I can’t believe we finally finished. It’s been about a year and a half (counting breaks) and 57 lessons, but last night we had our final lesson in our expository series The Word Became Flesh: A Study of the Gospel of John. We’ve spent week after week tracing the teaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and trying to understand its relevance to us today. It’s been a fantastic ride, and one that’s helped me to grow immensely. Last night, we finished the study by looking at John 21:20-25, and thinking about the future, and our human tendency to want to have all the answers before we move forward. Jesus deals with this tendency as it crops up in Peter, and we’re reminded that for the disciples and for Christians today, the end of Jesus’ earthly story is just the beginning of our walk of faith.
When we left off last week, Jesus has just warned Peter of the price that Peter’s faith would ultimately carry. Before calling Peter to follow him, Jesus assures him that he is calling Peter to lay down his life. History tells us that this was true, as Peter was killed for preaching Christ (likely by crucifixion). Now, as we pick back up, Jesus and Peter go for a walk and talk further, followed by John. With the news of his difficult future fresh on his mind, Peter begins to think about the close bond that Jesus has shared with John. He and the other disciples seem to acknowledge John and Jesus’ close friendship (notice carefully the way that the betrayal question is posed in John 13:21-25), and John is the only disciple on record as staying by Jesus’ side throughout his crucifixion. Peter thus asks Jesus the question, “What about him? Will John share my fate?” Peter has questions, and he wants them answers. It seems that he wants to know, “Why me? Will the others have to suffer like this? Is this punishment for my betrayal?” We may not know exactly what was going through Peter’s head, but we do know that he was concerned with his future, and with why he would go through something. Most of us can relate to that, to asking the big, bad “why” question to God at some time or another. What kind of answer does Peter get to his?
In verse 23, Jesus answers by basically asking Peter, “If I allow John to live until I return, what would that have to do with you?” Peter had questions, and he wanted to know Jesus’ answers. However, Jesus doesn’t offer the answers he’s after. He just calls Peter to trust him. All of us have questions about this life. Why wasn’t my family experience what I wish it could have been growing up? Why didn’t this relationship or that pan out like I’d hoped? Why have I had to suffer in this way? The possibilities are endless. Now, I’m not saying that having those questions is wrong in and of itself. After all, Job had his share of questions for God, and we are told rather explicitly that he did not sin through his suffering. However, the point (and ironically enough, the same point that Job learned by the end of the book) is, if God never answers your questions, and only tells you “trust me,” is that enough for you? Is your faith in your God and Savior, or in your own ability to rationally map out whether or not your own spiritual journey has made satisfactory sense. Do you believe the promise of Romans 8:28? What about Matthew 28:20? Is that enough for you? Look, we’ll always have questions. This world, this life, is wrecked by sin, and its consequences are more far-reaching than I think we’ll ever be able to really comprehend. Sometimes God in his grace shows us answers. Other times, he doesn’t. At the end of the day, the million-dollar question is whether or not you’re willing to trust him when your understanding runs out. That’s the essence of faith. As we reflected on these things last night, it brought to my mind the words of England’s King George VI in his Christmas address of 1939. I leave you with them.
“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”