Last week we finished the “Weapons of our Warfare” series and today, I’m not going to start a new series but I felt led to give you a single sermon. It’s out of the Gospel of John, so if you have your Bibles please turn with me to the very last chapter––Chapter 21, and we’ll read the last ten verses from 25-35. I remember referencing this a few weeks ago, and I would like to focus on it today.
Before we read our scripture verse, I came across a couple of things I’d like to share with you on the subject of ‘calling.’
First, Bruce Larson said: “Quite often the absence of immediate success is the mark of a genuine call.”
That goes well with what we are going to talk about.
Second, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson on How We Get our Calling Wrong:
First, we get our calling wrong when we imagine that God needs us, to be the hero of our own story, rather than Christ. Second, we routinely misdiagnose the problem of our world, underestimating estimating the brokenness of sin and overestimating our ability to fix things. Third, our witness of God often depicts a Lord who is domesticated to serve our causes. Fourth, a justifiable focus on external problems can easily blind us to the depth of our complicity in the pain of the human condition.
And that ties in with our passage today. We’re going to read about a very specific calling on a very specific individual who had previously faced a failure, yet God gave him a second chance. And someone whom I think had the great humility to not think of himself as a hero or worthy of the calling. In fact, I think he was downright scared. Let’s read:
Scripture: Jesus Reinstates Peter
15 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.”
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.”
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.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 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.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
20 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?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 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?”
24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
25 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.
Now, I admit this is kind of an odd passage to preach from. And we’re going to tackle this more like a Bible study than a typical sermon. That is, I’m going to focus more on the story than on how it applies to us. As we read it, it’s more of an epilogue than anything. John is letting you know that Peter was reinstated as a disciple, that Peter had resolve and remorse and had a recommitment after having denied Jesus three times. In case anyone had wondered, he did not suffer the same fate as Judas. And I don’t think the two can really be compared anyway, but we certainly see Jesus’ forgiveness toward Peter for his denial. Here, when asked three times, he answers “Yes Lord, I love you,” three times. And we’re going to go deeper into that in a few minutes.
Another reason why this is here is because it also identifies John as a disciple. The one whom Jesus loved. And I remember many years ago, talking to someone who was maybe atheist, maybe agnostic, definitely a skeptic, who read that passage and thought it was a bunch of bunk. Why would a disciple brag like that? In the end, it just seems like the disciple was putting himself above all the rest “as the one whom Jesus loved” presumably more than the rest and my friend thought that John wrote himself in that way because he was bragging that he was the most loved or the greatest of the disciples.
But instead, John was giving a story that goes something like this: There once was a little boy…and then at the end of the amazing story the old man says, “and that little boy was me.”
It’s more of a wow factor, and it was John’s way of saying he experienced these things firsthand. It was his way of stating this was his eyewitness account.
Those were the main reasons why this epilogue is in there. But what I would like to focus on today is specifically what Jesus said to Peter. Why was it so important to Peter and why would The Holy Spirit have made sure John kept those words in his gospel? What does it mean for us today?
Have you ever looked at another person and saw that their calling was happening quicker or was more successful, even though they had the same talents that you had? Maybe you compared churches that were more successful than ours, and they had this or that and it was working out better for them and you wondered, “God, why them and not us?”
God wants to remind us to not let that concern us. Our job is to keep running in our lane, keeping our eyes on the prize and being faithful doing what God has called us to do. It’s our obedience that matters to God, not necessarily what we consider success in our own eyes. Our obedience is considered success in God’s eyes. Just as no two people are alike, no two callings are alike. We have to stay focused on our calling, and nevermind about the other person’s calling, whether we consider it more successful or easier or more fair or whatever.
You’ll notice that Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and then when Peter said yes, that’s when Jesus gave Peter the command, “Feed my sheep.” And Jesus didn’t stop asking at one time, he asked three times.
Our calling is part of our personal relationship between the Lord and us. It’s individual. Like I said, just as there are no two people alike, there are no two relationships with God that are quite the same––they are individual, personal relationships. We are each in a different place on the same path. The only person walking next to us on that path is Jesus. Some who started out with us might be further up the path, some might be behind. The focus shouldn’t be where my walk is with the Lord compared to someone else, the focus should simply be, “Do we love him?”
One of the ways in which our love is demonstrated is by our faithfulness to following the call of God on our lives, no matter whether it’s in ministry or business or a family situation that God is calling us to commit to. Our love for God is demonstrated by committing ourselves to the call no matter if it’s a more difficult road than we expected, or if it’s more difficult or less successful than someone else who is doing the same thing.
Sometimes we see people who are much more successful and we ask God, “Why am I financially struggling when they’re not?” Or “Why is my church empty and theirs is full when I’m called just as much as they are?”
See, we’re not that much unlike Peter. We’re a lot more like Peter than we would like to admit.
I honestly don’t think that Jesus was afraid that Peter might back out on him a second time. After all, Jesus knew that Peter would deny him three times when Peter didn’t even know that himself. So, I’m sure that Jesus knew that Peter would be filled and strengthened with The Holy Spirit. And when Jesus first called Peter to be a disciple, I’m sure he knew what Peter would eventually accomplish for God’s glory.
And what does Jesus ask of Peter? “Feed my sheep.” It sounds simple. A lot of people think that pastoring is simple, right? You mean, just teach and preach the gospel to your followers? Watch over them? Take care of them? Ask any pastor, it’s not always that simple. Peter might have thought, why do you need to ask me so emphatically? Why three times? Notice Peter was actually upset that Jesus would ask three times. He was insulted by it.
But when Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times, I think one of the reasons why Peter might have been offended was because he might have thought Jesus didn’t trust him for having denied him three times the night of his arrest. But I think that the resurrection and events that transpired afterward really strengthened Peter. I think that Peter’s remorse for having denied Jesus also strengthened him and gave him hope. Now Peter can have a second chance at serving Jesus. He can do it right this time, and he’s willing to go through anything in order to do it. And maybe Jesus asking him in this way might have strengthened Peter’s resolve even more.
But Jesus had to bring up that old wound.
“Of course I love you,” Peter said. I can imagine him almost in tears.
In the verses prior to this, we read that when the disciples were fishing, and they were not far from shore, they saw Jesus, and Peter jumped out of the boat and into the water because he was so excited to see Jesus. He just couldn’t wait to get to shore.
So Peter’s enthusiasm demonstrated just how much he loved Jesus.
So what was Jesus actually getting at when he asked Peter this question three times? What he was saying was, “I’m going to ask you to do something, and it’s going to require commitment. A lot of commitment. Like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. There’s going to be ups and downs and victories and hardships. All like you’ve never had before and which you could never imagine.” That’s essentially what Jesus was saying when he asked Peter and stressed this question three times.
Then Jesus emphasizes the hardships in verses 18 and 19 when he said: “18 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.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Now, by what Peter says next, there’s a little bit of fear, isn’t there? There’s still the realization that he may have to face the crowds again. He may be tempted to deny Jesus again. I can’t say as I’ve ever blamed Peter. I mean, if we were there, if it was us on the night Jesus was arrested, what might we have done? But that same thing is what Jesus is asking Peter to commit himself to. It wasn’t just a one-time deal. Peter is going to have to stand up to the crowds for the rest of his life. Jesus is asking Peter for a commitment that may end in his arrest, persecution and death.
There are many times throughout history where people have had to face death for following Jesus. They’ve made the choice to commit to Jesus. There are those even today who face death for following Jesus.
This is from America Magazine in 2012: “Though the statistics are uncertain and highly dependent on counting methodologies, the number of Christians killed for their faith every year almost certainly lies in the thousands and possibly tens of thousands. According to the International Society for Human Rights, Christians are estimated to make up 80 percent of those who are persecuted for their religion. They have been killed in India, Vietnam, Iraq, Colombia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, China and Indonesia.”
These things might seem far away, but we don’t have to look any further than our own American history to see that people have put their lives on the line to commit to a cause they believed in. This is not particularly regarding Christianity, but imagine the resolve these men had to face death for what they knew was right:
On July 4, 2018, The Hutchinson Leader published this by Kay Johnson,
By signing the [Declaration of Independence], the 56 men risked high treason against the King of England. In essence, they signed their death warrants because that was the penalty. However, death was not simple or quick. It was a process. First, the guilty party was to be hanged until unconscious. Then cut down and revived. Then disemboweled and beheaded. Then cut in quarters. Each quarter was to be boiled in oil. The remnants were scattered abroad so the last resting place of the offender would remain forever unnamed, unhonored and unknown.
In addition to death, all of the offender’s earthly goods were confiscated by the state. The family could own no property and this dictate extended to future heirs. In the words of Shakespeare, “For the sins of your fathers, you, though guiltless, must suffer.”
The Houston Chronicle published this in 1998:
Often when we ask for a person’s signature, we will call it their “John Hancock.” This is because of the fifty-six signatures on the Declaration of Independence, one stands out above the rest. That signature belongs to John Hancock. He was the first to sign the declaration and he signed it in a large and legible script so that the King of England could read his name without using glasses.
Mr. Hancock wanted it to be very clear where his allegiance lay. His commitment to his country was so clear that when King George III offered amnesty to all who would cease fighting, John Hancock was among the select few who were left out of the offer.
This is the type of commitment Jesus is asking Peter to when he asked, “Do you love me?”
Now, it’s interesting that Peter is the only disciple focused on here. And again, maybe it’s because Jesus wanted that resolve from Peter. Maybe he wanted Peter to remember this moment when he might have had to face the crowds again. But Jesus knew what would happen to all of the other disciples. They all had to make the same commitment. They all had to face hardships and persecution.
Historically speaking, according to Christianity.com:
- Peter was crucified, upside down at his request, since he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
- Paul was beheaded.
- Andrew was said to have been crucified.
- Thomas is said to have died in India when pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.
- Philip possibly had a powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman governor. In retaliation the governor had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death.
- Bartholomew had widespread missionary travels attributed to him by tradition: to India with Thomas, back to Armenia, and also to Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. There are various accounts of how he met his death as a martyr for the gospel.
- Matthew the tax collector and writer of a Gospel ministered in Persia and Ethiopia. Some of the oldest reports say he was not martyred, while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
- James The Jewish historian Josephus reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.
- Simon the Zealot so the story goes, ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.
- Matthais The apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition sends him to Syria with Andrew and to death by burning.
- John, the writer of this gospel was the only one of the apostles generally thought to have died a natural death from old age. But this same John is thought to have been the same John who wrote Revelation. And we know that Revelation was written from prison. So John, too, had suffered persecution.
All this to say, that Peter was not alone. Even though Jesus said, “what is that to you?” Peter was not alone in suffering for Christ’s call. John, and all of the other disciples, plus other apostles had to suffer for Christ.
Jesus was not saying that Peter would be the only one to suffer. Jesus just wanted Peter to be focused on his own calling. And that leads me back to us.
Just because Jesus could have answered Peter, or said, “Yeah, you’re all going to have to suffer greatly for me.” It might have put Peter to ease, I don’t know. Maybe it would have done the opposite. But the point is, what does it matter to us what another person’s calling is?
Now that isn’t to say that we can’t rejoice with someone else who is more successful than we are. Paul said to rejoice with those who rejoice. So if someone is successful in their calling––if their church is growing, if they’re a missionary who’s reaching the lost, if their business is doing well, if they’re doing well financially, if God seems to be intervening in their lives in ways that are just miraculous, and it seems that they are living more abundantly than we are, we should not be comparing our lives with theirs, we should rejoice with those who rejoice.
I remember a few weeks ago when I met with Pastor Harry Vellekoop who will be preaching for my ordination next week, he told me how he’s felt like an observer just watching God work around him. There’s been a tremendous growth and enthusiasm in his church. He took on a small church, similar to this one, and God’s just been doing tremendous things with it.
I have to admit I felt my heart sink a little because I haven’t been seeing the same things here, but at the same time I couldn’t help but be encouraged by his testimony.
And I have to realize that God did not give me the time, the talents, the experience and the same calling that he gave pastor Harry. I have to stay focused on where I am and what God is calling me to do. And to be faithful loving God, feeding his sheep to the best of my ability, through the power of The Holy Spirit.
I would like to end today by reading something that Jo Jo Dawson wrote for Charisma Magazine. I came across this the morning I started to write today’s sermon, just after I had settled on my topic. And I think it goes well with today’s sermon and what we’ve discussed in my last series on The Armor of God.
I’ve never seen the world and culture change as much as it has in the last 18 months, especially in America. Some of the change has been positive, and some has been very negative.
Many may feel confused or tempted to compromise in the midst of such dramatic change. However, I believe now more than ever it is time for the body of Christ to stand. I also believe that God is using the change in order to set the stage to pour out His spirit like never before.
The Lord spoke this simple word to me recently regarding everything going on in the world: “Stand.” As soon as the Lord spoke this to me, I was reminded of the story of Shammah, one of King David’s mighty men in 2 Samuel.
When all others chose to retreat, Shammah stood and fought for what God had entrusted to him. Shammah could have run away from the fight like the rest of the men around him. He could have said, “This is just a field of lentils. It’s not worth fighting over.” However, Shammah didn’t just see a field of lentils; Shammah saw harvests for future generations. He knew that if he didn’t defend this field, those coming behind him would not see the harvest. Shammah took a stand, and the Lord stood with him and brought about a great victory! Just like Shammah, God is calling us to be mighty warriors in this hour and to take a stand and fight. When the Lord stands with you, you will never lose a battle.
My friends, it is time to stand for what you believe in. It is time to stand on the principles of God and the [promises] He has given to you. If God has said you can have something or be something, then it is already secure. When you are faced with a choice to either fight or retreat, what will you do? Will you stand in this hour, or will you run from what God has promised you?
[In other words, like Peter, “Do you love me?”]
I have committed to stand and fight all the days of my life for whatever God has for me, my family, my city and my nation. Before any battles come my way, I have already made up my mind to never run but instead to stand. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” We are in a battle. This battle is not just for us. It is for our families, our ministries and businesses, our cities, our regions and this nation. God wants to bring about a great victory. Will He be able to bring victory through you? Will you stand?
In this season, passive and lukewarm Christianity is finished. God is looking for those with a heart like Shammah to stand and fight for whatever field God has called them to. Don’t look at the things God has promised you and count it to be too insignificant to fight for. Future generations may very well be depending on you to stand. Now is the time to stand!
So what is it that God is calling you to do? We need to be like Peter. We need to be like Shammah. To stand and not be bothered with whether or not anyone else will stand with us. To stand and not be distracted by someone else’s work, calling, success or whatever fear or giant or Philistine army or crowd of mockers that might be facing us or threatening to persecute us. We must be focused on the call of God and be faithful to it. We must lean on God’s promises as our confidence. Future generations may well depend on the commitment we make today, wherever God sends us, to stand firm and faithful in the calling that God has placed in our hearts today.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen