Explore the Bible: Do You Love Me?

The Explore the Bible lesson for May 28 focuses on John 21:15-23.

  • The Explore the Bible lesson for May 28 focuses on John 21:15-23.

In this last chapter of John’s Gospel, we see Peter’s redemption story unfolding. John reveals the sacrificial lengths to which Peter eventually would go as a transformed follower of Jesus and as one who is faithful to the mission.

Peter had denied Jesus three times in order to save himself in chapter 18. Here in chapter 21, Peter confesses his love for Jesus three times, and Jesus predicts his life one day will be taken from him, implying the martyrdom Peter traditionally is believed to have endured.

Immediately following this tense conversation, Jesus directs Peter (and present company of disciples) to, “Follow me!” (John 21:29). Peter assumes this directive means those who chose to follow him in that moment would expect the same sort of fate as him—martyrdom. Peter questions if John would be included in such a fate, to which Jesus redirects Peter’s focus back to Peter’s own personal calling and responsibility rather than getting caught up in the details of John’s fate.

From these final accounts in the Gospel of John, present-day readers and followers of Jesus are inclined to: (1) consider the possibility that they need to deny themselves and commit their lives to following Jesus and (2) follow Jesus faithfully without being distracted by others’ walk with the Lord.

Peter was hurt (John 21:17)

Facing the truth of our infidelity to Christ hurts. Yet, each follower of Jesus must acknowledge this as a part of their story. Before committing ourselves to Christ, we—like Peter—have denied Jesus for our own sake. And we—like Peter—have been forgiven and offered redemption. This passage challenges us to acknowledge our personal shortcomings humbly and to forsake ourselves for the sake of Christ.

Often, the transformation one might experience in Christ is described as relief, but it is not dishonest to express this massive shift in the soul as a painful experience as well—bearing the brunt of personal guilt, grief of losing the former self, the cost of discipleship, existential growing pains. We find all these factors at play in the life of Peter.

Nevertheless, Peter’s growth continues even beyond this grand redemptive experience. The notion of life-long sanctification is an important one to note from Peter’s story of transformation. Even with this hopeful turning point in Peter’s story, we find that he is not perfect. He immediately gets sidetracked when he begins comparing his fate to that of John. The redemptive moment is not the final act of redemption. Rather, the turning point is also the starting point as Christ continues to work in our hearts to re-direct us toward Christ-likeness.

You must follow me (John 21:22)

Following Jesus means focusing on him and being committed to one’s own personal path ahead with him as Lord. This is not to say that we ignore our community or the needs of others for some kind of self-serving spirituality, for such are undoubtedly important components of living out the commands of Christ (“Love one another,” John 13:34; “love your neighbor as yourself,” Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39). Indeed, we are to care about and foster the spiritual growth of others (Hebrews 10:24). However, Peter’s concern in this moment is a curiosity that poses as a distraction for the present instruction: “Follow me!” Getting caught up in who will receive what fate is not the matter at hand.

We can often get distracted in ways similar to Peter’s distraction here. We might play the comparison game, comparing our faith journeys to others. We might feel the weight of responsibility for others, placing the burden of others’ fate on ourselves. We might even get jealous, wondering why God might allow us to experience greater suffering in our walks with Jesus when others do not seem to have as much trouble.

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These experiences may warrant valid laments for us to bring to God, which God welcomes. Even so, the underlying principle remains that such concerns should not become a hindrance to each of our own personal commitments to the Lord Jesus. With our hearts set on following Christ and being obedient to the calling he places on our lives, we can proceed in coming alongside others in their walks with the Lord through discipleship. However, personally choosing to follow Christ must come first and must direct everything else.

Jordan Davis is NextGen pastor at First Baptist Church in Plano.

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