Following Jesus unto Death Reflection By William A. Criswell
Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me.
The twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John is an addendum, an appendix added to the Gospel. The book plainly reaches an incomparable and glorious climax in the twentieth chapter.
It stops there. It concludes with that high and marvelous confession of doubting Thomas, who cries saying, “My LORD and my God!” And then John writes a benedictory sentence: “Many other the signs truly did Jesus that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you might have life in His name.” And that closes the book.
The Synoptic Gospels leave Peter in a bad light, denying that he even knows the Lord, going out and weeping bitterly.
John writes a tribute to his old friend, Simon Peter, after he’d been dead for 30 or more years, and that tribute to Simon Peter is here in the Bible as the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John.
John closes his addendum with the picture of Simon Peter faithfully following the Lord unto crucifixion and unto death. What a tribute from one friend to another.
What is it to love the Lord supremely above all else in the world? First of all, it is a giving up. “So, when they had dined Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me more than these?” And with a sweep of His hand, I can see the Lord gesturing to the whole creation, the world and all that’s in it.
Simon Peter had gone back to the old life, to the old nets, to the old boat, to the old sea, to the old business, to the old fish, the old way of life before the Lord first called him. “Simon, if you love Me I’m asking you to give it up. Give it all up, and follow Me.”
Second. What is it to follow the Lord and to love Him supremely? It is the acceptance of a responsibility. “Simon, lovest thou Me? Take care of My lambs. Shepherd My flock. Take care of My sheep.” Always loving Jesus and following our Lord is the acceptance of a responsibility.
All of us can do something, and what we can do we ought to do. That’s what makes the house of God glorious. There are great stones in the foundation down here that nobody will ever see.
There are little nails up there in the top of that roof this nobody will ever see. But it takes that big stone in the earth, and it takes that little nail up there in the roof, and it takes all of the many parts to raise this structure that we call the sanctuary of God, the temple of Christ.
We all have a contribution to make, and when we love Jesus supremely we’re happy to make it. It is the acceptance of a responsibility.
Third, it is faithfulness unto death; loving Jesus supremely, following the Lord, glorifying God in suffering and in death. There is no way that a Christian glorifies God so brilliantly and so spiritually and so triumphantly as when he is in a great agony of suffering or brokenness of heart.
Paul and Silas, cruelly scourged by Roman rods, their feet made fast in the stocks, and their chains and manacles. And at midnight, with the blood pouring down their beaten backs, the Book says they sang praises to God and the prisoners heard them.
Glorifying the Lord in our trouble, in our trial. That’s what it is following Jesus faithfully, loving Him supremely.
And last, it is a personal accountability: “Thou, you, follow thou Me.” It is a personal commitment and a personal decision. You are born for yourself and nobody was born for you.
You have to accept Christ for yourself, nobody can do it for you. Someday you have to die for yourself, there’s nobody who will die for you. And someday you’ll be judged for yourself, nobody can be judged for you.
And there is one great decision before God that you have to make for yourself: namely, what is God’s will for my life? When God calls me, it is my commitment to follow unto death. That’s what it is to love Jesus supremely. “Lovest thou Me? . . . Follow thou Me.”
O. S. Hawkins is President and Chief Executive Officer of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is also a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity) and Luther Rice Seminary (Doctor of Ministry).