The Reach of Grace

Sermon by David Strain on April 18

John 21:15-25

Well as I said earlier, this morning marks the beginning of our church-wide Capital Campaign. You may know, as I said, the elders had determined to launch the project – we’re calling it the “REACH” campaign – a little over a year ago. COVID-19 struck, and so, like so much else, we were compelled to rethink our strategy. Since then, as you’ll have seen from the construction work going on, we’ve already begun construction on a new gym and classrooms in earnest. For various reasons we believed that the work ought not to be delayed, even though the Capital Campaign hadn’t really begun. It was a calculated decision; a step taken in faith, looking to the Lord to provide.

And the Lord has indeed provided in remarkable ways. To date, despite the lack of a Capital Campaign and despite the presence of a pandemic, amidst all the limitations that COVID-19 has imposed, we already have just under half of the $5.5 million that we need for the new facility. I think that’s remarkable. It does mean that we are still looking for about $3 million to fully fund everything, and so we are beginning the “REACH” campaign to help address that need. But I want to be clear, that the “REACH” campaign isn’t only, or even mainly about raising cash for a new building. The campaign is named the “REACH” campaign very purposefully to focus our attention not so much on something so prosaic as a gym and classrooms, however important and helpful having them may be, but rather to focus our attention on our mission, our calling from the Lord Jesus Christ to reach our neighbors, our community, our city, with the Gospel. The “REACH” campaign is about reaching Jackson with the good news. And we want our building, our resources, we want our lives to be dedicated to that great purpose and end.

You remember that our church’s vision statement says:  “First Presbyterian Church, Jackson exists to glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor, the greater Jackson area, and around the world.” So the “REACH” campaign is really meant to be a tool to call us back to renewed dedication to that vision. Don’t get me wrong; we want the new facility, of course. We need to raise money to complete the project, to be sure. But why? What is the new building for? What are we giving to? What’s the big idea here? Is it only to create space so that more children can attend our beloved Day School? Is it merely to provide a nice gym for our already existing ministries? Are those the limits of our vision here? Well, no. The gym and the classrooms are about putting our money and our energy and our bodies where our mouths are. It’s an opportunity to signal together how committed we really are to expanding the reach of the Gospel to this part of the city of Jackson. It’s about renewing our resolve to make Christ known across the street and around the world. So the gym and the classrooms are means to an end.

And the “REACH” campaign aims to set that great end firmly before our gaze.  And let’s be clear. The end in view is more men and women, boys and girls, who don’t currently know Jesus, coming to follow Him. That’s the goal. That’s the end. The end is baby Christians growing up in godly maturity and serving Jesus Christ all their days, sacrificially and boldly. That’s the end. The end is the glory of God. It is the praise of the name of Christ rising from the lips of many more worshippers who bend the knee with us to King Jesus. That is what the “REACH” campaign is for. That is what the gym is for. That is what First Presbyterian Day School is for. It’s what Twin Lakes Camp and Conference Center is for. It’s what we are for. We are for the glory of God by making disciples here and around the world. That’s our mission.

Now last week, Cory followed from the Easter Sunday message in John 20 by looking at the events described in the first half of John 21. And this morning as we think about the “REACH” campaign, I want to build on that and return to John 21 and to the remaining verses of the chapter, because actually I think they help us understand what it means to be on mission with a call to reach our community and our city with the Gospel. So if you would, open your Bibles once again please to the New Testament and to John’s gospel, chapter 21. You can find this on page 907 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. We’re going to begin our reading at the fifteenth verse.

And as we read, I want you to be thinking with me about three themes. First, in verses 15 through 17, there is a call or a commission to obey. A call or a commission to obey. Then in verses 18 and 19, there is a cost to bear. A cost to bear. And finally, 20 through 25, a commitment to embrace. A commitment to embrace. A call to obey, a cost to bear, and a commitment to embrace. If we are really going to understand the message of the “REACH” campaign, in my judgment, we will need to wrestle with these three themes. Before we read the Scriptures then and look at these themes, let’s pause and pray and ask for the Lord to help us. Let us pray.

O Lord, before us in our hands we hold the living and active Word of God, sharper than a double-edged sword that penetrates to the division of joints and marrow, soul and spirit, and exposes us, leaving us naked under the gaze of the one with whom we have to do. So we ask You, by the power of the Holy Spirit, wield the sword of the Spirit to pierce our hearts, to wound and to heal, for the glory of the name of Christ. Amen.

John 21 at the fifteenth verse. This is the Word of God:

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’ So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

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.

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.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

A Call or Commission to Obey

Well it was no doubt a wonderful morning. The miraculous catch of fish, the breakfast over a charcoal fire on the beach, and above all, the bodily presence of the risen Christ Himself. What a morning! But now the embers have burned low and the disciples are sitting back with full bellies, contented, enjoying the sudden reversal, the presence of their Lord brought to them. It had been a truly miserable night. Fishing through the wee, small hours, sweating and toiling and catching nothing. Nothing to sell at the market. Nothing to put food on their table. Nothing but weariness to bring home in the morning. And then Jesus came and everything changed. Not their skill and effort, but His word and presence caused them to haul in a massive catch. The resurrection of Jesus, they were beginning to understand, makes defeat into victory. It turns empty nets into an abundant catch; changes emptiness into fullness, transforms death into life. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything, they were beginning to realize.

And it is just then, in the easy silence after breakfast, that Jesus turns to Simon Peter in verse 15 and issues to him a call or a commission to obey. A call or a commission to obey. It’s important to notice, I think, that Jesus addresses him – do you see this – not at Peter, the “Rock,” the name Jesus had given to him when he had confessed his faith that He was the Christ, the Son of God, in an extraordinary moment of insight. Rather, He addresses him once more as “Simon, son of John.” Peter has fallen very far from his former heights. And so Jesus speaks to him now just as He did when He first called him to become His disciple. Three times Jesus asks Simon Peter if he loves Him. And immediately we recognize, I hope, that each question asked by Christ followed by a call to “Feed My lambs, tend My sheep, feed My sheep,” corresponds to each of Peter’s earlier shameful denials of ever having known the Lord Jesus before the cock crowed. So it’s clear, isn’t it, this is right on the surface of things the reinstatement; it is the recommissioning of Peter after his fall. It must have been an amazing moment for Peter. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful scenes in the Bible, isn’t it? The Lord Jesus dealing with this man who had so wronged Him with amazing kindness and grace.

And if we are going to understand our calling as Christians, our mission as a church to reach our city with the Gospel, it’s vital that we remember this very point. The call of Christ comes to sinners who have wronged Him terribly. Haven’t we, like Peter, fallen short of His glory? Haven’t we, like Peter, denied Him and betrayed Him and turned from Him again and again and again? Haven’t we? And just as with Peter on the beach that morning, it is to sinners like this that the mercy and kindness of Jesus comes. Not to the clever and the gifted and the competent, but to failures and defectors and traitors. And He calls them, He calls us who have so wronged Him to feed His sheep, to tend His lambs, to prosecute His mission in the world. The mission to reach our neighbors with the Gospel is not entrusted to better people, do you see. That’s what we often think, isn’t it? “Somebody better than me, somebody more worthy than me, more righteous than me needs to go tell people about Jesus. But I am such a fraud, such a mess. He can’t use me. Can He?” Brothers and sisters, we need to let the record of our Savior’s interview with Simon Peter silence our objections. Or maybe we should really call them our excuses. The risen Christ calls and commissions Simon Peters and He calls and commissions big sinners like me and you to go make Him known. The message of the “REACH” campaign is that reaching Jackson, Mississippi is not someone else’s task. It is your task and mine. It is ours.

A Summons to Repentance

But notice that the commission and the call of Christ that we must obey comes in the context of a summons to repentance. A summons to repentance. Look carefully at the three questions Jesus puts to Simon. Do you see the three questions? The first probes whether Simon is still given to prideful comparisons. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? More than these other disciples. Is your love really, quantifiably better, stronger, deeper than the rest of the disciples, Simon, really?” You remember at the Last Supper on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest when He told the disciples about the coming sufferings that were waiting for Him, you remember Simon Peter’s reaction. He declared boldly, “Though they all fall away because of You, I will never fall away! These other guys, they might well be weak, Jesus, but not me. I’m with You to the end, no matter what. I will never waver, never fail. You can count on me, Jesus!” But in the end, three times over, just as the Lord had predicted, Simon denied the Lord Jesus before the rooster crowed.

Marks of True Repentance: Humility

And so now the Lord turns back to him with this question. “So, Simon, do you still cling to your pride, your boast, your sense of superiority, your self-confidence? Do you still claim to love Me more than these? Really?” And look at Simon’s answer. “Yes, Lord,” he says, “You know that I love you.” Notice what is missing. Not, “more than these.” There’s no note of comparison in his answer, is there? But, “Yes, I do love You.” Interestingly, Simon Peter uses a different word for “love” than Jesus’ word. Jesus’ word is agapao; it’s agape love. The whole souled love that especially characterizes the way God in Jesus Christ loves us. And of course the old Simon would have replied without a moment’s hesitation that without a doubt he loves Jesus, precisely in this way. He would have claimed to love Jesus to the max; 100% agape love. But not this Simon. This is a different Simon, isn’t it? Not anymore. This Simon is a repentant man. There’s no boast left in him. Instead he replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I have phileo love,” not agape love, but phileo love. He has what Donald Gray Barnhouse once called, “60% affection in contrast to agape love, which is 100% love.” Simon is saying, “Yes, I really do love You, Jesus. I really do, but my love I now realize is weak and fickle and falls far short.” He has no confidence left anymore in the strength of his own commitment to the Lord Jesus. He is a changed man, isn’t he? He’s marked by humility now. It’s such a striking transformation in him. And it is, of course. That’s one of the great marks of true repentance – humility; not self-confidence.

Marks of True Repentance: Reality

And then notice Jesus’ second question, verse 16. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  If the first question seeks to probe Simon’s humility, the second question probes the reality of his love. Okay, let’s set aside the question of comparison. “I’m not asking now if graded on a curve, Simon, your love is superior than your brother disciples. I’m asking now if the love that you say you have is anything more than morning mist rising from the surface of Lake Tiberias, quickly evaporating under the glare of persecution and opposition in the many cares of the world. Are you for real, Simon?” And once again, notice carefully Jesus asks about agape love and once again Simon confesses, yes, he loves Jesus, but only with 60% affection. When he’s pushed, when Jesus scrutinizes, you see, he doesn’t back away. He doesn’t claim more than is real. He’s honest. There’s no more hiding. No more pretense.

That is the second great mark of true repentance, by the way, in this passage. It’s authenticity. It’s reality before the gaze of Jesus Christ. He’s dropped all pretense now. There’s no chutzpah, there’s no pride in it; no attempt to obfuscate or to hide. He’s real with the Lord Jesus Christ. Humility. Reality.

Marks of True Repentance: Integrity

The third question isn’t about comparisons – probing for humility; it’s not about authenticity – probing for reality. The third question goes a little deeper still. Jesus, you see, is doing open heart surgery here. He is cutting all the way to the core and so now His question is about integrity. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And this time He actually drops His word for love and adopts Simon’s word for love. Not agape, but phileo. “Do you have even this much, Simon? Do you even have the 60% affection, Simon?” And the text says that Simon was hurt that Jesus asks this third time. It’s not just that He keeps asking, but that He has asked in this third way. You see, Simon is under the scrutiny of the risen Christ and it stings. It hurts. As many of us know from personal experience, He looks right into your soul. You can’t hide from Him. And Simon has actually learned that from hard personal experience. He’s learned it the hard way, hasn’t he? Jesus knew Simon better than Simon knew Simon and Jesus knew and told him how fickle and prone to wander his heart really was. But Simon wouldn’t listen and so he fell dramatically.

So now look at Simon’s reply this third time. “Yes, Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Instead of trying to argue with Jesus or to give some evidence in support of His claim or to assert his love boldly or to reinforce his profession with an oath, he simply abandons himself to Christ. “You already know the whole story. There’s no possibility of hiding from You. Your gaze has searched me and known me and I make no attempt now to dodge or to pretend.” Before the one with whom we have to do, the one John will later describe in the book of Revelation as having “eyes like flames of fire,” before Him we are all naked and exposed. He sees you. He sees you. You can’t hide from Him. And Peter does what we must do. He doesn’t run away from Jesus’ gaze. He doesn’t try to avoid it. He steps into it and says, “You know everything. You know the whole story. You see me all the way through and you know that I love you. Though my love is really very weak and small.”

Now what’s the lesson for us here? It’s not just that Jesus calls failures to tend His lambs and feed His sheep. It’s not just that Jesus wants to deploy sinners in His service. It is that He wants us broken and contrite before Him before He calls and commissions us. Do you see that? Each command to “feed My sheep, tend My sheep, feed My sheep,” follows upon Simon’s demonstration of true repentance. Humility, no boasts; no comparisons. Reality, no pretending. Integrity, no exaggeration, no self-defense, no counter claims. Who is it that the risen Christ calls and sends and uses? What kind of church will He makes use of to reach our community? Not the clever and the strong and the great and the good. No, the sacrifices of God are a contrite heart. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” “Not many wise, not many noble, not many strong. But God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the wise and the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that are.”

The “REACH” campaign isn’t about building our brand or about getting the flashy new facility we think we deserve. I pray the campaign will fail miserably if our motives in pursuing it are only for our own glory. The “REACH” campaign is about coming to God, like Simon Peter here, and saying, “We want to be useful to You. We want to be useful to You. We want our building, our money, our people, our time, our words and our works to be tools that You can use. So we’re not playing anymore. We’re not pretending; we’re not hiding. We are sinners, Lord Jesus, and You see us completely. We own our weakness and our sin before You. Have mercy on us. And in that posture of looking away from ourselves to You, with broken and contrite hearts, Lord Jesus, would You do mighty things through us for Your glory and praise?” There is a call that we must obey. Do you see it in the text? A call to obey. A call not just to go with the Gospel but a call to repentance and renewed submission before the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you repented and turned to Him? Only then are you really usable.

A Cost to Bear

Then secondly notice there is a cost that we must bear. A cost we must bear. You’ll notice what Jesus tells Simon in verses 18 and 19. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” John’s little comment is important – “(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” There is a grave danger as we embrace the lofty privilege of Christ’s call on our lives to serve Him, that we overlook the cost that always comes along with it, always. “Feed My lambs, Simon. Tend My sheep, Simon. Feed My sheep, Simon.” I’m sure with each word of renewed commission the clouds of shame and self-reproach began to break in Simon’s heart and the sun began to shine again. Even after his betrayal, Jesus has use for him. The wonder of that, the relief of it. Jesus wasn’t speaking to him now to dismiss him, to tell him he was no longer welcome among the disciples. Perhaps that’s what Simon feared when Jesus drew him to one side at that breakfast on the beach. He was restoring him, sending him. It was glorious. “You mean, Lord Jesus, You want me, of all people?”

There’s a thrill very few things can equal in knowing Jesus wants to use, “Even me.” But, we must not dream that the call, the thrilling call of Christ to reach the world is glamorous and spectacular. “No, Simon, it’s going to cost you everything. It’s going to cost you everything. That is what it takes to follow Me. To pick up your cross and go where I went with Mine – to the place of crucifixion.” That’s what Jesus was telling Simon in these enigmatic few lines. He was indicating, as John tells us, how Peter would die.

You may know the story of William Borden. He was a millionaire who, as a young man, gave away the entire family fortune entrusted to him. He sailed for China to spend his life as a missionary, interesting enough, to the Uighur Muslims who have been so much in the news as of late. First of all, on his way there he decided to stop in Cairo, Egypt to learn Arabic. If you’re going to minister to Muslim majority people, having Arabic is an important skill. And so he lands in Cairo. He begins his study of Arabic and he contracted cerebral meningitis and at the age of 25, he went to be with Jesus. It was said, though it’s difficult to prove – this is probably, or possibly at least, apocryphal – but it’s said that after his death his mother found his Bible and inscribed in it, at different points in his life as the Lord dealt with him, there were three phrases. First he wrote, early in his life as he resolved to go for Christ to the nations, he wrote, “No reserve.” Nothing held back. No reserve. Then some years later after having given away the family fortune for the cause of King Jesus, he added, “No retreat.” There’s no going back to a life of ease and luxury. “No reserve. No retreat.” And then perhaps as he faced his own death, he added a third phrase. “No regrets.” No regrets. To spend all and to be spent for Christ. That was his great ambition. The words on his tombstone in the American cemetery in Cairo read very simply, “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”

“Follow Me,” that’s the call, the command. “Follow Me on mission to reach the world. Follow Me in repentance and humility. Follow Me, clinging to Me every day. And follow Me without reserve, without retreat, and without regret. Lay it all down. Your whole life with nothing held back.” That is what it will cost you. Let’s be clear, following Jesus will cost you everything. It will cost you everything. That’s what Jesus told Simon that day.

But don’t miss the clear implication in Jesus’ message at this point. What’s the implication? What is being implied? Well here it is. There is no cost that I can pay, no cost that you can pay, none, that can ever match the infinite value of having Jesus Christ, the pearl of great price. “They’re going to kill you because of Me one day, Simon.” That’s on one side of the scale. But then on the other, Jesus sets these words, “Follow Me.” And these two words, “Follow Me,” they outweigh all other considerations going with Jesus on His mission, participating in His triumph, extending His kingdom, making much of Him who gave Himself for us, having Him, being with Him, following Him, seeing Him do mighty things even though such weak instruments. “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small! Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” Following Jesus costs us everything, and He is so worth it. He is so worth it. There is a call we must obey and a cost we must bear. I wonder if you will bear that cost. Have you found Jesus to be true treasure or have the empty bobble and trinkets of this world dazzled you and captured your heart?

A Commitment to Make

There’s a commitment, finally, we must make. A cost to bear, a call to obey, a commitment to make. Simon asks Jesus about John. Do you see that? John is following them and John catches a glimpse of him perhaps and says, “Lord Jesus, what about this man?” They’ve been through so much together, Peter and John. And maybe quite naturally as Jesus tells Simon Peter about the cost he must bear, he’s wondering, “Perhaps if John will stay with me, stand with me, if we go through this together, maybe the load will be that little bit lighter. What about this man?” But Jesus’ reply contains a vital lesson for us all. Look at verse 22. Look at verse 22. “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me. They’re going to martyr you, Simon Peter.” Legend has it that actually he was crucified upside down in the city of Rome. “They’re going to martyr you. But suppose I purpose an entirely different fate for your dear friend, John. Suppose I preserve him supernaturally even until I return. Does that change anything for you, Simon? No, Simon, no matter what happens with anyone else around you, you yourself, you alone must respond to My call. The only person you must focus upon here is yourself. You must deal with yourself. How will you respond? Don’t worry about John. What about you?”

Isn’t that helpful to hear? The challenges confronting us as we seek to make Jesus known are very real. There may well be a social cost for us, an economic cost, even a legal cost in the days ahead. There is mounting stigma, certainly in our culture, for those who follow Jesus Christ faithfully in our day. People don’t like His message very much. There’s a cost to bear. And look, it’s easy to look around as you hear that and try to figure out, “What is everybody else going to do before we make up our own minds? Will she stand up for Jesus? Will he give and go in obedience to the Master’s call?” “No,” says Jesus. “What about you? What is that to you? You follow Me.” You remember the Uncle Sam posters, “I Want You!” That’s what Jesus is saying to Simon Peter. “I want you,” He says. “Forget John for a minute. His future has no bearing on the matter under discussion right now. I want you. I want you. Without reserve, without retreat, without regret.”

When it comes to the “REACH” campaign, when it comes to reaching our community and our neighbors, the call of Jesus comes to every single one of us, particularly, individually. It’s for each of us. For you. For me. There’s no passing the buck. No avoiding it. “I want you,” He says. “You must respond to Me. You yourself. You must repent before Me. You must love Me. You must follow Me. You must give and go for Me. You yourself. Not your parents on your behalf. Not your peer group or your friend base who give you just enough cover to come to church without embarrassment. You. You must stand before Me on your own. You must answer the call.” And that is the focus, actually, of the “REACH” campaign. We want you to hear the call of Jesus Christ, the risen Christ; His renewed commission to us, big sinners that we are – to give and to go, bearing the cost, knowing that He is supremely, infinitely, gloriously worth it. He’s worth it.

So there is a call to obey, a cost to bear, and a commitment to make. Let’s bow our heads as we respond. Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we love You, yet we confess our love often grows cold, turns aside, often betrays You, defects from You, denies You. We are all Simon Peter here. But now as the glare of Your Word searches and knows us, we want to be real before You. And we ask You please to have mercy on us. We do indeed truly, though imperfectly, we do indeed love You. We trust You. And we know that You are infinitely worth it. You are precious. Help us, then, to let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also because Your kingdom is forever and Your glory and dignity and beauty are so precious to us. Help us, each of us, for ourselves to hear and to answer Your call. For we ask this in Your name, amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.

Print This Post