Festival of St. John, Apostle & Evangelist - Jonn 21:19-24 - December 27, 2015

Order of Service - Pg. 15
Hymn #105 Praise God the Lord, Ye Sons of Men
Hymn #271 Word Supreme, Before Creation
Hymn #137 In Peace and Joy I Now Depart

Hosea 14:1-9
1 John 1:1-10
John 21:19-24

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

1)         The season of Christmas is relatively short, lasting only twelve days. But in these twelve days a lot gets packed in. The second day of Christmas is St. Stephen’s day, Stephen being the first martyr for the faith after Christ’s ascension. The third day of Christmas, today, the church commemorates St. John, the apostle whom Jesus loved and the author of the fourth Gospel. Stephen died a bloody death for His confession of Christ while John is on the opposite end of the spectrum. John is the only one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ to die a natural death. There was even a saying among the apostles that John wouldn’t die at all, that he would remain alive until Christ’s return. We hear where this saying comes from in the Gospel lesson appointed for John’s day. By the grace of God we consider this passage so that we can give thanks for all that the Lord accomplished for St. John but also so that we can consider the words of our Lord to Peter as words to each of us.

2)         In John 21 the risen Christ has asked Peter three times if Peter loves him. Jesus isn’t insecure. He’s absolving Peter for denying Him three times on the night in which He was betrayed by Judas. Three times Peter had denied that He knew Jesus. Three times Peter publically confessed before men that He didn’t have a thing to do with the man called Christ. On the banks of the Sea of Galilee Jesus absolves Peter and undoes Peter’s apostasy by asking him if he loves Him, three times to match the three denials. Peter is absolved and commissioned with the task of feeding the lambs of Christ, not in a papal way, as if Peter held primacy among the apostles. Here Peter is restoring the wayward Peter to his original office of shepherd of souls, the same office given to the other ten apostles sitting round the fire. After this Jesus tells Peter, Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish. (John 21:18). Then the appointed lesson for today begins, This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God (John 21:19). The cost of following Jesus will be death for Peter, just it is for all Christians. You can’t follow a crucified Lord without getting yourself crucified in one way or another. Peter would live a full life, but he would meet his end, affixed to a cross by order of the Emperor Nero, the same Nero who would remove St. Paul’s head from his body. This is what Jesus speaks of when He says, when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish. In spite of this knowledge, Jesus says to Peter, Follow Me. (John 21:19).

3)         Peter accepts his fate from the Lord, veiled as it is at that time. But in Peter we see the sinful nature rear its head yet again. Peter turns around and there sees the disciple whom Jesus loved, John, the one who had reclined on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper. Peter, confronted with his own mortality specifically because of His confession of Christ asks, But Lord, what about this man? Peter has been close to Christ throughout the days of His ministry so Peter wants to know about John’s faith since John has had a special connection with Jesus, being known as the disciple whom Jesus loved. This isn’t a matter of “misery loves company” nor it is a matter of jealousy, that if Peter is going to have to die for the Gospel he wants to make sure no one else makes it out alive. It is the nature of the flesh to want to know more than is given by god. It’s as if Peter were saying, “This knowledge is too blunt for me. What will happen to the other disciple with whom you’ve been so close? Will he and I share the same fate? Or will I go to my death for your sake alone?” The sinful flesh, which clung to Peter until He was separated from it by Nero, is never content with what God gives it, especially when God promises suffering and death.  Jesus’ answer checks Peter’s fleshly desire. Jesus says to Peter, If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me. The Gospel ends for Peter as it began for Peter, with Christ the Lord calling Peter to follow Him no matter what lied ahead, no matter what Christ has in store for others.

4)         In this the Holy Ghost wants to teach all of us that Christ’s calling to all His Christians is the same and yet different at the same time. Christ’s calling of Christians is the same in that when Christ makes us Christians by giving us His Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacrament, the calling is always the same: You follow me. Baptism makes the recipient a son of God, giving the sinner the adoption as sons so that God is now Father, Christ is brother, and the heavenly inheritance of Christ your brother belongs to every Christian. The call to be a son of God, a disciple, which just means student, is the same: you follow me, says Christ. The baptized Christian follows Christ by learning Christ through the Word of God, the Holy Scripture, since the Scripture alone is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work, as St. Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The baptized learn Christ through the preaching office, which God gives to the church to preach the Gospel to you all the days of your life to the end that the sinful nature is curbed in you and the new man of faith daily rises to the new life of good works and love for neighbor as self. In this way the calling of Christ to Peter is the same calling as every Christian. It is even the same calling which St. John and James received while in the boat of their father Zebedee. Upon hearing the call of Christ, St. Matthew tells that immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him (Matthew 4:22). In this we see that Christ’s call to His Christians is the same to all Christians: You follow Me.

5)         But that calling is also different from one Christian to the next. Not all are called to be prophets and apostles, pastors and teachers, for St. Paul writes that He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). He gives some into those offices, but not all. The call to Peter and Andrew, James and John is a call to be fishermen of men, that is, to catch men with the net of the Holy Gospel. So not every Christian is called and sent to be a fisher of men in the way that the apostles were called and sent. Not everyone is a minister just like not everyone is called to be a martyr. Peter would follow Christ to his own cross, an upside down cross, as tradition tells us, because he was not worthy to die in the same fashion as his Lord Jesus. Ten other apostles would meet gruesome deaths for their confession of Christ and His doctrine of salvation by faith alone. John on the other hand did not. Though he was exiled to the island of Patmos in the mines, he was eventually released and traveled back to Ephesus where he died a natural death. John followed Jesus to imprisonment on Patmos. It was on that island that John received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the final book of the Holy  Scripture. Christ led Peter to a gruesome death which fortified the church in Rome. Christ led John to a peaceful death, decades after Peter’s death, and thereby taught the next generation of bishops for Christ’s church, including Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. So we see all Christians share the same calling from Christ, but each calling from Christ leads Christians to different places so that God’s good and gracious will for believers may be done.

6)         This is what God the Holy Ghost wants to teach us in this Gospel lesson. Your calling from Christ is the same as all the apostles’ calling, You follow me! You are called to be sons and daughters of God in Holy Baptism, for that is what He makes you in those waters. You are called to be disciples, students of the Holy Scripture since the Scripture is the instrument of God the Holy Ghost for strengthening your God-given faith, sharpening your confession of the truth, and where He fortifies your confidence in Christ for times of cross and suffering. That calling is true for everyone whom Christ baptizes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. You are called to faith, and Christ gives you that faith since you can’t give it to yourself. You are called to a life of good works just as the apostles were called, though you are not called to imitate their good works exactly, rather you are to imitate their good works according to your own individual vocations. Your calling is the same, you are called to faith in Christ, which is what it means to follow Him. Where exactly your Lord Jesus Christ will take you is a whole different matter that isn’t up to you at all. You aren’t to look around and wonder, “where is the Lord leading me now?” or “Am I where God wants me to be?” That’s a game the devil wants you to play. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, wherever you find yourself at the moment, in whichever vocations you find yourself. Follow Christ in your vocations, in your marriage, in your parent and grandparenthood, in your employment, in your family, as a citizen, and as a member of your beloved congregation.

7)         Neither are you to be concerned for what specifics Christ has in mind for others, no matter how close they are to us. God, in His wisdom, will direct things according to His will. Remember that God’s foolishness is wiser than the best of our wit and wisdom. If God wills you to follow Christ into martyrdom and not another, so be it according to the will of the Lord. If God wills you follow Christ through terrible suffering and cross, discomfort or disease, let it be according to His good and gracious will. Whether God directs you through weal or woe, bane or blessing, it matters not. God’s will for you is good and gracious. You are His baptized children. You are Christ’s brother. You are co-heirs with Christ of every heavenly blessing. Do not shrink back in fear, but hear that word of Christ beckoning you to faith, instilling confidence in His mercy in your heard. Hear His Word to all Christians, to Peter, to John and all the saints, His word to you: You follow me. Amen.

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