Great Words of Salvation: Discipleship (4 of 5)

Series: What Must I Do to Be Saved?

We have been following this week the great words of conversion, and “followship,” and devotion in the circumference of the Christian life: Monday, repentance; and Tuesday, faith; and yesterday, confession; and tomorrow, the last day, atonement; and today, discipleship.  In the twenty-first chapter of the Fourth Gospel:

After these things Jesus showed Himself again to His disciples at the Sea of Galilee –

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and this is the way that He did it –

There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called the Twin, and Nathanael of Cana, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, and two other unnamed disciples, seven of them.

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing.  And they say, We also go with thee.  They went forth, entered to a ship, fished all night long, caught nothing.

And when the morning was come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples did not know it was Jesus –

hid, shadowed in the gray mist of the early morning hour –

Then the Lord said unto them, Children, have ye any meat? [Have ye caught anything?]  They answered Him, No.

He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side, and ye shall find –

they took His advice, put the net on the other side of the boat –

and they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

Then that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, That is the Lord, that is the Lord.  And when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat around him, and jumped into the sea –

and came to Jesus –

And the other disciples . . . dragging the net full of fishes.

And when they came to the shore –

there was a breakfast prepared –

And the Lord said, Come and dine –

so when they had dined –

He 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, Shepherd My lambs.

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me?  He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee.  He saith unto him, Take care of My sheep.

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me?  Peter was grieved because He said the third time, Lovest thou Me?  And he answered, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.  Jesus saith unto him, Take care of My flock.

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, dressed yourself, walkedst whither 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.

[John 21:1-19]

The prophecy was that Simon Peter should die by the outstretched hands; that is, by crucifixion, nailed to a tree [John 21:18], “And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me.”  And the Greek language is most emphatic: “Thou follow thou Me.”  So the Gospel closes with Simon Peter following Jesus unto crucifixion and to death [John 21:19]; discipleship.

John closed his Gospel at the twentieth chapter.  It reaches its climax, its glorious peroration and invitation, its great avowal; it closes at the twentieth chapter[John 20:26-31].  But if you have carefully looked at the Gospels, including John’s, all four of them, when they end, Simon Peter is left in a sort of, a kind of unhappy situation, bad light.  The emphatic thing that we remember about Simon Peter in the closing days of our Lord is his denial of Jesus [John 18:15-18].  I spoke of it yesterday.  We don’t preach through the Gospel without saying it, recounting it.  This big fisherman in the presence of a little maid, swearing and cursing that he did not know the Man, never had seen Him [Matthew 26:69-75].  Well, Simon Peter’s been dead thirty years, and John picks up his pen and he makes an addendum to, he adds an appendix to the Gospel that he’s written years before [John 21:1-25].  And it’s a tribute to his old friend Simon Peter, who’s been crucified now these thirty years.  And this is the way that John did it.

Up there in Galilee, these seven disciples were together waiting for the coming of the Lord at an appointed time on an appointed mountain [Matthew 28:7; John 21:1-2].  The commission had not been given, the Holy Spirit had not come, the disciples had no conception of the worldwide mission of the church [John 7:39]; all they knew was that He had been crucified and raised from the dead [John 19:16-20], and they were there in Galilee waiting for the appointment by the Lord.  So while they were waiting, Simon Peter said, “I once made a living out on the sea.  I’m going back to my old business, back to the old boats, back to the old nets, back to the old life.  I’m going back” [John 21:3].  And Simon Peter was a born leader of men.  What he did, the other disciples did, and when Simon Peter said, “I’m going back to the old nets, and the old boat, and the old life, and the old way,” the other disciples said, “Then we’ll go too” [John 21:3].  And there they are plying their trade, as they were when Jesus first called them [Matthew 4:18-22].

They didn’t catch anything that night.  In the gray mist of the morning, the Lord appeared on the shore, and then that marvelous miracle of the draft of fishes, just putting the net on the other side.  And when John said, “Simon, that is Jesus,” he jumped into the sea and came to the Lord [John 21:4-7].  The reason I know he’s a big fisherman, six of those men were struggling to get the net up there; but Simon Peter went down and dragged it up by himself [John 21:8-11].  When they named the show and the novel The Big Fisherman, they did it well.

So Simon Peter has gone back to the old world and back to the old life, back to the old way.  And the Lord turns to him after breakfast, and He says, “Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me more than these?” [John 21:15].  Now in the English language that is an ambiguous question.  It could mean, in our English Bible, “Simon Peter, do you love Me more than these love Me?  Do you love Me more than John, or Thomas, or Nathanael, or James?  Do you love Me more than these love Me?”  That’s the way it could mean in the ambiguity of the English language.  But it can’t mean that in the construction of the Greek question.  In the language in which John was writing, that question means one thing only, and there’s no other meaning in it: the Lord turned to Simon Peter and said, “Simon, lovest thou Me more than you love these?  Do you love Me more than you love these?” and with the sweep of His hand, I can see our Lord include the nets, and the boat, and the sea, and the old life, and the old way, and the old world.  “Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?” and with the breadth of the gesture of His hand, He included the whole world.  And when Simon Peter said, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, I do.”  Then the Lord says, “I am asking you, Simon, to give them up, to give them up and to follow Me” [John 21:15-19].

To be a disciple is first of all a giving up.  If any man ever asks me, “What is it to be a Christian?” I say humbly, but truthfully, “First of all it is a giving up, a giving up.”  It was so to the rich young ruler, who had the world in his heart; and the Lord said, “Give it up, give it away, give it to the poor, get rid of it; for the way is too narrow and the gate’s too strait to enter in carrying the world in your arms.  Give it up and follow Me” [Matthew 7:13-14, 19:16-21; Mark 10:17-21].  It was so to Saul of Tarsus: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks [Acts 9:4-5]. Give it up, give it up, and follow Me.”  And Paul wrote, “All things that were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ.  Yea, and I count all things but dross, that I might know Him” [Philippians 3:7-10].  It is first a giving up.

And it is so in the Lord’s invitation to us.  There is no Christian, ever, no disciple, ever, but that knows what it means in following Jesus to give up – sometimes the dream of our lives, sometimes the love of our hearts.  It hasn’t been long since one of the most beautiful, adorable girls I ever saw came to see me, and in the sobs and tears of her heart, on her knees, resolved to give up the young man to whom she was engaged, and whom she loved with all the passion of her soul, because he was not a Christian.  And the Book says we’re not to marry outside of the Lord [2 Corinthians 6:14] – a giving up.  Sometimes they’re little things; sometimes they’re big things.  Sometimes it’s like, it’s like the soul, it’s like the heart, it’s like the very life of you.  But that’s what it is to be a disciple of Jesus: it’s a giving up, giving up personal pride and personal ambition and ministry to self, giving up the world, and the fashion of it and the pleasure of it, and the call of it.  It’s a giving up.  “Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?”  “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee” [John 21:15-17].  “Then I am asking, give it up and follow Me” [John 21:19].  It is a care for souls.  It’s a new vocation, it’s a new dedication, it’s a new interest, it’s a new love.  “Lovest thou Me?  Feed My lambs, shepherd My flock” [John 21:15-17].

Did you ever notice how true this poem – unknown, nobody knows who wrote it – but how true it is to the spirit of the Scriptures?  Do you remember the poem?

I had walked life’s way with an easy tread,

Had followed where pleasures and comforts led,

Until one day in a quiet place

I met the Master face to face.

With station and wealth and rank for my goal,

Much thought for my body, but none for my soul,

I had entered to win in life’s mad race,

When I met the Master face to face.

I had built my castles and reared them high,

Till they pierced the blue of the sky;

I had sworn to rule with an iron mace,

When I met the Master face to face.

I met Him, and knew Him and blushed to see

That His eyes full of sorrow were fixed on me;

I faltered and fell at His feet that day,

While my castles melted and vanished away.

Melted and vanished and in their place

Naught could I see but the Master’s face.

I cried aloud, “Oh, make me meet

To follow the steps of Thy wounded feet.”

My thoughts are now for the souls of men,

I lost my life to find it again,

E’er since one day in a quiet place

I met the Master face to face.

[adapted from “I Met the Master”; Author unknown]

That poem by an unknown disciple reflects the true spirit of the Book.  “Simon, lovest thou Me?  Then I am asking you to give it up, and follow Me” [John 21:15-17, 19].  And it’s a care for souls:

My thought is now for the souls of men;

I lost my life to find it again

E’er since one day in that quiet place,

I met the Master face to face.

I have a moment more.  I speak of just one other in this “followship,” this discipleship:

Truly, truly, I say unto you, When you were a young man, you dressed, and you went wherever you pleased.  But when you are an old man, 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 –

Simon Peter should be crucified –

But what about this man?”  And turning to John, “What about him?”

And Jesus said, “If I will that he tarry till I come, that he never die, what is that to thee?  Thou, you, follow Me.

[John 21:18-22]

And when Jesus had spoken this, He turned, and Simon Peter follows Him unto crucifixion and unto death [John 21:19].  Discipleship is made out of martyr stuff.  And in this moment, I just want us to look at martyr stuff.  It’s a remarkable thing.

All Daniel had to do was just close his window for thirty days and pray in private.  But he never closed his window.  Three times a day, with the window open toward Jerusalem, he would kneel in prayer.  And when the decree was made that if any man called on the name of a god beside the name of Darius the king, he should be thrown into the lions’ den [Daniel 6:6-9], why, how easy just to close the door, close the window, and pray where the conspirators couldn’t see.  That’s martyr stuff: with the window wide open, where the world could look, Daniel knelt, “as aforetime,” the Book says, and prayed [Daniel 6:10]; martyr stuff.

All the three Hebrew children had to do was – at the sound of the sackbut, and the cymbal, and the trumpet – bow down before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image [Dan 3:5].  And the whole host of the thousands of his kingdom bowed down, and those three young men stood straight up [Daniel 3:6-23]: martyr stuff, martyr stuff.

When John wrote this Gospel, he was pastor at Ephesus and right up the Asian coast was another city named Smyrna.  And in that city Polycarp was pastor.  And when they exiled John to the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], they tied Polycarp to the stake in the center of the marketplace in Smyrna.  And it was simple: “Polycarp, just say, Kurios Kaisar, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and we’ll spare you.”  And the aged pastor answered, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and I’ll not deny My Lord who saved me.  It is Kurios Iesous, ‘Jesus is Lord.’”  And they burned him at the stake; martyr stuff.

And it’s still with us.  I take one little incident out of China.  I heard a man from the interior of China, coming out from the awful terrorism of this flood and tide of destruction and war, and he said in the interior of China was a little church.  And the brigands and the bloodthirsty communists gathered all of that church in the building, and one by one beheaded them; every one of them.  And the last member in the little congregation was a lad, a child, a little boy.  And the Chinese, as you know, even though they’re hard, still have a great affection for children.  And when the leader of the bloodthirsty band looked down at the little boy, he said, “Son, you’re such a little fellow, such a little fellow.  Come, lad,” said the brigand, “Come, here’s a picture of Jesus, and I’m putting it on the ground.  You just step on that picture, and grind it into the dust with your heel, and we’ll let you live.”  And the leader of the band put the picture of our Lord in the dust of the ground, and invited the boy to put his foot on it.  And the lad looked at the picture and at the chief, and then raised his little face to glory and said, “Dear Lord, one time Thou didst die for me; this time I shall die for Thee.”  And he bowed his head, and the last member of the little church was martyred; discipleship – martyr stuff – the seed of the church.

This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God.  And when He had spoken thus, He said, Follow Me

[John 21:19]

Am I a soldier of the cross?

A follower of the Lamb?

And shall I fear to own His cause

Or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies

On flow’ry beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize

And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?

Must I not stem the flood?

Is this vile world a friend to grace,

To help me on to God?

No, I must fight, if I would reign –

Increase my courage, Lord!

I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,

Supported by Thy Word.

O precious cross, oh glorious crown,

O resurrection day!

Ye angels from the stars come down,

And bare my soul away.

[“Am I a Soldier of the Cross?”; Isaac Watts, 1721]

This is discipleship: following Christ unto death [John 21:19].

Our Lord, all of us in divine presence would be the first to admit that sometimes we follow afar off, sometimes are afraid, sometimes even ashamed to own the faith.  Forgive us, Lord, where we’ve ever staggered or trembled before the promise of God; and make us strong in Thee and in the power of Thy might.  And bless Thou our testimony in the earth, to the glory of our Lord, and in His saving, keeping name, amen.

For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit

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