Summary: The end of John’s gospel calls me (and you I pray) to be committed to Jesus, committed to the truth about Jesus, and committed to the story of Jesus - past present and future.
If you’re anything like me then there will be some film you’ve seen or some book you’ve read and when it was finished you were ready for more! “I can’t wait for the next book” or “I wonder what’s going to happen next.” Well, we have just heard read to us the last words in the gospel of John the evangelist, sometimes referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20); and regardless of how high your spiritual excitement may currently be, I am praying that over the course of the next few minutes you will be ready for more.
John’s gospel takes up about 30 or so pages in most small print English translations of the Bible and throughout the book John is very careful not to draw too much attention to him self. His book has focused upon signs which reveal the identity of Jesus, and it draws to a close with a challenge; it’s a challenge to follow (21:22) and it’s a challenge to true commitment.
To put the end of John’s gospel into context Jesus has just restored Peter (21:15-19). Just before Jesus was crucified Peter was accused three times of being a friend or an associate or a disciple of Jesus. Presumably to avoid being arrested himself Peter denied knowing Jesus (18:15-27); but after his resurrection Jesus came alongside Peter in an incident which must encourage us when we fail and when we let God (and people) down. 3 times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and 3 times Peter responded, “Lord you know that I love you” (21:15-17). 3 times of failure are replaced by 3 statements of love from Peter to Jesus; and Jesus commissions Peter to be a pastor and a teacher in the Church which will flourish after Jesus has ascended to the Father; but more than that – Jesus has just foretold the way in which Peter will die, crucified as a martyr. Not an end any of us would wish for, but nonetheless the end which some Christians are facing around the globe in 2007 because they follow Jesus.
For example on 18 April 2007 three men were found murdered in an office in Turkey. The men worked for a company which publishes Bibles and other Christian books. I will not go into the details of the awful things that were done to them which led to their deaths; but it has quickly become clear that the three men were murdered because they are Christians who are involved in spreading the Good News of Jesus via the printed word. Peter was to die in such a manner and it is hard for us to imagine what we would do if we knew such personal information about the future.
It is within these circumstances that Peter looks around (21:20) and sees “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. In other words Peter sees the author of this gospel and armed with information about his own future he asks of Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” (John 21:21). I don’t suppose we’ve got any inquisitive or nosey people here this morning have we; (said with more than a hint of sarcasm)!
Jesus has just charged Peter with teaching and caring for the early Church and has told him that he will die as a martyr and Peter wants to know what will become of John, the beloved disciple; John the one to whom Jesus entrusted his own mother Mary; John the one who would later write a gospel and write letters to churches which also appear in the Bible. “Lord”, asked Peter, “What about him?”
Jesus in essence says, “Peter, mind your own business. It’s nothing to do with you.” His actual words were: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” I mentioned earlier the word ‘commitment’. God wants us to be committed to Him whatever may or may not be going on in the lives of other people who may or may not be committed to him. As the write to the Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame …”
“…and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12: 2-3).
Our primary commitment is to Jesus. He is Lord of his Church, and if people let us down, or if people seem to be more successful than us, or if people do not seem to suffer in the way that we do, or if people have different gifts and abilities we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus. He says to me and he says to you, “You must follow me.” Our commitment is to Jesus.