Description / Transcription
Our gracious Lord, we ask not simply out of habit or custom, but because we are desperate for Your activity in our lives, that You would give us ears to hear. Help us to listen. Set aside not all the cares of this world, because we know that You tell us to cast our cares upon You and we cannot be ignorant of them, but to set aside all the other voices that are clamoring for our attention and to take now these moments together that we might hear, not just a sermon or a man, but from You, and that in hearing from You, You would display before us by the power of Your spirit the beauty and the power and the loveliness of Christ, on whose name we pray. Amen.
We come on this momentous Sunday to the end of the gospel of John, chapter 21. You’ll notice that the hymnals and the Bibles have been removed from the pews for precaution. Hopefully you brought one or can turn one on wherever you are watching this. You can follow along as I read from John 21, verse 20 through the end of the book.
“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.”
Believe it or not, we began this series on August 20, 2017. It was my sixth sermon as the pastor at Christ Covenant. We didn’t have Pastor Nathan here, or Pastor Derek or Pastor Tom, or any number of other staffing changes. We hadn’t started the church’s vision project. The DeYoung’s only had seven children, it was that long ago. We had yet to miss church because of a hurricane and then another hurricane and then a tornado. No one had the foggiest idea that in 2020 there would be 40 million Americans out of work, 100,000 people having died due to a novel coronavirus, and no one had any idea what this week would be like in the history of our country.
And some of you, very personally, since August 20, 2017 have gotten married, had babies, buried loved ones, sent children off to school or to some other place.
By my count, this is my 69th sermon in this series, so we had lots of breaks along the way and there were three or four others that the other pastors did in the spring, so somewhere north of 70 sermons from the gospel of John. How do you finish a long series on such a monumental book?
Well, could take this opportunity to summarize some of the big themes in the book, perhaps could turn this into a kind of greatest this album, or maybe like they would do back in the day when the sitcom writers didn’t want to make a new episode, they would just do sort of a montage episode where all the characters would just sort of “remember that” and then the wavy lines would come on and they would just show clips of some of the moments from times gone by. Well, we don’t have that. Thankfully my task is a little easier.
What I ought to do is end the series the way John ends the book.
Now it may feel from just having read those few verses like this is kind of an anti-climactic ending, sort of tidying up some loose ends. We need to clarify that John is not going to live forever. And then we have a nice little rhetorical flourish about all the books in all the world could not fill up all the things that Jesus had done.
But, really, when you look more closely, there are two very important lessons for us in these last verses, and they do a fitting job of wrapping up this gospel, which has been so helpful and so glorious. There is one lesson that is about us, and then one lesson that is about Christ.
First lesson. Here it is: Jesus has a plan for your life and it may not be the plan He has for someone else. Jesus has a plan for you, but it is likely not the same plan He has for the person next to you or the person sitting across this room or around the globe. We’ve seen John and Peter together several times in the gospel. They were there together at the Last Supper, we have echoes of that again in this passage. Remember, John records that those were the two disciples who ran together to the empty tomb. They were part of the group that was there earlier in chapter 1 for the miraculous catch of fish, and here they are paired together at the end of the book.
Jesus calls Peter in verse 19, “Follow Me.” And this is, of course, a general call to follow Him in life, but it’s also in that moment a very specific call, they’re on the beach, “Come, we’re going on a walk, walk with Me.” And John is behind them.
Now, don’t think that John is sort of snooping, eavesdropping, and they turn around and he starts whistling, “Where am I?” No, he’s probably not doing anything wrong, just following. All the disciples, you know, eager to be with Jesus, and so Peter turns around and he sees the disciple whom Jesus loved, which we know to be John, following them.
And this prompts a discussion. Peter, you recall, has just heard that he will glorify God by his death, and that people will dress him and carry him and his arms will be stretched out, in reference to the crucifixion, and so it’s quite understandable that Peter would say, “What about this guy?”
Now we don’t have to take it to be an angry comment, or a jealous comment. No doubt Peter is simply sobered by the thought of his own death, and curious, and so when he sees John, who has been so close to him throughout the Gospel, this younger man, he can’t help but want to know from Jesus, “Well, what’s going to happen to my friend?” and Jesus basically says, “None of your business. Maybe he’ll stick around until I come back from heaven,” that’s what Jesus says.
And so the words of verse 22, we read in verse 23, had spread abroad. They had circulated already. There was a game of apostolic telephone ensuing. You know, where you tell somebody the message and then you pass it along and then what, I’ve often like to do on staff retreats, although I don’t know if we’ve done it here yet, but just wait for this good time, is to play a game of telephone Pictionary. That’s even more fun, as you pass along a word and then you have to draw a picture, and then you pass along the picture and you have to write down what you’re seeing, and then the next person has to draw a picture, and so on and so on, and by the time you get done, it bears no resemblance to anything anyone has seen or said or drawn.
So we can understand how word gets out, rumors get started. This happens even in your own family. Somehow, when this child goes to this parent and says “can we build a giant fort and sleep in it with heaping bowls of ice cream?” and that parent says, “What? I don’t know.” To the next parent, “Dad, I asked mom, she didn’t say it was a bad idea that we build a fort and sleep in it and have heaping bowls… ” The things get changed around.
So the group has heard, “Well, John’s not going to die. He’s going to be around until Jesus comes back.” But then we have this clarification. Of course, that’s not exactly what Jesus said. And incidentally, isn’t this a good reminder for us, pay attention exactly to what Jesus says, not, well, sort of what Jesus says or what I think He meant or what I heard someone else that Jesus said, pay attention to what Jesus said, because He did not say John would never die. He simply said to Peter, “What is it to you if he sticks around until I come back?”
So, the verses clarify what must have become a widespread rumor among the churches. So that’s important in itself.
But there’s an even more important lesson at stake: Don’t worry about God’s plan for someone else’s life. Do what you need to do to serve Him in your life.
You notice that Jesus repeats that singular command in verse 22, which He had already given Peter in verse 19: Follow Me.
Peter literally got his head on a swivel, turned around, what about John? And Jesus says, “Peter, straight ahead, here’s what you need to know: Follow Me.”
There may have been some rivalry by the time this Gospel was written. Perhaps it was like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 1, “I am of Apollos,” maybe some people are saying “I’m of Peter, and I’m of John,” and so he wants to clarify that they had the same calling, but they had a different path. These two men served Jesus in different ways. Peter would serve by tending the flock, glorifying God in his death. John, by bearing witness in this Gospel and by following Jesus throughout a long life.
So Peter, don’t concern yourself. Don’t meddle with what history has for John. Think about what Jesus has for Peter.
What applies to both of them, first in chapter 20, “I’m sending you out,” and now in chapter 21, “Follow Me.” But each has their own destiny.
Isn’t it easy to compare? We do it all the time. You look at another Christian and what they’re doing, and perhaps you feel proud by the comparison, and you think “I am better,” you think to yourself, “I am better because of what I have.” Or you feel jealous, “I want what they have.” Or you feel envious, “I wish they didn’t have what they have.” You’re always comparing.
And I say “you,” but I do the same thing. I’ve seen this in my own heart. I’ve seen this in pastors. You can see the same thing in your own vocation. I know pastors, and I’ve seen that this greener grass syndrome is a real thing. In my own life, in my own vocation, I know pastors who think, “hmm, if I was a seminary professor, that’s the sweet life,” and I know professors who think, “if I were a pastor, that’s where the real action is,” and certainly there’s both are good callings and people can change their minds.
But I’ve seen where the other thinks “that’s the real, real fun job.” I know pastors who think ministry would be so much better for them if they were in a bigger church. And then you talk to the pastors in a bigger church and they say “if only I could be in a smaller church.” Or they think, “If I was in a city church and had all that activity,” or “if I was in a country church and things were just slower and quiet and I can look out my window.”
And I’m sure you can think of similar examples from your own sphere of activity, or from being a mom, which lends itself almost unlike any other work and vocation to comparison, or your life as a student or a child.
We tend to think Jesus handed out all the fun assignments to everyone else. He gave everyone else, why don’t your, your work today, recess. You, organic chemistry.
And we think Jesus is handing out all the fun assignments to everyone else.
But before you and I fall to that greener grass syndrome, think about what you do not know. When you’re tempted to look at what someone else has and think why has Jesus given them this sweet life, like Peter, “Is this guy going to live forever?” Think what you don’t know. You don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t know beneath the smiles and the Sunday clothes and the few minutes you interact with them and all in the world seems right, you don’t know what struggles they have. You don’t know what God’s plan is for them, for you. You don’t know what is similar, what is different.
What you do know is that Jesus has called you to follow Him.
We’ve seen in this Gospel, Jesus is concerned about unity, chapter 17. About the oneness of the flock in chapter 10. And one of the ways to preserve that unity, and one of the ways to pursue oneness as the Body of Christ, is to realize that when it comes to Christian discipleship, God’s call, “Follow Me,” is the same for everyone, but His plans may be very different.
And so whether you think your plans have been better and that tempts you to pride or you think that you’ve gotten the rotten plans and it tempts you to envy and to jealousy or to suspicion, hear Jesus’ words to Peter: What is that to you, Peter? You don’t think I can be in control of John’s life? You don’t have to be in control of John’s life.
Some of us are Peter, trying to be in control of every other John’s life, and Jesus says, “just keep your head looking straight, Peter. I know what to do with your life. I know what to do with John’s life. Follow Me.”
So there’s a very important lesson for the disciples and for us as we come to the close of this Gospel. The call of discipleship is the same, the plan and the path may be very different. You stick with Jesus and you trust Jesus to give you the plan and the path that He knows is best.
Here’s the second lesson: Jesus is more wonderful than you can imagine.
Now, you may have come in here, or you may be watching at home, and you think I love Jesus, and I hope you do. I mean I really love Jesus; that’s wonderful. And I know a lot about Jesus, you may think. And I have a lot of theology and I’ve got a lot of songs and I have an intimate relationship with Him; wonderful. And it’s still the case that He is more wonderful than you can imagine.
And so we come to the last two verses of this book.
We read in verse 24 that John, or perhaps these last two verses put together by followers of John. It’s hard to tell because he speaks of “we” but then “his” testimony. I tend to think that it’s John writing with a sort of royal we and sort of stepping back for a moment to point to his own eyewitness testimony. But whatever the case, God wants us to hear again, in verse 24, this is eyewitness testimony. These things we’ve been looking at for 70 plus sermons are not fables, not fairy tales. The writer of this Gospel lived it, saw it, heard it, wrote it down.
But do you notice how he quickly pivots from verse 24 to verse 25, because the final focus of the Gospel it seems in John’s mind must land squarely on Jesus. The final word is not going to be about how John is a faithful witness; that would be appropriate, that’s true, but John wants the final word to be about the One to whom and about whom he is bearing witness. This writer is but a pointer, where Jesus is the point.
Even after all we have seen and heard and studied in this book, you and I have not begun to fathom all that Jesus has done and all that Jesus is for us who believe.
Think of what we’ve read in John’s Gospel about Jesus. He is the Word, the Word made flesh, the only begotten Son, the Comforter, the King of the Jews, the Bread of Life, the Light of the world, the Door for the sheep, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the True Vine, and in the words of Thomas, our Lord and our God.
And think of all the names and titles given to Jesus in the Scriptures, your Jesus. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the Christ and the last Adam. He is faithful and true, Alpha and Omega, the bright morning star. He is our prophet, priest, and King. He is the Almighty One, our advocate, the author and perfecter of our faith. He’s the beloved, the bridegroom, the cornerstone, the head of the Church, the Holy One of Israel, the horn of salvation. He is the great I am. He is the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb who was slain, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is our mediator, the mighty One, the man of sorrows. He is our redeemer and rock and risen Lord. He is the savior, the Son of the Most High, the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the Son of righteousness with healing in its wings. He is the One by whom all things were created and in whom all things are held together. He is the branch, the Deliverer, the faithful witness, the image of the invisible God, the just One, and the judge. He is Eve’s promised child, the root of David, the rose of Sharon, the promised seed of Abraham. He is the chief Shepherd and the overseer of your soul. He is the Lord of glory, the Lord of righteousness, the Lord of Lords, and the Lord of all.
You know that hymn from Isaac Watts? This is just one of 12 verses in the original hymn called “Names and Titles of Jesus Christ.” It says “join all the glorious names of wisdom, love, and power, that ever mortals knew, that ever angels bore: All are too poor to speak His worth, too poor to set my Savior forth.”
Do you believe that about Jesus? Do you know that about Jesus?
And consider the things that He did, about which there are not enough pages of paper for all the books in all the world to be written.
We’ve seen in this Gospel the signs of glory, seven of them: Changing water to wine, healing the royal official’s son, healing the paralytic, feeling the 5000, walking on water, healing the man born blind, raising Lazarus.
But of course those are just a selection of all the signs and the wonders He performed. He also fed the 4000, calmed the storm, healed blind Bartimaeus, cast out Legion from the Garasene demoniac, raised up Jairus’ daughter, healed the bleeding woman, twice provided a miraculous catch of fish, cured Peter’s mother-in-law, raised up a widow’s son from the dead, healed the centurion’s servant, opened the eyes of two blind men, loosed the tongue of the man who could not speak, restored a withered hand, healed the woman of Canaan, cured a deaf man and a mute man, cured the boy with a demon, set the woman free who had been afflicted 18 years, healed the man with dropsy, healed the 10 lepers, restored the ear of the high priest’s servant.
And most wonderfully, He suffered for the sins of His people. He was crucified, died, and was buried and three days later God raised Him from the dead.
Do not grow tired of this old, old story. He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
Don Carson says in his commentary, “this Jesus to whom John bears witness is not only the obedient Son and the risen Lord, He is the incarnate Word, the One through whom the universe was created. If all His deeds were described, the world would be a very small and inadequate library indeed.”
You and I have not begun to fathom all that Jesus is for us, all that we will one day see when we can worship at His feet and look upon Him face-to-face.
Have you in the midst of all that has been upside down in these weeks and months found your heart more in love with Jesus? Have you grown to see more of the glory and the sweetness of Jesus?
Jesus did more miracles than you know. He told more parable than you know. He preached more sermons that you know. He displayed more power than you know. He is worthy of more honors than you know. He is deserving of more songs than you know. He suffered for sin more than you know. And He loves sinners more than you know.
Would you come to him? Would you follow Him? Would you worship Him? Would you trust Him? Would you believe in Him? And by believing have life in His name.
“Could we with ink the oceans fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every tree on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above, would drain the oceans dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.”
Let’s pray. O Father, we thank you for the revelation of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and this Gospel according to John. For the Word made flesh, for the Word that was with God in the beginning and the Word that is God. The One in whom is life, and that life was the light of men. Oh, how we need this light to shine in the darkness of our world and in the darkness of our hearts, that the darkness would not overcome it. And so we pray this morning that You would fill our hearts with the love of Jesus and we would know that where every one of His loving deeds, every one of His powerful workings, to be written down, that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. We love You, Lord, because You first loved us. In Jesus we pray. Amen.