John 21 is where we’re going to be together and this season since we’re in the gift giving season, I think I love where the end of this book goes because for us in a gift giving season, I think as a church, the greatest gift that we can give our community is a healthy church and the way that we create a healthy church is to see a healthy you and not only is it a blessing to your community, it’s a blessing to your church family, it’s a blessing to your immediate family, it’s your biological family or whoever, whatever you call your family and it’s a blessing to really you and your relationship with the Lord. And John 21 gets us to the end of a place where the Lord reminds us of the simplicity of what it is to be a disciple.
And Jesus says it here at the end of John 21, Jesus’ desire for his disciples in the first century which is the same desire for you today. It’s stated and it’s repeated twice in verse 19 and in verse 22, Jesus said to Peter and to the disciples, “Follow me, follow me.” Jesus’ heart, Jesus’ goal for your life, Jesus’ pursuit for you; I think we tend to over-complicate what God’s desire is for our life. Lord’s is simple, it’s for us to follow him.
In fact, if you go back and look at the very beginning of John, John:1:43, that is where the Gospel started. When Jesus first began his ministry and then John chapter one, it gives the first 18 verses this beautiful declaration over the identity of who Christ is, why it matters to us, who he should be, how we should receive him and the Bible tells us in verse 14 to 18 of John one, he’s full of grace and truth and you’ve seen that demonstrated in the Gospel over and over.
And then when he starts to call his disciples in John:1:43, Jesus, the first words he says to them is “Follow me, follow me.” And that is God’s desire for you. In fact, I would say it like this, that is God’s will for your life. As Christians, we tend to over-complicate God’s will for us sometimes. A lot of times people ask the question what’s God’s will for me and they’ll expect me as a pastor to be able to shake my crystal ball and say specifically, do this at three o’clock today, right? Or I’ve seen people get so crazy over God’s will, I’ve heard people say this. They’ll ask the question when they wake up in the morning, Lord, what pants should I put on today? And let me just tell you here’s what God’s desire is for you, put your pants on, that’s it, its not even, you don’t have to pray about that. That’s Lord’s wills to get up and to glorify him with your life.
And when we think about God’s will we often think of the question? We ask the question what’s God’s will for my life, because we’re thinking of something specific God wants us to do. And I want to tell you, God is far more interested in where your heart’s desire is and who you’re becoming in your character than he is and what exactly you’re doing. Because if God can transform your life, he will lead you into down certain paths and roads to honor him. It’s not to say that God doesn’t care what you do. God does care what you do, but his interest is far more in the depth of what’s happening in your heart and how it’s leaning into him and where it’s surrendered to the Lord. And that’s why Jesus says, “Look, follow me.”
The pursuit of your life is to follow him. So the question we should ask is how can we successfully follow after Jesus? And you know, one of the things that I’ve really appreciated this past year, this Gospel of John that we’ve gone through together, we’ve spent 49 weeks looking at the Gospel of John. We started, we’ve taken a few breaks in between, but we started this on December 13, 2020 and we’re ending it today. But one of the incredible things that I think is a testimony to you and your heart for the Lord is, and this is not going to be true for today because this is the day after Christmas, right? But our church is back to the attendance size that we saw pre-pandemic. In fact, I think we’re a little bit past it now.
And even this Christmas and Easter were some of the highest attended services we’ve ever had in the history of our church. We had 26 baptisms this year, which is the most baptisms we’ve ever had. And we spent the entire year in one book, a lot of times people that get up and present before crowd will be worried about keeping everyone’s attention and trying to entertain you so that you return. But I think insane to you, look, we’ve spent over a year in this book since December the 13th of last year, but it’s only been 49 weeks because of a few weeks off. But it’s a testimony to you guys and your desire to know the Word of God and your hunger to want to draw near to him and to see what the Word of God communicates to us.
And it’s very simple. John chapter one all the way to this point, Jesus is ending where he started God, what is your desire for us as your disciples? And Jesus is saying to Peter in this chapter in verse 19, “it’s no different from when you first began, follow me, follow me, let your heart lean into all that I am and pursue me with your life.” That’s God’s way ill. And as Jesus talks about this with Peter, he really shares in the story two detours from that pursuit. Our goal should be singular in looking to know the Lord and love him with all of our lives, but he gives to Peter two ways in which we can be detoured from pursuing what God calls us to and the simplicity of that message and that’s what I want to share with you this morning is looking a little deeper in this section of scripture to see those two statements that Jesus gives to us that reminds us of where that challenge might be for us and the simplicity of pursuing Christ with our life.
And it starts in verse 18. Let’s read this together verse 18, “Truly, truly. I tell you when you were younger, you used to put on your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grew old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will put your belt on you and bring you where do not want to go.” Now he said this indicating by what kind of death he would glorify talking about Peter, he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”. When Jesus is sharing this statement with Peter, remember we’ve gone through this beautiful story where just previous to this, where Jesus met with Peter on the beaches of Galilee on the shores of Galilee and he dealt with the elephant in the room, which was the strain of Peter’s relationship towards Christ.
And in John chapter 13, Jesus had said to his disciples, “where I’m going, you can’t follow because I’m going to die.” That’s the summary of what he said anyway. And Peter looks back to Jesus and says, “Over my dead body, I will lay down my life for you before that’s going to happen.” And then Jesus says to Peter, “Before this night is over, you’re going to deny me three times.” And from that point forward, as the story unfolds, we see Jesus going to the cross, Peter denying Jesus and Jesus looking at Peter acknowledging while he’s being crucified, that he sees Peter denying him. And Jesus shows up on Galilee. At Galilee, after his resurrection meets with Peter and he deals with that sin in Peter’s life that created this distance between he and his relationship with Peter and Jesus, we find forgives Peter and reminds Peter to love him.
And then after he talks about loving him, he then says to Peter, you’re going to stretch out your hand, which is a cultural way in the first century of how the early church would refer to the crucifixion. They would often common vernaculars to state the idea of the crucifixion this way that your hands would be stretched out, that you would be nailed to a cross.
And so he’s indicating to Peter, what kind of life he’s about to live for the sake of Christ. And as if Peter gets the opportunity to fulfill the words that he had previously spoken, I’m going to lay down my life for you. And Jesus says, you’re not in that place here. You’re not spiritually ready. And you’re going to actually deny me. Jesus says [inaudible 00:08:14] forgives him and now Peter has that opportunity to lay down his life for Jesus and after Jesus says, look, you’re going to die because you follow me, Jesus then says to Peter, “okay, so then follow me.” It’s like that you think about the greatest sales pitches ever to be delivered and this probably should not rank at the top, right? Like Peter, you’re going to die. Hey, let’s follow me, right? Because of me, you’re going to die, so follow me. How about that?
And you can see the statement the Jesus is giving to Peter is a very heavy statement. Jesus wants to be realistic with the expectations, knowing that there is a cost and I guess when it comes to the Christian life, I just want to set and appreciate that because I think our tendency sometimes is to soften what it means to be a follower of Jesus and the type of dedication that it takes. How can I make this more palatable? But the reality of what Jesus is saying is you can’t follow Jesus and be a wimp about it. Too often in Christianity, we try to think make this too easy. Put everything on the bottom shelf for everyone but reality is the toughest thing you could probably ever do with your life, is decide to follow Jesus. That takes some real manhood and womanhood to be that dedicated with your life towards that cause because it’s a die to self. In fact, when you read throughout the Gospels, Jesus reiterated that phrase over and over.
And Matthew chapter 16:24, listen, Jesus says this. He says it again Mark eight, but he says this Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus says to his disciples, if anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus’ immense words over what it meant to pursue him. When you think about what Jesus is saying and the challenge of our faith, knowing that it could cost us, I mean, how else do you know the depth of your faith, unless it be challenged. How else would you know that you have a genuine love for Jesus that far exceeds anything else unless there is a cost to pursuing Christ with your life.
You know, as a parent if you have children, your desire is to see these, your children mature and grow up and be able to become independent in how they not only walk in this world not just selfishly, but in order to bless others and if you make everything easy for your kids, they’ll never mature. They’ll never grow up. They’ll always look for some sort of handout. And when it comes to the idea of the cost of our faith, it becomes a place of discipline, a place of recognizing where we truly rest. If our hope is ultimately in Christ, or if it bows out where do we need to grow? It’s when the challenges of life come to us, that it helps us examine is my hope really in Jesus? Your faithfulness and adversity, it’s a beautiful opportunity to bring praise to God. It’s a way of showing what you value with your heart and where your worship ultimately goes.
When I read this story, there’s also within it, the idea of some grace and knowing we are not perfect. Like we just came off the backdrop of Peter in dealing with his own failures and pursuing Jesus with his life. We aren’t always perfect, but the Lord’s calling to us is to follow after him. In fact, Jesus says that again in Luke:14:27, 28, he reminds us to count the cost. Whenever you want to take any sort of significant step in life, you want to evaluate as to whether or not it’s a wise decision, right? I mean, if Jesus is saying to us, look in pursuing after me, you’ve got to deny yourself. You’ve got to die to self. You’ve got to take up your cross. I know those are pretty flowery words in Christianity today, because we like to wear our cross.
But when you think about first century, what the emblem of the cross represented, it was a place of despise and shame. This was a place not to go to be honored. This was a place to be humiliated. And this was what Jesus calls his disciples to do is to say, look, there is a road that you’re going to walk in pursuing Christ that the world is not going to call popular, but what will you do? It’s indicated by what you love. So I guess the question we could ask is why would someone pay that kind of cost? Why would you be willing to take up the cross? I think verse 24 of this chapter, the author and some of those around him give us a little bit of an indication as to what makes this matter. He says, this is the disciple who is testifying about these things and wrote these things.
And we know that his testimony is true. At the end of the Gospel of John you see, not only John indicating this is me writing, but those that are with John, probably at the church of Ephesus saying to us, yes, what John is saying we just want to throw in our thoughts here and let you know that we’re all validating this that no matter who picks us up and what century you’re a part of, we want you to know this is true. And so when you think about why would someone pay the cross? The truth is the only thing worth living for. The truth is what transforms.
The alternative decision for you, if you have come to recognize that Jesus is true and his word is right to do anything other than pursue that as a life of a lie, how could you go on living that way? What makes me want to pay this sort of cost? It’s because of the truth of who Christ is and we want to walk in this world as people of integrity, knowing that we observe this truth and I would add to the second point is the reward is great.
The reward is great because you walk in the truth. You live for the purpose for which you were designed connected to the one who designed you for that reason. You live out the divine creation of your being in this world, the way that God intended for you to exist. The reward is great. Ultimately you’re connected to the creator who created you for relationship and the purpose for which he has designed you.
CS Lewis says it like this in the Weight of Glory he says “We are half hearted creatures fooling around with selfish ambition when infinite joy is offered to us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum, because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased. CS Lewis is reflecting on us the need for our hearts to pay attention to the prize of what we ultimately have in Christ, “Follow me.” Count the cost.
The cost becomes a deterrent for us, I think sometimes in pursuing Christ but when we examine the opportunity that a cost presents is a beautiful place to represent our faith towards a God who is worthy. Point number two, second thing that can deter from our faith is comparing. The idea of comparing is the next blink in your notes, in verse 20, Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. The one who also had leaned back on his chest at the supper and said, Lord, who is the one who is betraying you? So Peter, upon seeing him said to Jesus, Lord, and what about this man? And Jesus said to him, if I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me. Therefore, this account went out among the brothers that the disciples would not die yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only if I want him to remain until I come what is that to you?
It’s interesting when Jesus gave that statement, people walked around saying that John would never die. That was the belief, that John would never die. That’s not what Jesus is saying and that’s what he reiterated here. And I find it fascinating because of my time living in Utah. I have still heard people take this passage and still say that about John, the apostle, that he could be walking in the earth today. Rather than create some weird folk or theology over this verse, let me just point out that Jesus’s point isn’t that John is going to live forever. Jesus’s point rather is the promise that he’s going to return here. That’s what Jesus is trying to say. Or Jesus is saying here is “Follow after me”, and Jesus is giving the idea of his return in this statement that Jesus is promising to come back for his disciples and for his followers. But in addition to that, Jesus is also teaching us something about Peter’s posture here that we often become a victim to in our own lives, right?
Peter does what all of us do. When we look at our life and things around us, we look at our possessions in circumstances and we start to compare and Jesus recognizes what kind of danger that can be to the life of the disciple in the simple pursuit that he gives us to follow him. Comparing is the greatest distractor, to take your eyes off the Lord and who he calls you to be. Because only the Lord knows the road you have walked and the road he calls you to walk on. It’s why you can’t compare yourself in your Christian life to other believers because we’ve all come from different places and you and the Lord are the only ones that know the road that you’ve truly walked and try to compare yourself or to try to become like someone else may be contrary to who the Lord even wants you to be, but maybe in a different place than where you are from them. Only you and God know the true battles you have faced internally and externally. So stop looking what others may have or not have.
And look to who Jesus calls you to be. It’s good to have godly role models. It’s good to have examples, but I think the examples are far more important in seeing the type of character that we should conduct ourselves with in life than it is to try to repeat the exact same process that got someone to where they are. Try to achieve what the same accolades that they have, have the same possessions, which they own; that’s not who God calls us to be a role model or an example is important to see how to emulate the Christian life. And the apostle Paul said that to the church in Corinth, the model after me, live your life after me, as I have lived after Christ, he was a physical representation, an example to the other believers to understand what it meant to live a godly Christian life. But comparison is the great distractor to take your eyes off the Lord because comparing leads to coveting an envy and coveting leads to sin, because it makes you jealous and resentful to God and others.
Coveting and envy are Satan’s tool to trap you into pursuing the path that the Lord is calling you on to following him. It’s been said that covetousness is the forerunner of all manner of sin among them theft and burglary and embezzlement. At its root coveting is the result of envy, a sin which once it takes root in the heart leads to worse sin. And why does covetousness, why does it get us distracted and lead to sin? Coveting and envy is really built on self-love or self idolatry. It’s the exact opposite of what Jesus caused his disciples to do. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. It’s a surrendering of all that we are to pursue all that he leads us to in him. So the encouragement is to focus on who God calls you to be, not who others want you to be, not who you covet to be, but who the Lord made you to be.
When you think about coveting, you cannot be covetous and thankful at the same time. Covetousness kills contentment and joy and peace. We stay continually aware of all that God has done for us. We safeguard our hearts against that covetousness. I even see it and I’m sad to say this, sometimes even among churches, churches sometimes will see other churches down the road that seem to be growing and increasing in attendance and all of a sudden they feel like it becomes a competition to try to get more people in the pews than others. And before long, they find themselves is not looking to the Lord anymore, but how they can beat the church down the road. And guys, can I tell you here at Alpine, God doesn’t call us to be the church down the road. God calls us to be who he has designed us to be, to understand what our gifts are and our abilities as he brings his people together and use that to glorify him not because we’re looking to someone else, but because we are looking to the Lord and our desire to make him known in this world.
So how do you become who God has called you to be, died of self and follow Jesus? There’s a book written by S.I. McMillen. It’s called None of These Diseases. And he tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question in an application for this college and it had asked, are you a leader? And reluctantly, but truthfully she answered on the application, no. And a few weeks later she received an acceptance letter to her surprise. She thought for sure that would end it. But she received an acceptance letter and was excited about it. And she opened up the letter inside and it said this dear applicant, a study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it’s imperative that they have at least one follower.
Guys, when I think about pursuing Jesus with your life, we’re not looking to impress God with who we are. We want to be impressed the greatness of who he is. It doesn’t call us to be a leader. He calls us to be a follower and being his follower we see the Lord do great things through us because of his power. Sometimes we get off the beaten path because we look at others and we have this measure of what success should be and we see them and we think that they and their actions are achieving whatever we might think success might be. But success in God’s eyes is different than the world’s. Success in his eyes is faithfulness. And in the Lord that only happens through a heart that’s committed to follow and letting our great leader shape us.
In fact, in verse 25, I think ends there in that beautiful way. It says, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I expect that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” I love the ending of that. When you think about the beauty of who Christ is, you read the Gospel of John and you might get to the conclusion and there’s all of Jesus’ stories and John’s saying now that doesn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg. The only reason we have the stories in the Gospel of John, which they’re great stories in the gospel of John is so that you find life in Jesus and surrender your life to him, but know that’s not all that Jesus’ life has done in this world and that’s not all Jesus continues to do.
In fact, if I just take verse 25 and I try to make a little application to our own life, he’s still writing a story and he’s writing a story in you and you have the privilege and the opportunity and the gift to be in that position to see God’s glory revealed in your heart and to make a difference in the world around you. And God continues to write the evidence of that story over and over again if we as his people would do, but one thing, “Follow him.”