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What About John?

Please read John 21:20-25 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2022

Andrea Blundell wrote an article “Why We Put the Blame On Others – and the Real Cost We Pay.” She defined blaming as “the fine art of making others responsible for all the difficult things that happen to us.” She says the tendency to blame others is a ‘self-serving bias.’ She identified five reasons we blame other people

1. It’s easier than being responsible.

2. It relieves us of having to be vulnerable or accountable.

3. It feeds your need for control.

4. It unloads backed up feelings without having to show our emotions.

5. It protects your ego. What are you losing out on by blaming?

However, you cannot engage in blaming without negative consequences: here’s what you lose by chronically blaming others.

1. Your personal growth. Failure to take responsibility forfeits an opportunity to learn and grow.

2. Your power. Blaming implies you don’t have the power to change.

3. Your empathy. Blaming is a failure to speak truthfully about yourself and listen how others feel.

4. Healthy relationships. Blaming pushes people away.

5. Your positive influence. Blame is contagious. If you do it, others, especially impressionable people, will do it as well.

CONTEXT - When John discusses his purpose in writing his gospel in 20:30-31 - a subject he will take up again in 21:24-25, I get a feeling that he might’ve originally intended to end his gospel with chapter 20. Then he was inspired to add ch. 21, which our pew Bibles identify as an “epilogue.” It gives us another resurrection narrative, one that serves as a kind of transition between the Jesus’ Resurrection and His ascension. The choice of stories seems to put Peter in an awkward light, but the forgiveness Jesus showed Peter is an excellent addition to the gospel. I mention this to explain why Peter might have wanted to divert everyone’s attention to someone else.

Peter’s question focused attention on John, who focused attention on Jesus.

1. Peter hoped to change the subject.

After breakfast, Peter became the center of attention. (21:15-19) In John 18:15-27 we read about Peter having three times denied being one of Jesus’ disciples. This happened just as Jesus had warned Peter it would in 13:37-38.

To counteract Peter’s three denials, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (15-17) Each of those times Peter replied in the affirmative. Each time Peter replied in the affirmative, Jesus charged him to “Feed my lambs/sheep.” Most people think this was Jesus’ way of publicly restoring Peter, allowing him to save face.

After that, Jesus gave Peter a warning about the KIND OF DEATH by which HE WOULD GLORIFY GOD. (18-19) Jesus then completed Peter’s “reinstatement” by repeating the command He gave Peter three years ago; “FOLLOW ME.” (19)

Utilizing a little imagination, Peter may’ve hoped to change the subject to John. Otherwise, it’s a strange question to ask. (21:20-21) There’s no doubt Peter deserved and needed to be handled this way, but it’s also understandable how he might’ve gotten uncomfortable with that kind of attention. Verse seventeen says that Peter was HURT by this line of questioning.

It is no great exercise of imagination to see Peter’s reference to John as being an attempt on his part to change the subject, to get the spotlight off him. Whatever reason he had for asking the question, Peter - ever the blunt one - asked Jesus, “WHAT ABOUT HIM, LORD?” This attempt at misdirection is an illustration of human nature: when confronted with a failing or fault, our first instinct is to deny, and our second instinct is to blame someone else. The tendency to redirect blame was first manifest in Adam and Eve (read Genesis 3). After God confronted them with their sin, both tried to put the blame on someone else.

The editorial comment John makes at this point is strange. He reminds the reader that he - the “beloved disciple” - was the one who, days before, had leaned into Jesus at Peter’s request and asked Jesus, “LORD, WHO WILL BETRAY YOU?” (13:21-24) Did we need a reminder of Peter’s relationship with John to explain why, out of the other five disciples who were on that beach, Peter would point at John? Did we need a reminder that John was, in some ways, closer to Jesus? It’s a moot point and I can find no particular reason John included this aside.

Let’s return to the question of why Peter pointed a thumb at John. Peter may have been trying to redirect attention from himself to John.

Another aspect of human nature may be on display here. We know from the gospels that there was some competition among the disciples. We can safely assume, given the diversity of individuals among the twelve, that there were disagreements between those twelve men who made up the core of Jesus’ followers. Instead of settling on John randomly, Peter may’ve attempted to settle a score with John by picking him specifically out of the line-up.

However, paying attention to the context presents the most likely explanation. What came before verse twenty was Jesus foretelling Peter the manner of his death and commanded Peter to follow Him. This question may’ve been Peter’s response to the shocking revelation about his death. In such a situation it would also be natural for Peter to wonder about the rest of the disciples, if any of them would share his fate. As “misery loves company,” Peter saw John sitting there, minding his own business and blurted out (in effect), “What about John? How will he die?”

Jesus’ reply in v. 22 strengthens this interpretation, refusing to discuss John’s death, exaggerating that if Jesus wanted John to REMAIN ALIVE until He returned, that was none of Peter’s business either. Jesus’ reply is a little salty - “WHAT IS THAT TO YOU?” He turned Peter’s attention back to himself and repeated His earlier command. “AS FOR YOU, FOLLOW ME.” To paraphrase, Jesus said, “Peter, you let me worry about John. You concern yourself with following me and feeding my sheep.” Repeating the command, “FOLLOW ME” twice in four verses gives us all the information we need to know where Jesus’ emphasis was. He was trying to get Peter focused on following Him and let all else fall away: Peter’s past denials and his status in contrast to John included.

Here’s another interesting aspect to this passage: why does John’s gospel have two endings? Did he write through chapter 20 and then say to himself, “Oh I almost forgot something. That rumor about me and the Second Coming." Verse 23 gives us part Matthew’s reason for adding chapter 21. It’s as if he remembered about the RUMOR that had circulated in the Church that he would not die. It may be the purpose of the whole chapter to refute this one point.

John made it clear that the RUMOR was a misquote of what Jesus said on the beach that day. He repeated what Jesus had said to make sure that the reader knew Jesus had made no promise that John would live until His Second Coming, only that John’s death was none of Peter’s business. In spreading that RUMOR people had taken a simple statement and turned it into a great big misunderstanding. Having taken care of that, John ended chapter 21 in much the same way he ended chapter 20: assuring the reader he had prepared a trustworthy accounting of Jesus’ teaching.

2. P.S. This gospel is a trustworthy account. (20:30-31 21:24-25)

John accurately recorded Jesus’ words and deeds, just not all of them. (20:30; 21:24-25) 20:30 = THE DISCIPLES SAW JESUS DO MANY MIRACULOUS SIGNS IN ADDITION TO THE ONES RECORDED IN THIS BOOK. The MIRACULOUS SIGNS were given, in part, to validate Jesus’ claims about Himself and the prophecies He made. They were important and that’s why Matthew mentioned them specifically.

This statement also implies John was selective about which of Jesus’ miracles he reported. In fact, John told us about just seven miracles, while the other three gospels together report thirty different miracles.

In 21:24 the beloved disciple mentioned earlier is the very person who wrote this account, and he testifies here - as he did at the conclusion of the previous chapter - that everything in the epilogue is also ACCURATE. In 20:30 John spoke specifically about Jesus’ miracles. Here in 21:25 he speaks more generally about MANY OTHER THINGS Jesus did. John rightly admits he didn’t cover everything and exaggerates a bit to show it wasn’t possible, in a practical sense, to have done so. This may’ve been John’s answer to people who said, “I heard Jesus said this or did that, but I didn’t read it in your gospel.”

John’s primary purpose in writing this gospel was to enable life-saving belief in Jesus. (20:31) Having put to rest the notion that his purpose was to report everything Jesus did, John wanted his readers to know why he went to the trouble of writing this memoir of Jesus. His stated purpose was to enable his readers to CONTINUE TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF GOD. Belief in Jesus produces a very important effect: THAT BY BELIEVING IN HIM YOU WILL HAVE LIFE BY THE POWER OF HIS NAME.

John wrote his gospel so believers would CONTINUE to believe. And, in an alternate translation, so that unbelievers would come to believe in Jesus. Everyone who believes will have eternal life BY THE POWER OF HIS NAME.

Peter’s question focused attention on John, who focused attention on Jesus.

I appreciate Grant Osborne’s comment on this passage, as we all struggle with being Peter, fruitlessly comparing ourselves with others or attempting to shift blame off ourselves. He wrote: “God’s commission is not to the life we would like to live but to the life that God in His sovereign wisdom know is best for us.” (p. 302)

Many of us would like to be successful in the terms we define success or let the world define it for us. John allowed God to define what success meant for him; to live for Jesus as long as he lived and to tell what he knew about Jesus so that others would believe and be saved. All of us should share that goal and forget all the worldly signs of success. We who believe should desire to share the good news about Jesus so as many as possible might join us in the life Jesus gives.


RESOURCES:

https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/why-we-put-the-blame-on-others.htm, retrieved on 22 april 22,

Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 13, The Gospel of John, Grant R. Osborne

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