So we finally come to the end of John’s Gospel, and it’s exhibit “A” on how God’s word can squeeze a lot of meaning into just a few sentences. There are nine little words in this passage which, if you really will take their message to heart, will radically change your life as a believer.
In the last verse of yesterday’s passage, Jesus told Peter to follow him. I think he meant this literally, but it’s also a great symbolic end to the Gospel. We place our faith in Christ, he saves and forgives and adopts us, and then he calls us to a lifetime of following him. In Peter’s case, this included a dark promise that this lifetime of following Christ would end in his untimely death.
So Peter got up from his spot and literally (and figuratively) started following Christ as he slowly exited the scene. Peter turned and looked behind him, and there was John. The Lord had subtly promised that Peter would meet an untimely (martyr’s) end, and Peter asked Jesus about what would happen to the other apostle following them both.
Let’s get the slightly more trivial part of this story out of the way, namely John’s end. Church tradition says—and again, we have no reason to doubt it—that John was the only one of the Twelve who died of natural causes. He outlived all of his fellow apostles, and apparently a rumor somehow started that Jesus had specifically promised that John would remain alive until the Lord's return. It seems that the whole reason why John includes this little passage (and possibly the entire chapter) was to clarify what Jesus had actually said and to dispel the misunderstanding concerning him in the church. Jesus never promised that John would remain alive until he returned. He said something quite different.
Now, here we come to the nine words I mentioned, and I don’t think I can overestimate their importance and the impact they can make on your walk with Christ. After Jesus had predicted his death, Peter basically asked him “What about John? Is he going to undergo the same type of hardship and martyrdom?” Jesus replied, “"If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
Those are the words. We look at what’s going in another person’s life, maybe another believer. Maybe it’s something good that going on with them, or maybe we’re undergoing a really dark time in comparison with theirs. We might be jealous of what they have and we don’t. Maybe they have a great marriage, while ours is on the rocks, or maybe we're still single. Maybe they make more money than we do, or at least have more financial security. Maybe we’re going through extreme health problems, while they seem to be in the peak of health. And we ask our Savior "What's going on with him, Lord? You seem to have dealt me a rougher hand than him. Is that so?"
And our dear, sweet Lord comes to us and says as gently as he can, “If I want to bless him with a million dollars, a perfect marriage, a wonderful job, and the health of an Olympic athlete, and I choose to bless you far less, what is that to you? In other words, how is that your business? I love you dearly, but I think you need a reminder about who’s in charge here. Behind that very question lies an unhealthy curiosity or even envy about how I’m dealing with someone else.”
“Would you like to know what you need to be concentrating on? Instead of worrying about how I’m blessing or not blessing someone else, you focus on following me. By even asking that question, you’re showing that you’ve put your eyes on someone else, and that means you’ve taken your eyes off of me.”
I tell you, that one little sentence really changed my perspective when I really meditated on it. I’ve never been bitten by the “green monster” or “envy bug” regarding money. I guess it’s not in my nature to envy someone else’s financial wealth. I’ve never undergone a debilitating illness, so that wasn’t really an issue. My envy problem? Singleness. I was single for a looooooong time, or at least it seemed that way. The only girl I ever dated in high school ended up marrying my best friend, and their relationship blossomed under my very nose while I was still ostensibly dating her. Throughout my life I dated and got shot down again and again and again and again. I got to the point where I hated the very word “friend,” because that’s apparently what every beautiful girl I met wanted to be with me. You ever heard the phrase “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride”? I was “Always a friend, never anything more.” And all this time I saw brother after brother after brother of mine find a wonderful lady and marry her.
And then I finally came to a realization that however the Lord chose to bless me wasn’t really my business. It really wasn’t a legitimate concern of mine. What I needed to focus on was following the Lord Jesus Christ. Then I could let him be concerned about whether or when to grant me a spouse.
And then it happened. I met, courted, and married the most wonderful lady in the world. She complements my personality perfectly, and yes, she’s very physically attractive.
But that’s beside the point. Whether it’s health or money or a spouse or any other blessing which we see around us, if we want to mature in our faith, we have to finally come to a decision point. We have to hear our Lord as he gently shushes us and asks us “What is that to you? You follow me.”
Lord Jesus, I still struggle with the envy bug sometimes. Dissatisfaction can be such an effective tool in the Enemy’s hands, can’t it? By your grace, I’ll focus my eyes on following you, and nothing else.