Follow Jesus – John 21:18-25

Follow Jesus

Nick Esch, 12/16/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

John 21:18-25

I want to start today by first drawing your attention to the last two verses of John’s Gospel. In verse 24, John points out that he is the one referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loves throughout the Gospel, and that he’s the one who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and that his testimony is true… In other words, this Gospel was written by a reliable eyewitness… John was there, he saw great things, and he experienced the great love of Jesus, so what he says is trustworthy, and we can and should take it to heart…

Then in verse 25 John says, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” There you can hear his heart; it’s like he wishes he could’ve wrote more, that he could’ve testified to more of the works of Christ… But then again, there are so many that this world simply couldn’t handle a book that big… And you see, that’s been John’s goal throughout this Gospel; not that we would learn of everything Jesus has done, but that we would behold His glory… That’s actually been my title for this sermon series over the last two and a half years: The Glory of Christ In the Gospel of John… And what John is telling us here is that Jesus is so glorious that His glorious person and work can not be contain in all the books in the world—the world itself cannot contain His glory… So though John seems to wish he would’ve wrote more, there’s no way he could’ve ever exhausted the glory of Christ… there would’ve always been more to write about because Jesus is that amazing…

The riches of God’s grace in Christ, and the wonders of His mercy and miracles are inexhaustible; indeed, He is infinitely glorious… We will spend all eternity marveling at such things… So we shouldn’t expect to have an exhaustive record of the person and work of Christ, and as we study God’s Word we shouldn’t expect to exhaust His Word of all of its meaning and applications. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)… We will never master the Word of God… and we’re not supposed to… Our goal is not to master God’s Word, but to be mastered by it… So remember that as you read, study, and sit under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word… Keep that in mind especially as you gear up to take on a new reading plan in 2019.

There’s so much more that John could’ve wrote about, but we shouldn’t focus on that; we should focus on what he did tell us about… What we have seen in John is exactly what we and this world need… We have seen who Jesus is: He is God incarnate—what this time of year is all about; but He didn’t stop there… Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin, and then He lived the perfect sinless-life that we all should be living… But, throughout His life He showed Himself to be more than a man—to be the God-man, as He did things only God can do… He showed Himself to be all-knowing, all-powerful, to have power over life and death, over sickness and pain; even the winds and the waves obey Him… As He said of Himself, He is the great I Am in the flesh… He is God, and His life testified to that fact… But He also lived as the perfect man, and then, in His great love for the Father and love for us, He died the wrath absorbing death that we deserve to die, and He rose from the grave in glory on the third day to save His people from their sin—to save all who would repent and believe in the good news of Christ…

What John has been showing us throughout this Gospel is that Jesus, who is the Word (as I read earlier), who is God, became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… Indeed, if we will truly look at John’s Gospel we will see His glory; by God’s grace we will see the truth… And as we behold the truth of His glory we will joyfully pick up our cross and follow Him… That’s been John’s goal in this Gospel, that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we would have life in His name. And these last verses go right along with that goal…

Now, what we find in our text today is the risen glorious Christ, once again speaking with His disciples, but specifically to Peter, with John near by… Jesus has just walked Peter through repentance for his three denials and into restoration as an apostle and church leader… And now He’s going to leave him with some final words and a final charge that will direct the rest of his life… And we must keep in mind that this charge is in light of the glory and grace of Christ that has been revealed thus far… So with that in mind, look with me at the first two verses of our passage, verses 18 and 19.

Jesus, speaking to Peter, says, “‘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.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” Now, this seems like a strange statement… On the one hand it seems as though Jesus is speaking to Peter about what will happen as he gets older; he will grow less and less independent, and others will have to take care of him… And that’s true enough; if we live long enough we will eventually grow dependent on someone else’s care… And that’s a good reminder for Peter who tends to always lean towards self-sufficiency… But there’s more going on here than just that…

John tells us that Jesus said this to Peter to show him by what kind of death he would glorify God… And the key to understanding this text that way is when Jesus says, “you will stretch out your hands,” and essentially be made to go where you don’t want to go… In the Roman world at this time everyone associated the hands being stretched out with crucifixion—as the person to be crucified would have his arms forcefully stretched out as far they could go, and then have his hands nailed to the cross beam… And that’s exactly what Jesus is telling Peter here: that he will be martyred for his faith, that he will be crucified… And church history tells us that this did indeed happen; in fact it seems that John wrote this after Peter’s death, knowing that it happened just as Jesus said…

Now I would venture to say that most of us wouldn’t be comforted by knowing when or how we’re going to die—especially if it’s by crucifixion; but there is comfort in what Jesus is saying here… The comfort comes from the fact that Jesus knows; indeed Jesus doesn’t just know when and how Peter is going to die, but He has ordained it to be so… Jesus is the glorious God in the flesh, He is the radiance of the glory of God… And God tells us in His Word, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39)… “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6). “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15)… Indeed, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21)… It’s God’s, it’s the Lord’s, it’s Jesus’, it is His purpose, it is His will that stands; indeed He alone is sovereign…

Jesus is the glorious sovereign God of the universe, and He has ordained our steps and our days… He chose when we would be born and He has chosen when and how we will die… God is completely sovereign… And that’s not meant to discourage us or confuse us, but to encourage us… We’re not meant to get hung up on that, but to be comforted and to live our lives knowing that we are in the care of a sovereign and good God… We are to work hard and sleep well knowing that whatever our God ordains is right…

The old Princeton theologian, A. A. Hodge, said it well when he said, “Does God know the day you’ll die? Yes. Has he appointed that day? Yes. Can you do anything to change that day? No. Then why do you eat? To live. What happens if you don’t eat? You die. Then if you don’t eat, and die, then would that be the day that God had appointed for you to die?…Quit asking stupid questions and just eat. Eating is the pre-ordained way God has appointed for living.” God is sovereign and man is responsible; that’s what we see in Jesus’ words to Peter… And the fact that God is completely sovereign should give us great comfort…

Part of the reason this would’ve been comforting to Peter, is not only because of God’s good sovereignty over his life and death, but that Jesus told him that he was going to glorify God in his death… So on the one hand this seems to mean that Peter will remain faithful until the end. This must have brought great joy to Peter’s heart as he’s just been restored from having a weak faith that led him to deny Christ three times… It’s like Jesus is telling him, “You have denied me three times before, but from now on you will deny me no more.” Peter will stand firm until the end…

But Jesus isn’t merely saying that Peter will be found faithful in the end, but that he will die in such a way that he will magnify the glory of Christ. He will be martyred…. He will be crucified… And he will die well, pointing to the majesty and supremacy of Jesus in and through it all. And that’s what happened; tradition tells us that the Roman Emperor Nero had Peter crucified for his faith, but as they were getting ready to do it Peter begged them to crucify him upside down because he did not think he was worthy to hang on the cross the same way his Lord and Savior Jesus did. Even in his dying he wanted the world to know that Jesus was supreme; that Jesus is worthy of praise, not us… So when Jesus tells Peter that he’s going to die this way it should’ve been a great comfort to him because every Christian should desire to glorify God, to honor Christ in life and death…

I wonder if you’ve ever given any thought to glorifying God in your death… Unfortunately most don’t give any thought to glorifying God with their life, let alone in their death. But we are called to do both. Paul’s heart in Philippians 1:20 should be the heart of every Christian. There he says, “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Our great aim in life and death should be to honor Christ because our great love and desire is Christ… We have seen His glory; by His grace our eyes have been opened to the truth of who He is and what He’s done, and we know that He is worthy to be praise, both in our living and in our dying… But you might be thinking, “But what does that mean? I mean, I’m probably not going to be crucified for my faith, so how do I honor Christ in my life and my death?…” Well, consider James Boice…

James Boice is a hero of the reformed faith; he was a great theologian, author, Bible teacher, and pastor… He was the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for 32 years—from 1968 to the day he died… On June 15, 2000 James Boice died of cancer… And just one month before that he spoke to his congregation, telling them of his cancer, and saying to them, “A relevant question, I guess, when you pray is, pray for what? Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and he certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing. Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, ‘Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?’ But he didn’t do that. And yet that’s where God is most glorified.”

James Boice went to the grave seeking to honor Christ; his great desire and fervent prayer was that God would be glorified, that Christ would be honored in his body, whether by life or by death… And indeed He was… Or take the words that John Bunyan utter on his deathbed… He said, “I long for nothing so much as to be dissolved and be with Christ. I am content to depart when He shall call me. I have long borne a crucified heart, and by grace I shall enter into rest. Stay me not, for I am bidden into the presence of the King! Weep not, for though I pass away the Lord abides with you and never faileth!”

You see beloved, we die for the glory of God the same way we live for the glory of God: by showing that our greatest desire, that our greatest love, that our greatest treasure is Jesus Himself… Our life and death should proclaim, “to live is Christ and to die is gain…” When the great preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, was sick and dying in his last days and could barely get out of his bed, he was visited by some young preachers, who asked him if he was saddened that he could no longer preach… To which he responded, quoting Luke 10:20, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven…” He said his joy was never in the power of preaching Christ, but in Christ Himself, whom he was soon to see face to face…

Beloved, what I want you to see is that whether you die young or old, whether you are martyred, die of illness, of old age, or whatever… however you go, if you go knowing and loving Jesus you will glorify Him in your death… And the only way to prepare for that day is to live to glorify Him this day… Give your life to knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, living for Jesus, and helping others do the same… Show with your life that there is nothing and no one better than Jesus, your Lord and Savior… Delight in Him above all else and you will magnify Him above all else…

What we see Jesus telling Peter here is that He will hold him fast to the very end… That by God’s sovereign grace in Christ, Peter will glorify Him in both his life and his death… But that doesn’t mean that Peter is passive; Jesus commands him in the last two words of verse 19 to follow Him… Jesus is sovereign, but Peter is responsible… Like what He said in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Jesus is here calling Peter to do this same thing… To quite literally die to self and embrace the cross for Jesus’ sake… And though we may not be literally crucified for Jesus’s sake, this same call applies to us; and this same call is what we see in the rest of our text…

In verses 20-23 we read, “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’ So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’”

Here we see Peter already getting distracted from his call… Indeed, Jesus told him that he would be found faithful in the end, but that doesn’t mean that his walk would be perfect… Peter would give his life to following Jesus, and even give his life for following Jesus, but he was never a perfect follower of Jesus… Here Peter is distracted by John, who is apparently near by, and asks about him… It’s like he said to Jesus, “Ok… So I’m going to glorify You in my death by being crucified for Your sake… Well, what about John? Is he going to be martyred too?” And Jesus basically says, “If it is my will that John die another way or not die at all, what is that to you? You need to worry about being faithful to your calling, not John…’

Jesus wasn’t telling Peter that John would never die, He was just giving him an example, and explaining that we are all individuals; we each have our own life and calling that will play out in their own time and way according to God’s sovereignty… We are all given different gifts and abilities, we all have different personalities and traits, and God has a plan for each of our lives, and no oneis exactly like the other… It’s been said that man makes ice cubes, but God makes snowflakes; meaning that God makes each of us uniquely with care and specific design. We are all called to know, love, and follow Jesus, but that will look somewhat different for each of us… And so Jesus tells Peter, “Don’t worry about John’s calling… Worry about your own… Follow me…” And He’s speaking that word to us today as well…

Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t love, serve, help, and hold accountable our brothers and sisters in Christ; that’s actually a part of how we follow Jesus… What Jesus means here is that we should not neglect our calling by looking at others… We should not neglect our walk with Christ by focusing on the walk of others… Like when Jesus says, “how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5)… So many love to point out the sins of others without ever dealing with their own… Or so many live in envy of others without ever using the gifts that God has blessed them with to love and serve… Or we use the disobedience of others to excuse our own… “Sure, I’m not living how I should, but I’m not as bad as my neighbor…”

Beloved, we must not live this way… We are called to follow Jesus, come what may… I’m reminded of the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. He made this long list of resolutions that he lived by, and the first one was, “I will live for God…” And the second was, “If no one else does, I still will…” While following Jesus most certainly means that we love, serve, and care for others in their walk, in the core of our being we most hold this great conviction, that we will live for God, that we will follow Jesus, even if no one else does… We can’t be distracted by the gifts, the calling, the faithfulness, or the lack thereof of others… God has individual callings for each of us that we must be faithful to… But also, we must remember that for each and everyone of us He has the great calling for us of following Jesus… What He says to Peter He says to all of us, “Follow me…”

So think about that for a second… What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it look like? As we’ve seen in John, to follow Jesus is to abide in His Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32)… And that’s what has happened to us if we’re truly Christians… Just like the whole aim of John, we have, by God’s grace seen the truth of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ—we have seen the truth of His Word and we are now submitting ourselves to it, we are seeking to be mastered by it, and abide in it… Jesus is now our Lord and His Lordship plays out practically in our lives as we learn His Word and submit ourselves to it… And we not only submit to it, but we are transformed by it…

And as we’ve seen briefly, to follow Jesus also means dying to ourselves or denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily… We die to ourselves first by realizing that we, in and of ourselves, are doomed, depraved sinners in desperate need of a Savior… We are sinners who are guilty of offending an infinitely glorious God… In and of ourselves we have only lived for sin, self, and Satan; so we must die to self, and trust in, submit to, and follow Jesus… That’s how we first become Christians, by dying to self, repenting of our sin—forsaking sin, and believing and trusting in Jesus as Savior, and surrendering to Jesus as King in self’s place… So if you’re here and you’ve never done that I beg you to do it now. Repent and believe in the gospel. Surrender to Jesus; die to self and follow Him.

But that’s not only how we become Christians; this is to be a daily reality, Jesus says… Daily self-denial means allowing Jesus to sit on the throne of your life each and every day… To do what He calls you to do… To go where He calls you to go… To say what He calls you to say… To give what He calls you to give… We are to daily hand our lives over to Him… Imagine that your life is a blank check; you are to hand it over to Jesus daily and allow Him to fill in that check however He sees fit… Dying to self means giving yourself, in every way, to Jesus… But He says that whoever loses their life for His sake will save it… It’s only in losing our lives that we find true life… Indeed, true life, true eternal life is only found in following Christ…

Conclusion

Friends, we can and we should give Jesus our lives because He is infinitely glorious, He’s worthy of our lives… But because Jesus is infinitely glorious, He’s also infinitely loving and gracious, and so when we give Him our lives, when we die to self and follow Him, we then find true life… Jesus is God the Son, He’s the radiance of the glory of God, He’s the God of the universe in the flesh; and He’s sovereign and He’s good… We see that most ultimately in the cross… That this great God loved us and gave Himself for us… Well, in light of such love, it is only right that we love Him and give ourselves to Him… Because of His grace, because of His love, and for His glory we should give ourselves to honoring Him in all things, whether by life or by death…

My hope and prayer for us as we have worked through John’s Gospel has been that we would truly behold the glory of Christ, that we would get a glimpse of Him as He is in His glory, and thus fall in love with Him, and be compelled to pour out our lives for Him… Because you see, it’s only when we truly love Jesus that we will truly follow Jesus… That’s why just before this Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him… We must love Jesus more than ourselves if we are ever going to die to self and live for Him… So friends, see Him for who He is: the infinitely glorious sovereign good God of the universe, and give yourself over, daily, to following Him… He will bless you and keep you, but you must commit yourself to following Him… It will not be easy, but it will be worth it; though you must die to self, if you follow Christ, if you live for Him, you will find that He is more than enough… So give yourself to following Jesus…