By Daniel H. King
The Lord demands that we follow him in spite of hard duty. Too many take the easy road. They want to avoid the hard service. Jesus says to them, “Follow me.”
It is an entirely human trait to take the easiest route to any destination we want to reach. This is apparent in a number of ways, not least of which is the tendency we have to “make a path” where none was intended, across a yard or through bushes or other obstacles to our objective. It is surely the bane of the grounds-keeper of any public park or facility to deal with this peculiarity of human beings! Man will build roads through the most (seemingly) impassable areas: mountains, rivers, deep valleys, and inhospitable climates because they represent the shortest distances to places where he wants to go — quickly. We want the fastest and easiest road to our destination.
But sometimes there are no quick routes to get where we want to go. And there is no way to make one. This is true of heaven. There are no fast or easy ways to get there. This is aptly illustrated in an incident related by John in one of the post-resurrection stories which he told about an exchange which took place between Jesus and Simon Peter.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou was 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. Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me (John 21:18-19).
The critical line in this conversation is the final one. Jesus told Peter, “Follow me. ”What comes before this line and afterward is both interesting and instructive. It offers considerable information about the road that leads to heaven, suggesting that there is no quick or easy route. Christ told Peter to follow him:
Even If Following Spells Hard Duty
In verses 15-17 Jesus had stressed to Peter his responsibility in feeding his sheep. Peter was to bear the burden of a shepherd: many sheep with many problems. We read in his first epistle that he was then serving in the capacity of an elder (5:1). There he urged other elders: “Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according to (the will of ) God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4).
The eldership is hard duty. No getting around it. Any- one who does it is to be admired and appreciated if he serves well. This is exactly what the Scripture says: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). But the Lord demands that we follow him in spite of hard duty. Too many take the easy road. They want to avoid the hard service. Jesus says to them, “Follow me.”
Even If Following Leads to Persecution and Death
The Lord told Peter in verse 18 that when he was young he clothed himself and went wherever he liked, but when he was old someone else would “gird” him, and he would stretch out his hands and another would carry him where he did not wish to go. In speaking so, Jesus was defining the general method of Peter’s death. Ancient tradition has unanimously informed us that Peter died by crucifixion as his Lord had done, upside down by his own request. Following Jesus led to persecution and death for Simon, the fisherman apostle. But the Lord still told him, “Follow me.” Suffering and death are terrible things. One would hope to avoid them. Undoubtedly Peter did not look forward with any relish to the thought of dying by torture. But he did so because his Lord had said to him, “Follow me.”
How often in our own lives have we wrestled with our religious and spiritual convictions and the consequences which they bring to us in this present evil generation. I suppose the Lord might say to us, “You have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin . . .” (see Heb. 12:4). And Peter might say to us, “How easy you have it compared to the burden the Lord asked me to bear! ”We ought to be ashamed!
Even If Following Leads You Where You Would Not Go
“Another shall gird thee, in places where we would not go.” Men who preach the gospel often journey into dangerous situations in countries where they are not wanted. Preachers and elders frequently have to intrude themselves into circumstances they would prefer not to be involved in, but because they are followers of Christ and have been given responsibilities having to do with their fellow Christians, they cannot avoid involvement. When you have seen a brother or sister commit sin, you must go to them in a spirit of meekness and speak with them in loving concern (Gal. 6:1). You probably will not want to go. If you go, you may not be well received; in fact, in some cases you will be told to mind your own business (and you must be assured that the matter is your business before you go!); but if you are following Christ you will go in spite of everything. The Lord said, “Follow me.”
Even If Others Must Bear A Lighter Load
In verses 21-22 Peter asked the Lord what was to be- come of John: “Peter therefore seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.”
He must surely have been thinking, “If I must die a tortured death, then is some terrible thing also going to happen to John. If not, then it isn’t fair!” Well, dear friend, life is not fair. Never has been. Never will be. Furthermore, God does not promise us that just because we become followers of Jesus Christ, it will suddenly become fair. It won’t. All the evidence we have about John suggests that he died of extreme old age in Ephesus. Peter, on the other hand, was crucified. Peter was asked to glorify God by a martyr’s death. He complied. John was asked to glorify God by a long life lived in service to Christ. He also complied. They both obeyed the Lord’s command to follow him. No matter how easy or hard it is for ourselves or others, Jesus still demands, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.”