicated.
This image works for me: I picture my life as a bucket. I must have my bucket filled. And God’s love is like a fountain. The more I refill that bucket, the more I must share with others. If you have been a Christian for a while, you can probably tell when your bucket is empty. You are easily irritated or angered. It is difficult to let go of past hurts and to trust someone who has hurt you. It is tough to expect the best of him or her. Perhaps you can’t stand being in the same room with the person. All of these are indications that you need to be refilled with God’s love.
You say, “How do you do it?” Spend time with Jesus. Hang out with Him. Read what He has written in the Bible. Talk to Him about what you are reading and feeling. You may even want to write it down in a journal. Treat Jesus like a close friend, and you will become His close friend. And when you get closer to Jesus, you will discover that you are more able to love those who matter to you.
Can you see this? Is this making sense? Can you see why you need God’s love to love others? Some of you may be saying to yourselves, “Okay, so God commands us to love one another, but what does God’s love look like?” Look in I John 4:9-10: “9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
First, we see that God’s love is selfless. His love gives without expecting anything in return. Often, we give to get. That is not God’s love. If Jesus had been selfish, He would never have left heaven or if He had come to earth, He would have packed His bags and left at the first sign of rejection. But He didn’t. He endured incredible suffering because He came to give, not to get. If God’s love is controlling our lives, we will be givers, not getters.
Second, God’s love is sacrificial. He not only gives, but He gives sacrificially. He “sent His only begotten Son into the world.” If it were possible, would you sacrifice your only child so that a serial killer could live? “No way!” Nor would I. But that’s exactly what God did when He sent His perfect Son to die for undeserving sinners like you and me. Who else would die for you except someone who loves you that much!
Third, God’s love is unconditional – “not that we loved God, but that He loved us.” God’s love was not a response to our love. He loved us even if we never loved Him. God loves us when our walk of faith is weak or when it is strong. He sticks with us in the good times and the bad. Nothing about us makes God love us. He loves us because it is His nature to love. If God waited for us to love Him first, He would still be waiting. Thank God that He loved you and me first. His love does not require that we love Him back. Likewise, we are to love others even if they do not love us back. Is this easy? It’s impossible without Christ. Will we trust the Lord to love those who are difficult to love through us? So, when we experience God’s love, we naturally want to share that love with the people we love. Did you follow that? To become a more loving person we need to receive God’s love and refill ourselves with God’s love.
Lastly, we must reflect God’s Love to Others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:11). In other words, if God loved us with this selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love when we were least deserving, then we ought to love each other in the same way. Maybe our love cannot be as perfect as Jesus’ love, but it can grow in that direction. This is to be our goal.
So, this feeding stage in John 21:15-19, involves God using broken people to feed His sheep. God uses the lessons we have learned from our past failures to strengthen others. We minister out of our brokenness to others. As a pastor once said, “Before God can use a man greatly, He must hurt him deeply.” That’s the lesson of this feeding stage.
It is one thing for Jesus to say, “Follow Me into joy and goodness when everything is going to be great!” But it is another thing for Christ to look at Peter and say, “Follow me and I will lead you to die in the same way that I died.” Jesus is not saying that every Christian is going to die by crucifixion. But He does demand more of us the longer we follow Him as His disciple.
“Obedience to Jesus’ command, Follow Me, is the key issue in every Christian’s life. As Jesus followed the Father’s will, so His disciples should follow their Lord whether the path leads to a cross or to some other difficult experience.” 13
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It won’t be easy. You never promised that it would be. So, Jesus, right now we refresh our simple commitment to follow You. Not just to listen to You or be around You or even say to You, “I love You.” But to follow You and Your leading in our lives. Lord, we know that where You lead is where we will find lasting joy. Whether you lead us to a cross to be crucified or to some other difficult trial, where You lead us is where we will find significance. Where You lead us is where we will find life. So, Jesus, we just say these simple words to You, “I will follow You.” Please give us the grace to do this, for apart from You we can do nothing. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Adapted from Charlie Bing’s articles, “The Making of A Disciple,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1992; “Are Disciples Born or Made?” GraceLife, November 2007; “Peter as a Model Disciple,” GraceNotes – no. 21 all retrieved on July 13, 2021, at www.gracelife.org.
2. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 382.
3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 399 cites Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John Vol. 2 (Translated by Robert W. Funk. Edited by Robert W. Funk and Ulrich Busse. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 226-27; C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (2nd ed. Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1978), pg. 585.
4. Constable, pg. 399 cites G. R. Beasley-Murray, John Second ed., Word Bible Commentary series (Waco: Word Books, 1987), pp. 408-409.
5. Laney, pg. 382.
6. 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. 569.
7. Laney, pg. 382; Constable, pg. 399 cites Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to
St. John: The Authorised Version with Introduction and Notes (1880, London: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1958), pg. 304.
8. Constable, pg. 399 cites Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers, 1:11.
9. Constable, pg. 399 cites The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, 2:25; 3:1 and Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, pg. 304; Laney, pg. 382 also cites Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica 3:1.
10. Laney, pg. 382.
11. Constable, pg. 399 cites Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, pg. 60. This book deals with this episode in Peter’s life most helpfully, especially for Christian leaders.
13. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 704.