A Witness to Bear (John 21:15-25)

I. What About That Guy?

Every parent or sibling will recognize the question posed by the Apostle Peter in verse 21: “Lord, what about him?” Perhaps a dad pulls one of his sons out of the house for some yard work, only to hear the retort, “What’s wrong with your other children? Why they can’t they help? What about them?”

We are continuing our series on “Interrupted: Resurrection Encounters,” and today we look at the last resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John. There are at least two sermons here – one on the reinstatement of Peter and the other on the calling on John’s life. We’re going to look at John’s calling as given by Jesus in this last appearance.

But to go back to Peter for a second, consider what he’s just received. He’s received forgiveness. He’s been reinstated as the first among equals among the Apostles. BUT, he’s also receiving his calling. A calling to martyrdom. To have his hands stretched out in a death that will glorify God, a clear reference to crucifixion.

As Peter turns and sees John, perhaps he wonders if this is my calling, what will this man – the one who leaned back against Jesus at the supper – what will he be called to? Only to receive the answer, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”  It’s so very interesting here: that word Jesus speaks over John – that he remain – is the one John himself uses again and again in his first epistle. It’s the word for “abide.” John used some form of it at least 16 times in his first epistle alone. Peter was called follow unto death. John was called to faithfully remain. As you think on John’s life, what word could better describe him than someone who abided in Christ. He was to be a living and faithful witness to Christ as an Apostle, even as the last and lone Apostle in old age. And for most of us, though we’re not apostles, our calling in life is probably more like John’s than Peter’s.

So today, we’re going to focus on John’s faithful life and witness because of the power of the resurrection.

II. No Mistakes in Casting (vs. 21-22)

Let’s continue to look at verses 21-22. For the sake of the Christian life, we must be utterly clear about this: God makes no mistakes in casting. As N.T. Wright puts it:

“The most important thing, for the future, is for both of them to learn that God makes no mistakes in casting. Oh, it feels like that from time to time, no doubt. There are many times when faithful Christians look with puzzlement, and (alas) envy, at one another, and wish that they could swap places. But part of Christian obedience, part of accepting our commission as the language of our forgiveness is knowing that we are called to follow Jesus wherever he leads us, not wherever he leads the person next to us.” (John for Everyone, pg. 167)

Some of you may know the very poignant scene from The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, where Aslan appears to Shasta, the main character, at a very low point in his life. Aslan replays scenes from Shasta’s life as well as that of a wounded friend (Aravis), revealing that he was not only present in their lives, but sovereignly guiding events for their own good. It’s a bit long, but worth the time:

And being very tired and having nothing inside him, (Shasta) felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.

What put a stop to all of this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. …

At last he could bear it no longer.

“Who are you?” he said, barely above a whisper.

“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

“Are you – are you a giant?” asked Shasta.

“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. and then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion.” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two lions the first night, and -”

“There was only one, but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.”

And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you as you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the baot in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

“It was I.”

“But what for?”

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it. (pgs. 173-176, The Horse and His Boy)

God has sovereignly put the paintbrush of this life into our hand, and our hand only! Each of us must respond to the call to follow Christ and remain in him for ourselves. God has called us, in the particular details of our own life, to know him and make him known there.

And I make the point again that John’s call in life is probably more like ours than Peter’s. John was called to be a living witness. In verse 24, which we’ll look at in more depth in just a moment, John is identified as the one who bore true and faithfulness witness to Jesus Christ. It’s fascinating to consider here that the word, as we heard a couple weeks ago in Luke, used for witness is the very same word for martyr. What were just told about in this passage? Peter’s martyrdom. What are we told about now? John’s faithful martyrdom of a different kind. John bore lifelong, day-by-day witness to the goodness and truth of the Savior. We are called to that kind of martyrdom, if you will – the daily dying to self, that Christ would be exalted in us. For Jesus died, says Paul, “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)

St. Augustine, speaking as the Lord, said this of John: “Let him fall asleep without wounds, without torment, and wait for me. You, Peter, ‘Follow me,’ suffer what I did.” John’s call was to remain, to abide, to stay, even after every one of the Apostles had been martyred. Apparently, he so utterly fulfilled that call that the very presence of the Lord remained with his body in burial. St. Augustine himself attests, through other trustworthy witnesses, that the very ground where he was buried had a sort of living and breathing appearance, with dust or “manna” collecting on the surface. Pilgrims would say that this was because John was merely sleeping, still breathing, causing the dust to bubble up. Now we have to note the irony here: the ending of John 21 was written to combat the false notion that John wouldn’t die. And yet, what the legend says is true: in death, John merely sleeps, abiding all the more with Christ because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection. So Christ has transfigured death for every Christian! Because went before us, leveling our sins, all death can do is deliver us into the same nail-pierced hands! Alleluia!

III. A Witness to Bear (vs. 24-25)

Let’s take a closer look now at verses 24-25 as we end:

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 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.”

D.A. Carson reflects here: “It is as if John has identified himself (v. 24), but is not content to focus on himself, not even on his veracity. He must close by saying his own work is only a minute part of all the honours due the Son.”(The Gospel According to John, pg. 686)

How did John’s Gospel begin? With the eternal and infinite Word made flesh. How does it end? By telling us that all the books in the world can’t contain that same Word. John’s life was taken into something so much bigger than himself. His life was joyfully consumed in bearing witness, not to himself, not to his own works, but to Christ’s. Now, again we’re not John, we’re not apostles, but we do have a witness to bear. It’s my prayer today that in your life, you will be given up to something much bigger than yourself. That you will bear witness in the particular life God has given you.

So we’re talking this Eastertide about the Resurrection “interrupts” and “irrupts” into our world. And here again is the Interrupted connection: because of the Resurrection, we have a lifelong hope we can abide in. Remember, it was John himself who heard the words, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He lived faithfully in light of them. So, all the glory, all the honor, all the praise be to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen!