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Biking by the river the other evening, I passed a one-legged man in a wheelchair and realized again that life just isn’t fair. Why should I have two legs to pedal while he is constrained to a chair?
It made me think—again—of a workshop I attended at The Gospel Coalition Conference. I tend to think of comparison as something mostly women deal with, but Carolyn Mahaney shared about the time the apostle Peter was also tempted to compare.
Peter’s Death Sentence
Isn’t it exciting to eavesdrop on others’ conversations? Amazingly, in John 21, we get to listen in on Jesus’ enigmatic conversation with Peter:
“’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.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)” (v. 18, emphasis added)
Just like that, Peter receives his death sentence—death by crucifixion, just like Jesus. What a lot to take in! But there isn’t much time for Peter to process, because Jesus is still talking:
"And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (v. 19).
Where’s Your Sympathy?
Carolyn Mahaney registered her surprise at Jesus’ statement, “Follow me”:
“Shouldn’t Jesus have sympathized with Peter? Instead, He gave a command. The one thing that would most help Peter would be to follow Jesus, so He would have grace and enjoy intimate communion with Him . . . Isn’t it true that we want pity when we’re experiencing something difficult? Yet our greater need is to have someone caringly give us biblical counsel. And that’s what our Lord gave to Peter.”
She pointed out that like Peter, we all have things that happen in our lives that we don’t prefer, circumstances that we can’t change. But each of these has been assigned to us by God so that ultimately we might glorify Him (v. 19).
Well What About Him? What About Her?
At this point in the conversation, Peter pipes up. He turns around, spots John following them, and says to Jesus, “What about this man?”
He starts to compare. Boy, do I relate. How easy it is to turn my attention away from God and His Word and look at others, to compare my circumstances with theirs.
The Lord answers Peter’s question, but not as we’d expect. He repeats his command, along with what appears like a sharp rebuke and a rhetorical question:
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (v. 22)
In other words, “It’s none of your business. Stop comparing yourself to him and follow me.” In Carolyn’s words:
“Jesus allowed Peter no time to indulge in self-pity. Again, we might be tempted to think this is insensitive. But yet again, this rebuke is the most loving thing Jesus could’ve said to Peter. See, for Peter to turn his attention away from the Savior and look at John was the worst thing he could do, the most detrimental action he could take. Sinful comparison is a futile, destructive exercise. It robs us of joy and destroys our peace . . .”
Jesus would say the same thing to you and me when we compare ourselves to others: “What is that to you? What I have assigned to them is not your concern.”
It’s not enough to just stop comparing ourselves with others. There was also something Jesus said Peter needed to do instead: “You follow me” (v. 22).
In order for Peter to face his future martyr death, he needed to follow Jesus. He didn’t need to hear or do anything else. Jesus gives us the same command. For every unwanted experience, the Lord says, you follow me. And as we obey, we receive the grace we need.
What circumstance has you comparing your lot with others? How can you practically fix your gaze on Jesus today—rather than others—and follow Him?
Tradition has it that Peter died around A.D. 65, which means he lived three decades with this prediction hanging over him. But he didn’t allow this to distract him from following Jesus. Lord, please show us—like Peter—how to glorify and follow You in the personally-tailored ways You’ve assigned for us to show You to be the great God that You are. Thank You, Jesus, that You followed Your Father all the way to the Cross and paid our sin debt so that we might be friends and daughters of God.