Following Jesus, Part 1 (John 21:15-25)
Sermon for April 12, 2020
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11:30-12:30pm on Sunday
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Greetings New Cut Church and friends,
We will be opening up the final 10 verses of the Gospel of John. Here in these verses, Peter is reinstated after he had denied Christ three times. These verses that Jesus spoke after the resurrection give us a picture of what it looks like and what it means to be a disciple of Christ. John 21:15-25,
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 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.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
A church is fundamentally called to follow Jesus Christ. The church is called as a whole, as one body to follow Jesus Christ. Each person individually in the church is called to follow Jesus Christ. Following Christ is one of the main themes of the Gospel of John. In John 1:43, Jesus, when he found Philip, said to Philip, “Follow me.” That’s what Philip was called to do. Follow Christ. Now, here in the final verses of John, after the resurrection, in the reinstatement of Peter, Jesus gives instructions for how to follow him. As Christians, we are fundamentally called to follow Jesus.
In the final chapter of John, the disciples of Jesus had just finished eating a meal together. Then, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” Then Jesus, said, “Feed my lambs.”
Here, Jesus gives the charge to Peter, “Feed my lambs.” But first he asks Peter if Peter loves him. Love is the prerequisite to the service. Love for Christ is the prerequisite for any and all following of Christ. John Calvin, commenting on this verse, emphasizes the importance of love for Christ in service of others in the church. In this quote, Calvin is relating the passage most specifically to pastors, but the teaching is applicable to anyone serving others. Calvin writes,
Satan now attacks with all the stumbling blocks he can, to break or weaken the courage of a good pastor… Therefore he will never steadfastly persevere in this office unless the love of Christ so reigns in his heart that forgetting himself and devoting himself entirely to Him, he surmounts every obstacle.
Here, Calvin relates the challenges of an apostle to a pastor. But these challenges can also be related to any follower of Christ. Certainly, when you follow Christ, Satan attacks with stumbling blocks. Certainly, especially when you are doing the work that God wants you to do, Satan will attempt to break or weaken your courage. You may serve others wholeheartedly, but receive nothing but ingratitude. This is why it is so essential, when serving others, and doing the work that God wants you to do, that your love for Christ be the starting point. Otherwise, you will become discouraged. In order to persevere, love for Christ needs to be at the forefront. Your commitment to be with Christ, to follow Christ, to love Christ, needs to be your starting point.
As a church, it is essential to keep the love of Christ first in what we do. Otherwise, just like any individual Christian who does not keep the love of Christ first, we become weary and discouraged. Our first “go to,” our first step as a church is not to do more. It’s not be more innovative than before. It’s not to find organizational problems. It’s not to get back to the good old days. It’s simply, as Peter did, to love Christ, and to confess that love. Then service flows out of that love for Christ. That service may still be difficult and hard when done out of a love of Christ, but it is not wearisome and drudgery. When Jesus asked Peter the question, “Do you love me?” Peter immediately replied “yes.” There wasn’t a discourse on how Peter could love Jesus more, or what Peter could do to engender more love for Jesus. It was a simple question and answer. The answer was “yes.” Peter loved Jesus. So, do you love Jesus? If “Yes” then go and serve his people, and remember that you are serving out of your love for Jesus.
After asking the first time if Peter loved Jesus, and Peter answering in the affirmative, Jesus went on to ask him the same question. V. 16: “Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘take care of my sheep.” Then Jesus asks a final and third time in v. 17: “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’” The background of Jesus asking Peter if he loved him three times was the three times that Peter had denied knowing Jesus. So, as stated earlier, love for Jesus is a prerequisite of following Jesus. However, in these affirmations of love, there is also needed repentance as a vital aspect of following Christ.
Peter had denied Christ three times. The first time that Peter denied Christ was after the arrest of Jesus. Peter had followed Jesus to his first trial. Then a servant girls asked Peter if he knew Jesus. John 18:17 – “’You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?’ she asked Peter. He replied, ‘I am not.’” That was Peter’s first denial of Christ. Then in v. 18, the narrator notes that after Peter denied Christ, he went and warmed himself by the fire. When questioned of his allegiance to Christ, Peter chose comfort and ease instead of identifying as a follower of Christ. He warmed himself by the fire.
In the Gospel of John, the narrator does not move right to the second and third denials, but instead, paints the picture of what else was going on at the time, and between the first and second denial, showed what Jesus was going through. John 18:19 reads, “Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.” During the questioning, Jesus stuck to his purpose and mission in his confession of the truth. In this scene, Jesus, our Lord and Savior was slapped in the face and belittled. Jesus suffered. Yet he continue to stick to his purpose and calling. But Peter, instead of following Christ, was warming himself by the fire, seeking his own comfort. Vv. 25-27:
Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
So, Peter denied Christ three times. The rooster crowing was a reminder that earlier Peter had asserted whole heartedly that he would follow Christ no matter what. In John 13:37-38, “Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the roster crows, you will disown me three times!’”
As Jesus had foretold, Peter disowned Christ three times. What does this tell us about repentance and being followers of Christ? First, let me point to Jesus’ love, patience, and gentleness with Peter. In John, after foretelling of Peter’s denial, Jesus went right on to comfort his disciples. Jesus said in John 14:1-2, right after the prediction of Peter’s denial, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” Jesus took the denial he knew would happen seriously in his foretelling, and didn’t downplay the gravity of denying Jesus. However, he didn’t let his disciples be given into utter despair, and offered them comfort of being with Christ in his Father’s house. God is patient and loving with us. If God were not patient, loving, and gentle, how could anyone repent?
Take a child for example. If a child does wrong, and a parent is too harsh, what would motivate the child to return to the parent at all if the child knows that the parent is fundamentally harsh and unforgiving? But if a child knows that a parent is fundamentally forgiving and patient, the child can easily come to that parent. God’s forgiveness and patience calls us back to him. And didn’t Jesus’ patience emanate in his reinstatement of Peter when he asked Peter three times if Peter loved him? Jesus could have been much harder on Peter. But he didn’t need to be. Peter, although he had denied Christ, was an eager follower of Christ and loved Christ. Jesus wasn’t driving Peter to utter despair, but to a renewed following of Christ.
There is contrition in repentance, a sorrow for sinning against God. Sometimes the prophets and other preachers had to be more direct in pointing out sin to encourage genuine repentance. Peter had genuine sorrow, so Jesus did not need to be as direct. True and genuine repentance does not stay in sorrow only. True and genuine repentance always turns back towards a renewed following of Christ, not utter despair and defeat. If you are Christ’s disciple, he wants you to follow him! It is very necessary and normal to have sorrow over sin. But don’t stay there indefinitely. Turn towards the forgiveness of Christ and follow after him!
Since no one is perfect and everyone has sin, repentance is a normal part of the Christian life. This means that sometimes we need to admit a sin against another, name it for what it is, seek forgiveness, and then move forward with following Christ. There are many ways that we can confess Christ as our Lord. We can confess what is true. We can tell people about Christ. But one way that we testify of Christ and that we are followers of him, is that we willing to repent wen we are wrong. When we have not followed him, we say so, confess it, and endeavor to follow him anew.
As individual disciples, we need to be repentant and following Christ. However, there is a group dynamic as well. Individual sins that are not repented of can affect an entire group. And there are corporate, group sins as well. An example of the individual sins affecting the group is Achan’s sin in Joshua chapter 7. The Israelites had just had the great victory at the fall of Jericho. It was clear that the LORD gave them victory. However, they disobeyed the Lord in regard to the devoted things. Achan had hidden some of the devoted things in his tent. Then, the Israelites continued their military mission with the battle of Ai. They were self-confident after Jericho and didn’t take the entire military force. They were defeated at this battle. Joshua was devastated. Then the LORD said to Joshua in 7:10-12,
“Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
Then Joshua acted on what God said. The sin was dealt with. Then the battle of Ai was won. I have two points about this related to repentance. First, God sees individual and secret sin, and he withholds his blessing because of it. In my prayers, as your pastor, I have asked God what sins I need to repent of that affect the blessing of New Cut Church. God gave me an answer, and I repented. And I plan to continue asking God to reveal these sins. I would ask you to do the same thing. Ask God if there are any sins, individual or corporate, group sins, that needs to repented of. And if God reveals those sins, takes steps to turn away from those sins and towards God. If there is a group sin that God reveals to you, then we should talk about it as a group.
Second, notice how God’s blessings is tied to repentance. When the Israelites were unrepentant, the blessing was withheld. When they were repentant, they received God’s blessing. This blessing was given or not given despite practical circumstances. The spies had gone and spied out Ai. They concluded it wouldn’t be a difficult battle and that the whole military force was not needed. Practically, it looked like a win. But there was sin that God knew about. So, he prevented victory for the Israelites. God can take what seems like the clearest victories and turn them upside down. God can take armies and throw them into confusion. God often works through practical circumstances, and we don’t ignore practical circumstances. But over and over again throughout the Scripture, it is evident that God will work against practical circumstances to accomplish his purposes.
If you have a sin hidden away, know that working to bring the blessing upon yourself won’t work. God is the one who blesses, and can withhold his blessing, despite how much you exert to bring the blessing to yourself. Now, as a church, remember that we don’t bless ourselves. God is the one who blesses. He can withhold his blessing no matter how much we strive and do, if we leave sins undealt with and unrepented of. No number of staff members, hours of ministry, new programs, or savvy marketing, can work against God’s purpose. So, my encouragement, again, and I have done this myself, is to ask God if there are any sins, individual or corporate, that need to be revealed to you, to turn away from those sins, and to walk anew with God.
After the resurrection, Jesus called his people to be disciples, to be followers of him. Today, we focused on two aspects of following Christ. First, to follow Christ requires a love for Christ. We serve God’s people out of a love for Christ. We need to remind ourselves of this love for Christ as we serve. Second, a vital aspect of following Christ is repentance. Following Christ requires us to acknowledge where we have fallen short, turn back towards Jesus, and follow him anew. Next week, we will continue in this passage and focus on two other aspects of following Christ: Following Christ through suffering, and following Christ within our unique callings.
Grace and peace,