“What Is That to You? Follow Me!” John 21:22
The 21st chapter of John is best known for the story of Jesus’ thrice offered forgiveness of Peter and His exhortation for him to get back to work (feed my sheep). Often, however, we do not move past it to the important truth in the remaining few verses.
The closing story in John concerns a question Peter asked about “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who was likely John, the author of the gospel. For unknown reasons, Peter asked Jesus, “what about this man?” I have no idea what Peter had in mind here, and it really doesn’t matter. Jesus’ response stripped away all the extraneous concerns and questions, “If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow Me!” In other words, “don’t worry about him or anything else. Follow Me!”
Follow Me. We find this phrase more than 80 times in the gospels. It was Jesus’ preferred way to call people to Him, and underscores the continual motion of the disciple. We have to follow, constantly thinking about the way He wants us to live, thinking with His mind, daily walking after Him, living as He lived. How many times had Jesus said to Peter, “follow Me?” Actually, only a few moments earlier (verse 19) Jesus had said to Peter “follow Me!” Yet Peter revealed again his penchant for comparing, evaluating, appraising and asked a useless question about John. So Jesus again said, “follow Me!” He was obviously trying to get Peter’s undivided attention.
And Jesus is trying to get your undivided attention as well. Like Peter, we often trail off to other concerns. The economy, politics, football, family, work, etc. are all fine topics and deserve some attention until they lead us into distraction, anger, and anxiety, which they almost always do. We lose the focus on Christ and begin asking fretful questions about this, that, and the other. Life is much simpler and clearer (though still not always easy) when we seek to follow Jesus. You can refocus your attention on Him this week through two commitments.
First, resolve to learn something new each day about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I am not talking about adding information. You know the facts. You know the Scripture. But how well do you know the practice? That’s where the improvement comes for all of us.
Each day you can learn more deeply how to give a cup of water to the thirsty, to forgive as you have been forgiven, to be last of all and servant of all. Peter was concerned about his position. Jesus was more concerned about his performance. He wanted Peter to tend the sheep, and that is precisely what He wants from you. Following Christ is neither complex nor confusing. Simply become an agent of His grace every day to someone.
Second, be a follower of Christ precisely where you are. There are sheep all around you, in your family, your place of work, the stores where you shop. Those are the sheep Jesus would have you tend today. Get to work! Serve them! And stop finding that flock to be inadequate or unexciting.
A young woman I knew believed God was calling her to foreign missions, but with a husband and children it seemed unlikely that she could relocate to another country. My task, I am sure, was to help her see her family as an entirely worthwhile mission field and the obvious place to which God had called her. I also tried to help her see other sheep in her community as the flock that needed what she uniquely could bring. Eventually she did find an array of ways to serve God precisely where she was. As He often does, God brought the mission to her.
For fear of somehow missing our calling we sometimes sacrifice what is at hand in search of something grand! “Do not dream of distant worlds” when every day God will bring you into contact with people who need encouragement and help right where you are. Sharing a burden, however lightly, is a glorious calling for the individual Christian and even a church.
William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, was asked to explain the drive and depth of his ministry. He replied, “Jesus Christ has all of me.” That was Peter’s challenge, and ours. Does Jesus Christ have all of you? Peter had Pentecost in his near future. Good for him! But should your calling be somewhat less imposing do not complain. Jesus would say, “What is that to you? Follow Me!” And so we will.
Dr. Terry Ellis
January 17, 2011