St. John's Day, 2015 – John 21
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the New Born King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the New Born King +
I make no bones about it – St. John the Evangelist is my favorite of the Apostles. There is a joy, a humor to him that I appreciate. John was the young pup of the disciples, the young, brash Apostle. John gives Peter a hard time in his Gospel – even points out in the resurrection account that he was younger and faster than Peter – see Peter, I beat you to the tomb. And there are other stories, legends of the Church about John that I love. My favorite is this – John later in life is in Ephesus, and he and some of his students are going to go to the public baths to wash, and as they approach, they see a fellow by the name of Cerinthius, a false teacher, one of the guys John rails against in 1 John, they see this heretic come walking out of the public bath – and John stops, looks at his students and says, “Let’s go back home, I think those waters would just make me dirtier now.”
But John, the young, brash apostle, grows old, and he becomes old John, the last living apostle, the one who sees His friends martyred, who sees Peter crucified, who sees Paul beheaded – who is exiled and left to simply rot on the isle of Patmos. And He knows that the time is coming when his body will fail, when he will die, when even the last of the Apostles will have died, just like the prophets before them, and just like Moses before them. And so, moved by the Holy Spirit – John writes His Gospel. And it is for this reason that we remember St. John this day, for this reason that rejoice and give thanks to God.
Our Gospel text occurs after our Lord’s resurrection, and as so much of John’s Gospel does, it shows us a conversation – this time between Peter and Jesus. This is following the discussion between Jesus and Peter where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him, and three times Jesus tells Peter to “Feed My Sheep.” And then our Lord adds on one little thing – He tells Peter “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, 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. Jesus tells Peter – they are going to stretch out your hands on a cross of your own – someday you too are going to be wrapped in linens and carried to your own tomb – but follow Me. And then we have the beginning of our text for this morning. Peter turns, points to John, and Peter says, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” Again, I do love this verse just because it shows that relationship that Peter and John had, where they would tease and josh with each other. Peter says, “Well, if I’m going to get crucified, what about John here? How’s he gonna get it?” And our Lord lovingly admonishes Peter – who cares what happens to John, we’re talking about you now, Peter, and as for you, you are to follow Me. Now, this is a wonderful teaching reminder to us. As Christians, we have been called to follow Christ, and there are times when following Christ is hard and difficult – when being a Christian will carry us to places we’d rather not go, when we will be called upon to show love that we find difficult to show. The task laid out for us remains the same – follow Christ.
This can be difficult for us. None of us like difficulty, none of us like hardship – but that is what happens when one follows Christ. Our Lord doesn’t shy away from hardship. The very fact that we sing Christmas Carols this day proves this – we go tell it that Jesus is Born, we marvel that He leaves bliss, and why? Because God becomes Man, because God takes up human flesh. When He is made Man, when He comes to live in the midst of this fallen world – He shows love in the midst of His own suffering. He cares for people even as He is abused. He calls out for forgiveness for the very people who are crucifying Him. Follow Him. That is what it means to follow Christ – it means that in this life, as a Christian you too will take up your own cross and follow Him. And this can make us nervous – we wonder what will happen. This can make us jealous – we look at other people and can think, “Why do they have it so easy when I have it so hard.” (As an aside, when we think thoughts like that, it only shows that we don’t know the pains they are carrying, for we all have them. Whatever.) It doesn’t matter – over and against all of this, Christ calls us to follow Him – and so we strive to do.
And we long for Him to come again, to return, to let us rest from our labors and toils and simply to enjoy the wonders of the life of the world to come with Him face to face. In fact, when John writes this, he can see the burdens that his students, the generations to follow him will have to bear. He’s an old man in exile, and he sees the worry on people’s faces, the fears of persecution, the fatigue of waiting for Christ to return. And they start making things up. John notes, “So the saying spread among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but “If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John had told folks this story – but instead of saying, “Ah, yes, we ought be like Peter and follow Christ wherever it leads,” they twisted things. Oh, John isn’t going to die – and look at him – he’s old – surely Jesus will be back any moment now and we’ll be on easy street. But John has to correct them gently – our Lord didn’t say that He was coming back before I died. That isn’t what He said, don’t twist the Word. And here John teaches us another important lesson. We are to handle this gift of the Word of God with care – making sure we pay attention precisely to what it says. People will try to twist Scripture to make it say what they want to hear – and quite often to make it say things that mean money in my pocket or constant joy and success in the here and now. John points to an example here – people started thinking earthly hopes. But that wasn’t the point. John’s Epistles are all about antichrist coming and twisting the Word, in Revelation we get the same thing. And even in his Gospel, John warns us that we must pay attention to what the Word of God says with care and with diligence. And why? John tells us.
The purpose of the Word of God is not just to be a history, a factoid sheet of events in Jesus’ life. John even says, “Now, there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Again – that humor. Yes, Jesus did other things, I have more stories that I could tell – but I’m not going to tell anymore. And why? Because the job is done. As we hear in John 20, as we just sang – “Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” This is why Scripture is written. Because we need to see what Christ Jesus has done for us, because we need to hear His salvation. None of us lives the lives that we ought, none of us follows Christ as perfectly as we ought. We are all sinners, we all fall down. And yet, what has John recorded for us? Behold your Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord, the very Word of God incarnate, God become Man who lived perfectly, who through His signs and wonders showed and proved that He is the promised Messiah, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World. Behold the Lamb of God, who goes to the Cross, who suffers and dies. Behold from His side flow water and blood. Behold the Man Risen from dead – and see that He really is a man – behold His hands, His side – see Him eat on the beach, He truly lives! And because of this – you have salvation. The Word is written, and it is preached and proclaimed, we even hear it here this day. The same water which poured from Our Lord’s blessed side has been attached to His most holy Word and poured upon you at your Baptism. The very Blood which poured from His side has been poured into chalices throughout Christendom for the celebration of our Lord’s own Supper. Everything which we need, all that we need to know for our salvation, it has been given to us.
And so we rejoice this day, we give thanks to God for His servant John, whom God used to write 5 books of the bible, who laid out for us so beautifully what our Lord’s incarnation means, what benefits Christ wins for us. We believe because God has made us to hear these Words that John recorded for us, and because we have been brought to faith, we have life in the Name of Christ Jesus. This is our hope, this is what we cling to as we follow Christ in the midst of the struggles of this life – for our Lord and Savior will come again, and on that day we will rejoice with John and with all the Apostles and Prophets, all the hosts of heaven which John saw in his revelation – and we will rejoice together throughout all eternity. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +