Summary: Resurrection sermon about Jesus’ call to follow: through His life, to His death, and in His resurrection.
John 21:15-19 – Follow All the Way
Guiseppe Garibaldi was an Italian soldier who lived during the 1800’s. His father dreamed of his entering the priesthood, but Guiseppe had dreams of being a sailor, and the Navy was the way to do it. His leadership abilities caused him to rise quickly in the ranks, and in time, he amassed a powerful volunteer army. This army was also incredibly committed to the cause. Garibaldi appealed for volunteers in these words: “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart and not with his lips only, follow me!”
You know, this call sounds a lot like Jesus’ words too. Easter gives the opportunity to say so much because it’s a holiday packed with meaning. They say that if a person can’t preach an Easter sermon, he or she has no business preaching at all. Finding a topic isn’t hard; it’s the narrowing down to 25 minutes that’s the hard part!
And in my prep this week, I noticed a common theme that Jesus offered to His audience. Jesus challenged His listeners to follow Him. Let’s read John 21:15-19.
I noticed that some of Jesus’ very first words to people were, “Follow me.” To Peter and his brother Andrew, Jesus said "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." – Mark 1:17. Jesus immediately went to James and his brother John, and called them. What He said, I don’t know, but they left their nets and followed Him. One person wanted to wait around and bury his dying father, and Jesus said, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." To Matthew, known as Levi, Jesus said, “Follow me,” and Matthew dropped what he was doing and followed Jesus. Jesus extended the offer to follow Him all through His life. All were invited to stoop down and pat a child on his head and tell him about God’s love. All were invited to be part of the crowds that Jesus fed with miracles. All were invited to watch Jesus drive out demons and set the captives free.
But not all accepted these invitations. Jesus extended the offer to a rich young ruler and he went in the opposite direction. There’s a telling story in John 6. It says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” You see? Even the offer to follow Him was extended to all, not everyone really carried it through. Not everyone followed Jesus in His life. Sometimes the cost was just too high.
Well, if that wasn’t hard enough, Jesus extended the offer to follow Him to His death. I mean, look at what He said as He walked this earth: “"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” – Matthew 10:37-38. Taking up your cross is part of following him. Matthew 16 adds the phrase “deny yourself”, in addition to “take up your cross and follow.” The cross was the Roman tool for execution. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Christian martyr in 1945, said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to die.” Taking up your cross was not about jewelry. It was an invitation to follow Jesus to the death.
Now, I need to explain that Jesus did not call people to follow Him to the death at the same time as He went. John 13:36: “Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." Jesus went to the cross alone. It was part and parcel of His sacrifice. He died alone. There were 2 thieves there, but they had not been Jesus’ followers. The death that Jesus died He had to do alone. And the death Jesus died, He had to die first. Jesus laid down His life, and then invited others to do it too. Jesus became a sacrifice for God’s plans, and then He invited others to do it too. Jesus said no to His own wishes, and said yes to God’s, and then invited others to do it too.
But just the same as His offer to follow Him in His life was rejected, so too was His offer to follow Him in His death. Peter told Jesus not to go to Jerusalem because He might die there – the point being, Peter didn’t want anybody to die. And then, even after Peter said he would follow Jesus to the death, when the opportunity arose, he didn’t. Judas certainly didn’t follow Jesus to the death, even though it’s likely they died the same day. In fact, all the disciples but John ran away when things got rough. They didn’t follow Jesus to the death. They ran when the situation got too dangerous. The rejection, the betrayal, the setting aside of their own desires… they walked away.