For His Old Friend, Simon Peter
September 3rd, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
FOR HIS OLD FRIEND, SIMON PETER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-3-89 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled For His Old Friend, Simon Peter. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we have come to the last chapter. This is an unusual addendum. The Gospel of John plainly closes with the twentieth chapter, it closes dramatically, climactically [John 20:1-31]. Then, to the surprise of anyone reading it, there is an addendum. There is an appendix. There is a chapter added: chapter 21 [John 21:1-25]; and what happened is very apparent. The martyrdom of Simon Peter occurred almost certainly between about 64 and 67 AD. And John is writing at about 100 AD. He is still alive. He is the apostle in the church at Ephesus.
And those Gospels that circulated, the New Testament as we have it, was not collected until many years afterward. Those Gospels that circulated have a climactic presentation of Simon Peter that is most unsavory and unfavorable. He is there cursing and denying that he even knows the Lord [Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62]. Well, John, even though he recounts that also [John 18:15-18], John seeks to write a memorial to his old friend Simon Peter. And that memorial is this addendum that he adds to his Gospel [John 21:1-25].
I would think that John wrote his Gospel [John 1-20] many, many years, decades before he added this twenty-first chapter [John 21:1-25]. I think that because the verse before the last is an authentication, an affirmation, by the elders of the church at Ephesus. They add to this one sentence: “This is the disciple”—talking about John—“which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true” [John 21:24], a commendation and affirmation on the part of the elders of the church at Ephesus.
So in tribute to his old friend Simon Peter, he writes these words: “Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias” [John 21:1]. You see, it’s not known as Galilee any longer. This is 100 years AD. So they call the “Sea of Tiberias” Galilee. This is the way he did it. There were Simon Peter and six other of the disciples, and Simon Peter said, “Our Lord is dead and He has risen, they say. But I don’t know what that means. No commission had been given.” So Simon Peter says, “I’m going back to my old business, back to my old trade. I’m going fishing.” So they say, “Simon Peter, if you’ve given up hope, we also will go back into that old business.” So they went, started fishing again—all night, caught nothing [John 21:2-3]:
And when the morning was come, Jesus stood on the shore, in the dim morning of the dawn. They did not know it was Jesus. So whoever that is standing on the shore calls out to them, “Have you caught any thing?” And, they say no. And whoever that is on the shore says, “Take the net and put it on the other side of the boat, and you’ll catch.” Well, they tried it—an insignificant change from there to right there—and they couldn’t draw it in for the multitude of fishes. And John said to Simon Peter, “You know who that is? That’s the Lord. That’s the Lord.” And Simon Peter jumped into the sea and the other disciples pulling in the net. And when they were come to the land, they saw a fire of coals there, fish and bread. And Jesus said, “Come and dine.” So after they’d eaten breakfast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me more than these?” He saith, Lord, You know I love You. He saith unto him, “Feed My arnia, My little lambs.”
Not even “My lambs”; “My little lambs,” a diminutive.
So he said a second time, “You know I love You, Lord.”
“Feed My sheep.”
Third time: “You know, Lord, I love You.”
“Feed My sheep.”
Truly, truly, verily, verily: the Greek is amen, amen. You say that after every prayer: Amen. Amen:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When you were young, you girded yourself. You put on your clothes, you walked whither you would; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldst not. This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God.
Simon Peter was to die with the outstretched hands. He was to be crucified, nailed to the cross.
And when He had spoken this, He saith to him, Follow Me—Peter, turning around, looks to see that John also is following. And Peter said to the Lord, What shall this man do? If I am to follow Thee unto death, unto crucifixion, what of John? And Jesus saith unto him, if I will—that he never die—that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? You, you follow Me.
So the last scene we have of Simon Peter is following Jesus unto death. It’s a magnificent tribute. They were friends for years and years and years and years. In the passage you just read, they are partners in the fishing business: John and Simon Peter [Luke 5:10].
And in the first chapter of John, in the beginning, John and Andrew win Simon Peter to the faith of the Lord Jesus [John 1:35-42]. And in that fifth chapter of Luke, when they catch that enormous draught of fishes [Luke 5:4-7]—they’d been fishing for a day and a night and caught nothing; and when the miracle happened, Simon Peter was convicted of his sinful life, fell at the Lord’s knees, and said, “Lord, I am not worthy, I am a sinful man; depart from me” [Luke 5:8].
You have an instance at that at the trial of our Lord, when Simon Peter was warming himself by the fire. There came just a little girl, a little maid, and said to him, “You are one of His disciples.” And when Simon Peter denied it, she said, “You talk like Him. You are one of His disciples.” and Simon Peter said, “You think I talk like Him, then listen to this…” and he swore and cursed a blue streak [Mark 14:66-71]. That was what he’d been doing all of his life.
Simon Peter, kneeling at the Lord: “God knows how sinful I am” [Luke 5:8]. I think that’s true, actually of all of us. We may not all curse, swear. But we all fall short of the holiness and perfection of God [Romans 3:23]. Simon was that; he fell at the Lord’s feet. And the Lord said, “You stand up and do not be afraid and do not tremble. From henceforth, you are going to be a catcher and a fisher of men. And he forsook all and followed Him” [Luke 5:8-11].
Then in the story of the Gospels that followed after, John and Peter are so often together. When our Lord raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, He took with Him Simon Peter and John [Luke 8:41-42, 51-55]. When the Lord sent out the disciples to proclaim the message of hope [Acts 3:1], there are Peter and John walking together. When the Lord was transfigured in that glorious scene on a mountain north of Galilee, there were with Him Peter and John [Luke 9:28-35]. And when the Lord gave that wonderful discourse on the end of time, the apocalyptic revelation, there were with Him, Peter and John [Matthew 24:1-51]. And when the Lord was crucified, it began with an instruction to Peter and John that they prepare the Passover [Luke 22:8].
And during the Passover feast in that upper room, prepared by those two men, the sensitive, tender apostle John lay on the bosom of the Lord [John 13:23]. In the way they ate, they leaned on their left arm and ate with their right hand. So John leaned on the breast of our Lord Jesus, and it was there that Simon Peter said to John, “Ask the Lord who it is, when He says one of us shall betray Him” [John 13:21, 23-24]. And you remember: the Lord dipped in the dish and gave the morsel to Judas Iscariot [John 13:25-26].
After the Passover meal and institution of the Lord’s Supper, which we will observe in keeping with His command next Sunday night—after the institution of the Lord’s Supper, they go to Gethsemane and there again, our Lord takes with Him Peter and John and John’s brother, James [Mark 14:32-33]. And in the arrest and trial, John is there, the friend and acquaintance of the high priest [John 18:15-16], and Simon Peter. Those are the two men who were at the trial—Simon Peter is warming himself by the fire [John 18:18]. And after the crucifixion of our Savior [Mark 15:20-39], and He was buried [Mark 15:42-46], the women look inside an empty tomb [Mark 16:1-6]. And there is an angel of God. And he says to those women, “Go tell His disciples and Peter [Mark 16:7]. Tell His disciples and Peter that He is raised from the dead.”
“Tell Peter.” He had denied the Lord [Mark 14:66-72], but the Lord is merciful to us, forgives our sins, and loves us no matter what dereliction may have followed us [1 John 1:7]. “Tell Peter.” Mary Magdalene sees Peter and John and says, “The tomb is empty.” And they run together, Peter and John. And John, being younger and swifter, outruns Simon Peter. And when he comes to the tomb, he stops and just looks in. But when Simon Peter catches up with him, he just runs right into the tomb, inside [John 20:1-6].
In the great propagation of the gospel of Christ: “He was delivered for our offenses, He was raised for our justification” [Romans 4:25]. In the proclamation of the gospel, in the Book of Acts, Peter and John, at the time of the prayer in the temple, there they are going up together [Acts 3:1]. They heal the man lame from his mother’s womb [Acts 3:2-7]. And seizing the hand of Simon Peter and the hand of John, that man who had been healed, praises God [Acts 3: 8]. And the whole world is introduced to the saving, healing message of our Lord [Acts 3:9]. In the next chapter, chapter 4 of the Book of the Acts: “Seeing the boldness of Peter and John, they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” [Acts 4:13].
When the Holy Spirit opens the gospel to the hated, despised, outcast Samaritans, the church of Jerusalem send Peter and John to avow and to give a report of the grace of God on those Samaritans [Acts 8:14-17]. When the apostle Paul brings back to Jerusalem the marvelous message of God’s grace to the Gentile world, in the Book of Galatians, Paul writes that when he came up to Jerusalem, he met with Peter and John [Galatians 2:9]. So throughout the Word of God, those two men are together. May I point out the friendship of those two disciples included men, Peter and John, who were so diverse and so different.
John is as sensitive as a woman. You can read his Gospel. Unlike the Synoptics, the other three, it’s in a different world. When John entered into the tomb after Simon Peter rushed in, John followed him. And he saw the clothes of our Lord that had been wrapped around Him and the napkin in a place by itself—wrapped, folded, the napkin. And when John saw that, he believed that Jesus was alive [John 20:3-8], for no one folded a napkin like our Lord. It was a little idiosyncrasy of our precious Savior. And when John saw that napkin folded up, just as Jesus folded a napkin, he believed He was raised from the dead. And the whole ministry of John was one of deep sensitivity.
Peter was a thousand miles different. Peter was a gigantic man. I’ve been asked, “Pastor,” so many times, “what makes you think Peter was a gigantic Goliath of a man, a big fellow?”
“Well,” I said, “It is plain. Here, in this miracle that I’ve just read in the twenty-first chapter, they catch an enormous draft of fishes. And six of those disciples are struggling with it to bring it to land—six of them [John 21:8]. And it says here that Simon Peter went down and drew the net to land, full of fishes” [John 21:11]. What those six disciples were struggling with, Simon Peter went down and by himself, pulled it up—what six men were struggling to do. That’s Simon Peter [John 21:8-11].
Against the sensitivity of John, Simon Peter was impetuous. Oh, how he was! You have an instance of it there. When John comes to the tomb of our Lord, he pauses at the door and just looks in. When Simon Peter comes to the tomb, he just rushes right in. That’s Simon Peter [John 20:3-8]. But however different the two men were, they were together in the love of the Lord and in their devoted service to Christ.
So in this passage out of which I’m preaching this morning, you have the calling of Simon Peter into the ministry of Christ and there are two. The first one in this same place: Our Lord calls Simon to be a fisher of men, and he forsook all and followed Him [Matthew 4:18-19; Mark 1:16-17]. That’s his first calling. His second calling is in the same place. He is fishing in the same area, and our Lord speaks to him. And He does so by a coal of fires. They saw a coal of fires there. And Simon Peter is invited to that coal of fires, to come and dine [John 21:9-12].
You know that’s one of the most interesting things; those little things, you know, that express so much of human life; “That coal of fires.” Twice that word anthrakia is used in the Bible: One, “the coal of fires” by which Simon Peter warmed himself when he cursed and denied the Lord [Mark 14:66-71]; and the other time that word anthrakia is used is in this “coal of fires,” when Jesus is calling him again [John 21:9-12]. The Greek word for coal is anthrax, anthrax, anthrakia: “a heap of coals on fires.”
No stern rebuke, nor withering scorn
Could have wrought so much that wondrous morn.
For as Peter looked on the glowing coal,
Shame and remorse swept over his soul.
And thoughts pierced and burnt like sword and fire.
As he gazed upon this anthrakia.
For he saw himself yet once again
In the high priest’s hall of reputed fame,
Remember the oath, the curse, the lie,
When there he did His Lord deny.
As man and maid would have him inquire
When he stood with the crowd at the anthrakia.
Yet, behold, what wondrous love returned
By the One whose name he has so spurned
Those nail-pierced hands could have ill prepared
And a tender voice, it called him there.
And a heart overflowing with loving desire.
Had killed for him this anthrakia.
Beloved in this cold world around,
Where trouble and strife are everywhere found,
When friends may deny us, and loved ones forsake
And foes look upon us in envy and hate.
To reflect such grace let us all aspire
With the warmth of our Savior’s anthrakia.
[“Anthrakia,” F. E. Batson]
The heat of living coals. So as they stand there, our Lord turns to Simon Peter, and calls him, first, to a ministry, “Lovest thou Me?”
“Lord, You know I love You.”
Then the Lord says, “Shepherd My arnia.” It’s a diminutive for arnion, “little lambs”—not just lambs, little lambs. Isn’t that the strangest thing? Calling this big, rough disciple to minister his first call to little lambs, little sheep, little lambs? [John 21:15-17].
That’s where I began here in our dear church when I came to be pastor in 1944. All of this area back of the church, all of it in that Truett Building on the first floor, outside of a few offices right there in that corner—that entire area was open. And that was where our nursery was, a nursery. And in that vast area, they had a little handful of babies; a little tiny handful. And when I started out, they said, “You can’t expect babies to be brought to a downtown church.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me tell you, if I got a baby here, surely as the Lord lives, I got somebody else here. I never saw a baby come to church by itself in my life, not in my life. If there’s a baby here, there’s somebody else here somewhere. And we started with those babies. And I divided up that big area back there, divided it up into all kinds of nurseries, as you see back there now. And we have babies; this is a baby church. Oh, there’s not anything that we’d do here that blesses my heart more than when we dedicate those little babies. Ruth, God bless you in that sweetest ministry in the earth. That’s the Book.
And then, “You love Me, shepherd My sheep” [John 21:17]. O dear people, I’ve said for the years of my life, I’d rather do what I do for nothing than what anybody else does for pay. To be a pastor, a shepherd, is the sweetest, dearest ministry in the world. It has its heartaches, it has its bitter disappointments, it has all of the problems that you face in human life—pastor His people. But to be called to be a pastor, like Simon Peter, is the sweetest thing in the world to me.
And His second part, He is calling him unto martyrdom and unto death: “When you were young, you put on your clothes—you dressed. You walked with whoever you would. But, when you were older, somebody else will dress you. And you will stretch forth your hands, and you will be carried where you do not want to go. This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God”—he’s going to be martyred by the stretching out of the hands, by crucifixion [John 21:18-19]. And the last scene you have of Simon Peter is following Jesus unto martyrdom and unto death [John 21:22]—God’s calling for us, picture for us, and our devotion to the Lord like that.
A captain in a British Navy received a wireless message to go to the rescue of a ship that had run into a shoal off of the coast of Brittany and was being beaten to pieces by the storm and the waves and the high wind. And when the captain read the wireless message to his crew, they said, “We will die ourselves. The high winds and the great waves that are beating that ship to death will beat us to death too. And we won’t come back.” And the captain replied, “The message never spoke about coming back. The message said, ‘Go to the rescue.’ And we’re going.”
God never said anything to us about length of life, or prosperity, or a thousand other things that engross our days. What God said was, “You be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. That’s God’s call to us, as it is to Simon Peter [John 21:18-19]. We are to follow Him unto death.