Easter (part 3)

March 09, 2008     Time: 00:48:52

This past week we experienced two very significant deaths that have been prominent in the news. On the one hand, of course, the Pope has passed away. I think all of us can appreciate many of the values that he stood for. I remember well when he was a young new Pope the bold stand he took against communism in Poland and the way in which he served as a rallying point against that oppressive and atheistic system of thought that dominated Eastern Europe and Russia. Then, of course, especially the Pope’s uncompromising pro-life stand, standing for the dignity and sanctity of human life and for a culture of life.

That reminds me of the second significant death that has occurred this week, and that is of course the death of Terry Schiavo. It is such a sad testimony to the way in which our culture has drifted into this culture of death that stands so diametrically opposed to the sanctity and dignity of human life that a young woman like this could be starved to death by our system – our laws and our courts. It is so important to understand that in the case of someone like Terry Schiavo, this wasn’t a matter of a person who was dying and having her nutrition removed. This was a disabled but perfectly healthy individual who wasn’t in any danger of dying. What they did was they removed food and water from her that was being fed intravenously so that she literally starved to death, or died of thirst after almost 14 days.

This is just horrific that this can be permitted to happen in our country. You just wonder how far our country has drifted from its foundations that this kind of legally sanctioned murder should be allowed to occur. I always thought that what the law permitted was that if someone was dying that you could remove the feeding tube from a person and allow them to expire. But I never dreamt that in our country it would be illegal to then try to give that person orally some water or some food. But in Terry Schiavo’s case they wouldn’t even allow, say, ice chips to be put in her mouth to dissolve and give her water. In other words, this wasn’t just the removal of a life sustaining device. It was the prohibition of giving her anything to eat or drink. You couldn’t bring her a baby bottle, say, with nutritious liquid in it and let her suck on it. You couldn’t put ice in her mouth. You couldn’t try to give her a cup of water. This was far, far more than the removal of life sustaining equipment. This was the state sanctioned prohibition of giving this person anything to eat or drink even orally. I find it just monstrous that this can be permitted to go on in this country. So I hope her death will not have been in vain; that in fact this will rally people even more to the cause of changing our culture to make it, as George Bush says, a culture of life rather than a culture of death, one that upholds and supports the sanctity and dignity of every human life, even the life of the disabled such as Terry Schiavo was.

It is my hope, at least, that when the next midterm elections come around people will not have forgotten this and will begin to vote again for candidates who take strong pro-life positions both on end-of-life as well as beginning-of-life issues. So let’s not forget what has been allowed to happen this week. Let’s not have short memories. Let’s have long memories about this and put action on our convictions when the time comes.

I wanted to give you an update on my nephew Paul as well. [Hands out a newsletter.][1] I just talked with my sister last night who is out in Arizona. For those who don’t know, my nephew Paul died on Palm Sunday evening from an accidental drug overdose. But after being dead for thirty minutes, miraculously the doctors were able to bring him back to life. Throughout the weeks since then he has steadily improved. Last night I talked to my sister about it, and she said Paul is conscious, able to spell out words by pointing his finger to an alphabet that they put in front of him so that he can make his requests known to people. He is even able to verbally communicate a little bit, though his throat is very hoarse and very raw from having these feeding tubes and oxygen tubes down it. He is off the respirator now completely, no longer on the ventilator, though they have an oxygen tube to his nose to give him extra oxygen. But he is not on the respirator anymore. He is really well back on his way to health and normality again. My sister Tammy even said one of the things he recently said to those in the room with him was, “I want a cheeseburger!” So he is hungry and wants some decent food to eat. It is just amazing what has happened in answer to prayer. My atheistic brother still hasn’t come to see the point of who does miracles. I don’t know of course where Paul is spiritually at this point, it is too early to tell. But we are continuing to pray that God will use this experience in his life to bring him to a full knowledge of himself. Throughout the past years he’s been moving in that direction, coming out of the atheistic background that my brother has raised him in, to faith in God and belief in a God who answers prayer. But as far as I know he has not yet come in full faith in Jesus Christ. My sister wrapped up a copy of the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren for my nephew Paul which she and I have both signed. She has left it now in his bedroom at home so when he does return home he will find that gift there from us with an admonition to ask what is the purpose for which I was brought back to life again. What is the purpose that I have for the remainder of my life? It is our prayer that God will bring Paul to a saving knowledge of himself. That is just an update. Many of you have asked about him, and I know are praying. We can all be encouraged and rejoicing in what the Lord is doing. It is really a miracle.

Today I wanted to talk a little bit in continuing our Easter series on the postmortem appearances of Jesus. I mentioned last week that for many of us Easter is sort of like a rock far out to sea isolated and detached from the coastline. After Easter is by, the sets for the Easter story are cleaned up, the sanctuary is restored, the men shave off their beards, the pastor goes back to his old sermon series, and we just sort of forget what happened. But in fact, according to the New Testament, Jesus continued to meet and appear to the disciples after Easter over a 40-day period of time. These post-Easter appearance stories, I think, are very interesting and have a lot to teach us. So what I’d like to do today is to take our Bibles and open them to one of these appearance stories – Jesus’ appearance by the Sea of Tiberius (or the Sea of Galilee) to the seven disciples as they were fishing as it is related in John 21. Please open your Bible and we will look at this passage in some detail.

[Opening prayer]

Let’s read John 21, the entire chapter.[2]

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

This chapter, before we can look at it in detail, needs to be understood in the context of the entire Gospel of John. What is the relationship we want to ask between chapter 21 and the rest of the Gospel? In John 20:30-31, the Gospel seems to come to a conclusion. In John 20:30-31, the author says:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

With that couplet, the Gospel seems to come to a close. That seems to be the conclusion of the Gospel of John. The climax comes with the appearance to Thomas and Thomas’ great confession, “My Lord and my God!”[3] This is the theological climax of the Gospel of John where Thomas confesses Jesus as both Lord and God. Then John brings the Gospel to a close by saying Jesus did many other signs but these are written so that you might believe that Jesus is, in fact, the Christ.

So chapter 21 come as something of an anticlimax. All of a sudden we have this extra chapter added on. We ask ourselves, “What is this chapter there for?” Is this just a concluding chapter thrown in at the end? Is it sort of an appendix to the Gospel of John that was added on later? What is this? I think it is probably best described as an epilogue. It is an epilogue to the Gospel of John. It serves to tie together some of the loose threads which are left dangling in the Gospel of John, particularly, Peter’s having denied Christ three times and then also the rumor that was circulating that the so-called beloved disciple was not going to, in fact, die but would live until Christ returned. So the chapter serves as a kind of epilogue to tie up some loose threads that are in the Gospel of John.

That leads to the further question then, who added this epilogue? Who added on chapter 21 to the Gospel of John? The answer to that, I think, comes in verses 20-24 where in John 21:20-24 Peter turns around and sees this so-called beloved disciple – the disciple Jesus loved – and says, “What about him?” And Jesus says, “If he lives until I come again, what is that to you?” The rumor spreads around that this disciple was not going to die but that is incorrect. Then in verse 24 it says, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things and who has written these things.” The community of which he is a part adds this notice, “And we know that his testimony is true.” So the beloved disciple is identified as the author of the epilogue, and I think probably not only the epilogue but also the entire Gospel. The fact that this is someone who was well known in the early church and of whom it was widely believed that he would live until the Second Coming of Christ shows that this beloved disciple is not some sort of a symbolic figure or a metaphor. Rather he is a historical individual who was known in the early Christian church and who many people apparently thought would live until the Second Coming of Christ.

Moreover, this is confirmed by computer-assisted studies of the Gospel of John and the 21st chapter. When you pick out typical Johannine vocabulary – that is to say, words that the writer of John uses frequently – what you discover is that the 21st chapter has exactly the same percentage of typical Johannne words as every other one of the 20 chapters preceding it. This is something that no forger could have accomplished because it is only with the assistance of a computer that you can establish this. So the fact that the exact same percentage of words in this chapter are typical, stylistic words that John uses as in the forgoing chapters show that the beloved disciple is the author not only of the epilogue but also of the Gospel itself. The Gospel of John is written by the beloved disciple who then adds this epilogue to draw together some of these loose threads.

Who is this beloved disciple? Well, he is apparently one of the twelve disciples. Look back in John 13:21-24. This is Jesus meeting with the disciples in the upper room at the Last Supper:

When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved [this is the beloved disciple], was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.”

This is the beloved disciple who is reclining against Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper and who is also identified in chapter 21 as the beloved disciple.[4] He is one of the twelve who was sharing the Last Supper with Jesus.

He is also identified as one of the seven who are at the Sea of Tiberius in John 21:2. It says, “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together.” The beloved disciple was one of this group of seven. Since he is not named in that list, that suggests that he is either one of the two sons of Zebedee (either James or John) or he is one of these two unnamed disciples that were at the Sea of Tiberius that day.

In the Gospel he is very closely associated with Peter. For example, in John 20:2 it says when Mary was at the tomb,

So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

There the beloved disciple is closely connected with Peter. Also in John 21:7 you notice that it says the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So these two are often paired together – Peter and this beloved disciple.

When you go over to the other three Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the so-called Synoptic Gospels) – you find consistently a trio of three disciples that feature very centrally in Jesus’ following, namely, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. Peter, James, and John are the three central disciples in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So that suggests that the beloved disciple was one of the two sons of Zebedee. He was either James or he was John. But he couldn’t have been James because James was martyred very early in the church. In Acts 12:1-2 it tells about the martyrdom of James. It says, “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword.” So James, the brother of John, son of Zebedee, was martyred very early on in the church and yet the beloved disciple, as we’ve seen, is rumored to be going to live until the return of Christ. So obviously he is not James, the son of Zebedee. This suggests that the beloved disciple therefore was John, the son of Zebedee, and one of the twelve disciples who followed Jesus.

Confirmation of this identification is found in the fact that the disciple John, the son of Zebedee, is never mentioned in the Gospel of John. There is not one single mention of John in the Gospel of John, even though we know from the other three Gospels he was an extremely prominent disciple. I think that makes it very, very likely that the author of the Gospel of John is, in fact, the beloved disciple, John, the son of Zebedee, and therefore doesn’t refer to himself by his own name but under this cognomen, “the beloved disciple.”

C. K. Barrett, who is a prominent British New Testament scholar, says, “We may conclude with assurance that the author described as the disciple whom Jesus loved, John, the son of Zebedee, and one of the twelve.” I think that John having written the Gospel decided to then add on this epilogue to tie up some loose ends that were left from the Gospel and also to quash this rumor that was going around that he was going to live until the Second Coming of Christ.

To look at the chapter itself, it falls naturally into two halves. In verses 1-14 we have described Jesus’ appearance by the Sea of Tiberius, or the Sea of Galilee. Then from verse 15 to the end of the chapter we have the commissioning of the disciples by Jesus. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

First the appearance by the Sea of Tiberius. It is very interesting to ask ourselves: what is the sequence of the appearances that took place after the resurrection? It says in verse 14 that this was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.[5] So this was the third appearance to the disciples. What were the previous two? The first two were apparently the appearance to the twelve disciples which is related in John 20:19-23 where Jesus appears to them in the upper room. The second appearance to the disciples was the one eight days later in John 20:24-29 where he appears to Thomas and the twelve disciples again in the upper room. Then comes this appearance to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberius. So this is the third appearance to the disciples as a group.

What other appearances were there prior to this? There was first of all the appearance to the women. This is related in John 20:11-18 where you have the appearance to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb of Jesus. In addition to that, we know from the Gospel of Luke that Jesus appeared on the Emmaus road to some disciples who were walking back to the village of Emmaus after the crucifixion and who saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus. We also know Jesus appeared to Peter sometime prior to this alone in Luke 24:34. When the Emmaus disciples get back to Jerusalem they find the disciples gathered together and they say to the Emmaus disciples, “The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon [that is to say, Simon Peter].” Then in 1 Corinthians 15:5 Paul lists as the very first of the appearances in that list the appearance to Peter (or by his Aramaic name Cephas). We had appearances to the women and to Peter alone in addition to these two group appearances to the disciples prior to this.

What appearances occurred afterwards? Afterwards comes the mountaintop appearance in Galilee that Matthew narrates in Matthew 28 where the disciples go to the mountaintop that Jesus had appointed them and there they experience an appearance of Jesus on the mountaintop in Galilee.

This is the third appearance to the disciples as a group. We may ask ourselves: what are the disciples doing here fishing? After all, in John 20:21-23 Jesus commissions the disciples to go into the world, preach the Gospel, and forgive and remit sins. He breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. What in the world are they doing here in chapter 21 back in Galilee fishing instead of carrying out his Great Commission? Some people have suggested that the disciples had returned to their old way of life; that in fact they had been disobedient to Christ’s command and had gone back to their life as fishermen and were again fishing. So Jesus has to appear to them again and re-commission them. That seems very strange. Why would they do that, having been commissioned by Christ in John 20? Why would they resume their old way of life? That seems rather incongruous. You notice anything odd about that list of names in John 21:2 where it lists the seven disciples that were fishing that day? What I noticed about this list is that neither Nathanael nor Thomas were fishermen. Peter and the sons of Zebedee were fishermen, but not Thomas and not Nathanael. In fact, Cana, where Nathanael is from, is a landlocked village. So this wasn’t simply a return to their old way of life on the part of the disciples. Not all of these men were fishermen. But they were out fishing for some other reason. I think what is going on here is giving us a clue in Matthew 28. Turn over to Matthew’s appearance story in Matthew 28:16 where Jesus appears to them on the mountaintop in Galilee. Matthew says, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Notice this is the only resurrection appearance story that takes place by appointment. This is a rendezvous which Jesus had arranged with the disciples. The time and the place were set on that mountaintop in Galilee.[6] Having gone back to Galilee after the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the disciples are waiting until the appointed time and place where they rendezvous with Jesus. To past the time, Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” So some of the other disciples who were not by trade fishermen say, “We’ll go with you.” So they naturally pass the time. They had to live and eat in the meantime. So they are out fishing, I think while waiting for this rendezvous with Jesus that is described in Matthew 28.

While they do so they experience this miraculous catch of fish. What is the meaning of this miraculous catch that they get at Jesus’ direction? I think the clue to understanding this story is found in Luke 5. In a story about a similar incident that occurred at the very beginning of the disciples’ call to follow Jesus in Christian discipleship. In Luke 5:1-11 we read the story of the call of the first disciples. Luke tells the story in chapter 5 that:

While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Here at the very call of the first disciples to become fisher’s of men, you have a very similar incident take place with this miraculous catch of fish. The disciples go through the same experience again with Jesus now in this post-resurrection appearance. You might say why didn’t they recognize Jesus when he calls to them from the shore? I don’t think it was because of the distance. John says they were about 100 yards offshore but he says that to emphasize how close they were to shore, not how far away they were. Rather, I think you have here a motif that appears in two other Gospel resurrection appearance stories of not recognizing Jesus at first. In Luke’s account of the road to Emmaus appearance, he says that this non-recognition was not due to any change in Jesus’ appearance but he says rather their eyes were held from recognizing him. It was a kind of supernatural inhibition that God had imposed upon them and then removed at the moment of disclosure and they would recognize him at that moment. Jesus’ question to the disciples from the land wouldn’t have given away his identity. It is the typical words that a person would ask a fishermen. It basically means, “Boys, haven’t caught anything, have you?” This would be an ordinary question you would ask a fishermen. They wouldn’t recognize him just by his words from the shore. But in catching the miraculous catch of fish, suddenly the light dawns. They remember what had happened before and the beloved disciple says, “It is the Lord!” And Peter leaps in the water to swim to shore.

Notice one of the things that is different about this appearance. John makes a point of saying in verse 11 even though there were 153 of these fish, even though there were so many, the net was not torn. In the first call of the disciples, remember the nets were bursting because there were so many fish. You can imagine the fish splashing out and flopping all over the place as they are trying to pull in the nets, and the nets are splitting because of it. But here John says even though there were so many fish the nets were not torn. He almost reflects consciously on this fact – the nets didn’t break. What is Jesus trying to show the disciples through this incident?[7] I think he is trying to show them the lesson that he was trying to teach the disciples back in John 15:5 where he says, “apart from me you can do nothing.” They had labored all night fruitlessly to try to catch the fish and they had caught nothing. Apart from Christ they could do nothing. But then in John 15:16 Jesus goes on to say, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” In other words, what he is saying to them in this miraculous catch of fish is that they will be successful in carrying out their commission to become fishers of men. The fact that the nets do not break I think is a sort of symbolic affirmation of the success that they will have as fishers of men. The fish will not get away. The nets will not break. Apart from Christ they will be fruitless and their labor will be in vain. But with Christ, they will be successful in their mission to become fishers of men and to evangelize the world.

In the second half of the chapter, from verse 15 to 23, you have Jesus' summons to follow him. We need to ask ourselves, what kind of scene is this that goes on in this interaction with Peter asking him three times “Do you love me?” Is this a rehabilitation of Peter who had fallen away by denying Christ three times? Or is this rather a commissioning of Peter to mission and evangelism. I think the three-fold question “Do you love me?” probably does reflect Peter having denied Christ three times. That is why Peter is so grieved in his heart when Jesus asks him the third time “Do you love me?” because it reflects the three denials that Peter had of Christ. But notice that there is no word of confession on Peter’s part here. There is no word of forgiveness by Jesus. Rather, I think that that rehabilitation of Peter probably already took place at that appearance to Peter alone prior to this appearance. We have no story in the New Testament of what transpired between Peter and Jesus when Jesus met him alone. But we can imagine in our minds what that must have been like when Peter who had denied Christ three times who was now crushed and a broken man experiences an appearance of his Lord, an appearance of Jesus alive from the dead to himself alone. So when Jesus confronts the disciples here in John 21, that business has already been transacted. Peter is a forgiven man already. So you see his eagerness to meet Jesus. When the beloved disciples says it is the Lord, Peter can’t wait for the ship to come into shore – he jumps into the water to swim to the shore to meet Jesus. So I think that this is a commissioning scene rather than a rehabilitation scene. This is Jesus commissioning Peter to become the chief shepherd of the early Christian church and to watch over the flock of God which is his charge.

Jesus’ question to him “Do you love me more than these” – we don’t know what the “these” refers to. Does it refer to the tackle, the boat, the life of fishing? Do you love me more than these things? Or is he talking about the other disciples? Do you love me more than these do? Grammatically you can’t tell. But what we can say is that Jesus is demanding from Peter his first love. Whatever the “these” refers to, Jesus is saying, Peter do I have your first love? Am I first in your heart?

This is what he demands from Peter – his first and unalloyed allegiance and love. Then he foreshadows Peter’s death in verses 18-19. He says, “When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” The author John says this was to prefigure the death by which Peter would glorify God. He was crucified for his faith in Jesus Christ – stretched out his hands and was carrying to the cross. He was crucified for his faith and following Christ.[8]

You think about this and it is stunning. Here Jesus demands from Peter his first love. He tells Peter, Follow me, knowing full well that this will lead to Peter’s crucifixion and death. What kind of a person is it that can demand this sort of allegiance that will say unblinkingly Follow me even though he knows it will lead to the most excruciating and horrible of deaths? I don’t think any human person can demand that kind of uncompromising allegiance from another human being. It reminds me of a poem written by Lord Baron commemorating an incident that occurred in the Crimean War between Britain and Russia. On October 25, 1854 during the Crimean War at the Battle of Balaclava, a brigade of light British cavalry was commanded to charge straight into the Russian lines, right into the guns. It was a suicidal order. Yet these men obeyed this order unflinchingly and unquestioningly. Lord Baron commemorated this event in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. I would like to read this poem to you because I think it illustrates the kind of commitment that Jesus is demanding from Peter.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

I think that probably no human being can demand that kind of unquestioning allegiance from another person. But this is what Christ demands of us, and he is no ordinary human being. He is the second person of the Trinity. He is God himself. When he calls us to follow him, even if it means to a life of suffering and death, our response is “Our’s not to reason why, our’s not to question why, our’s but to do and die” in allegiance to the Lord who calls us. In other words, I think it is very important that we keep in mind that the Christian life is not a bowl of cherries. God hasn’t promised us an easy life. For some of us he will call us to a life of pain, suffering, and hardship. Jerry’s Charlotte would be a wonderful example with the pain that she suffered all her life. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good to those who love God. But that verse goes on to say that it may well be that that good doesn’t occur until the afterlife. It is those that he predestined, he called, and justified, and glorified. So that good may not actually appear within this earthly life. It may only be when the crown is bestowed in heaven that those who have experienced terrible suffering will finally have the good that crowns what they have born.

Paul the apostle understood this, too. Paul was similarly called to a life of incredible suffering in his work as an apostle. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 he says this, speaking of the thorn in the flesh that he had asked God three times that it should be taken away:

But he [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul knew that the power of Christ was all the more evident in him during those times of weakness. So in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul is able to say this:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Paul understood that the sufferings of this life are only to be understood in the perspective of eternity. In light of the eternal good that he will crown us with in heaven, the sufferings of this life, Paul says, are like a slight momentary affliction that can be born until we go home to be with Christ in glory.

This is the kind of unquestioning commitment that Christ demanded of Peter and that he demands of us. Notice that this personal commitment that he demands, he demands regardless of what happens to the other guy. Peter in this story in John 21 turns around and sees the beloved disciple and says, “Lord, what about this man?” And Jesus says to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” We must not look at other Christians who have easier lives than we do who aren’t afflicted in similar ways, who don’t have the defeats and suffering that we do. Christ’s message to us is “What is that to you? If it is my will, you follow me.”

So I think this is really a wonderful message that we have from this resurrection appearance story by the Sea of Tiberius. It tells us that apart from Christ we are powerless, without him we can do nothing. But with Christ by his power within us we can do all things, as Paul said, through Christ who strengthens me. We need to give Christ our first love. If he allows us, or if he even should call us, to suffer or to experience failure or defeat in life, regardless of how the other guy has it or how easy others' lot in life may be, his summons to us remains the same: follow me.

[Closing prayer][9]



[1] 5:01

[2] 9:54

[3] 15:00

[4] 20:06

[5] 25:05

[6] 30:03

[7] 35:01

[8] 39:55

[9] Total Running Time: 48:52 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)