Several years ago our beloved associate editor, the late Mr. James Gunn, wrote a brief series of articles for the magazine. For some reason this particular article was not published. Its theme is especially fitting as a New Year’s command from our Lord Himself. We urge upon you a careful and thoughtful reading of this particular study.
Scripture Reading: John 21
John’s Gospel reaches a culmination at the end of 20:31. Chapter 21 is a purposeful epilogue by John, an epilogue that we cannot do without, for it teaches the need of divine direction in the Christian life.
There are three remarkable scenes in this chapter, all bearing upon this subject: the group of seven who went fishing, the dialogue between Jesus and Peter, and the last scene of Jesus, John and Peter.
Here we may contrast natural leadership in man with divine leadership under the Lord Jesus.
Natural leadership is composed of initiative, courage, knowledge, understanding of others, powers of communication, magnetism, etc. That Peter possessed these qualities is evident. He was a leader among men.
This was recognized by the Lord, for each time a list of the Lord’s disciples appears in the Gospels, Peter’s name heads the list. We are therefore not surprised that when he said, “I go a fishing,” that the other six responded, “We also go with thee.”
What Peter and those who followed him did was legitimate and proper; they needed physical sustenance.
This narrative teaches that it is possible to do what may be said as necessary and discover that all our efforts are futile. We should remember that lawful business is not sinful; notwithstanding, it should be sanctified to God and directed by Him.
The consequence of following a natural leader was that these disciples toiled all night and caught nothing.
Divine leadership is fully demonstrated here:
1. The command was by an apparent stranger: “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find.” At that time they did not know that it was the Lord, but the evidence of knowledge and authority merited compliance.
2. What compensations they received! Divine presence and guidance were now recognized. The results were the proof of divine intervention. The reward of obedience was a generous one.
3. It should be noticed that the result of following the Lord’s advice was really beyond their capacity. They were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Their capacity must have been strengthened and enlarged. How unlike the experience recorded in Luke 5:6. There when told to let down the nets (plural), Peter let down but one net only, and that net broke. Disobedience always results in loss.
In the New Testament only twice do we read of a fire of coals, and both are in the experience of Peter. The first was near the palace of the high priest; the second on the shores of Tiberias. To Peter the first fire of coals must have been the symbol of fraility and cowardice, denial and sin. Henceforth, the second fire of coals must have been to Peter the symbol of grace and forgiveness, and of his reinstatement among the disciples, the place he had forfeited by sin.
The Lord, so to speak, had to take Peter right back to where he had failed before He could recover him and recommission him for service.
In the dialogue by that fireside a threefold denial on the part of Peter resulted in a threefold challenge which demanded a threefold response.
“Lovest thou Me?”
“Love to Christ,” wrote F. B. Meyer, “reconciles the cultured scholar to a life of menial tasks among savages. It impels the refined and noble lady to reach the dying prostitute in the hovel, and it urges the honoured gentleman to search out the physical derelict in the clammy cellar. Love will bear all, believe all, hope all, and endure all to win sinners to Christ.”
The three challenges are met by a threefold avowal of affection to Christ. Peter no longer boasted. He does not use the Greek word for a spontaneous, noble, pure love, but he readily uses one for fondness and attachment.
This threefold response resulted in a threefold commission. This commission and its assignments meant a very busy and detailed life for Peter.
“Feed My lambs.” This involved the supplying of spiritual food for the young in Christ.
“Feed My sheep.” This meant the shepherding of the whole flock of Christ’s pasture.
“Feed My sheep.” This last charge is probably the most difficult of all; it indicates care for the older ones of the flock, the more mature, the more difficult.
The Lord, having given Peter the assignments that were to occupy him throughout life, then proceeded to tell him of his death, the death by which he would glorify God. The Lord thus gave to Peter a preview of his entire life of service from the breakfast fire on the shores of Galilee to the day when he would die upon a cross.
Near the end of his life, as an old man in the small town of Babylon in Egypt, Peter committed to younger men the very commission that he had received from the Lord.
As a shepherd he was to follow the Chief Shepherd all the long way that stretched before him.
It was in these circumstances that Peter turned and saw John, and raised the question, “What shall this man do?”
The reply from the Lord, “Follow Me,” was a rebuke to Peter, but it was also an assurance to him of perfect guidance, companionship, and fellowship throughout the years.
The call, “Follow Me,” seemed to suggest that Peter was not to allow any plans which the Lord might have for another to divert his attention from Christ.
It has not pleased the Lord to give to all His people a preview of life. Life is unfolded day by day through circumstances and experiences, but the future is kept unknown. The Lord Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).
As Peter’s apparent interest in John could have diverted his following Christ, even so when our interests are upon another object, we may stray from the path of fellowship with Christ and service for Christ. He says, “Follow Me.”
John Mark was temporarily diverted, probably through prejudice against Paul.
Demas wandered away through love for the world.
Many today are deviating from intimacy with Christ because of economic success and materialism.
May we often hear His voice in spite of the turmoil and strife of life: “Follow Me.” “Follow Me.”
To follow the Lord Jesus Christ means that He is ever going before me and that He is ever the very centre of my life.