“Follow me” John 21:19
The cost of love is a surrender of the will
Last month we reflected on Peter’s restoration and recommissioning after he had denied his Lord. This month, continuing in that passage in John 21, we look at the cost of following Jesus.
To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ involves surrendering one’s will to his, and what Jesus said next to Peter is quite staggering in its implications. He reminded him that when he was younger he was free to dress himself and go wherever he wanted. Then he warned him that when he became old someone else would dress him and lead him where he would not want to go. In saying this, Jesus was indicating the kind of death Peter would die, and by which he would glorify God. An early church father tells us that Peter was crucified head downwards, and another wrote: “At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood this rising faith. Then is Peter girt by another when he is made fast to the cross”.
Then, after that solemn and truthful warning so that Peter could be in no two minds about the cost of discipleship, Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” No longer would that mean physically following Jesus, for he would soon be exalted to the presence of God the Father; but now discipleship would clearly mean to live as Jesus’ lived: by service, by suffering, and, if needs be, by death. So it is that Peter’s impending death can be said to have ‘glorified’ God, for a death met at the end of the road of obedience does surely glorify God.
I have no doubt that, on reaching heaven, I will find that I understood the way of salvation aright. But I do wonder sometimes if I’ll discover that I got the way of discipleship all wrong. The joy in the hearts of impoverished believers in the two-thirds world contrasts starkly with the lacklustre, cosy compromise that passes for so much modern western Christianity. In those parts of the world where it costs comparatively little to be a Christian, we have hardly begun to grasp the radical nature of the gospel. The gospels have a great deal to say about denying oneself, about taking the narrow road, about following Christ who went the way of being misunderstood, the way of suffering and of death. Yet I find myself practicing my discipleship so cheaply, and living it out so comfortably. Have the few years we have on earth come to mean so much to us, that the glories of the heaven that awaits us have almost lost their appeal?
But there are signs that change is afoot. God forbid that the day will come when evangelistic preaching or counselling will be branded ‘conversion therapy’, or that teachers lose their jobs for encouraging their students to think independently ‘outside the box’ and come to conclusions that are not ‘politically correct’ (according to whose politics?). But our nation, and our children and their children, are in need of fervent prayer. Yet we are not alone, and there is hope for the repentant. Even to the lukewarm church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) this promise was given, and can we not claim it for ourselves? – “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”.
Your brother in Christ,