by Kathleen Petersen

“God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life!” opens the persuasive message of a popular gospel tract. I’m curious. If passages such as the one below were paired with that sentence, how many readers of that tract would be more cautious about following Jesus? In the final portion of John’s gospel, Jesus revealed unpleasant details about the finish of Peter’s earthly life: 

I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go.” (Now Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God.) After he said this, Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.”

Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. (This was the disciple who had leaned back against Jesus’ chest at the meal and asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”) So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours? You follow me!” So the saying circulated among the brothers and sisters that this disciple was not going to die. But Jesus did not say to him that he was not going to die, but rather, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours?” John 21:18-24 NET

Peter might have felt that the crucifixion of his Master was more than enough to endure — why did Jesus pick him to experience that same kind of shame? Peter reacted by appealing the fairness of his projected end by hoping to compare it to John’s last days. If John was scheduled to receive more favorable treatment, could Peter possibly negotiate a better deal? 

But Jesus firmly redirected Peter’s impulsive, agitated thoughts and underscored his purpose in revealing Peter’’s unique destiny.

…“Follow me.” John 21:19 NET

…what concern is that of yours? You follow me!John 21:22 NET

For those with strong personalities like Peter’s, who are inclined to arrange their own pilgrimage, “wonderful plans” rarely include “bringing them where they do not want to go”. Conversely, those with less aggressive natures lean into the idea that a truly loving God will supernaturally fulfill their secret hopes and dreams, give them special advantages, and make life safe. Sign me up!

Some of the most significant stumbling blocks to following Jesus into his sufferings are like Peter’s. We compare ourselves to seemingly better-off disciples and/or seek escape hatches when Jesus asks us to follow him into self-sacrificial service. Rather than choosing to follow him no matter the results, we are drawn to shortcuts offering immediate rewards.

The Apostle Paul gave the following perspective on what ordinary disciples should anticipate when relinquishing earthly, tangible desires to follow Jesus. Meditate on this: 

…but we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body…Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 and 4:16-18 NET

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