Follow Me Back to all sermons
Date: October 16, 2015
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: John 21:1–21:25
Synopsis: In preparing for a baptism service in two weeks, Pastor Cam preached this message to challenge people who have not been baptized to take this important step, as well as to challenge all who have been baptized to assess their lives. After we believe in Jesus for our salvation, what then? In Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21 comes the answer: Follow Me!
Two weeks from today, we will be doing a baptism on Friday morning. In the past, I have often preached a message on the Friday of the service – both for those being baptized as well as those who might be considering it. The problem with that strategy is that if anyone is convicted through the message of their need to be baptized, they then have to wait 5 or 6 months until the next scheduled baptism. So instead I have decided to preach the message on baptism today – while there is still time for people to decide that they want to be baptized.
Actually, it’s not a message specifically about baptism, but rather something deeper and more fundamental. It is a message on the life-changing commitment that lies at the heart of what is symbolized in the act of baptism. But I am getting ahead of myself.
For our text today, we will be looking at the Gospel of John.
To give some “big picture” context, John wrote his gospel to answer four key questions: Who is Jesus? Where did he come from? Why did he come? How do we know?
It would seem that John brings his Gospel to a fitting conclusion in John 20:30-31 in which he clearly states his purpose in writing the book:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
All four questions are addressed in these verses.
Who is Jesus? He is the Christ, the Son of God.
Where did he come from? If he is the Son of God, then he came from God.
Why did he come? He came so that we could have life through his name.
How do we know? What is the evidence? At least one line of evidence is cited: the “signs” or miracles that Jesus did and which John recorded for us.
So these verses form a great ending, a great summary, a great conclusion to the book. But the Gospel of John does not end with chapter 20.
So here’s my question: why is chapter 21 here? Why didn’t John end with chapter 20? What does chapter 21 add to the account? The story is a familiar one. In the days following the resurrection and the first appearances of Jesus, the disciples have made their way back to Galilee; back home, back to the familiar scenes they knew and loved so well. And there, I believe, Peter got a bit tired of waiting, of doing nothing. And the lure of the familiar drew him back to the lake. And there he decides to go fishing. Six of the others join him.
What were they thinking? We don’t know for sure. Possibly they were worn out from the emotional roller coaster they had been on. I suspect the events of the previous weeks, even the entire three years may have seemed unreal, almost like a dream as they stood on the familiar lake shore. Maybe they thought they might find solace, peace, some tranquility in their old profession. “Life as it used to be” might have seemed a very attractive idea.
So they got into a boat, pushed off from the shore, and went fishing. They fished and they fished. Again and again they cast their net into the water. Every time they drew it in – empty. We are told they fished all night and caught…absolutely nothing!
As the light of early morning began to color the sky, a man appeared on the shore. He was some distance away. The light was still dim. They couldn’t tell who it was. The man called to them in the boat, his voice carrying across the water; “Children, haven’t you caught anything?”
They answered, “No! Not a thing.”
The voice came back: “Cast your net on the right side of the boat. You’ll find the fish there.”
So they did. Instantly their net was so full of fish, they couldn’t even pull it in. When they saw what had happened, it was the perceptive disciple John who remembered a similar event earlier in their experience. “It is the Lord!” he said.
When Peter heard that, he threw his cloak on, because he’d been working in just his underclothes, and jumped into the water to swim to Jesus. He found him standing by a charcoal fire, with a few fish and some bread already cooking. When the others arrived, Jesus instructed them to bring some of the fish they had caught. We are told there were 153 fish in all, large fish. And so they enjoyed a fish barbecue breakfast together there on the beach.
I want to pick up the reading there, from John 21:15-25:
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 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.” 19 (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.”
Jesus and the Beloved Apostle
20 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?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 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?”
24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
25 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.
So back to my earlier question: why is chapter 21 here? What does it add to John’s Gospel? I think it is here to communicate a very important message. As we have seen, chapter 20 concludes with a call to faith, a call to believe in Jesus and to receive the gift of eternal life.
Chapter 21 tells us that the Christian life does not conclude with believing in Jesus. That is where it begins. Chapter 21 tells us that if Jesus’ claims are true, he deserves our allegiance and our obedience.
In a sense, it is captured in a very simple phrase from the lips of John himself in the story. It is the final answer to the “Who is he?” question, but it also has powerful life implications. When they tried to draw in the net and couldn’t because of the weight of the fish, it was John, ever the perceptive one, who was first to drew the correct conclusion. “It is the Lord.” And if he is the Lord, that holds not only theological implications but personal ones as well. It’s not just a question of identity. It is a question of role. He is the Lord. He is the Master. He is the Sovereign One!
Do we believe that? If we believe, we must follow. If we truly believe, we must truly follow. If Jesus’ claims are true, we cannot go back to life as it was before. There is a higher calling on our life. For everyone who believes, Jesus calls us to join him on the path of discipleship. The words Jesus said to Peter he says to us all: “Follow me!”
As I meditated on this account, I found four significant principles of discipleship, or following Jesus, that I would like to share with you.
1. THE PATH OF DISCIPLESHIP IS OPEN TO THOSE WHO HAVE FAILED.
There were six other disciples at that early morning picnic. Why is Peter the focus of this account in chapter 21? I think it is because he had failed so miserably. How easy it would have been to write him off. How easily Peter might have written himself off. In spite of Jesus’ clear warning, he had brazenly denied his Lord; not once, but three times.
By the way, I am intrigued by some parallels here in chapter 21. We are told that as the disciples reached the shore and approached Jesus, there was a fire of burning coals there. Do you remember the last time we associated Peter with a fire of burning coals? That’s right, as he stood in the high priest’s outer courtyard, warming himself, the night he denied Jesus. There by the lake, once again next to a burning fire, Jesus asks him three times: Simon, do you love me? Does a three time repetition ring any bells? How many times did Peter deny Jesus? By these gentle reminders and repetitions, I believe that Jesus is restoring Peter to the path of discipleship. And he did it publicly, with the other disciples present. It was a gentle, loving act of grace. The path of discipleship is open to those who have failed.
This is an important message for us to hear. We are far too quick to write people off, to write ourselves off. “I have failed far too miserably for God to ever use me again.” In my last job before I came to Abu Dhabi, I worked for a counseling center in California. It was a center that focused on counseling missionaries and pastors. I worked on the pastoral staff of the “Restoration Program.” Many of the missionaries and pastors who came to us needed counseling because they had been traumatized by some experience, or by things other people had done to them. But some of them came to us because they had failed. They had sinned. And for some it was crash and burn, catastrophic failure. Was restoration possible for them? The lesson of Peter and of John 21 is that the path of restoration and discipleship and usefulness to the Lord remains open no matter what we have done. If we will repent of our sin and turn back to the Lord, he is ready to receive us and to restore us to usefulness.
The second lesson I draw from this chapter is equally important. 2. TRUE DISCIPLESHIP IS MOTIVATED BY LOVE.
We see this in the questions Jesus asked Peter. The first time he asked: “Simon, do you love more than these?” This question creates an interpretive problem for us. What does “more than these” refer to? The grammar of the sentence will actually support three possible interpretations.
The first one is, “Simon, do you love me more than you love these other disciples?” I think this one can be rejected, because Jesus never sets our love for him in competition with our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, he asks us to express our love for him by loving our brothers.
The second possible rendering is, “Simon, do you love me more than these other disciples love me?” This one, too, can be rejected. Jesus never seems to make our love for him a matter of comparison or competition. We are never called to “out love” each other in our service for Christ.
That leaves the third possibility: “Simon do you love me more than you love these things?” What things? The lake, the boat, his nets, home, all that is familiar and comfortable. I think this fits the context and Peter’s decision to go back to fishing and all that it represented for him. Jesus is facing Peter with a choice. And it is a choice which must be based on love. “Do you love me more than these?”
Twice more Jesus asked the question without the comparative phrase. Simply: “Simon, do you love me?” You may have heard messages that draw distinctions between the two different Greek words for love that are used in this text. There are two different words used, but from all that I can discern, it seems that John is using the two words interchangeably, as a stylistic variation, not building any point on the nuances of the words. It is the same essential question: Do you love me?
This is the fundamental question of discipleship. Without love, all of our legalistic rule keeping and human effort quickly turns to dust and ashes. Jesus wants to know: “Do you love me?” If we love him, discipleship, obedience, submission and following will all naturally flow.
This is Jesus’ timeless question to every one of us as his followers: Do you love me? How will we answer?
The third lesson I find here is this. 3. A LIFE OF DISCIPLESHIP TO JESUS IS A LIFE OF SERVICE TO OTHERS.
Each time, Peter responded to Jesus’ question: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Each time Jesus responded by giving him a command. “Feed my lambs…Take care of my sheep…Feed my sheep.” The vocabulary varies slightly each time, but once again it seems to be more a matter of stylistic variation than a significant distinction in meaning. What is clear is that our love for Jesus is to be expressed and fulfilled in service toward others. Peter was one of the leaders of the early church. He became the spokesman for the apostles. Not all of us are called to be leaders or shepherds. But I believe we are all called to serve. It is the natural expression of our love for Jesus.
This is a universal principle of the church. A vertical love relationship with Jesus will always find itself expressed in service toward others in the Body of Christ. The nature of the service may vary depending on our gifts and our opportunities. But there will be service.
Jesus said it this way in another context: “The greatest among you shall be servant of all. Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” “Do you love me?” Jesus asked. “Then serve those I love.”
How are you expressing your love for Jesus? What acts of service are you engaged in?
The fourth lesson is a little harder to put into words, but here is my best effort. 4. FOLLOWING JESUS IS AN UNCONDITIONAL AND PERSONAL ACT OF SUBMISSION TO THE UNIQUE PATH HE HAS CHOSEN FOR US.
In the course of his commissioning of Peter, Jesus gives him a rather somber warning in verse 18:
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.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)
We know that Peter died a martyr’s death. Church tradition indicates that he was crucified upside down on a cross. Whether that is true or not, this prophecy by Jesus makes it clear that he had a path chosen for Peter. It was a specific and unique path, leading up to and including the manner of his death. And it was a path that would bring glory to God. He concludes this prophecy with a command to Peter: “Follow me!” On this path! All the way to a painful death.
To his credit, Peter did not shy away from this command or from the implications of a painful death. But he does do something that we are all prone to do. He turns around and sees John behind him. And he asks, “Lord, what about him? What is his path going to look like? And how will he die?” We are all curious. And we all like to compare. But Jesus’ answer to Peter is stern and to the point. In so many words he says, “Peter, that’s none of your business!” The word order in the original text is very concise and powerful: “You, me, follow!” It is more than an invitation. It is a command. It is in the imperative form. And it is a present imperative. That means it is a command to continuing and ongoing action; Follow now and keep on following. No turning back. No going back to the old way of life.
Following Jesus is an unconditional and personal act of submission to the unique path he has chosen for me. It is saying, humbly to the Lord: “Wherever you lead, I’ll go. Whatever you want me to say, I’ll say it. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it. Whatever difficult and painful circumstances may come along the way, help me endure them in a manner which brings glory to you.”
I am reminded of Paul’s great statement of commitment and resolve in Philippians 1:20-21. He was writing from prison, awaiting trial and this is what he said:
as 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. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain
That’s the prayer of the disciple. “Whatever happens, Lord, just give me the courage to glorify you.”
That is true discipleship. It is what Jesus called Peter to. It is what he calls you and me to as well. “Follow me!” If Jesus’ claims are true, we can’t go back to life the way it was before we met him. If Jesus is who he claimed to be, he deserves our allegiance, our worship, our obedience, our very lives. If we believe, we must follow.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you have to change your occupation or your vocation to be a disciple of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with being a fisherman if God calls you to be a fisherman, or an accountant, or an engineer, or a teacher. But you should be a different kind of fisherman, or an accountant, or an engineer or a teacher; one whose highest calling is to serve Christ and to glorify God in all you do and say.
So maybe you are saying to me: I thought you said this was going to be a message about baptism. What does all this have to do with being baptized?
Two things. One of the very first acts of a disciple is to identify one’s self with our Lord and Master. To “put on the school uniform” so to speak, identifying one’s self as a follower of Jesus and a student in his school. The Biblically mandated way of doing that is through baptism. Do you believe? If you do, then you should be baptized. It is a public way of saying, before witnesses, “Yes, I am a follower of Jesus.”
But the second reason for preaching this message is as a challenge to all who will be baptized and to all of us who have been baptized. I have said it often before. Baptism is not a graduation ceremony. It does not signify the end of something. It is an initiation ceremony. It signifies the beginning of something, and that “something” is the beginning of a whole new life and life purpose and life loyalty. It is the answer to the question Jesus asked Peter: Do you love me more than these things? What things? The familiar things, the old ways, the old loyalties, the old values, the old ways of thinking and feeling and deciding.
If we believe, truly believe, then we must follow. We cannot go back to the way things were before. If Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, then he is the Savior. But he is not only Savior. He is the Lord. He is Master. We must follow! There can be no other logical course of action.
So my challenge is this.
Do you believe? If not, the journey starts there. Read the Gospel of John. Look for the answers to the four key questions. “These things are written that you might believe…”
If you do believe, then my next question is this: Have you been baptized as a testimony to your belief in Jesus? If not, then my words to you are plain and simple. Be baptized! What is holding you back? Why not do it in two weeks’ time?
If you do believe and you have been baptized, then my question is this. Are you following Jesus, not only as Savior but as the Lord and Master of your life? The lure of the familiar, the old way of life is ever with us. But if we believe, truly believe, then we cannot go back to the old ways. Jesus calls us forward. He commands us, as he commanded Peter, “You…Me…Follow!” wherever the path may lead.
- Read the chapter together.
- What questions, observations or thoughts does this passage generate in your mind?
- John 20:31 seems like such a fitting conclusion to John’s Gospel. Why do you think he added John 21?
- “If we believe we must follow.” Do you agree or disagree? What clarifications do you think should be added?
- Pastor Cam’s sermon listed four points about following Jesus. Discuss your thoughts and the relevance of each one to your life and experience:
• The path of discipleship is open to those who have failed.
• True discipleship is motivated by love.
• A life of discipleship to Jesus is a life of service to others.
• Following Jesus is an unconditional and personal act of submission to the unique path he has chosen for us.