For His Old Friend, Simon Peter
September 3rd, 1989 @ 8:15 AM
FOR HIS OLD FRIEND, SIMON PETER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-3-89 8:15 a.m.
And all of you who are sharing this hour on radio, you would be surprised at the throng here this morning in our dear, precious, God-blessed, wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled For His Old Friend Simon Peter. We are coming to the conclusion of our preaching through the Fourth Gospel, and the twenty-first chapter follows this kind of a reading:
After these things, Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias – we are way up into the years of the Roman rule over Israel; not the Sea of Galilee, now it is the Sea of Tiberias – and this is the way He showed Himself. There were together seven of those disciples, including Simon Peter and John. And Simon saith, I go a fishing
The Lord is dead, they do not know what the resurrection means, and Simon is going back to his old business. So they say:
We will also go with you. Now when the morning was come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples did not know it was Jesus. And He asked them, Have you caught anything? And they say, No. And He said, Take the net, and cast it on the right side, and you will find. They cast therefore, and were not able to draw it in for the multitude of the fish they caught. Then that disciple whom Jesus loved, John, saith to Peter, That is the Lord. Now Peter jumped into the sea, and came to the Lord. And the disciples came dragging the net with fishes. So as soon as they came to the land, they saw a fire with coals there, fish, and bread. And Jesus fed them. "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.
The second time, "Feed My sheep." The third time, "Feed My sheep."
Verily, verily, truly, truly, I say unto thee – amen, amen it is in Greek – when thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst wither 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, with the stretching out of the hands – that is, he would be crucified – And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved, that is John who leaned on His breast, Peter seeing him, saith, Jesus, Lord, if I am to die by crucifixion, what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, that he never die, what is that to thee? You, you follow Me.
As I mentioned a moment ago, the Gospel of John plainly closes at chapter 20; it consummates in a beautiful climactic way. Then this addendum, why? This twenty-first chapter, why? Simon Peter was martyred. Tradition says, when they crucified him he avowed, "I’m not worthy to be crucified as my Savior; I ask to be crucified upside down." So tradition says that crucified, that Simon was crucified with his head down. In any event, he was martyred between say 64 and 67 AD. Now John is a hundred years old; John AD 100 is still alive, there in Ephesus presiding over the ministry of the Lord in that wonderful church. Now Simon in the circulation of these Gospels – didn’t have the New Testament at that time, it wasn’t gathered together – in the circulation of the gospels, Simon is in a bad light. The climactic part of Simon Peter’s life is denying the Lord: "I never knew Him." And when one of those who was standing by the fire where he warmed himself said, "But you talk like Him," Simon Peter said, "You think I talk like Him? Then listen to this," and he cursed a blue streak, back in his old fishing days. And that’s the way Simon Peter climaxed his life in the Gospels [Matthew 26:69-74; Mark 14:66-71].
John paid this tribute to his old friend: he writes this addendum in memory and in love and in compassionate thanksgiving for his old friend Simon Peter, this twenty-first chapter. And it is authenticated by the elders of the church in Ephesus, in verse 24: "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true." The elders of the church at Ephesus authenticate this addendum that John writes to his Gospel, that he had written years and years before.
Those two men, Simon Peter and John the son of Zebedee, they were fishing partners. In the passage that you read with Brother Lee Hunt in the fifth chapter of the Book of Luke, they are fishermen and they are called partners, and they share that kind of a wonderful life together. Then in the first chapter of John, you have the story of John and Andrew winning Simon Peter to the Lord; and he becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus. And in that chapter that you read, our Lord calls Simon Peter to forsake his business and to forsake his nets and to give his whole life in following our precious Lord [Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:10-11]. And those two, Simon Peter and John, are so oft presented together in the gospel message.
For example, when our Lord raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead He took with Him Peter and John. When He sent out the disciples two by two to witness to His grace, Peter and John are together. And when the Lord was transfigured on the mount above Galilee, there are with Him, on one side Simon Peter, and on the other side John the son of Zebedee [Luke 9:28]. And when the Lord speaks that wonderful eschatological prophetic address, He has with Him those two sets of brothers: James and John, and Peter and Andrew. Then when the climactic moment of His atoning grace, He sends Peter and John to arrange for the eating of the Passover; and they prepare it, as you know, in the upper room [Luke 22:8].. And when they are eating the Passover, and the Lord speaks of His betrayal, Peter asked John, who is leaning on the bosom of the Lord, Peter asked John to ask the Lord, "Who is it? Who is to betray Him?" [John 13:24].
Then after the tragedy of that betrayal, picking out Judas Iscariot, they enter in to Gethsemane. And here again Peter and James and John are with our Lord as He pours out His soul in intercession in Gethsemane [John 17:1-26]. And at the trial, Simon Peter is close by, warming himself at the fire. And John is there, who is known to the high priest [John 18:15-17]. They are so oft together in the Gospels.
Then when we come to the story of the dispersion of the gospel message over the world, there they are again. In the third chapter of Acts, Peter and John are going up to the temple in prayer, and when Simon Peter heals that man lame from his mother’s womb, the Bible says, "With one hand he clings to Simon Peter, with the other hand he clings to John, and he praises God for the marvelous miracle of his new birth" [Acts 3:7]. Then in the next chapter, the fourth chapter, "When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" [Acts 4:13].
When the gospel message is received in saving grace in Samaria, they send Peter and John to witness and to bear testimony to what God is doing with the hated and despised Samaritans [Acts 8:14-17]. And in the first chapter of the Book of Galatians, and in the second chapter when Paul the apostle goes up to Jerusalem to speak of the glory of the saving grace of God poured out upon the Gentiles, Paul says when he went up to Jerusalem, he visited with Peter and John, and James [Acts 8:14-17], of course; the Lord’s brother is the pastor of the church in Jerusalem.
This is just a brief survey of how intimately are those two men interwoven in the saving message of our Lord Jesus Christ. And what amazes me about their friendship is the striking dissimilarities between the two men. They lived absolutely in utterly different parts of the sensitive world. John is of all men most spiritual. The inwardness of John’s response to the truth of the gospel is an amazing thing. It is John who is leaning – you know how they sat at the table in those days, leaning on an elbow as they ate with a little table maybe that high – it is John who is leaning on the bosom of the Lord Jesus [John 13:25]. When Jesus was raised from the dead, John enters the tomb and sees the napkin apart from the clothing that had surrounded the corpse of our Lord, he sees the napkin over here by itself, folded up very carefully. That word "folded up," and John recognized the way Jesus folded a napkin, and believed that He was raised from the dead [John 20:6-8]. John’s Gospel is in another word from the Synoptic Gospels. He is inwardly, deeply sensitive; like a woman.
Simon Peter is the opposite: he is brusque, and brusque and motivated and moved; he was a giant of a man. People sometimes ask me, "How do you know that Simon Peter was a giant of a man?" Well, from this story here: in this big catch of fish six of those disciples are struggling with it to get it to land, six of them are. And the Bible here says that Simon Peter went out there and drew it up by himself [John 21:8-11]. What those six men were struggling with, Simon Peter did himself. He was a big, gigantic posture of a man. And as I say, he was impetuous. Do you remember when the Lord was raised from the dead? The angels said to the women, "You go tell the disciples and Simon. Tell the disciples and Peter" [Mark 16:7]. Well, why single him out? Because of the tragedy of his dereliction; and the Lord is just saying, "I forgive, I still love you,Tell Simon Peter." And when Mary Magdalene comes and says to Peter and John, "The tomb is empty!" Peter and John run to the tomb. And John being the younger and the more agile outruns Simon Peter; and when John comes to the tomb, he stops, and just looks in. But when Simon Peter arrives, he just rushes right inside where Jesus had been laid. That’s the difference between John and Simon [John 20:1-8]. But they were dear friends, close friends, though they differed so much in temperament.
Now, his tribute to his old friend Simon Peter. The first calling is the one that you read. Our Lord said to Simon Peter, "Go out into the deep, go out from the shore, and seek a find, a catch." And Simon Peter replies, "Lord, we’ve toiled all day long, and we haven’t caught anything. Nevertheless, at Thy word, I will launch out and let down the net" [Luke 5:4-5]. And they couldn’t put all the fish they caught in two boats. And when Simon Peter the old fisherman saw it, he fell down at the feet of our Lord, and said, "Lord, I am not worthy to be in Thy presence. Depart from me, I’m a sinful and wicked man" [Luke 5:6-8]. You see it was that old habit of cursing he went back to when that maid said, at the crucifixion, at the trial of our Lord, "You talk like Him." He went back, he reverted to that old habit of cursing [Matthew 26:74; Mark 14:71]. That’s Simon Peter. "Lord, I am not worthy. Depart from me." The Lord said, "Don’t you hesitate. Don’t you tremble. From henceforth you will catch men" [Luke 5:10]; called him into the ministry. He forsook all and followed Him. That’s his first calling.
One of the most unusual things as I read the Book, his second calling is in the same place. Simon Peter has gone back to his old business; he’s gone back to the sea, he’s gone back to the fish, he’s gone back to the boats. He’s gone back to his old life. Jesus has been crucified. He has no idea the Great Commission. Simon Peter has gone back to his old business. And in that same place where he was called the first time, he is called the second time. There is a big, miraculous catch of fish. "Lord, we have toiled all night long, and there is no catch." And the Lord says simply, "Take your net and put it on the right side of the boat [John 21:6]. Let it down on this side instead of this side. Just put it on the right side of the boat, and you will catch." There was a multitude of fishes caught in the net. And that one who was speaking in the dim, dawn of the morning was there on the shore. And the sensitive John said to his old friend Simon, "You know who that is? Dimly outlined in the morning dawn, you know who that is who told us to catch on the right side? You know who that is? That’s the Lord. That’s the Lord." And impetuous Simon Peter jumped into the sea, and came up to the Lord; and there was that coal of fire [John 21:9]. How that must have burned in Simon Peter’s memory, that coal of fire, anthrakia.
No stern rebuke, no 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.
The heap of coals, the burning coals; the Greek for "a heap of burning coals."
For he saw himself yet once again
In the high priest’s hall of reputed fame,
Remembered the oath, the curse, the lie,
When there he did his Lord deny,
As man and maid would of him inquire
When he stood with a crowd at anthrakia.
Yet, behold, what wondrous love returned
By the One whose name he had so spurned
Those nail-pierced hands could a meal prepare
And a tender voice had called him there.
And a heart overflowing with loving desire
Had kindled 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 heap of coals: the Greek word for "coal" is anthrax; and a heap of coals is anthrakia.
O Lord, how good You are to us, loving us in spite of ourselves.
I have to include, dear people, the second calling of Simon. First, first He says, "You love Me? Lord, You know I love You. He said unto him, Feed My arnia, feed My arnia." You have it translated "lambs." It’s a diminutive of aren: "Feed My little lambs." Isn’t that an amazing thing? In the call of big, impetuous Simon Peter, the first, "Feed My arnia, My little lambs"; not "My lambs," "My little lambs" [John 21:15-17]. That’s an amazing thing. We begin with our children.
When I came here in 1944, forty-five years ago, back here where you enter into the Truett Building, right there, there was one big room on that first floor. On that side were the offices of the church, and the rest of the whole thing was one big open room. And they had a little handful of babies in that room; that was all. And when I started building the church, I said, "We’re going to start in the Nursery." Well, I had a difficult time, as I’ve had all the way through, pulling the people along. But I finally got them to divide it up. Had to raise the money personally, but I began dividing up that nursery floor back there, dividing it up. These little least ones were here, and then as they grew they were here, and as they grew they were here. I started in the Nursery. And I’ve been asked ten thousand times in rebuilding the church, "Why did you start in the Nursery?" I said, "I’ve never seen a little baby come to church by itself in my life, not one." If you’ve got a little baby here, count on it, somebody else is here too. Mama’s here, papa’s here, aunt or uncle, or grandmother, somebody’s bringing the baby. We started in the Nursery; and from there, gradually built up through the whole gamut of the age groups in our church. That’s what God said: "Simon, you love Me, shepherd," translated here "feed," "shepherd My arnia, My little ones, My little babies."
And when you care for our little babies, you’re going to start building the church. You’ve heard me say forty dozen times, there’s not anything in this earth that thrills my heart more than to see them bring these little babies, and consecrate them, and dedicate them to the Lord. That’s the Book. That’s the Book. Arnia, "Shepherd My little ones, My little lambs."
Then the other two: "Take care of My people." What a glorious calling. I tell you, I’ve said all my life, I’d rather do what I do for nothing than what anybody else does for pay. "Shepherd My sheep, My people." Then He says a calling unto death: "When you were young, you walked, clothed yourself; when you are older somebody else is going to clothe you, and you’re going to stretch forth your hands, and going to go where you don not want to go – signifying by what death he should glorify God, by the stretching out of the hands, by crucifixion" [John 21:18-19]. So the last thing from his friend John is Simon Peter following Jesus unto death. And that’s our calling, high calling in Christ Jesus: we’re to follow our Lord unto death.
A British captain received a wireless message from England; a tanker had run into the shoals off of Britain, and the high winds and the enormous waves were beating it to pieces. And the wireless message to the British captain said, "Go to the rescue." And when the captain relayed to his men, "We’re to set out to sea, to the rescue," the men replied, "But sir, the waves and the wind are beating the ship to death; and we’ll not come back." And the captain replied, "The message never said anything about coming back. The message said go to the rescue." And that’s God’s word for us: God never says anything about living, length of days; God never says anything about prospering; God says, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life" [Revelation 2:10]. And to that we commit ourselves this precious and meaningful moment; faithful unto death.
Fred, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the song, a family you, welcome into our dear church; a couple, a one somebody you giving your heart to the Lord Jesus, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand." Welcome. On the first stanza, come; while we stand and while we sing.