Updated: May 20
by Samantha Shrauner
A few years ago, my sister and I trained to run a 5k race together. The way was smooth, clearly marked, and people stood on the sidelines and encouraged us on. It was a fun experience, and something I would sign up to do again. I am less inclined to do another kind of race that has become increasingly popular: the obstacle course run. On top of the physical demands of running, participants deliberately subject themselves to climbing challenges, dips in cold water, and other unpleasant experiences. As a runner, I can choose the easiest path. In life, the obstacles are unavoidable.
There are many snags on our paths of discipleship. Sins and failures can overwhelm us and leave us wondering if we have anything to offer God. Faithful service leads to suffering that seems like more than we can bear. We look at other Christians and wonder why they have blessings we desire or lack the trials that cause us great pain.
When we hit a stumbling block that knocks us to our feet, where can we find hope and help to keep going?
As we come to the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus has one last conversation with Peter. In John 21:15-22, Jesus addresses Peter’s past, gives him work for his present, and reveals how Peter will glorify God by his future death. By studying this passage, we can see what it means to follow Jesus in servant leadership, follow Jesus through suffering, and follow Jesus on the path that he has set out for each of us.
Follow Jesus in Servant Leadership
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17
On the darkest day of his life, Peter watched as Jesus was arrested. Three times that morning, Peter was asked if he knew and served Jesus, and three times Peter denied it. He had failed the Lord he had promised to serve.
Peter’s failure is great, but his story and his service to God has not come to an end.
When Jesus meets Peter on the beach, he comes to reconcile and not to condemn. Edward Klink says, “the questions Jesus asks do not seek to take life but to restore it, for the person asking the question has already paid the price with his own life.” (1) As Peter had denied Jesus three times, now Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. Peter has the opportunity to proclaim what he had denied in his fear. Jesus does not disqualify Peter from service, instead he is sent out again.
Jesus sends Peter to care for the people that belong to Jesus. “Feed my lambs,” Jesus says, then, “Tend my sheep… feed my sheep.” Peter is called to be a leader who serves, following the example that Jesus has set. Jesus is not giving possession of the sheep over to Peter; the flock belongs to Jesus. Rather, Jesus is assigning Peter as an “undershepherd.” (2) Jesus alone is the Saviour who has conquered death and broken the power of sin. But Jesus also calls faithful servants to care for the people of God and tend to their needs as a shepherd cares for sheep. In John 10 Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. In this passage he indicates the way that a good shepherd lives and acts: in times of trouble and distress, a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
Jesus the Good Shepherd has laid down his life on the cross so that his sheep may live. Now Peter is called to follow the example of faithful servant leadership.
Peter’s role is not to save the sheep but to care for them and give them spiritual sustenance.
If we are honest, we know that we have failed to keep promises that we have made to God. We have overestimated our capability and our love for God. It can be a heavy weight to recognise how frail and fickle we really are. Jesus our faithful Saviour does not come to condemn us for our failures. Jesus died to save us because he knows our need and cares for us. Jesus offers restoration when our rebellion against God leaves us wondering if we’ve broken our lives beyond repair. What is more, Jesus restores and then sends us out to serve.
In our Sunday sermon we heard that our salvation is an act of grace, but the call to service is also an act of grace. Jesus does not need us to complete his mission, but he calls us to be a part of what he is doing. When we see our failures, we can recognise the grace that Jesus extends to us and serve with humility instead of pride. God may call us to lead others, but we can put their needs first instead of using leadership to pursue our own gain.
When your awareness of sin tempts you to despair and makes you believe that you are of no good to God, look upon the Saviour who died to give to you life. Seek Jesus for restoration and remember that he is trustworthy and kind. When Jesus calls you to serve others, remember the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock and follow his example. When Jesus puts you in a position of leadership, remember who the flock belongs to. Use leadership to lay your life down, not to build yourself up.
In failure, in service, and in leadership, follow after your faithful Saviour.
Follow Jesus in Sacrifice
18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:18-19
Jesus has addressed Peter’s past failure and has given him a present ministry. Now, Jesus lays out Peter’s future: he will die a death that will glorify God. Klink explains that the phrase “stretch out your hands… was understood in the ancient world to refer to crucifixion.” (3) This death, reserved for the lowliest criminals, would not be shameful or meaningless. Rather, Peter would bring God glory for the witness that his death would provide. Peter’s earlier failure would not be repeated. In the face of a painful and cruel death, Peter would not deny Jesus.
Jesus ends his prophecy about Peter’s future with the exhortation, “Follow me.” Jesus does not call Peter to blaze a new trail of suffering, or to go beyond what Jesus was willing to give. Jesus also stretched out his hands. Peter will walk the same path that Jesus walked, and will endure the same death. It requires a great deal of trust to follow someone on an unknown and dangerous path. Peter is called to trust that Jesus will be faithful and that this path of suffering will not be in vain.
Samuel Ngewa reminds us that dying for Jesus is not only a history lesson from the ancient church. Just like Peter, modern African martyrs “remain our model to live for Jesus no matter what the circumstances.” (4) In every kind of suffering, we are called to follow Jesus. When God calls us to suffer for his glory, he calls us to follow in the footsteps of our suffering Saviour. It can be difficult for us to step forward with courage when we know that there are hard days ahead. When suffering looms on your horizon or a storm comes upon you unexpectedly, take courage as you walk the road that Jesus himself has walked. Turn to Jesus and ask for his strength, and pray that God would use your suffering for his glory. Suffering is a tragic consequence of sin in this broken world, but we serve a God who is able to redeem tragedy and restore what has been lost. In your hour of sorrow, suffering, and pain, follow after your faithful Saviour.
Follow Jesus on the Path that He has Set for You
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” John 21:20-22
If you spend any time with multiple children, it will not be long before comparisons arise. Kids are experts at sniffing out uneven treatment, and will quickly point out when they have been given the short end of any stick. My favourite response to such complaints is the conversation-stopper, ‘I’m talking to you about you.” In these verses, Jesus is talking to Peter about Peter. Whatever Jesus has for John, Jesus’ command for Peter remains the same: “You follow me.”
The gospel is the same, our salvation in Christ is the same, and our call to follow is the same, but our lives in the service of Jesus may look very different. Klink points out that “‘following’ Jesus is not one-size-fits-all.” (5) Even in the same church, faithful Christians can serve the Lord in very different ways. Comparisons are easy to make between believers, but we must keep our focus on the path that Jesus has called for each of us. Again, there is an element of trust in what God intends for our lives. Ngewa writes, “What matters is not whether we are martyred for Christ or keep serving Christ into old age. What matters is the Lord’s will.” (6) If Christ has given you a burden that no one else has to carry, or if Christ has withheld from you some blessing that others around you enjoy, renew your trust in the Lord and his character.
Follow Jesus on the path that he has set for you. The Saviour who died for you will be faithful to walk with you.
When it is tempting to think that God is not fair, leave comparisons behind and follow after your faithful Saviour.
In this short passage, Jesus addresses Peter’s past, present, and future. Jesus is faithful to restore Peter after failure and to set Peter on a life of service. In the same way, Jesus will be faithful to Peter in the future as he calls him to a martyr’s death. In these verses we see that across every circumstance of life, across failure, service, suffering, and comparison, we are called to follow Jesus. We can obey this command because Jesus suffered on our behalf and has made us new through his death, and because Jesus has risen again to life and has conquered death forever. We can follow Jesus knowing that he is powerful and trustworthy. When life threatens to come undone and you’re hesitant about where to go, follow after your faithful Saviour.
1) Edward Klink, John: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 912
2) Klink, 915
3) Klink, 916
4) Samuel M. Ngewa, “John” in Africa Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1322
5) Klink, 918
6) Ngewa, 1322