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The Executioners Are Coming–John 21:18

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.–John 21:18

John gospel iconDo you want to get older? Do you want your body to decline in all its powers? Nobody does. Getting older is something that, especially in our society, we fight against. Older people don’t have the cachet of wisdom that they do in some more traditional cultures, and if you don’t gain respect for wisdom (or don’t gain wisdom itself) as you age, then I’m not sure what you have to look forward to.

All you have to do is watch sports to realize that physical activity is a young person’s game. Baseball players tend to living on borrowed time at 40. Most football players do well to make it into the mid-30s. Gymnasts, especially female gymnasts, are pretty well washed up by 20.

Of course we will see people with good genes and good habits who can achieve great things as they age. I went to Israel with a man who, at over 70, grew impatient when our tour guide would not allow him to walk up the trail to Masada. Gene bolted from the group at the top of the hill and walked down. At the bottom, he had plenty of energy to do a human flag on post at the bottom. A few years after that trip, Gene was diagnosed with cancer. He declined very quickly and died having accomplished a great deal and living a rich life.

The lesson is that we all will wind up like Peter in the verse above. Jesus explained to Peter that he would decline in both his physical powers and his independence. In that particular case, Peter would be led away by executioners. But then we’re all being slowly led away by executioners, whether they be Roman guards, cancer cells, atrophying heart muscle, or general wear and tear. Our executioners might be internal or external, near or far, but they are coming.

But look at what Jesus had to say about those executioners. He didn’t say “panic” or “run.” He had just finished telling Peter to “feed my sheep.” I don’t know when or how I will die, but I will, unless Christ returns, surely die. The executioners are already on their way. The only question for me to answer is how I live between now and then.Will I do my best to keep the executioners at bay or will I hurry them along? Will I feed the sheep or will I feed myself?