Following Jesus Unto Death


Following Jesus Unto Death

October 29th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM

After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, 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 Jonas, 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 Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto 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.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 21:1-22

10-29-89    10:50 a.m.


And welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television.  We are now together in the faith, in this dear church, in the gospel of Christ.  This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled Following Jesus unto Death.  It is an exposition of the last chapter of the Fourth Gospel.  We have been preaching in these days and months and years past on the Gospel of John, and this is the last and climactic message.  The twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John is manifestly and plainly an appendix; it is an addendum.  The Gospel of John reaches a glorious, incomparable climax at the end of the twentieth chapter, then there is an additional word that the apostle John writes.  It is a tribute to his old friend, Simon.

Simon was martyred, almost certainly, in about 64 to 68 AD, and John is still alive at 100 AD.  And if you remember the closing of the synoptic Gospels, Simon Peter is left in a very unhappy light.  He is cursing and denying that he even knows the Lord [Matthew 26:69-74; Mark 14:66-71].  Out of tribute to his old friend, Simon Peter, the apostle John writes this addendum, this appendix, to his Fourth Gospel [John 21:1-25].

 It starts off like this.  Simon Peter and six other of the apostles are in Galilee, returning to their old fishing business [John 21:1-2].  The commission has not been given.  The Holy Spirit certainly has not been poured out.  They have no idea of the tremendous assignment that lies before them as emissaries of the kingdom of God.  So they are gone back to their old life and their old business, they have gone back to fishing [John 21:3].  And while they are fishing there in Galilee, in the early morning, having caught nothing, they see Someone through the dim mist of the hour on the shore, and He calls to them and asks them if they’ve caught anything.  And they reply, “No.”  And whoever that is in the dim of the morning hour answers back, saying, “Take your net and place it on the right side and you shall catch.”  They did and caught a multitude of fish [John 21:4-6].  “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved”—that is the way John refers to himself—says to hardened fisherman, Simon Peter, “You know who that is?  That is the Lord.”  And when Simon Peter heard John’s evaluation of that Stranger, he cast himself into the sea and came to the Lord Jesus.  The Lord was there on the shore, with a coal of fire, with a breakfast prepared [John 21:7-9].

And after they had eaten, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me more than these?

He saith unto Him, Lord, You know that I love You.

He saith unto him, Feed My lambs.

Then twice He repeats the question, “Do you love Me?  Feed My sheep.”

[John 21:15-17]  

Then the Lord adds:

Truly, truly—amen, amen; it is in Greek, amen, verily, verily I say unto thee, When you were young, you girded yourself, you walked whither you would; but when the days multiply, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

[John 21:18]

He would be crucified; he would die with the outstretched hands.

This spake Jesus, glorifying by what death he should glorify God—by crucifixion—

And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me.

Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved—John’s word describing himself—Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

[John 21:19-21]

“If I am to follow You unto crucifixion and death, what of John?”

And Jesus saith unto Simon, If I will that he never suffer, that he never die—if I will that he be here when I come, what is that to thee?

“You” and the Greek is very emphatic there—

                        You, you follow Me.

[John 21:22]

And we have the closing picture of Simon Peter, following the Lord Jesus unto crucifixion and unto death [John 21:18].

In exposition of the passage, first: what it is to follow the Lord Jesus is a giving up.  Jesus saith to Simon, “Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?” [John 21:15].  Now, when you read an English commentary—they’re all alike, every one of them—what they will say is that the Lord is asking Simon Peter, “Do you love Me more than these other apostles love Me?”  And they base it on the avowal of Simon Peter when the Lord was crucified, that “all these other apostles may deny Thee, but I will not” [Mark 14:29].  That is what they base it on, but they don’t base it on the text.  The Greek of this is decisive and moves in an altogether different direction.  The contrast is not between “you and them,” you and those disciples, “you and them,” but the contrast is between “Me and these” [John 21:15].

What the Lord asked Simon Peter was, “You have gone back to your old business.  You have gone back to the fish, to the nets, to the sea; you have gone back to your old life [John 21:1-3].  I am calling you to a new life, a new dedication, a new consecration in Me.  Do you love Me more than you love this old life, this old business, this old fishing assignment?  Do you?” [John 21:15].

And Simon Peter says, “Yea, Lord; You know that I love You” [John 21:15].

And the Lord says, “Then I am asking you to give it up, and follow Me” [John 21:19]. 

To follow the Lord Jesus is always, and first of all, a giving up.  Sometimes, it is an invitation from heaven to give up small things, worldly things, little things.  In one of my pastorates years ago, I had a jeweler.  I was in his beautiful store and I noticed a large diamond on his finger.  I remarked on it.  He said, “Look at it.  It’s worthless.”  I couldn’t imagine.  He said, “Look at it.”  And there, in the heart of it, in the center of it, was a piece of coal, a black piece of coal.  How many Christians are like that?  They have no witness, they have no testimony, because they are enmeshed in the compromised life of the world.

Little things; I see that worldly serpent come in that front door of our church.  I see him insinuate himself up and down the pews of our congregation and stick his forked tongue into my face.  Worldliness: things of the world that interdict and contradict the Christian witness, little things.  When I came here to be undershepherd of this dear church over forty-five years ago, there was a very wealthy, affluent woman who, with her family, belonged to the congregation.  And upon an evening, she had a dinner for me in her beautiful, palatial home in Highland Park.  I was seated there in that gorgeous place: that large extended table, the beautiful accompaniments and concomitants and all the additional things that go with it and the servants serving and all of that group there.  And she, she got up out of her hostess chair and began serving the wine.  She had a choice, two bottles.  And she went around and each one of them received from her gracious hand the poured-out glass and the wine.  And she came to me and she asked me which of those bottles of wine I would choose.  And I said to her, “I don’t drink.”

“Oh,” she said, and pressed the appeal, “you are my guest and this is my beautiful home, and I want you to drink.”

And I said, “No, I will not do it.”

Then, she said further, “But I prepared this dinner just for you, and I bought this finest wine, and I want you to share it with us, all of us.”

I said, “No, I will not drink.”

Then up stood one of those nieces and pointed to her and said, “You lose!  You lose!  We win!  We win!”

And all of them burst into laughter, and burst into clapping, and burst into shouting, and said, “You lose!  You lose!  We win!  We win!”

I had no idea, I thought I was with a bunch of idiots!  I never had anything like that in my life!  And the girl—the niece that stood up there and shouted that—turned to me and said, “Pastor, you don’t understand.  Before the dinner, we made a bet with her.  She said, ‘I can get him to drink.’  And we said, ‘We bet you can’t.’  And we have won!  We’ve won!  She loses.  She loses.”

Sweet people, I’m not saying that your soul is damned in everlasting perdition and hell because you are a social drinker.  I’m just saying to you, you lose your witness when you do.  The reason for that is plain: liquor is a drug.  It’s addictive, like any other drug, and one out of every nine who drink become alcoholics, they become addicted.  And that is just one of the little things that I can give up for Jesus.  Give it up, to follow the Lord is always a giving up.  There’s some things in each one of your lives that, when you dedicate your life to Jesus, you’ll just be invited from heaven to give it up and to follow Him—a giving up.

The second: it is the acceptance of a responsibility, “Feed My lambs” [John 21:15]. Arnia, that is so unusual; the Greek word for lamb is arnion, arnion, and arnia is a diminutive: the “little lambs, little lambs.”  Then, of course, the next two times, “Feed My probata, My sheep” [John 21:16, 17].  But, I can’t forget that, when the Lord called Simon Peter, his first assignment was to “shepherd My little ones, My children, My babies” [John 21:15].  And you have heard me expatiate that, when I came here to the church in Dallas, that is where I started.  To rebuild the church, to make it vibrant and alive, I started with the nurseries.  And you heard me facetiously, say, “I’ve never seen a little baby come to church by itself in my life.”  Whenever you see one, there will be somebody else around.  That pleases God, when we magnify our ministries to our babies and to our children, God is pleased.  That was Simon Peter’s first assignment, “Take care of My arnia, My little ones” [John 21:15].

Then of course, “Shepherd My flock” [John 21:17].  All of us have something that only we can do.  There is an assignment that no one in this earth can accomplish before God but you.  You are privileged.  You are somebody special in God’s sight.   And there is an assignment that only you can achieve.  And when you do it, God is magnified and your own heart is encouraged in the faith.

It is, third, a following, a faithfulness, unto death:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, When you were young, you girded yourself, walked whither you would: but when these days pass, there is a day coming when you will stretch forth your hands, and they will carry you where you do not want to go.

This signified what death he should die to glorify God.

And when He had said this, He saith unto him, Follow Me.

[John 21:18-19]

Following our Lord Jesus unto crucifixion and unto death—it is a wonder of wonders!  “This saith He describing by what death he should glorify God” [John 21:19].  To glorify God in crucifixion, in suffering, in hurt, in agony, and in death, is that the way we glorify God?  My sweet people, if I come to see you and everything is just wonderful—you are affluent, you are healthy, everything is going your way—why, to hear you say, “I thank God,” that is wonderful, beautiful, blessed, and you should.  But what I’d like to do is, I’d like to come to your house and look into your heart when some of the greatest tragedies of life have overwhelmed you, you are crushed, you are broken; then I’d like to hear you glorify the Lord in sorrow, and suffering, and tribulation, and agony, and disappointment.

Isn’t that what happened in the life of Job?  Satan came before the Lord and said, “No wonder he magnifies You.  Look at him.  You put a hedge around him.  You have given him every blessing that heaven could afford.  He is rich, he has his children, he has his family and friends, he is the biggest man in the East.  No wonder he glorifies You!”  Then Satan says, “You take away what he hath, and he will curse You to Your face” [Job 1:9-11].

And the Lord says, “You think so?  Then take away everything that he hath [Job 1:12]. 

And Satan caused a tornado to come, a hurricane to come, a wind to blow.  And it destroyed everything—his house, his flocks, and even destroyed his children [Job 1:13-19].  And Satan looked to see Job curse God to His face.  And instead Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21], glorifying God in our trials.

Well, Satan appeared before the Lord and the Lord said, “Look at him.  Look at him down there, crushed and hurt.  But he is magnifying My name” [Job 2:3].

And Satan said, “Yeah.  That is right.  But, You let me touch him.  You let me touch his body, and he will curse You to Your face” [Job 2:4-5].

And the Lord said, “All right, Satan.  You touch his body.  Only spare his life” [Job 2:6]. 

And Satan went down and afflicted Job, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, with running boils [Job 2:7].  And in his agony and in his suffering, Job sat in an ash heap [Job 2:8], and said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” [Job 13:15].

We magnify God, we glorify God, in our tribulations, and in our sufferings, and in our disappointments, and in our hurts, and in our agonies, and in our loss.  That is when God is glorified, when I magnify His name in the midst of the greatest hurts that heart could ever know, following Jesus unto death.

And Peter turning back, looked, and John also was following.

And Simon Peter said to the Lord Jesus, Lord, You say I am to follow You unto crucifixion and unto death.  What of this man?  What of him?

And the Lord replied, If I will he never suffers, he never even dies, he is here when I come, what is that to thee?  You, you follow Me.

[John 21:20-22]

Following Jesus, then, is a personal accountabilityWhat of them?  That is between them and God. There are places where only you stand before God alone.  Whatever others may be, whatever others may do, just you and God.  You are born for yourself.  You are going to die for yourself.  You are going to be judged for yourself.  And there are places in your life when what others do, or think, or say, do not enter into the equation.  It’s just you and God, a personal accountability.

This is a leaf out of my life toward half a century ago, almost fifty years ago.  I accepted an invitation to hold a two-week revival meeting on the western coast, in California.  In Oregon lived my older sister, my father’s daughter.  And she came to the little city where I was preaching, rented a room in a hotel, and attended the revival.  I would say, just speculating, that she came just to see what kind of a preacher her little brother was.  In the days of the revival meeting, when the Spirit of God moved in the services, she came under deep conviction.  And upon an evening, when I gave the invitation, down the aisle she came, and with many, many tears, accepted the Lord Jesus as her Savior, and gave her heart and life to the Lord.  On Monday, when the revival was over and she was to return to her home in Oregon, and I to return to my pastorate, she asked that she could visit with me.  And we sat down at length together,  and she said, “Little brother, when I go back home, my husband is not a Christian.  Every friend I have is out in the world.  They’re not Christians.  What shall I do?”

I replied to her, “When you go back home, first of all, you sit down with your husband and you tell him you have given your heart to the Lord.  You are a Christian now.  You have been saved, you have been forgiven.  You explain to him what has happened to you.  Then, you join a church: a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring church.  Then you call your friends one at a time and you tell them you are not there in the world anymore.  You are not going to share that life anymore.  You have given your life to God and you are going to work and serve Him in the church.”

She went back home to Oregon.  And after some days had passed, her first letter came.  She said, “Little brother, I told my husband.  And he was marvelously and wonderfully encouraging.”  He said, “I’ll give you a car and you can work and serve the Lord.  I’ll never stand in your way.  I’ll help and I’ll encourage.”  That is the first letter.  The second later came after the passing of many days.  And she said, “My little brother, I have lost every friend that I had, every one of them.  When I told them what had happened to me, and that I was leaving that kind of a worldly life, and going to serve the Lord Jesus, all of them have passed me by.  I have lost every old friend that I have.  But,” she said, “I have new friends, I have new friends, and they’re in the church and in the house of God.  And my new friends are better than my old friends.”  Then in the passing of the time and the passing of time, the third letter came from a member of the family.  She had fallen asleep in the Lord and had been translated to her home in heaven.

Safe in the arms of Jesus,

Safe on His gentle breast,

There by His love o’ershadowed,

Sweetly her soul found rest.

[from “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” Fanny Crosby]


It is a personal accountability, “What about him?  What about them?  And what about these?” [John 21:20-22]. There are places in your life where you stand alone before God.  And that is when you listen to the voice of the Lord as He calls you to the assignment He has written in the Book of Life for you [Ephesians 2:10].

And in the great throng of people in God’s house this holy hour, a family you coming into the fellowship of our dear church; a couple you answering God’s call in your heart; or just one somebody you, “Pastor, today the Lord has spoken to me and I am answering with my life” [Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8].  In the balcony round, down a stairway, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “This is God’s day for me, and pastor, here I stand.”  May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.