Near the end of the Chronicles of Narnia book, The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis describes Shasta feeling sorry for himself because life is hard. While he cries, the Lion draws near, and Shasta is frightened when he realizes this is a very large creature. He cannot see Aslan through the mist, but when he can bear it no longer he whispers, “Who are you?”
“One who has waited long for you to speak.”
“Are you—are you a giant?”
“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”
Shasta, terrified, says, “Oh please—please do go away…. I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”
But the Lion breathes on him and says, “Tell me your sorrows.”
Shasta does so, including the misery of being chased by so many Lions! But the Large Voice responds: “I do not call you unfortunate.”
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?”
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own” (pp. 164-165).
I believe Lewis is reflecting on John 21. First, Aslan reveals himself to Shasta as the sovereign Lord of every event, just as Jesus explains that he controls and designs Peter’s future. Then Shasta realizes that if this is true, Aslan rules the pains as well as the pleasures; Jesus tells Peter the same. Finally, Shasta asks about his friend, Aravis. But there Aslan stops, for what business is that of Shasta’s? Likewise, Peter is not told John’s future: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
This gospel ends with an unexpected word from the Lord, but it is one which launches us into our future with the foundation of our love for God. Let’s find what God says to us about our story and his role in it, beginning with John 21.18….
[Read John 21.18-25. Pray.]
One wonderful testimony of faith from church history is that of Hudson Taylor, the first missionary to the interior of China (in the mid-1800s). He was a great evangelist because he learn “to move man, through God, by prayer alone.”
To prepare for the loneliness and dangers of a possible missionary career, Taylor worked for a doctor in a poverty-stricken area of England known as Drainside (after the foul waste-ditch that ran through the community). One night after work (about ten o’clock), a poor man asked Taylor to pray over his wife who was dying:
“Up a miserable flight of stairs into a wretched room he led me, and oh, what a sight there presented itself! Four or five children stood about, their sunken cheeks and temples telling unmistakably the story of slow starvation, and lying on a wretched pallet was a poor, exhausted mother, with a tiny infant moaning at her side. ‘Ah!’ thought I, ‘if I had two shillings and a sixpence, instead of half-a-crown [in other words, change for the half crown, like a $5 and five $1s, rather than a $10 bill], how gladly should they have one-and-sixpence of it.’ But still a wretched unbelief prevented me from obeying the impulse to relieve their distress at the cost of all I possessed.
“It will scarcely seem strange that I was unable to say much to comfort these poor people. I needed comfort myself. I began to tell them, however, that they must not be cast down; that though their circumstances were very distressing there was a kind and loving Father in heaven. But something within me cried, ‘You hypocrite! Telling these unconverted people about a loving Father, and not prepared yourself to trust him without half-a-crown.’ I nearly choked,… yet strange to say I thought I should pray…and relief would come to them and to myself….
“But no sooner had I opened my lips with, ‘Our Father who art in heaven,’ than conscience said within, ‘Dare you mock God? Dare you kneel down and call him ‘Father’ with that half-crown in your pocket?’ Such a time of conflict came upon me as I had never experienced before…. I arose from my knees in great distress of mind. The poor man turned to me and said, ‘You see what a terrible state we are in, sir. If you can help us, for God’s sake do!’
“At that moment the words flashed in my mind, ‘Give to him who asks of you.’ And in the word of a King there is power. I put my hand into my pocket and slowly drawing out the half-crown gave it to the man…. And how the joy came back in full flood tide in my heart…!
“Not only was the poor woman’s life saved, but my life as I fully realized had been saved too. It might have been a wreck as a Christian life, had not grace at that time conquered and the striving of God’s Spirit been obeyed. I well remember that night as I went home to my lodgings how my heart was as light as my pocket…. When I took my basin of gruel before retiring, I would not have traded it for a prince’s feast. Reminding the Lord of his own Word, ‘He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord,’ I asked him not to let my loan be for long, or I would have no dinner the next day.
“The next morning, before I finished my plate of porridge, the postman delivered a letter in an unknown hand with a blurred postmark. Opening the envelope I found nothing written within, simply a blank piece of paper with a pair of gloves and a half-sovereign. ‘Praise the Lord,’ I exclaimed, ‘Four hundred percent interest for 12 hours investment.’” (From Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 33-39).
I tell you that to set up this quote from Taylor. He was once introduced as the great missionary who had given his life to the Orient because he loved the Chinese. But he shook his head and answered, “No, not because I loved the Chinese, but because I loved God.” (Quoted in Hughes, 480).
Beside the sea Jesus restores Peter by three times asking: “Do you love me?” To each query, Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus gives him the thrice-repeated commission: “Feed my sheep,” after which he explains that this will work will end in martyrdom.
Matthew Henry: “Christ, having appointed Peter his doing work, next appoints him his suffering work. Having confirmed to him the honor of an apostle, he now tells him of the honor of a martyr.”
If I were to introduce Peter as a man who gave his life to the church because he loved the sheep, he would answer, “No, not because I loved God’s people, but because I loved God.” Love for one another is commanded; but it is insufficient for the long work of faithfulness to a hard calling. I need to learn again this lesson, and I hope you will with me.
1. We Must Love God Deeply To Trust Him For Our Futures
Jesus insists that he is Lord over all times and seasons. He knows exactly how and when Peter will die, and he decrees that death as a result of faithfulness to his Gospel: “You will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) Now, “Follow me.”
How would we respond? When one interviews for a job she expects to be given a complete and accurate job description. Here is Peter’s: Preach faithfully for a couple of decades, without adequate food, fame, or friends. Then die as a martyr. Excuse me, is anyone else hiring?
But notice what happens between verse 19 and 20. Verse 19 ends, “Follow me.” Verse 20 picks up after Peter has begun to trust and obey – he follows because he loves God! He loves the church too – without question! But around the fire, as Michael Card sings in “Jubilee”: “To be so completely guilty / Given over to despair / To look into your judge’s face / And see the Savior there / Jubilee, Jubilee / Jesus is our Jubilee / Debts forgiven / Slaves set free / Jesus is our Jubilee.” “You know that I love you, Lord, and I will follow wherever you lead!”
Donald Carson: “Peter himself recognizes this principle: whenever any Christian follows Christ to suffering and death, it is a means of bringing praise to God (1Peter 4.14-16). What is remarkable is that Peter lived and served three decades with this prediction hanging over his head” (680).
Hudson Taylor trusted God through great difficulties in China because he learned to love God deeply in the relative ease of Drainside. None of us has power or resources to shield off every trouble and hardship – let us learn deep love “before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12.1). We must love God deeply to trust him for our futures. Notice also that…
2. We Must Love God Deeply To Trust Him For Others’ Futures
Promised his own death for the faith, Peter asks: “What about John?” Maybe Peter is genuinely concerned for his brother; maybe he is anxious about the future predicted for himself; or maybe he is simply riddled with curiosity and here is the man who sees clearly the future. Regardless of the reason for the question, Jesus refuses to answer; instead, he gently, but firmly, rebukes Peter: that is not your business. Learn from this three lessons:
First, observe the problem of gossip in the church. Jesus responds, “If I want him to stay until the second coming, what is that to you?” And so a saying spread. People who were not there and had no business whispering about what was said, nevertheless created a story. Elizabeth Elliot once noted: “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” James 3.6,8: “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness…. No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Let us ask God for the grace of silence when it comes to the affairs of others.
Second, note the human tendency toward nosiness and meddling. The Bible calls them, “busybodies,” those “who give attention to matters that do not concern them; having undue curiosity.” One Bible dictionary points out that: “In some languages the word for a busybody means ‘one who puts his spoon in someone else’s cup.’” It’s like double-dipping in the salsa – you do not want that. Jesus cuts it off immediately; oh, that we would learn to do so too! – John’s future is not Peter’s business (and Peter is an apostle). Each of us has ample business to do with God; busyness in the affairs of others always means negligence for our own cares.
Third, remember that you cannot know another’s story. Anytime we look at another person or their life with a thought of comparison, we are misled. We imagine that we would have handled things so much better, but we do not know their circumstances or what all God is doing in their lives. Person A may appear to be a very mature Christian, but he made have had every privilege of upbringing and every support to success. He may be very immature in spiritual grace, and know little of counting it a joy to suffer trials and troubles. Person B, on the other hand, may appear to have a wreck of a life, yet do we really know from where she has come? What if her life has been one trial after another, with no support, no love, no encouragement? God may hold her up as a great trophy of his grace, not because of where she appears to end, but because of how far he has carried her.
Here is a lesson every Christian needs to learn – trusting others’ futures to God. Bitterness and envy drive many a Christian to gossip and meddling and prying into areas which are not theirs. “What is that to you?” Jesus wants to know.
3. We Must Love God Deeply To Trust Him To Receive All Glory
The last word from Christ is: “What is that to you?” John stops the story with the challenge to trust Christ for the future, for yours and for others. Then he thinks: “What if men say it is not true, or that they were not told enough?” So he adds two notes.
First, “We know that his testimony is true.” I agree with those who say that John asked other elders and apostles sign off on his book. One extra step to guarantee veracity. The undersigned (as it were) have read and vouch for this work.
Second, he thinks back to his opening sentence and observes that writing about the creator of heaven and earth, telling the story of the Word who became man, explaining all that he did and said and all of the implications of his life and work, requires eternity and infinity. The world cannot contain his glory, much less my book. I have not written everything, but I have written what you need to know and believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah, his solution to our sin and separation.
Jonathan Edwards: “Christ is like a river…. There are fresh supplies of water coming from the fountainhead continually, so that a man may live by it, and be supplied with water all his life. So Christ is an ever flowing fountain; he is continually supplying his people, and the fountain is not spent. They who live upon Christ may have fresh supplies from him to all eternity; they may have an increase of blessedness that is new, and new still, and which never will come to an end.”
John met Jesus, and is content with trusting him for his future and for yours. He is content because he knows that in Christ the “fullness of deity dwells….
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
“He is the God who strengthened with all power, who qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints, who delivers from the domain of darkness, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He reconciles; he saves; he makes peace with God through his blood; he redeems your life from the pit. All riches are his and all wisdom, as is all hope of glory. Therefore, him proclaim and not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.
John is saying to you: “We have seen Jesus, and that is enough. It is enough to contentment here and joy forevermore.”
Is he enough for you?