Can I Get A Witness?
The future. It might be one of the greatest obsessions of our society today. From an early age we are focused on our future. We ask ourselves, “What do we want to be when we grow up?” In school we are always working toward getting good grades so we can graduate and get a diploma. When I was in high school I had to decide whether to take college prep or business courses. If we go to college we have to decide what to major in or we are looking at getting the job that might have the best chance of getting us the most money. Then we think about the raise or the promotion or the next job and finally we are looking toward retirement. Next comes relationships. Will I get married? Who will I marry? Will I have children? How many children do I want to have and how many years between them? The future. Right now, the future seems to be at the forefront of our thoughts and our prayers. We think about a future after the coronavirus, hopefully, or our future with the coronavirus. We think about our future after the election or the future of our world as we deal with racism and other problems in our society.
One of the most famous predictors of the future is probably Nostradamus, a French astrologer and physician, born in 1503, whose prophecies earned him fame and a loyal following during his lifetime. In the centuries since his death, people have credited him with accurately predicting pivotal events in history, from the French Revolution to the rise of Adolf Hitler to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and even the 2020 coronavirus.
In 1900, John Elfreth Watkins, Jr., made some pretty interesting and accurate predictions. Here are a few of his predictions, published in a 1900 issue of Ladies' Home Journal under the title "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years." One, express trains will travel at speeds up to 150 mph. Today, the Acela express train hits top speeds of 150 mph and the bullet trains in Japan, glide along at 198 mph. Two, "Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of today." Have you ever heard of Stauffer’s? The frozen-food industry is worth $33 billion today. Three, "Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span." Can you say “the internet.”
God through his Word also has a lot to say about our futures. There are over a hundred verses in the Bible that talk about the future in some way. Here are a few: Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. 1 Peter 1:3b-4 says, In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. Proverbs 16:3-4 says, Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster. Lastly, Matthew 6:31 says, So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ and verse 34 says, Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
These verses tell us many things about our futures: that God has a plan for our futures and for our hope. If we trust, lean on and submit to the Lord he will make our paths (our futures) straight. We have a future inheritance in heaven waiting for us. Commitment to the Lord establishes our future. And lastly we are not to worry about our future because God has our futures in his hands.
This morning our passage comes immediately following what Pastor Stuart taught us last week. Jesus has just restored Peter and commissioned him to feed and take care of his sheep. Peter would serve the Lord and show his love for Jesus this way until his death. This morning, we are going to see that Jesus tells Peter what his future holds. Jesus will also give insight to Peter about John’s future and will show us that he holds the future of the church in his hands as well. As we study this passage in John 21:18-25, John wants us to understand that Jesus is the Lord of our futures. That’s our big idea this morning. From the verses that I just read and from our passage this morning we see that God and Jesus are supremely concerned about his people’s futures, knows His people’s futures and is Lord over his people’s futures.
Let’s pray: Almighty and All-Knowing God, we come before you this morning ready to be filled with your Holy Spirit, ready to learn from your Word and ready to share what we learn with those who need to hear it. Give us opportunities this week to share the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, with those who do not believe. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
We are going to be looking at three points this morning. First, Peter’s future, second, John’s future and third, the church’s future. We will start with Peter’s future which is found in verses 18-19. This is what God’s Word says, “Truly, truly I tell you, when you were younger, you used to put on your belt and walk wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will put your belt on you, and bring you where you do not want to go.” Now He said this, indicating by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had said this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
Jesus begins with “truly, truly” which emphasizes that he is about to say something significant to Peter. What he says to Peter was probably a well-known proverb in Jesus’ day. It contrasted the strength and freedom of youth to the frailty and limitations of old age. Two things are mentioned: the putting on of his belt or dressing himself and the walking or going where he wanted. Jesus is reminding Peter that “when he was young” he had freedom and independence. He led a somewhat carefree life as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. But “when he is old” someone else will dress him and take him where he doesn’t want to go. Jesus had just commissioned Peter to a future of serving Jesus by feeding and taking care of his sheep, but later there would come times of trouble and tribulation and at the end of his life he will “stretch out your hands.” The Greek words for “stretch out your hands” was used by early Christian writers to represent death on a cross.
John then goes on to tell us exactly what Jesus meant by “stretch out your hands” and it was to indicate the kind of death Peter would die that would glorify God. Now we don’t know exactly how Peter died but the tradition from Eusebius is that he was crucified upside down. Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy of dying in the same way that Jesus had. We see from these verses that Jesus was the Lord of Peter’s future. He was not only Lord of Peter’s future in his ministry of feeding and taking care of Jesus’ sheep, he was Lord of his future in death as well. As soon as Jesus tells Peter he will die for his sake he tells him to “follow me.” It is used in the present tense meaning “keep on following.” Jesus meant that Peter was to continue to follow him no matter what for the rest of his life. He had followed in the past but not continuously. “Follow me” takes on a whole new meaning for Peter, in that, he would spend the rest of his life in faithful ministry to Jesus knowing that one day he would die a martyr’s death which would glorify God.
This reminds us that there is a cost to our discipleship. There is a cost in following Jesus. We must decrease so Jesus can increase. We must daily surrender our will to Jesus’ will. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” We must be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Gospel. That includes, our safety, our security, our jobs, our families and even our lives if Jesus calls us to that. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I follow Him in the ministry he has called me.
Our second point is John’s future which is found in verses 20-22. This is what God’s Word says, “Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them—the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who is betraying You?” 21 So Peter, upon seeing him, said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
After Jesus had reinstated Peter and commissioned him to feed and take care of his sheep it seems they began to walk down the beach possibly for a private moment together. After Jesus had told Peter he would be martyred for his sake Peter turned and saw the disciple that Jesus loved following them. We are also told he is the one who asked Jesus at the last supper who was going to betray him. He’s talking about John. These two specific identifications of John show the close relationships that John had with Jesus and with Peter. John 13:23-24 says, Lying back on Jesus’ chest was one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter nodded to this disciple and said to him, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.” This signaling between Peter and John assumes a close relationship between the two disciples.
This may give us some insight into why when Peter saw John he asked Jesus the question, “What about him?” While we can’t be certain of the motivation for Peter’s question, he may have been concerned about John’s future because of their close relationship, especially after being told about his own. Maybe there was a sense of rivalry between the two reminiscent of the race to the empty tomb. Maybe Peter felt emboldened by his restoration and assumed he now had special privileges to ask certain things of Jesus. Whatever Peter’s motive, we get the sense from Jesus’ reply that it was not well-intentioned because he abruptly but mildly rebukes Peter. He makes it clear that John’s future is none of Peter’s business. The verb “remain” meaning “remain alive” has eschatological overtones in that if Jesus wanted John to live until he returned, talking about the Second Coming, that did not change the task he had given Peter. Even though Peter was the leader of the disciples there were some things he did not have the privilege to know. Peter’s attention was to be focused on himself and his duty and devotion to Christ not John’s.
Jesus wasn’t putting down either disciple. Peter was being called to pastoral ministry and a martyr’s crown and John was being called to be a historical and theological witness to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Carson says, “The beloved disciple’s commission is not cast in terms as explicit as Peter’s because at this point Peter needed a new fresh commission since that was part of his restoration while the beloved disciple did not. John was giving faithful historical witness even at the present time and would continue to do so.” Jesus was the Lord of John’s future as he knew what John’s role was going to be to further his kingdom. That reminds us of our big idea that Jesus is Lord of our futures.
After his rebuke of Peter, Jesus tells him, “You must follow me.” The “must” is emphatic and the fact that Peter has now been told twice by Jesus to “follow him” is significant. Peter has been twice urged to do what John was already doing. Hoskyns says, “His obedience (John’s) is assured; it was Peter’s love that had been shown to be uncertain.” Jesus is reminding Peter that he has one duty and that is to follow Jesus and to follow him until his death.
We can learn a lot in the church today from this rebuke of Peter. It is interesting that Peter had to turn to see John following them. If Peter had kept looking forward or better yet kept his eyes on Jesus he would not have seen John and asked the question that received the rebuke from his Lord. As Christ followers we need to always be focused on Jesus and not on others. Our mission to Pursue, Grow and Multiply Disciples is too important to compare ourselves to, compete with or be critical of what other Christians or other churches are doing. If we are properly living out our call from God we should not have the time to question the ministry and stewardship of other Christ followers. Personal competition and rivalry destroy the work of the church. What we should be doing is encouraging, helping and serving with other Christians and other churches. That brings us to our second next step on the back of your communication card which is to keep my focus on Jesus and encourage, help and serve with other Christians as I pursue, grow and multiply disciples for his sake.
Our third point is the Church’s future and we see this in verses 23-25. This is what God’s Word says, Therefore this account went out among the brothers, that this disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is testifying about these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they were written in detail, I expect that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”
John was the only disciple not to die a martyr’s death and in fact was going to live to a very old age. This passage seems to prove that in the fact that the rumor that John would live until Jesus returned had spread throughout the church by the time his gospel was written. The longer John lived the more people would start to believe that what Jesus had said to Peter was a prophecy about John. As this rumor spread John felt he needed to correct people’s false beliefs because of the damage it could do to the future of the church. When John would finally pass away two things would happen. Those who were Christians at the time would be in for a shock and those who were enemies of the Gospel would call Jesus a liar. Imagine the impact for the church and for the world. John’s witness about Jesus being the Messiah and the Son of God would be damaged. The church would start to wonder about the truthfulness of Jesus and the disciples. The world would ridicule Christians and call Jesus a liar. Christianity may have ceased to exist. So John wants his readers to be clear about what Jesus did or did not say. The “but” is emphatic that Jesus did not say John would not die. He again states Jesus’ exact words to prove it is accurate. He is careful to say Jesus was speaking hypothetically only to deflect Peter misguided question. The word, “if”, made all the difference in Jesus’ statement. John was desperately concerned about the unity of God’s people and the oneness of Jesus’ flock. The Jesus whom both Peter and John served in different ways is passionately concerned about those things as well. Jesus cares deeply for his church and is the Lord of the future of the church.
John now turns his attention to his calling as a faithful witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. John was able to say that he saw all “these things”, and he wrote these things down. “These things” refer to his entire Gospel. We can’t be sure who the “we” are in “we know that his testimony is true.” He could be referring to the other disciples that witnessed the same events or it could refer to John’s followers in the Church of Ephesus where he resided until his death. Some commentators believe that these last two verses were written by someone else besides John, possibly these followers. Or it could have been just a literary device that John used like we see in John 1:14 which says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and “we” saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It would be nice to know who the “we” refers to but it must not have been important to the book or we would know. If the “we” means someone other than John than their testimony must have been very early because there has never been any doubt about it. Barrett (in Morris’ commentary) says, “The ‘we’ is to be taken with full seriousness; there exists an apostolic Church capable of verifying and affirming the apostolic witness.” If it is referring to someone besides John we don’t know who they are but they were there and that is what mattered.
John’s gospel is a record of what happened written down by a man who had seen it, but it was not exhaustive. John says that Jesus did many other things as well and if they were all written down there would not be enough room in the whole world to hold the books that would be written. This is playful hyperbole, a deliberate exaggeration for dramatic effect which was common in antiquity. John is not content to end his Gospel focusing on himself. He closes by saying his own work about the life of Jesus is only a small part of all the honor and glory due to the Son. John is not only stating the greatness of God here but also stating that the words and works of Jesus were much greater than what is contained in his gospel. But nevertheless, John is the final witness in a long line of witnesses that include John the Baptist and the miracles and signs that Jesus did while he was on the earth. And his Gospel is also a witness written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit presenting Jesus Christ as the Messiah the Son of God for the express purpose that all may believe.
Witnesses are important. A witness is defined as someone who sees, hears, or knows by personal presence and perception, to be present at (an event) as a formal witness, spectator, bystander, etc. or to bear witness to; testify to; give or afford evidence of. The word, “witness”, is significant in the Bible. The Israelites were to be witnesses to the world of the goodness of God. But where we really see its importance is in the New Testament. The Greek word for witness occurs thirty-four times; the verb form appears seventy-nine times; the nouns are used a total of fifty-seven times. This concept is found mainly in John and Acts which suggests that it was a vital reason for the Church's growth from a local Jerusalem group to a world-wide movement. The witness of those early Christians contributed to the explosion of the church and the belief that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" through which believers found “life in His name.”
This witness was important because it was different from every other religion of the time, before it or since. In Jesus’ day there were the gods of the Greeks, the gods of the Romans, and both had their temples and priests. There were many philosophies of the day such as Gnosticism and Stoicism. Jesus Christ showed up on the earth in the midst of these pagan religions. He came as a baby born in a manger. He grew up learning carpentry from his earthly father, Joseph. He taught in the synagogue, ate with sinners, healed the sick and forgave sins. He claimed to be God and died on a cross. This was different in that no one ever shook the hand of one of the Greek gods or had lunch with a Roman god. Those deities never wore sandals or walked the same earth that humans did. Jesus Christ was a historical person who interacted with other historical people and those people were witnesses to this Jesus and made the claim that he was indeed the Son of God.
Christianity rests on the witnesses of these stories and events. If no one knew the events and witnessed to them, no one would be a Christian. Because of this we need to keep returning to the scriptures. The Bible will always remain central to the Church's witness, for it contains the story which brought the Church into being and will continue to nourish it to the end. The difference between the apostolic witness and all subsequent Christians through the ages is that they could speak of that "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands” and the rest of us who were not present at the time must repeat the story and keep it living to the next generation. John’s Gospel that we have just finished studying is the witness that gets us from, Thomas, who believed because he had "seen" to "those who have not seen and yet believe.”
So what does all of this have to do with us? John, an eyewitness to the historical Jesus who died on a cross for everyone’s sins, wrote his gospel so that we “may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing may have life in his name.” Now that we have read and studied his gospel we too must be witnesses to an unbelieving world so that they may believe in Jesus as their Messiah, as the Son of God and by believing those who you share your testimony with will have life in his name. That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card which is to “be a witness for Jesus Christ and what he has done in the book of John and in my life so that others may believe and have life in his name.”
As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final hymn let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you that you not only have the futures of Peter, John and the Church in your hands but our futures as well. Help us to be faithful witnesses of your Word and of what you have done in each of our lives. Let us be bold in sharing our testimony to the salvation you have freely given us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.