Questions God Asks

What Is That to You?

John 21:18-22

Teaching t12658


Review series topic. Sometimes God asks questions to stimulate reflection, to unearth mis-beliefs, etc. But some of His questions are rhetorical – making statements in an emphatic way, alerting us to a problem or danger (e.g., “Was I talking to you?”).

Jesus asks Peter this kind of question in Jn. 21 – read 21:18-22. “What is that to you?” is a rhetorical way of saying “That’s none of your business!” It is a way of strongly reminding Peter of his primary responsibility (“Follow Me!” – twice).

Jesus’ “Follow Me” to Peter presumes a pre-existing relationship between them. We saw two weeks ago that Peter made a decision to entrust himself to Jesus as His Savior and Messiah. And on that basis, Jesus granted Peter the privilege of His forgiveness and acceptance (even when he denied Jesus). It is within the context of this relationship that Jesus says to Peter, “Follow Me” – not as a requirement for His acceptance, but as an invitation to greater intimacy and fruitfulness with Him.

God’s order is the same for each one of us. Not follow Jesus in order to have a relationship with Him, but begin a relationship with Jesus through simple faith in Him (20:31), and then embrace His invitation to “Follow Me.” If you have made this decision, then (like Peter) you need to be aware of two common ways you can get sidetracked from following Him. Let’s look at the first one...

Sidetrack #1: Ego-centric self-direction

Re-read 21:18,19. As a youth, Peter enjoyed the freedom of self-direction – deciding what he wanted to wear, deciding where he wanted to go, etc. Jesus doesn’t rebuke him for this, but He gently informs him that following Him will take his life in a different direction – and that this direction will limit his options and even include something he will not want – a martyr’s death.

The New Testament does not teach that all Christians will be martyred, but it does teach that following Jesus is incompatible with ego-centric self-direction. There is a healthy self-direction that is essential to human development (children with parents), and to human society (contra governmental tyranny). But following Jesus means doing what He wishes (a lifestyle of love), which will sometimes involve sacrificing what I wish. Following Jesus means submitting to His direction (including His ethical direction), which will sometimes involve going down a painful path I would otherwise avoid.

This is what Jesus says to all who would follow Him in Matt.16:24 (read; note “anyone”). “Deny yourself” doesn’t mean self-loathing or asceticism, but it does mean giving up the right to self-rule, self-determination. That prerogative now goes to Jesus. “Take up your cross” doesn’t mean seeking for ways to suffer (not that many of us are in danger of this!), but it does mean accepting in principle that following Him will sometimes take us into very painful experiences that we could avoid.

How different this is from American culture, and most American spirituality – including American Christian spirituality! Self-direction is arguably the core value of our culture. Freedom is defined as unrestricted self-direction – even to the point of defining for ourselves what is right and wrong (moral relativism). Self-directing Christianity is popular because it facilitates our self-chosen agendas, helps us accomplish our self-chosen goals (read 2Tim.4:3,4). The Jesus of this kind of “Christian” spirituality is not the Leader whom we trust and follow, but the Genie who grants us our wishes, the Butler who takes orders from us, the domesticated House-pet that comes when he is called (contra ASLAN – “not safe, but good”).

Why does it make sense to follow the real Jesus even though this means giving up self-direction? Here is Jesus’ four-fold answer:

“Because I rejected self-direction out of love for you” (read Matt.26:39). Jesus followed His Father’s direction even when He preferred to avoid what it involved (DEFINE THE “CUP”). He did this, not because He liked it, but because it was the only way by which we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. You can trust His direction of your life because of this kind of love.

“Because I will be with you as you follow Me down this path” (Ps.23:4,5). Following Him will lead through “the valley of the shadow of death” – through dangerous places (EXAMPLES). But His presence and leadership will protect us – both from our enemies (“rod”) and from our own foolishness (“staff”). This is why the safest place is always following Him.

“Because self-direction is ultimately self-destructive” (read Matt.16:25a). We should already know this. Our culture, which exalts self-direction more than any other culture (PROLONGED ADOLESCENCE; COHABITATION & EASY DIVORCE; CONSUMERISM; INTERNET LIFE) is deeply unhappy (EMPTINESS; BOREDOM; LONELINESS)! This is because we were not designed for self-direction...

“Because following My direction will lead to true satisfaction” (read Matt.16:25b). Following Jesus results in greater loving intimacy with Him and His Father (Jn.14:21,23) – and nothing satisfies your soul more than this! Fulfilling Jesus’ mission for your life (even though it involves restriction and pain) glorifies God (21:19; “displays God’s reality to others) – and nothing satisfies your soul like living for this purpose!

I have been following Jesus (very imperfectly) for the last 45 years. I still battle daily with self-direction. But I can honestly say that I have never regretted even one decision to trust Jesus’ direction over my self-direction. Have you made the decision as a Christian to fundamentally reject self-direction and embrace Jesus’ direction for your life (Rom.12:1)? Do you need to reaffirm that decision in a current specific area of your life (e.g., sexuality; forgiveness; ministry role; financial generosity)? Is your heart protesting with excuses and aversion? “What is that to you? You follow Me!”

Sidetrack #2: Ego-centric comparison to others

Now let’s look at another common sidetrack from following Him (re-read 21:20-22). Peter’s question was apparently not motivated by healthy concern for John’s welfare (“Is he going to be OK?”), but by self-centered comparison (“If I am to die as a martyr, shouldn’t he have to also?”). Jesus’ question is a strong rebuke that alerts us to the danger of Peter’s outlook:

“What is that to you...?” means: “That’s My business, not yours!”

“... You follow Me” (21:22) is stronger than “Follow Me” (21:19). Su as the first word emphasizes that Peter must pay attention to Jesus’ command. Like my Dad telling me when he taught me to drive: “You get your eyes off of the pedestrians – and keep them fastened on what’s ahead of you on the road!”

So here is the second common sidetrack from following Jesus – ego-centric comparison to others (especially other Christians). There are valid forms of comparison that are required to attain worthy goals (e.g., putting athletes in positions that suit their size and talent; outing the most mature Christians in positions of leadership in the church). But ego-centric comparison is motivated by pride and leads either to conceit or to complaint (as with Peter here). Both kinds of ego-centric comparison come naturally to me and have been compulsive habits of my heart for as long as I can remember (DRIVE HOME FROM MEN’S RETREAT). Can you recognize complaining comparison? It often expresses itself in “Why?” questions, such as:

“Why does my adult life have so much more hardship than his does?”

“Why did I have to endure so much more pain in my childhood than she did?”

“Why don’t I have the personality and natural talents and spiritual gifts he has?”

“Why do people appreciate what he does more than they appreciate what I do?”

“Why is her ministry more fruitful than mine?”

Why is Jesus so uncompromisingly critical of what is universal to and comes so naturally to His followers? I’ll give you three biblical answers:

Because it is “without understanding” (read 2Cor.10:12). That is, it reflects an arrogant outlook that discounts God’s perspective (see below).

Because it promotes accusations against God’s character, which can lead to personal spiritual breakdown and detrimental effect on others (read Ps.73:2,3,13,15).

Because it results in disunity rather than unified teamwork (read Jas.3:14-16). Notice the source of this perspective (“demonic”). Notice the ego-centric synonyms James uses for competitive comparison (“envy;” “bitter jealousy;” “selfish ambition”). And notice the inevitable outcome (“disorder and every evil thing”).

The Bible gives us several insights that help us gradually overcome ego-centric comparison:

Acknowledge the limitation and distortion of your perspective (1Cor.13:12), and affirm God’s omniscience.

We don’t see the whole picture on why God has allowed certain hardships or denied certain blessings. God says He is weaving our lives into a beautiful TAPESTRY that we will see one day, but that now we mainly see only the underside tangle of colored knots (2 SLIDES). In the meantime, He asks us to trust that He knows what He is doing (Job42:3,4 – LAST WEEK).

We don’t know how God is dealing with other Christians. They may have past or present sufferings we know nothing about. They may have big sufferings yet to come. What we envy of others might expose us to temptations that would be destructive to us, or block us from true spiritual power (see 2Cor.12).

Engage regularly in the right kinds of comparison.

Instead of comparing what God gave you to what He gave others, compare what you deserve from God with what God gave you through Christ (Eph.2; Rom.5). All ego-centric comparison implies that we deserve better and that God has been unfair. But what we deserve from God in view of our sins is His condemnation. Yet He has forgiven our sins through Jesus’ death, and made us His children, and given us His Spirit. When I focus on how rich God has made me compared to what I deserve, this promotes humble gratitude – which helps cut the nerve of comparing myself with others.

Instead of comparing your “car” (e.g., your life with all its hardships) with others’ “cars,” compare the “car” you ride in now with the destination you’re headed toward (Rom.8:18). Our destination matters far more than the “car” we ride in! God’s reply to a missionary complaining that no one welcomed him home while a worldly dignitary received a lavish welcome was: “But you’re not home yet!”

Focus mainly on how He wants you to follow Him in your present situation. This is Jesus’ express alternative to comparison – “You follow Me!” If you focus primarily on eliminating ego-centric comparison, it won’t work (Rom.7). But if you focus on the above and on following Him, this will weaken comparison’s grip. Why? Because the more you focus on following Him, the more you will experience the goodness of His plan for your life, the more insights you will get into why He has ordered your life this way, and the easier it will be to trust Him with the things He doesn’t show you.

“Each of our lives is a sovereign creation of God... We are not to be involved in unprofitable musings about the relative providences of our lives – how one brother has it easier than another, or how one ministry is fraught with hardship and another is not, or why one believer becomes famous and another remains obscure. We are each simply to follow Christ.”


NEXT WEEK: Mark11:51 – “What do you want Me to do for you?”

SUMMARIZE comparison helps & discuss other biblical helps

Crucifixion victims were chained to the cross bar when they began their march to the place of execution. Peter will be “dressed” in this way (“wearing” the cross-bar) and taken where he would not have chosen. Peter was arrested by Emperor Nero in 64 AD and sentenced to death by crucifixion. Tradition says that Peter requested to be crucified upside-down because he was not worthy to be crucified like his Lord.

R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe (Crossway, 1999), p.482.