“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.” (John 21:18)
These are Your words, Jesus, to Peter here. And John tells me that these words were to show Peter what kind of death he would receive to glorify You. But the fact that it’s followed by Your telling Peter these words, “Follow Me,” makes me think that it doesn’t just tell about Peter’s future death. It tells me that this is also a story about Peter’s current and continual death. And therefore, it’s an opportunity for me to learn about the benefit of my death also.
Now this isn’t supposed to be creepy with all this talk about death and talk about my death. I’m not talking about my martyrdom here like You were talking about Peter’s future martyrdom. But Peter’s future martyrdom didn’t start in the future. Peter’s future martyrdom was not an unrelated future event to the things starting to take place. And this is important stuff for Peter to grasp just as it is important for me to grasp. Any time You repeat “truly, truly” You are saying, “Pay attention here. This is important.”
You start with Peter at the beginning. You start with Peter at the beginning of himself. And where was he at the beginning of himself? When he was young, he used to dress himself and walk wherever he wanted to. When he was young, he was in charge of himself. He did what he wanted to. He made his own decisions. He put on what he wanted to put on. He conducted himself in his life the way he desired to conduct himself. And isn’t that true for me, for each of us?
When I was young, before I knew the Lord, I made my own decisions based on what I felt was right. I went my own way. I felt what I wanted to feel. I acted the way I wanted to act. I did what I wanted to do. I conducted my life based on my feelings, my hopes, my dreams, my idea of what was right or what was wrong. I didn’t realize it, but my life was all about me. It was all in my hands and up to me. Or so I thought. And it was the same for Peter.
That’s because there was a time when I “girded” myself, when I dressed myself, when I “zonnumi”ed myself. I was a prisoner all tied up in my own affairs. But that time doesn’t have to remain for all of us. There can come a day when I’m a different kind of young. What if my youth is changed by regeneration? See, that word for young, “neos,” can mean new, or youthful, or fresh, or regenerate. And what if my life comes to that point where I am regenerated in You? What if it comes to the point where I see that girding myself is not sufficient? What if I turn to trust and faith in You, Jesus, and allow You to gird me? What if, instead of dressing myself, instead of tying my hands in the way I want them tied, and tying them to the things I want them tied to, I allow myself to be under Your control? What then?
Does it happen all at once? When I surrender to Your control over my hands and feet and mouth and spirit and soul and body and mind, am I all there at once? Even in my regeneration, aren’t I learning to allow myself to be girded by You? Aren’t I still learning in my youth as a child of God what it is to fully surrender into Your hands? And even though it’s the best and safest place to be, isn’t it the scariest place for me to be at the same time? Is it not hard to give up my control? Is it not going to be accompanied with some struggle and some battles as I surrender?
So Peter must learn and I must learn. And there is no one who escapes the learning. We must undergo a change of total character. Peter once conducted his life in the ways he had determined. Now he must conduct his life in the way You would determine. He once determined his conduct based on his subjective impulses. Now he conducted his life based on Your desires for him. See, once Peter walked where he delighted to walk, where it brought him pleasure. But not so now in the same sense.
Now, as Peter would mature, his walk would change. And one day would come when he would willingly stretch forth his hands and allow someone else to physically bind them for torture. He would choose to submit. Actually, in his submitting, according to historical accounts, he offered more than just his hands. He offered to be crucified upside down so as not to be equal to the Lord he had once denied. He did not fight. He surrendered. Because in surrendering to these men, he knew he was surrendering to God. And this didn’t happen all at once. Because he chose to walk the path that led to this “end.” He chose the path that led him where he “would not,” the path that was not his delight, that was not “thelo.”
“Thela” has to do with expressing “definite action, completed execution, divine desire and absolute readiness. It does not express wishful hope, cognitive acknowledgment or good intentions…If you are willing to do the thelema of God, you do it! You don’t analyze it, think about it, contemplate it or imagine it. You do what He says. It’s not actually a matter of willing to do it. It is in fact doing it. To thele to thelema is to execute and perform.” (Skip Moen) Now think of that. At one point we are wanting to do our own way because we want to feel good. But doing Your way, God, isn’t about feeling good. It doesn’t even make sense in human nature terms! I mean think about it. I might have to die for my faith! I might have to forgive someone who was responsible for murdering a loved one or who did terrible things to me! I might have to give up all my rights! And what else? Wow, this is hard! This is following You. This is following You?
So this is the promise You give to Peter here? This is his encouragement to follow You? And Peter didn’t turn away? Others turned away at less than that and said, “This is too much for us.” Why not Peter?
Peter knew. He understood. He didn’t get it all yet. Who does? But he already knew that there was no one else he could turn to. Jesus was Eternal Life. This was the One. And if the One paid such a price for him, how could he expect anything less from his own life?
It’s not at all about what Peter delights to do or what he delights in. It’s not about what I delight to do or what I delight in. It’s only about Who Peter delights in. It’s only about Who I delight in. And that will compel me to withstand every trial, every hardship, every heartache. Why? Because Jesus, You alone are our Joy and our Delight.
And actually, when I line my vision up with Yours, that makes so much sense. Why? Because it means I’m finding delight in the One Who purposefully found delight in me. When I stop to contemplate that it’s actually baffling. I mean, when I think of all You left, all You stepped down from, all You actually suffered for me for the “joy that was set before” (Hebrews 12:2) You, I just can’t fathom it. You went to the depths of suffering the wrath of God for me. How did I ever become worth that to You? There is nothing, absolutely nothing I have ever done in my whole life or that I will ever do that could ever warrant You owing me that or anything else. Why would You choose to do that? Why would You choose to walk that totally undelightful (to say the least!) way for me? Why would You stretch out Your hands and let others bind You and carry You where You had no delight in going? Yes, You did that for me. You did that for Peter. And when I really understand that, and when I understand the depth of Your delight for me, that You would do that for me, then that does something about the depth of my delight in You. And frankly, there is nobody on earth that has ever loved me and delighted in me as deeply as You have. Who else has demonstrated this intensity of love for us?
Peter followed because he knew that it was more than following teachings. Peter followed You, Jesus, because Your love drew him after You. Your love strengthened and encouraged him. Peter knew that following You wasn’t easy and it comes with a price, maybe many prices and steep prices. But he also knew that the delight in being delighted in by God is worth the most extreme price. I think Peter would have sold every last pearl he had just to follow You. Yes, he gave up his earthly treasures to purchase Your delight. And I’m not talking about him wanting to make You happy here. That would be trivial. I’m talking about experiencing the delight of living in the delight of the Lord, in the middle of Your way and Your will. I’m talking of walking with You, of standing with You. I’m talking about being so wrapped up in participating in the things that delight You that it fully delights You. I’m talking about revelling in the joy of a God who revels in the joy of us being His. And I’m talking about revelling in it so much that I would pay any price with my life to stay right there in the middle of that joy of Your presence.
You are still telling me the road ahead is rough. There will be pain and suffering. It will be hard. And You are still saying, “Follow Me.” If You are truly my delight, then I will have to follow You no matter what. To not follow You would be to lose my Delight, to lose my Joy. And because You suffered greatly for me because I was Your joy, well, let me be so strong in You that I would be able to withstand every trial not because I’m strong, or anything special, but because I can look beyond them all and wait for and look forward to my final joy being fulfilled in You. May Your love for me, compel me toward the same love for You. May Your joy over me, and for me, and in me, fill me with the same joy over You, in You, and for You. I dont’ have to enjoy what’s happening in my life. But I can always delight in You.