Sunday, February 3, 2013

How to Radically Follow Jesus Christ

John 21:18-19 18“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.19Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”

For the past couple of months I have been preaching through the Gospel of John on Sunday Afternoons.  At our 4 p.m service we sing songs of praise, hear God's Word and then discuss what we heard.  I am always amazed by how much new insights the Lord grants everytime God's people look at scriptures previously studied.  As I was thinking of this Lord's day, I realized we will be finishing out our study this afternoon in John's Gospel.  John's Gospel compels the reader and listener to radically follow Jesus Christ - God in human flesh. 

John's Gospel - Outline, Purpose and Theme
John's Gospel was the last inspired Gospel to be written.  The human author was the Apostle John - one of the inner-most disciples of the twelve that followed Jesus in His earthly ministry.  If we were to outline John's Gospel, we could outline it accordingly:

Prologue: 1:1-18
Signs Pointing to the Glory of Christ's Deity: 1:19-12:50
Glory of Christ shown in the cross & Resurrection: 13:1-21:25

In distinction to the first three Gospels which primarily focus on Christ's humanity with some reference to His Deity, John focuses primarilty on His Deity with some reference to His humanity. 

John 20:30-31 spells out the chief purpose of this
Gospel:  "30Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."  So in verse 30 we see the summary of John 1-12, with verse 31 giving us the chief point of chapters 13-21.  Therefore the main theme of John's Gospel could be stated as: The Glory of Christ's Deity revealed in human flesh. 

How Jesus tells Peter and us to follow Him
After Jesus had risen from the dead, He made multiple appearances to His disciples, three which are recorded in John 20-21.  Jesus appears to the disciples along the shoreline of Tiberius to restore Peter (John 21:1-17) and to give a final word of prophecy to Peter in regards to the outcome of Peter's life. (21:18-25) To follow Jesus Christ is the very essence of what it means to be a disciple.  Twice we find Jesus telling Peter here in John 21:17-25 to "Follow Me!" (21:19) and "You Follow me!" (21:22).1  So how are you and I to follow Jesus Christ? What is it He tells Peter to do and how are we in turn to follow the Master?  Consider the thoughts below...

Follow Jesus Christ Radically.  John 21:18-19
After Jesus had restored Peter to service and position in John 21:1-17, the past was healed and now attention was going to be shifted to Peter's future.  Jesus shares with Peter the outcome of His walk with Jesus.  In John 21:19 we read - "Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify.  And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!"  We have record of the kind of death Peter died in martyrdom from the pen of John Foxe in his classic 16th century work "Foxe's Book of Martyrs".2

Peter was to follow His Lord radically, and to the death.  My question to you and I is: if we knew what the outcome of our life was to be, would it affect our level of committment to Jesus Christ? Too often we allow present circumstances to determine our level of committment, let alone the unknown future.  However it was God's grace that kept Peter.3  No doubt about it, despite knowing what potentially was ahead, Peter followed his Lord radically, and you and I need to do that as well.  But notice secondly how we're to follow Jesus Christ...

Follow Him regardless.  John 21:20-23
As Jesus relayed to Peter this news about his future, Peter turned to look at the Apostle John, the author of this Gospel.  In summary, Peter asked Jesus whether or not the same outcome would befall his fellow disciple.  Jesus responds in John 21:22 - "Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (New American Standard Bible) The original language of these verses convey Jesus' response in this way: "Jesus said to Him: What difference does it make to you if I wish for him to remain until my return? You just follow Me!" 

You know I heard of a preacher one time who had this sign above his doorway: "Nevertheless".  That word is a good word to live by, since so much of why we follow Jesus is based upon conditions: "well Lord I'll do this if you do that".  But my dear friend, do you not realize that regardless of what takes place and regardless of what others do or don't, your reasons for following Jesus Christ are to be what He has ordained for you in His Word.  At times we look at another believer's life and judge their seeming lack of trials to mean that God has a better plan for them than for us.  However, could it be that the severity of trials experienced in the Christian's life show how great of plans God has in store for them?  Peter was going to die a horrific death, yet - nevertheless!  You and I could lose everything overnight in our Christian walk, however -  nevertheless!  Only the eye of faith and the mind saturated by scripture can conclude that to be the most reasonable way to live.  A "nevertheless" kind of approach to following Jesus Christ, with a radical resolve to follow Him no matter what.  But take note of a third way we are to follow Jesus Christ...

Follow Him with the right Book.  John 21:24-25
As John closes out his book, he ends with a post-script concerning the nature of his writing.  These final two verses point out two aspects of the nature of scripture itself.  Furthermore, if you and I are going to follow Jesus Christ both radically and in a regardless type of way, we need to have the right book.  John demonstrates in 21:24 what is called the "veracity of the Bible", that is, the trustworthiness of the scripture. 4 John himself was an eyewitness, which in the court of law is the strongest piece of evidence there can be when proving the truth of something.  I know that when I turn to the Bible, I am certain that I will come away with a trustworthy understanding of Jesus Christ. 

But John reveals another cahracteristic of the Bible, namely its sufficiency.  When John states in John 21:25 that: "And there are so many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even in world itself would not contain the books that would be written". According to the website Google, as of 2013 there are over 130 million books in the world.  Is John saying that it would require more books than that to handle all that Jesus did while here on earth? As I look at the original language of this verse, I find John's statement not be one of the quantity of books needed to handle all that Jesus did, but rather the quality of the only book that could accurately and sufficiently reveal the right Jesus. 

Think about religious books claiming to be the word of God.  The book of Mormon tells us about "a" Jesus, however a Mormon Christ is not "the" right Jesus.  The Jesus of Mormonism and the Jesus of the Bible are totally different.5  How about the Quran, the religious book of Islam?  I have read that book and I can tell you that the Jesus recorded in that book is not the Jesus I follow.  He is a pale imitation and not the genuine article.  The Quran for instance claims Jesus did not die on the cross, but according to the Quran was made to appear that he did.  Their version of Jesus was not God in human flesh, but rather a nice teacher who didn't sin.  The Christian does not follow the Jesus of religious speculation but the Jesus of revealed scripture.  Those other books could never handle, and no other book for that matter is divinely inspired and inerrant except the Bible.   

We could go on, but I think you get the point: The right book about Jesus Christ is the Bible.  Only the 66 books of the Bible tells me accurately, truthfully and sufficently who Jesus did, what He did and why you and I must follow Him radically and regardless.  May you dear reader have a blessed Lord's day. 

End Notes_____________
1 As you walk through John's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples again and again to "Follow Me". (John 1:43, 7:17, 8:12, 10:27, 12:26, 13:36, 21:19,22) 

2 John Foxe writes about Peter's Martyrdom: "Among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death, and crucified, as some do write, at Rome; albeit some others, and not without cause, do doubt thereof. Hegesippus saith that Nero sought matter against Peter to put him to death; which, when the people perceived, they entreated Peter with much ado that he would fly the city. Peter, through their importunity at length persuaded, prepared himself to avoid. But, coming to the gate, he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to whom he, worshipping, said, "Lord, whither dost Thou go?" To whom He answered and said, "I am come again to be crucified." By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering to be understood, returned into the city. Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was."

3 Forty five years would pass before Peter met his end on an upside-down cross of his choosing. He wrote two letters bearing his name, testifying again and again of the purpose of suffering anf the keeping grace of God. (1 Peter 1:5-12) 

4 The word "veracity" comes from a Latin root "veritas" meaning "truth". 

5 Mormonism for instance claims that at one point Jesus and Lucifer were brothers, and that because Jesus had a better plan of salvation than Lucifer, God said Jesus would be the Savior.

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