When You’ve Let God Down

Sermon by Guy Waters on June 28, 2015

John 21:15-25

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If you would please turn in your copy of the Scripture, or as I’m learning to say, “swip,” to John chapter 21. We’ll be reading in just a moment the last half of John chapter 21. “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” Those are Sydney Carton’s words as he mounts the guillotine at the close of Charles Dickens’, A Tale of Two Cities. I was assigned that novel twenty-five years ago and those lines have stuck with me. That’s what good closing lines do. And John is a good author. And writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he closes this account of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ very powerfully. He has dedicated now some twenty chapters to telling you who Jesus Christ is and what it is that Jesus has come to do. And he has charged us at the end of the last chapter, John chapter 20 verse 30 and 31, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we would have life in His name. But John isn’t quite ready to let us go and it’s in this chapter that he puts his hand on your shoulder and mine and he leaves us with a challenge, one parting thought about what it means to believe the Lord Jesus Christ. So I want you to look for that challenge as we read these verses. We’re going to read John chapter 21 verse 15 to 25 and before we do let’s ask the Lord’s help in prayer.


Our great God and heavenly Father, we do thank You for Your Word. You’ve spoken things that we could not find out or discern were we to scale the heights or plumb the depths of this world. For You have made them known to us by Your Spirit. So we ask now that You would give us eyes to see and ears to hear that in hearing we might believe and in believing we might obey, to the glory of Christ in whose name we now pray. Amen.


Hear now the Word of God. John chapter 21 beginning at verse 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.’ 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.’ 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. 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.’


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?’


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.


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.”


Thus far God’s holy, infallible, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He add His blessing on it.


We are, of course, with the Lord Jesus Christ after He has been raised from the dead. He’s been meeting with the disciples periodically and here He is far away from those dramatic scenes in Jerusalem – the Sea of Galilee, far to the north. And in the section previous we read of His meeting with seven of the disciples and among them are Peter. But in these closing verses we have two scenes. Jesus meets with Peter in both of them. And in verses 15 to 19 we pick up the story after breakfast. There they are on the shore; they’ve eaten breakfast. The seven disciples are gathered around Jesus and Jesus begins to ask Peter a line of questions. Now this is not the first time that Jesus had come to speak personally to Peter. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 at verse 5 that before He appeared to the twelve He appeared to Cephas. We can only guess what went on at that private meeting. But now Jesus is going to meet with Peter and He’s going to speak to him personally but it’s going to be in the presence of six other disciples. There’s business Jesus has with Peter in the presence of others and you’ll see those questions end with the call, “Follow me,” verse 19.


And then we’re taken to another scene. It seems that Jesus and Peter have left the others; they’ve gone for a walk along the beach. And Peter turns around and he notices someone is following him. It’s the apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. And Peter has just heard Jesus prophecy his death. He’s going to die a violent death; he’s going to be crucified as Jesus was crucified. And looking back at John he says, “Lord, what about him? What’s going to come of him?” And Jesus says to him gently but firmly, “Peter, you leave that to me. You follow me.” And those are the words of Jesus that ring at the close of this gospel. The last words we hear Jesus utter in the gospel according to John – “Follow me.” If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle John is saying, then you will follow Him. But it’s not left to your imagination or mine what it is to follow Jesus Christ because in these verses we get a picture of following Jesus. And exhibit A is the apostle Peter. He’s not the likeliest candidate to show you what it is to follow Jesus Christ. He is a disciple but he has a checkered past and in human terms his future is most uncertain. But it will be through Peter that we learn what it is to follow Jesus Christ. So I want you to see from this Scripture two things about following Jesus.


I.  The Power in Following Jesus


And the first is the power in following Jesus. What is it that enables us, what is it that motivates us to follow Jesus Christ? And in a word, it’s love. You see, before Jesus tells Peter, “Follow me,” He comes to Peter and He shows unimaginable love to Peter and that love to Peter draws love from Peter to Jesus Christ. Look with me at the Scripture. There’s Jesus’ love to Peter in the first place. This is not of course the first time that Jesus has come to Peter. Peter, you’ll remember, has sinned seriously against Jesus, publically, grievously, and Jesus does not wait for Peter to come to Him. Jesus seeks Peter. Peter is sought by Jesus Christ. And He meets Peter where he is – in the shame of his sin. And He begins to probe Peter, our Lord begins to probe Peter with questions and it’s clear that Peter is pained by this exchange. This is not comfortable; this is not easy but it’s just what Peter needs. Why is it that Peter is so grieved by these questions? Some have said that it’s because of the verbs that Jesus has chosen to use. Some of your translations in the margins, some of your study notes, will point to differences in the Greek verbs for love. But the answer lies somewhere else.


Why Jesus asks the Question

Look at how Jesus questions him. He says in the first place, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” And when Jesus asks him that question He is surrounded by other disciples. Why is Jesus putting the question that way? You remember Peter in the Upper Room. Matthew tells us it was a cool night, it was warm in that Upper Room, they had eaten a full meal, enjoyed wine, good friendship, and Jesus begins to tell them what’s going to happen. And Peter says, “Jesus, I want you to know this. These fair-weather disciples, these slack-jawed friends of yours, they’re going to leave you but I’m going to be standing. Jesus, I will stick with you through thick and thin. I will never fall away.” And in the pride of that moment Peter said, “Jesus, I love you more than these.” And Jesus puts the question to him, “Peter, do you love me more than these?” And He asks a form of this question three times. Why did He ask him three times? Because Peter, before others, had denied the Lord Jesus Christ three times. And Scripture tells us that in denying Jesus he invoked a curse on himself and he swore. Your ears would have burned to hear the words coming out of the mouth of the apostle Peter on that occasion.


Now why does Jesus put Peter through all this? And it’s not because Jesus doesn’t love Peter. It is because Jesus loves Peter that He asks him these questions. You see, love doesn’t ignore sin. Love doesn’t pretend sin is not there. Love doesn’t find ways to paper over or mask sin. And we have many ways, sophisticated moderns we are, to try to cover and hide and conceal and push off sin. But Jesus Christ, His gaze, pierces those coverings and the Lord Jesus, who had interceded for Peter, you remember what He told them before this whole sordid affair unfolded – “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked permission to sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you turn again, strengthen your brothers.” And the interceding Jesus Christ now pursued this wandering sheep and He found him and He was pulling Peter from his sin and He was restoring Peter to fellowship and to communion with Him. And He would put him in service – I think that’s the last thing Peter was expecting. “Weren’t it enough Lord that You removed the barrier between You and me? Fellowship restored. But that You should put me in service. Those sheep for whom You shed Your precious blood, You should ask me to tend and to feed?”


Well and you see how Peter responds. How does he respond to this overwhelming display of love? He says, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you. Lord Jesus, you know everything. You know the world that you made. You know everything in it. You know the human heart and you know me down to my depths and I love you.” And you see what Peter doesn’t say? Not once does Peter say, “I love you more than these.” It is enough for Peter to say, “Lord Jesus, you lived and died for me. By the power of your grace you have pursued me and reclaimed me. I love you.” And it spills out of his heart.


What does this say to us this morning? Friends, here is the first step in following the Lord Jesus Christ. You get, you understand, you have a deep sense at the core of who you are that the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners and you add with the apostle Paul, “of whom I am chief.” And you understand that the Lord Jesus Christ lived and died to restore sinners, to bring them to Himself, to put them in service not because they are worthy but because of His grace. And this is the difference between the Gospel, between Christianity and everything else. A former student of mine at Belhaven, after graduation went to serve on the mission field in India, and he began a conversation with a man who was not a Christian. And he was explaining to this man why it is that Jesus came to die. He shed His blood for the sins of sinners to pay for the sins of sinners. And the man said to him very sternly, “Sacrifice is not needed to take away sins. We just need to work hard to take away our sins.” You know sometimes you don’t have to go outside the church to hear that, but the fuel and the power for following Jesus Christ for Christian service is knowing that Jesus Christ saved sinners, that Jesus Christ has died to save me and to draw me to Himself and I love Him not to pay Him back in kind; I love because He first loved me. But I love because that is the only way that I can respond to such love.


The reformer, John Calvin, used to close his letters with a seal. It was a crudely drawn picture of a hand holding a heart and that became the basis for the motto that came to characterize Calvin and his work. “My heart, O Lord, I offer to you, promptly and sincerely.” And that’s what every Christian who has been affected by the love of Jesus Christ in the Gospel responds to the Lord Jesus. “Lord, here is my heart. Here is my life. Here is my all. It is Yours and I live in response to Your love.” I wonder if you’ve said that to the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you seen your sins the way that He sees your sins? Have you given up trying to hide and to cover them? Have you taken them to lay at the feet of Jesus only to find out that He has been pursuing you long before you pursued Him? Have you turned from those sins? Have you turned to Him? That’s what it is to belong to Jesus. That’s what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Is that your voice this morning?


II. What This Love Does


But then there’s a second thing that we see about following Jesus in this Scripture. What does this love do? This love flows in the channel that is cut by Christ Himself and that channel is obedience. “If you love me, keep my commands.” And we see here what obedience to Jesus Christ looks like. And I want you to see three things in brief about this obedience to Jesus Christ.


Obedience is Particular

In the first place, it is particular. You see, Jesus Christ summons every person to turn from sin and to turn to Him, to receive the forgiveness of sins, to begin walking after Him. But you see, Jesus assigns different gifts and graces, different places in the providences of God to serve Him and follow Him. And we see that here. There’s Peter – what is it for Peter to do? He’s going to shepherd the sheep. And then there’s going to come a time, and we know from Church history it was about thirty years after Jesus uttered these words, that Peter was going to die a martyr in Rome, crucified as tradition says upside-down. And then there’s John. John, you see, is going to live to a ripe old age and John is going to write, may we put it this way, “a bestselling book.” Obedience is particular.


Obedience is Painful

But we also see that it’s painful. Peter is going to have the shadow of the cross over him profoundly and he will die for Jesus Christ, he will shed his blood for Jesus Christ. I wonder if you’re saying to yourself, “Well poor Peter, lucky John. I mean, what a life. He got to live a long life full of days, write a book. Who wouldn’t want that?” But ask yourself this question. In those days that were John’s to live, what would he see? He would see his own brother cut down in cold blood by a pagan king. He would see all his apostolic colleagues die the martyr’s death. He would live as an old man to be exiled to the Isle of Patmos. And he would see another generation of heresy spring up in the church. Friends, to follow Jesus Christ is the very best life. There is reward and there is blessing I’m told, but Jesus, not once, not once says it will be easy. It is not an easy life. So you ask, “Well then why do it?”


Obedience is Purposeful

Well that’s where we get to the third thing about this obedience. It is particular, it is painful, but it is also purposeful. Peter’s going to die and that death, Scripture tells us in verse 19, will glorify God. It will tell out the worth and the excellence of God. It will show to the world what a great God He is. And so with you and me, if you’re following Jesus Christ, in life and in death you glorify God.


As we close, what does this say to us as we think about this obedience that Jesus Christ lays on the shoulders of every disciple? And I think in the first place there’s a warning for us. I wonder if you can identify just a little bit with Peter. There’s Peter and Jesus and they’re walking down the beach and he casts a glance over his shoulder and there’s John. And the old man bubbles to the surface and begins comparing himself with John and he’s saying, “Lord, alright I’m going to die but what about him?” And I wonder if you can sympathize. Have you ever said to yourself, have you ever been tempted to say to yourself, “Lord, if only I could have a different wife, if only I could have a different husband, if only I could have different children, if only I could work somewhere else, if only I had been born into another family, if only I had lived in another neighborhood – how I could serve You better!” And what Jesus says to Peter He says to us. Do you see in the first place He says, “Peter, if it is my will…” Christian, you are not where you are by accident or chance. It is by the sovereign appointment of God that you are where you are and that He has called you to serve Him and to glorify Him in dependence on the grace that He supplies.


And then Jesus says to him, “What is that to you? You follow me. You don’t worry about other people, Peter. You follow me. The gifts and graces that I’ve given you, the opportunities that I’ve given to you and I’ve not given to others, they are yours to serve Me.” Jesus is not saying that it is wrong, Biblically, to change places in life – to change jobs, to move houses. But He is saying where you are is where Jesus Christ has placed you. And you see, wherever He’s placed you, whatever He has called you to do, for all the diversity represented in this room alone we have one goal, one aim, and that is to glorify God. I wonder this morning if you’re in a place that you would not have chosen. If you had scripted your life it wouldn’t have been like this. And you’ve tried, you’ve prayed, you’ve used Biblical, lawful means to get out and you can’t. What do you do? And you say, “Jesus Christ has called me to glorify Him right here and right now.”


How do you do that? Well think of Peter. Here’s Peter, and he would be arrested and he would die a violent death, condemned. There would be no public mourning. Life was going to go on as usual. His martyrdom did not have all the drama and flair that Michelangelo and Caravaggio put into their paintings. There would be no earthly justice for Peter. How could Peter embrace this calling? Because of the One who called him, because of the One who said, “Peter, follow me.” It’s because the Lord Jesus Christ had come down from heaven, had taken on flesh, had died that horrid, cursed death on the cross, had propitiated, had turned aside the wrath of God, and by the chords of His love had drawn Peter to Himself. And when Peter had stumbled, that same love drew him again to Himself. And Peter said to Jesus Christ, “I love you. I will follow you. Wherever you lead I will go.” Can you say that this morning? Do you understand who Jesus is and what He’s come to do? Do you love Him and are you prepared to follow Him? Because the one you follow came such a distance to die for sinners and live for them and He has returned to glory to prepare a place for each one of His sheep and by the power of His Spirit He is with each of His children all the way in between. That’s the One who says, “Follow me.” And if you understand who He is and what He’s done you say with the apostle Peter, “Lord, you know everything. I love you. Show me where to go.”


Let’s pray.


Our great God and heavenly Father, how we thank You for Your grace on display in the life of Your servant, Peter. We pray that You would help us as Peter to look at the Savior who pursues, saves, reclaims those who stray. And may that understanding be coupled with such love wrought by Your Spirit in our hearts, that would spill over into fruitful obedience that would bring glory to Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us. For it’s in His name we pray, amen.

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