Following Jesus Unto Death
August 12th, 1973 @ 7:30 PM
FOLLOWING JESUS UNTO DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-12-73 7:30 p.m.
On the radio of the city of the Dallas you are happy with us in the First Baptist Church. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Following Jesus Unto Death. It is an exposition of the latter part of the twenty-first chapter of John. We shall read out loud together beginning at verse 15, reading to the end of the chapter. John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Fourth Gospel, the last chapter, chapter 21, beginning at verse 15, reading to the end of the chapter [John 21:15-25]. Now all of us here in this great auditorium, and we have a marvelous crowd tonight. Ah, it blesses my soul to look at you! Everyone in this great auditorium and on radio, if you have a Bible, read out loud with us John 21, beginning at verse 15. Now all of us together:
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs.
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me.
Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee?
Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me.
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, he shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
This is an addendum to the Gospel of John, for the Gospel of John ends with the twentieth chapter. And it ends glorious, climatically when Thomas on that Easter Sunday morning, when they rolled the stone away, looked upon the Lord the Sunday night later and said, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. Then it closes. He writes the purpose of the book. These signs are written, this Gospel is penned, that you might believe in Jesus; and believing have life everlasting [John 20:31].
Now the synoptic Gospels leave Peter in a very poor light. He is denying his Lord [Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62]. And when you think of Simon Peter in those synoptic Gospels, that’s what you think. Just to call his name is to bring to mind his abysmal denial of our Savior. John wrote his Gospel long time after the other disciples had died, and certainly a generation after Simon Peter had been crucified.
The twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John is a tribute to his old friend. He presents Simon Peter as the Lord called him, after his denial, as the Lord called him to a second ministry. It came about like this. Up there in Galilee after the Lord was crucified [Matthew 27:32-50], after He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], but before the commission was given [Matthew 28:18-20], before Pentecost [Acts 2], before the disciples had any idea of the great far-reaching establishing of the church, seven of those disciples have drifted up to Galilee [John 21:1-2]. They are to meet the Lord at an appointed place in an appointed mountain [Matthew 28:16-20]. And while they are waiting there, Simon Peter says to the other six, “I used to fish for a living. I am going back to my old business. There is no future to the Christian faith. There is nothing that we know of by which we can live, buying bread. I am going back to my old fishing business.” And whatever Simon Peter did, a natural leader of men, others followed him. So the other disciples said, “Well, we will go back too” [John 21:2-3]. And there they are, back at the old place, back at the old business, back at the old nest, back with the old boats, back at the old life. They are in it again.
All that night they caught nothing [John 21:3]. And in the mist of the gray morning hour, a shadowy figure, barely discernable is seen on the shore. And whoever He is, He lifts up His voice and He says, “Have you caught anything? Have you any meat? Have you caught anything?”
And they answered, “No!” [John 21:4-5].
And whoever that is on the shore speaks to them and says, “Take the net and put it on the right side of the boat, and you will catch” [John 21:6]. For some reason they follow the advice of that unknown stranger. They change the net from this side of the boat to that side of the boat and when they do, they catch a great multitude of fish [John 21:6].
And when that was done, the apostle John said to Simon Peter, “Simon, you know who that is, that shadowy figure in the gray mist of the dawn? You know who that is? That is the Lord, that is the Lord” [John 21:7].
And when John said to Simon, “That is the Lord,” he cast himself into the sea and came to Jesus [John 21:7]. And the other disciples came, wrestling, six of them with that catch of fish. And Simon went down and pulled it up by himself [John 21:8-11], the big fisherman of the morning sermon.
When they looked there at the feet of the Lord there was a breakfast prepared, a coal of fires, and bread and fish laid thereon. So they broke bread together [John 21:12-14]. And when they had dined, Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said, “Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?” [John 21:15].
In the English language there is an ambiguity there. Does He mean Simon do you love Me more than these disciples love Me? Or do you love Me more than you love the fishing business and the old life and the old world? You couldn’t tell from the English. But there are expositors in Greek language who say, and I’ve looked at it as carefully as I know how, they say that there’s only one way that you can translate that question. It is not “Simon, do you love Me more than these love Me,” talking about the other disciples. But the question in the original is, “Simon, do you love Me more than you love these,” the subject is Simon. “Simon, do you love Me more, not than these love Me, but more than you love these”? [John 21:15].
And I can see the Lord ask that question, for Simon has gone back to his old business, his old career, the world, the boats, the fish, the old life. He is gone back to it. And the Lord says, “Simon, do you love Me more than you love these?” [John 21:15].
And with the sweep of His hand I can see the Lord include everything that Simon had known in the years passed. The lake, the business, the nets, the fish, all of it. “Simon, do you love Me more than you love these?”
And Simon replies, “Lord, You know that I do” [John 21:15].
Then the Lord calls Simon the second time. “I am asking you, Simon, to give it up, and to follow Me” [John 21:16, 19].
To love the Lord supremely and to follow Jesus is therefore first of all, a giving up. It is always that. There is no one who follows Christ, no one that is you and you, there is no one who follows Christ but who knows what that means. It is a giving up.
When the rich young ruler came to the Lord Jesus [Mark 10:17-20], He said, “If you would have eternal life, sell everything you have, and come, take up the cross, and follow Me” [Mark 10:21]. The reason for it was the young man loved money. He loved affluence. He loved luxury and ease. He loved riches. And the Lord saith, “The world is so much in your heart. The gate is too narrow and the way is too strait for a man to walk through it holding the world in his arms. Give it up. Give it up, and come and follow Me, and you will have treasure in heaven.” And the young man was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: because he had great riches [Mark 10:22].
To love the Lord is first of all, a giving up. When the Lord called the apostle Paul [Acts 9:1-6], Paul was on the way being the chief rabban of all time. He had ambitions. The tradition in which he had grown up as a young rabbi [Acts 22:3], but in the third chapter of the Book of Philippians he says, “All things that were gain to me . . . these I count as loss for Christ . . . that I might know Him” [Philippians 3:7-10]. To serve the Lord and to follow Christ is always, first of all, a giving up.
I was holding a meeting at Baylor University in the years gone by, and among those who came forward at that service was a beautiful young woman. And she said to me, “I am going with a man who is trying to get me to marry him, and I know it is not God’s will. It displeases Christ.” And she says, “I have come that we might pray that God would give me the strength to give him up.”
All of us, somewhere in our lives, meet those critical moments when God asks of us to give up what separates between us and the will of heaven. Pride, ambition, all kinds of things that separate our souls from the Savior. What it is to follow the Lord and to love God supremely is first of all a giving up.
I was in a jewelry store. One of the members of our church in another city and he had on his hand a beautiful diamond ring, and I remarked on it. He took it off and kind of flung it on the counter and said, “It is worthless. It is worthless.”
Why, I said, “This is a beautiful big…” it was an enormous stone.
Well, he said, “Look at it.”
And I looked at it closely and at the heart of it was a big piece of coal, a black piece of charcoal. It is worthless.
So many Christians are like that. They are fine people. They are noble people. But they have in their lives habits, worldly loves and commitments that destroy their Christian testimony. Why, I’ve gone to some men in this church; fine, able, gifted executives, and have said to them, “The church needs you in places of leadership, but there are things in your life that are so public and known. Would you give them up? Would you give them up?”
Once in a while a man will do it. More often he will not. That piece of charcoal in the middle of a diamond, it makes the life worthless. The testimony is destroyed just for the lack of a willingness to give up a worldly pleasure for Jesus’ sake.
What is it to love Christ supremely? To follow Him, it is first of all a giving up. “Simon, I ask of you to give it up. Give it up. All of the old life, of the old world; give it up and follow Me” [John 21:15-22].
It is second of all the acceptance of a responsibility. “Simon, lovest thou Me?”
He said, “Lord, You know I love You.”
Jesus saith unto him, “Feed My lambs” [John 21:15].
He saith unto him a second time, “Simon, lovest thou Me?”
He said, “Lord, You know I love You” [John 21:15].
He said unto him, “Shepherd My flock. Feed My sheep” [John 21:16].
It is second of all the acceptance of a responsibility. “Oh, pastor, I haven’t time, I haven’t inclination, I haven’t abilities!” God didn’t tell you that. There is no one of us… last week I was up there at William Jewell College in Missouri speaking on the charismatic gifts. And one of the things, after studying God’s Word, one of the things that I avowed in all truth, there is nobody but that has a gift. There’s no one of us that has all the gifts. But there is no one of us but that has some gift. All of us have some gift.
And when we love Christ we offer to Him that gift. The Lord said, “Simon, do you love Me?” “You know I do.” “Then,” He said, “feed My lambs” [John 21:15]. There’s a ministry first among our children. “Feed My lambs.” Isn’t that strange? Then He said, “Shepherd My flock. Take care of My sheep [John 21:16, 17], but first feed My lambs [John 21:15], take care of My little ones, My little children.”
I’m going to preach on that next Sunday, feeding the lambs, taking care of the children. But you know what? I want to share with you something that you know, you remember from childhood. A man told a story, a preacher told a story, and it stayed in my mind because of something that happened to me. We were poor. We lived on a farm on the New Mexico-Texas line. And my father gave me a dollar. And that thing looked like as big as a wheelbarrow. He gave me a dollar, a silver dollar, and put me on the little horse, Trixie, and sent me into town four miles away to buy some needed thing for the house, for the home. And when I went to town and got off of the little horse, Trixie, I reached in my pocket for the dollar to buy the thing my father asked me to bring and I had lost it. It had fallen out of my pocket.
Oh, I just died! I got on the horse and drove back, crying all of the way, four miles. I had lost that dollar. To me I had lost a fortune, the family fortune. Oh dear, I saw my mother first. She said, “Why, son, we understand.” When I saw my father, “Why, son, that could happen to anybody, to me. Don’t be grieved. Don’t cry.”
Well, anyway, that background and then this preacher told this story. There was a man, there was a man walking down the streets of the city and there was a little boy on the corner of the street searching everywhere. And the little lad was crying his heart out.
The man stopped. And he walked over to the little boy and he said, “Son, what’s the matter? Why are you crying so?”
And the little boy said, “My father gave me a dollar to buy something for the house, and I have lost the dollar. And if I can’t find it, when I go home my father will beat me to death. I’m afraid to go home, and I must find that dollar. I must find it, I must find it.”
The man looked around with the little boy and they couldn’t find it. It rolled down the sewer somewhere. The man reached into his pocket and gave the little boy a dollar and said, “Son, here’s the dollar. Don’t cry anymore.” And when the boy received the dollar from the man’s hand, the little fella fell down on his knees and put his arms around the legs of the kind, good man and said, “Oh mister, I wish you were my father.”
Well, the reason the preacher told that story was what happened looking down and seeing that ragged urchin with his arms around his legs saying, “Oh, mister, I wish you were my father,” that man spent the rest of his life and his fortune finding boys that he could help along the way.
Well, when I heard the story, it had that repercussion in my heart. And the spirit of that man who moved by that spent the rest of his life searching out boys who needed help. That’s what Jesus meant.
“Simon, lovest thou Me?”
“Lord, You know that I love You” [John 21:15].
He saith unto him, “Take care of My little ones. Feed My lambs. Start there” [John 21:15].
That’s what I am going to preach about next Sunday when I preach on this text. Where do you start in a church? Where do you start in the kingdom of God? Where? You start with the children. You’re going to build you a church? Start with the children. You’re going to build a kingdom? Start with the children. You’re going to build a household of faith? Start with the children. Start where Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Feed My lambs [John 21:15]. Take care of My sheep” [John 21:16]. It is the acceptance of responsibility.
I must hasten. It is a following unto death.
Verily, I say unto you, truely I tell you Simon, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked anywhere you would: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God.
That is, Simon Peter should die with the outstretched hands. He should die by crucifixion, with his hands nailed to the tree.
A following unto death. You know, the martyr spirit is a marvelous thing to behold. Men, women who love Christ, who serve God unto death, it’s a marvelous thing. Wherever you see it, it is a wondrous thing. For example, all Daniel had to do to save his life was to close his window when he prayed. I mean, it’s that simple. Close his window. Pray in secret where nobody could see him. Just close that window east towards Jerusalem. Just close it. Just close it. But he didn’t close it. It says as aforetime he knelt down three times a day with that window open toward the Holy City and prayed to God [Daniel 6:10]. All he had to do was to close it.
Or the three Hebrew children: all they had to do to save their lives when the trumpet was blown was to kneel down before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. That’s all. Just kneel down. No trouble at all. Just kneel. And they refused to bow [Daniel 3:12-18].
The martyr’s spirit. Like the Lord Jesus. Satan said to the Lord, “Lord You kneel down here before me, and I will give Thee the kingdoms of the world and all the glory of them” [Matthew 4:8-10]. How simple just to kneel. The martyr’s spirit. No cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. No agony [Luke 22:44]. No crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29]. No Gethsemane [Matthew 26:47-57]. Just bow down. That’s all.
Think of the martyrdom of Polycarp at Smyrna in 150 AD, the pastor of the church, the aged, aged pastor, he served Jesus eighty-six years, the aged pastor of the church at Smyrna. When the Roman emperor saw him, disliking to burn at the stakes so godly a man, the judge said, “If you will take a pinch of incense and just put it on the fire that burns before the image of the emperor, you will be spared. Just a pinch of incense.” And he refused to do it, the martyr’s spirit. And they burned him at the stake, refusing to say kurios kaisar, kurios iēsous, not “Caesar is Lord”; “Jesus is Lord.” And he refused just that little pinch of incense. Isn’t that remarkable? The martyr’s spirit.
I was over there in Hong Kong when these people were pouring out of communist China. And they told me of a little church in China, a little church. Every member of which had died, martyred, their heads cut off. What had happened was the atheists, those brigands, gathered all the members of the church, put them inside and put them out one at a time and asked them if they were Christians, if they served Christ. And when they said yes they cut off their heads, one at a time.
And the last to come out of the house was a little boy, a little boy. And the Chinese brigands, those rough murderers hesitated about cutting off the head of that little boy. And the leader of those awful men took a picture of Jesus and put it down on the ground and there in the dust said to the little boy, “You take your heel and you grind that picture of Jesus into the dust and the dirt and we will let you live.”
And the little boy looked down there on the ground in the dust of that picture of the Lord then he raised up his eyes to heaven and said, “Lord Jesus, one time You died for me. This time I will die for You.” And he put down his head and they cut it off. Every member of the church, the martyr spirit.
“This signified by what death he should glorify God” [John 21:19]. Oh my people, the faith has in it the blood red of the crimson of life. The generations that have brought it to us have paid that price for it, and it is no less dear to us.
We stand now and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, you, you, if the Holy Spirit calls you, tonight will you answer with your life? [Romans 10:8-13]. “Here I am, and here I come.” The family, the couple, or just you; while we stand and while we sing.