John 21: 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Chapter 21 of the book of John is very interesting and worth spending significant time reading. The world had come full circle for the disciples. Just a couple years earlier Jesus walked on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and called some brothers and friends to drop their nets and follow him (Matthew 4:18). If we now fast forward approximately 2 years, in John 21 we find the disciples back in their fishing boats at the Sea of Galilee. So much had happened in this time. They had been following the Messiah, at least someone they thought was the Messiah, but he was no longer there. He had been killed and was no longer with them. Where were they to go now? And as we usually do in such times, we return to what we once knew.
We can only imagine what was going through the disciples’ minds. One disciple, in particular, must have been going through mental torment. Peter’s lasting memories would have been denying Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62) and then sitting outside bitterly weeping. How often did that scene replay in Peter’s mind?
But early on this morning, a few years later, Jesus stood on the shore and called out to the disciples again. At first they did not recognize him, but when they did it was Peter who jumped into the water and rushed to shore. A while later we read of Jesus reinstating Peter. Just as Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to acknowledge him three times (John 21: 15-17).
The most curious thing for me in this chapter, however, is what Jesus says next. He tells him that when he (Peter) was younger he dressed himself and went where he wanted, but when older he would stretch out his hands and someone else would dress him and lead him where he would not want to go. “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” (vs. 18b)
This is how he would “glorify God”? This is so counter-intuitive, especially for people like athletes who are, by definition, strong who rely on their bodies to succeed. How on earth can we glorify God in such weakness? I could picture Peter as some sort of athlete in today’s world (likely an Xtreme Sport). He was passionate, strong, determined. He seemed to have no fear and was always the first to step into any situation whether it was walking on water, jumping off a fishing boat or even drawing his sword when they came to arrest Jesus.
But God’s definition of strength is much different than ours and Jesus’ knew that through much pain, this warrior Peter would have to be humbled, so that he would no longer rely on his own power, but rather the power of God. One of God’s great dichotomies had to play out in his life. God’s power manifests itself in our weakness. If your physical strength is a pillar that you rest your life on, you will never realize the true power of God in your life. Learn from the saints who ran before you. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).