The History of Simon Peter: 9. Follow Me

John 21:18‑19  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
18Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. (John 21:18‑19)Peter, trusting in himself, had said: " Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death." (Luke 22:3333And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. (Luke 22:33)) When he had been broken down in soul the Lord could teach him: " Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest." At the beginning of his career he disposed, so to speak, of his own strength (the girdle is what strengthens a man's loins*). Self-confidence was the result; he went whither he would, and walked thus in independence. " But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not."
At the close of his career, when his natural strength would have been weakened by old age, he would depend on another for strength, and would consent to be guided by others who would lead hint where perhaps his will would never have led him, " into prison, and to death." The thing would take place, but not with man's strength; it would be realized in the weakness of old age. " This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God." God would be glorified in this complete breaking down of man, when, old, weak, and led by others against his wishes, he might seem to have become a useless vessel. How habitually our judgment is wrong as to what suits and honors God. When, smitten in our bodies, perhaps even in our intellect, we are set aside by men, when feeling our uselessness, we might be tempted to say with the world, that we are no longer good for anything, God declares that we are of use to Him. Up to this the disciple, with all his energy, had often dishonored instead of glorifying the Lord. Now he is about to grow old and weak and to die, and in view of his death God says, "This is what glorifies me." In order that this glory should be realized, there must be broken, dependent vessels which have no strength but God's.
It was then that Jesus said, " Follow me." He replies to what Peter had said before, " Why cannot I follow thee now?" (John 13:3737Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. (John 13:37)) Henceforth he would be able to follow Him.
" Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?" (v. 20) Three things here characterized the beloved disciple. He was the object of Christ's love, and he knew it; he had confidence in Christ alone, and his attitude during supper showed that he enjoyed an intimacy of communion with the Father which others did not. There is no more simple motive for following Jesus, than this, His love, which we know attracts us after Him, wins our confidence naturally, and brings us into communion with the Lord. Peter was now allowed to follow the Lord step by step unto death. His experiences of self, previous to being restored (Luke 22:3232But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:32)), were over; he had lost confidence in self, gained confidence in Christ, and he entered now on the blessed pathway, in which he was going to learn the realization of dependence unto death. I say " was going to learn," for dependence is not learned in a day, however deep the work wrought in the soul may be. " When thou shalt be old," said the Lord. Peter had to be tried even to death, and there, as with his Master, would be found the crowning of a life called to glorify God. John had another mission; he was not called to follow the path of Christ in a violent death, but to remain figuratively until the Lord come, present during the decline and ruin of the Church, and with her at the coming in power of the Lord, the picture of which the disciples had seen on the holy mount in connection with the kingdom. But John also follows the Lord. He had not the same need, as Peter, of a command or encouragement to follow Him; love attracted him.
In following the Lord, Peter did not need to be occupied with others. " What is that to thee? Follow thou me." The moment one turns round, one ceases following, and one pauses. It is a serious thing. To follow, there must be unity of thought and a single eye. Peter could not be occupied with John and Christ at the same time. In order to follow the Lord closely, He must have taken possession of us so powerfully, that we belong no longer to ourselves. That is the only means of self-denial and of boldly taking up our cross. We count Jesus alone worthy of •being followed down here, even at the cost of a life of suffering. The disciples had followed in two ways, before and after the cross. In the first chapter of John, Jesus said to Philip, "Follow me." In the last chapter He says to Peter, "Follow me." In the first case, before the cross, the disciples had abandoned all to follow Him, for they had faith in Him; but in presence of Calvary their steps halt, and they all flee. Peter went on the last, and followed afar off, but we have seen how it ended.
After the cross the pathway interrupted recommences, but the disciples thenceforth follow a risen, heavenly Christ, who imprints His character on their walk, and it becomes heavenly. Before the cross, the multitude could follow, though it might be from quite other motives and feelings to the disciples; after the cross, the world can do so no longer; for it necessitates the death of the old man and the power of the Spirit, two things which only the believer finds in the death and resurrection of Christ.
May God give us deeper and sustained and increasing energy to follow Him. It is in following Him who has left us an example that we should follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:2121For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: (1 Peter 2:21)) that we become ensamples to others. Our privilege is to possess in Him a model Man, walking on earth in absolute perfection, and sanctified in heaven for us; but, let me repeat, it is in following Him that we become ensamples to our brethren. The apostle Paul said, " Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample." (Phil. 3:1717Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (Philippians 3:17)) Paul, in pointing to himself as one to be followed, had no desire to substitute himself for Jesus; but he showed the example of a man who, having no object but this blessed Person, had set forth to follow Him, pressing forward to win Him in glory. Thus Paul's individuality did not hide the Lord from his brethren, but, on the contrary, showed Him forth as the only object worthy of being followed and attained. H. R.