May 9, 2004

The Priority of A Disciple

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: John Scripture: John 21:18–25


The Priority of A Disciple

John 21:18-25
Sunday, May 9, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith

A Mother's love is something that no one can explain,
It is made of deep devotion and of sacrifice and pain.
It is endless and unselfish and enduring come what may,
For nothing can destroy it or take that love away.

It is patient and forgiving when all others are forsaking,
And it never fails or falters even though the heart is breaking.
It believes beyond believing when the world around condemns,
And it glows with all the beauty of the rarest, brightest gems.

Source unknown

Though they deserve every day, we have chosen one day each year to appreciate our mothers in a very special way. And when we recall our mothers, quite often the characteristic that most often comes to our mind is their deep, genuine and affectionate love for us. They were always there to listen, encourage and lend a helping hand. Someone once said, "If evolution is true, how come mothers still have only two hands?" Our mothers love us deeply and their love for us makes us love them more. And the more we love and admire them, the more we want to follow them, be like them and serve them.

Last week we learned about Christ's great love for His church. After Peter denied Him three times, it was Jesus who affirmed His love three times for the mighty Apostle. He knew that once Peter would embrace Him with all his heart, there was nothing he wouldn't do for His Savior. He would be prepared to follow Him, be like Him and serve Him. Thus once Peter was restored, Jesus presented him with the blessed commission to "Shepherd His sheep."

Just as following our mothers is an expected tendency, following Jesus is an expected tendency amongst God's children. It's an expectation that goes out to Peter and every individual who claims the name of Christ. Following Jesus is the benchmark of discipleship.

For the past few weeks we have concentrated on the first half of the Great Commission, namely evangelism. This morning, we'll conclude this wonderful gospel with the second half of the Great Commission, namely discipleship. As the title of this sermon suggests, I'd like to present to you three unchanging, universal priorities of a disciple: a disciple follows at all costs, a disciple dies to self, and a disciple trusts the Word of God.


We begin with the first point: "A Disciple Follows at all Costs."

Last week we learned about Peter's commission. Three times Peter was asked about his love for Jesus. In response, three times Jesus gave Peter an awesome responsibility. If you love Me Peter, "Tend My Lambs" (verse 15), "Shepherd My sheep" (verse 16), "Tend My sheep" (verse17). Peter, as every other pastor/elder who follows in his footsteps, had the responsibility to shepherd the very flock that Christ bought with His precious blood.

Last week we learned that the spiritual shepherd is responsible to: Feed the sheep from the Word of God, care for the sheep that are weak and wounded, know the sheep intimately, seek the sheep that are lost, lead the sheep to greener pastures of spiritual growth, and protect the sheep from false teachers. The true shepherd of God's flock should be noted for his: Service, tenderness, concern, skill, hard work, example, suffering and love, especially his love for the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Peter received his commission. Now following his commission he received something more, a prophecy that he probably never expected. In verse 18 Jesus presents Peter with a solemn declaration. "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go."

What is Jesus talking about? Obviously this illustration reveals a deeper spiritual truth. Possibly it was a well-known proverb that Jesus adapted for this special occasion. We can discern that this saying contrasts two phases of life. In his younger years Peter enjoyed freedom. He "girded himself" and "walked wherever he wished." However as Peter advances in age there will be restrictions. Peter will stretch out his hands. Someone else will gird him. And he will be brought to a place where he does not wish to go. Again I ask what is Jesus talking about?

John's commentary at the beginning of verse 19 clarifies. "Now this He (Jesus) said, signifying by what kind of death he (Peter) would glorify God" (cf. Jn. 12:33; 18:32). I believe it's rather clear. Later in life Peter would stretch out his hands. He would be girded (zonnyo) to a wooden plank with ropes. And he would be led contrary to his nature - to be crucified.

In support of this interpretation one commentator said, "This is the standard Christian language for martyrdom" (Brown, John, 1121). Another remarked, "The language points clearly to crucifixion; the Greek word used here was used by many early Christian writers to represent death on a cross" (Garland, John, 589). The prediction of Peter's crucifixion was the common interpretation of these verses since the time of the early church fathers by men such as Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Cyprian.

Thanks to his epistles and the book of Acts we do know that Peter had a successful ministry after his restoration with Jesus and his commission to shepherd Christ's flock. Think about it, Peter faithfully ministered for three decades with the prediction of his own crucifixion looming in his thoughts!

The Scriptures give no doubt that Peter would be martyred. However, the details regarding his death are somewhat vague. Clement of Rome in AD 96 mentioned Peter's martyrdom but did not reveal the form it took (1 Clement 5:4). Tertullian in AD 212 mentions that Peter was bound to a cross and girded by someone else (Scorp. 15). Commonly people quote the early church historian, Eusebius, who writing early in the fourth century quoted Origen, saying, "Peter appears to have preached…to the Jews that were scattered abroad; who also, finally coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downward, having requested of himself to suffer in this way" (Ecclesiastical History 3:1-also mentioned in the Acts of Peter, 37-38). It is believed that Peter requested his crucifixion in this inverted manner because he felt "not worthy to be crucified the same way his Lord" (Foxe, John, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, p. 9).

After Jesus predicted the martyrdom of Peter, in verse 19 we read, "And when He had spoken this, He said to him, 'Follow Me'" (Jn. 21:19b).

I believe this call to follow Jesus has a double implication. Back in 13:36 Peter said to Jesus, "'Lord, where are You going?' Jesus answered, 'Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.'" To which Peter replied in verse 37, "Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You." Peter would get that opportunity to follow Jesus in His departure from this world by laying His life down for the Savior. He would follow Jesus also by way of crucifixion. Peter would be given the opportunity to back up his words and this time, succeed.

At a more general level the call to follow Jesus goes out to all His disciples. This is the expectation that Jesus has for all of us. We are to be steadfast in following His example, His commands, His expectations, every day of our life. This primary call to discipleship is not an option, but rather the expectation and the identification of every true believer. All who follow Jesus are His disciples. His disciples are those who follow Him.

S. I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, "Are you a leader?" Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, "No," and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: "Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower."

Likewise, Jesus is looking for followers. When Jesus first called His disciples He said, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt. 4:19, cf. 4:20, 22). After His conversation with the rich young ruler, Jesus said, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mt. 19:21). Possibly the most definitive verses on discipleship off the lips of Jesus: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (Jn. 10:27). "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself (we'll come back to this soon), and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mt. 16:24)

Every true disciple will follow Jesus, regardless of the cost. Our Lord will not tolerate partial obedience or idols that compete for His supremacy in our heart. We are called to live for Jesus and, as Peter learned, if necessary die for Jesus too. As a matter of fact, until we are prepared to die for Jesus, we will never be prepared to live for Jesus. John began his Gospel in 1:43 with a call to follow Jesus and now closes his Gospel in chapter 21 again with a call to follow Jesus.

2. A DISCIPLE DIES TO SELF (verses 20-23)

A true disciple follows Christ regardless of the cost. This is the positive side of discipleship. And a true disciple (as we move to the second point) dies to self regardless of the cost. This is the negative side of discipleship.

This was already mentioned in the call to discipleship that I just read. We are to "deny our self" (Mt. 16:24; cf. Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23). It is also mentioned in verses 20-22. "Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, 'Lord, who is the one who betrays You?' So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, 'Lord, and what about this man?' Jesus said to him, 'If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!'"

I remember shortly after receiving my driver's license pulling up in front of a video store to return a rental. Having spent only minutes in the store, I came out to see an officer citing me with a parking violation. When I looked around and saw a number of other cars committing the same infraction, but only I was receiving the ticket! You can probably guess the first words out of my mouth. "What about all these guys, are they going to get a ticket too?" Needless to say, those individuals who were abruptly stopped from pulling away by the officer were not very pleased with my comments!

Put yourself in Peter's shoes. He was just told by Jesus that he would die an awful martyr's death. Once he looked back and saw John following close behind the first words out of his mouth were, "Lord, what about this man" (Jn. 21:21)?

Jesus' response was basically, "Peter, that's none of your business. Whether I take him tomorrow or allow him to live a long life with a peaceful death or keep him alive until My return is none of your concern. Your job is simply to follow Me. You are to keep your eyes on Me and not John trusting that I am too wise to err, too just to be unfair and too loving to be unkind."

I would estimate that nearly half the complaints I receive in pastoral ministry are because somebody wants what belongs to someone else. This is the result when we look more to people than we look to Jesus Christ. It's a misplaced focus. "Why don't I have those material possessions?" "Why wasn't I selected to lead that ministry?" "Why don't I have a godly spouse?" "Why aren't my children given the same attention?" "Why don't I get invited over to their house?" "Why don't I have good health?" "Why didn't I get the recognition I deserve?" Me-Me-Me-Me. Self-Self-Self-Self.

What a horrible way to go through life! You have to feel sorry for the individual who makes it his life ambition to compare himself with others. Such a person is in bondage and will never experience the freedom found in the Christian life. On the contrary, the true disciple of Jesus Christ keeps his eyes off of others and focuses them on his Savior. The true disciple dies to self and follows Christ.

Someone once said, "The Lord Jesus Christ cannot live in us fully and reveal Himself through us until the proud self within us is broken. This simply means that the hard unyielding self, which justifies itself, wants it own way, stands up for its rights and seeks its own glory, at last bows its head to God's will, admits its wrong, gives up its own way to Jesus, surrenders its own glory -- that the Lord Jesus might have all and be all. In other words, it is dying to self and self attitudes."

How do you know if you have died to self? "When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught, and you sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ-that is dying to self. When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take all in patient loving silence-that is dying to self. When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured it-that is dying to self. When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any attitude, any interruption by the will of God-that is dying to self. When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown-that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances-that is dying to self. When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart-that is dying to self" (author unknown).

While all this is true and most expositors preach the interpretation that Peter was discontent with his martyrdom, I believe such an interpretation may be incorrect and unfair to Peter. Let's remember that Peter just experienced a glorious restoration. His heart must have been leaping for joy. Jesus had not given up on him! He again would get the opportunity to glorify His Lord! Verse 19 even says that Peter was assigned this death to "glorify God." Now when we consider those two words we see things in a different light. If Peter would glorify the Lord through his death and glorifying God was his ultimate goal, was the prediction of his death a good or bad thing?

You see the ultimate desire of every true disciple should be the opportunity to glorify God regardless of our personal sacrifice. Have you ever prayed the prayer, "Whatever it takes to glorify You Holy Father, do it?" or "What can I do to bring You greater glory?" If not, you are holding on to something in your heart that exceeds your love for God.

Jesus glorified His Father by His death on the cross (Jn. 12:23, 27-28) and now Peter would be given the opportunity to glorify Jesus by his death on a cross (Jn. 12:23, 27-28; 13:31-32). Peter understood this concept of suffering and God's glory. In his first epistle he wrote, "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name" (1 Pet. 4:14-16).

Maybe Peter was asking Jesus not out of jealousy, but rather out of a concern for John. Maybe emboldened and encouraged by his restoration and commission and prediction, Peter asks about John's fate. "Jesus, will John have an opportunity to glorify you like me?" Nevertheless, regardless of Peter's motives, Christ's answer is the same. "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you. You follow Me" (Jn. 21:22).


A true disciple follows regardless of the cost. A true disciple dies to self. And finally, a true disciple trusts the Word of God as the Word of God is the instrument which makes our first two points of discipleship a reality.

Verses 24 and 25, "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written."

Many people believe a disciple of John wrote these final two verses. Many believe John himself composed them (using an editorial "we" - (Jn. 3:2, 11; 20:2; 1 Jn. 1:2, 4-7; 3 Jn. 12). I personally lean toward the latter. Regardless, the author's intention is to verify the reliability of this Gospel.

The author also makes it clear in verse 25 that John was selective in the material he used to compose this book (Jn. 20:31-31). He goes on to say that if John included all the details about Jesus Christ the whole world would not suffice as an adequate library to contain all the volumes. Pardonable exaggeration? Not if we remember the first few verses of John's work. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being" (Jn. 1:1-3). How could pen and paper possibly exhaust the infinite depths of Jesus Christ?

Just in reference to God's love alone the hymn writer composed:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Frederick M. Lehman, 1917

There is much more that the disciple of Jesus Christ would love to know about his or her Savior, but that which is revealed has been carefully selected by the hand of God. It is reliable and sufficient for our spiritual needs.

Martin Luther once said, "I have convenanted with my Lord that he should not send me visions or dreams or even angels. I am content with this gift of the Scriptures, which teaches and supplies all that is necessary, both for this life and that which is to come."

The Christian understands the sufficiency of the Scriptures leading to successful discipleship. For the Word of God helps us grow ever closer to our Savior, and the Word of God helps us grow ever further from our self. Putting off self and putting on Christ is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit as Christ matures us through His Word. We will only become the strong disciples that Jesus desires if we as individuals, as families and as a church remain committed to the Word of God.

As with that comment on the Word of God we close the cover, though be it only from this blessed pulpit, on the book of John. After 89 sermons (James Boice took 270 sermons!) it is fitting to end with Christ's call to discipleship, a book written by God about our life, which never has a final chapter.

other sermons in this series

May 2


From Fishermen To Shepherds

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:15–17 Series: John

Apr 25


Fishing For Men

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:1–14 Series: John

Apr 18


Disciples Sent To Disciple

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 20:19–30 Series: John