This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
Tonight, we are having a Watch Night Prayer and Praise Service with our friends from Bethany and Ephesus Baptist Churches. My good friend, Pastor Morris Randall of Ephesus and I will give brief messages of hope and inspiration as we bring in 2013 with prayer (Pastor Shelwood Claude just sent me a text saying he would not be able to make it). May the Lord grant all of you a healthy, safe, and prosperous New year!
Whatever Happens, Follow Me
John 21:18, 19
We are about to enter a New Year. Everyone is hoping for and expecting things to be better than they were last year. We make resolutions to improve our health, finances, education. Some of us even resolve to do better in spiritual pursuits of prayer, scripture reading, and visiting the sick. Sacred and secular, we strive to make changes for the better so that our lives will be better.
So, it is a bit disturbing that here in this text, Jesus makes no such offer to Peter. In the preceding verses, we find Jesus reinstating Peter to the fellowship of disciples after he had denied the Lord three times before the crucifixion. Peter has affirmed his commitment to the risen Savior. He has been given and accepted the charge to be a leader among God’s people. This extraordinary gift was given to him by the Lord himself.
And the promise with this reinstatement, gift, and confirmation is not one of a private jet, mansion, nor satellite TV ministry to win the world for Jesus. No, the Savior gives a very sobering prophecy of Peter’s impending doom. In so many words, someone will take you, have you bound, and executed. Some 30 years after this conversation, this Galilean fisherman turned Bishop of Antioch turned Bishop of Rome would be arrested by Nero and demand to be crucified upside down as he felt himself unworthy to die in the same direction as the Son of God.
Anyone would follow a God that promises health, prosperity, and peace. It would be wise for someone to follow a God that keeps things from getting worse. But, here in the text is a God that is telling this lovingly reinstated disciple and leader that the worst is yet to come and ends the morbid forecast with the call, “Follow Me.” Yes, we pray that the Lord will bless us and bless us real good in 2013. Yes, we ask the Lord that things won’t get any worse than they have been in 2012. But, even if the Lord is speaking to you saying, “Trouble will be in your way and you’ll have to cry sometime, even if He says, “I will stand for you as I did for Stephen who still got stoned to death;” He is still saying, “Follow Me.” Why should we follow Jesus Christ even when he won’t protect us, much less give us the good stuff that we pray for? I will make this short.
People need to see good news in the midst of hopelessness. Let’s just suppose this “Fiscal Cliff” disaster happens and America falls into a deep crisis. What better place for people to see the joy of Christ than in a crisis? What a better time for people to know hope through the Messiah than in a hot mess? If this nation’s economy sinks anywhere nearly as bad as some believe it will, folk are going to turn to all sorts of dark and destructive behaviors. Someone has to be a light for something better. And the best light is a Christian that is going through the same problems as everyone else. Jesus was beaten, crucified, and was buried. But, the light of God could not be shut up in a tomb. The blood of Peter and other Christian martyrs would flood the whole world with the Gospel. The sorrowful yet joyful faith of our slave ancestors showed this nation what Christian perseverance was all about. Yes, pray for your breakthrough. Pray that you don’t go broke. But even if the Lord says you will be broken, He still says, “Follow Me.”
There is a greater glory than us. Just because we all have a personal relationship with Jesus doesn’t mean we have him in our pockets. He is not Santa who gives us what we want when we are good. He is God the Son and we submit to Him because He is good. And there are times He will allow bad to happen to us for the good of all of us. That was the lesson on the “massa’s” whipping post. That was the lesson in the Roman arenas. And above all, that was the lesson on a hill called Calvary on an old rugged cross. Yes, pray for prosperity. Yes, pray to keep your property. But even if the Lord says you will have pain, He still says “Follow Me.”
Finally, let’s remember there is a greater world than this. In the desert, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and told him you can have them all if you bow down and worship me. Christians in the first 300 years of the faith wouldn’t have been persecuted if they worshiped pagan gods. Our slave ancestors were only supposed to pray only when, where, and the way massa told them they could. Our ancestors knew that one day; the “Great Getting Up Morning” would come. The martyrs of old knew that in death to this world they would be in a greater kingdom than Rome. And our Lord and Savior knew that the Father’s Kingdom was based on His Word and that His Word will never pass away.
Feast or famine, wealth or poverty, health or sickness; only the Lord knows what will happen in 2013. Yes, I am praying for pay raises and promotions, for my wife’s health to improve, for this church and association to grow in the knowledge of God and number of the saints. Yes, I want good stuff to happen. But, in the words of the prophet Habakkuk,
though the fig tree will not bear fruit and there be no grapes on the vines; the labor of the olive tree fail and the fields yield no food; though the sheep have no pasture and there be no oxen in the cribs; Yeti will glory in the Lord; I will rejoice in God my Savior. The Lord is my strength; He will direct my feet to the end; He will set me upon high places, so to conquer by His song.
Whatever happens, He still calls to us, “Follow Me.”