Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” John 21:22
We’re finishing up our series on Easter at a distance. Our first entry was Peter, following at distance to the home on the high priest and eventually denying Jesus. Today we’ll revisit Peter sometime after the resurrection. Meeting up with the disciples back in Galilee was part of the plan. Jesus had instructed them in Matthew 26: 32. The angels at the empty tomb told the women that was the plan (Matthew 28:7) and Jesus Himself told the women to pass that on to the guys (Matthew 28:10).
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:6-7 that the risen Christ was seen by 500 people and particularly by His brother, James. It is likely those appearances happened in Galilee. But here, John records a particular conversation Jesus had with Peter. It is one of my favorites in the Gospels, so my own challenge will be to keep this post to a reasonable length.
John tells us seven of the disciples were there with no comment on where the others were or why they weren’t there. That presents us with a bonus takeaway before we even get to the discussion of Peter. When we disregard the instructions of Christ, we miss out. We miss out on His presence. We miss out on Him revealing Himself. We miss out on the amazing work He is doing. Notice Thomas is included in this group (John 21:2). He missed the Resurrection Day appearance of Jesus. He learned his lesson. He wasn’t about to miss out again.
While waiting for Jesus, Peter goes back to fishing. It was familiar and comfortable. After all he’d been through in the last couple of weeks, it was probably a welcome distraction. Something simple, physical. Something connected to his family, his heritage. They spent a long night and had exactly zero fish to show for it. Jesus is on the shore but they don’t recognize Him. He calls out to them to throw the nets on the right side of the boat and they pull in a miraculous haul of fish.
Here’s another important takeaway. When we are following Jesus, the results are His responsibility, not ours. It is easy for us to get caught up in metrics and thereby get discouraged. We are called to faithfulness not production quotas.
After cooking a breakfast of fish, Jesus engages Peter in a grace-filled, but very frank conversation about love and feeding sheep. Commentators and perhaps the notes in your study Bible will explain that Jesus and Peter use two different Greek words for love. Jesus used the word agape. That’s way Jesus loves, with a committed, self-sacrificing love. Peter responds with phileo. It’s committed, but not all in. Perhaps after his denials, Peter is not willing to agree to something he can’t follow through with.
Jesus, however, keeps on him. Not only will the job of feeding and tending the sheep, other believers, require a full commitment, but Jesus very frankly says that Peter’s ministry will cost him his life. He has to be all in.
Then Peter asks Jesus what will happen to John. Jesus recognizes the stall tactic, and responds. “Don’t worry about him. You follow me” (v. 22). No more following at a distance, Peter.
John leaves the ending out. We know from Acts and from Peter’s letters that he embraced that mission Jesus gave him. He was bold. He was obedient and he and the other guys turned the first century world upside down.
Just like Peter, we can no longer follow at a distance. We must be all in when it comes to our love and commitment to Christ. We need to follow His instructions and go where He leads. What will happen when we do? I don’t know. But Jesus says, “You follow me.”