Issue No 5
Address by Paul Burton at Malvern, 26 May 2018
When therefore they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached to thee. He says to him, Feed my lambs. He says to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached to thee. He says to him, Shepherd my sheep. He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, art thou attached to me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Art thou attached to me? and said to him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I am attached to thee. Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say to thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst where thou desiredst; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and bring thee where thou dost not desire. But he said this signifying by what death he should glorify God. And having said this, he says to him, Follow me. Peter, turning round, sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also leaned at supper on his breast, and said, Lord, who is it that delivers thee up? Peter, seeing him, says to Jesus, Lord, and what of this man? Jesus says to him, If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.
The reading this morning focused on two words: ‘Hear him’ (Matthew17:5). In this occasion, we have three words: ‘Follow thou me’.
I do not believe that God intends that there should be anything complicated about Christianity. It is profound and inscrutable, beyond our human minds to comprehend in its fullness – but it is simple to the eyes of faith.
Each gospel writer leaves us with different words of the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s last words recorded in John’s gospel are ‘Follow thou me’. This is a simple statement comprising:
- A verb – the action ‘Follow’
- The subject – who does it ‘Thou’ – that is you and I, as well as Peter
- The object ‘Me’ – that is Jesus.
This is really the essence of Christian life. The Lord Jesus in His wondrous grace and saving power has called us to follow Him. It is no more complicated than that. Of course, we have the epistles. They were written before these words were written, but not before they were said. In the epistles there are long words and deep thoughts. The thoughts of God and His blessing for us are immense. That is one of the reasons we have reading meetings so that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can understand God’s wonderful thoughts for us. But God does not want us to merely understand His thoughts, He wants us to experience and enjoy His blessings as well. The questions are:
- How are we going to enjoy what God in His love has purposed and prepared for us?
- Why do we struggle, and why do we find following Jesus so difficult?
For a start, we experience and enjoy them by simply following Christ.
Imagine a local assembly filled with persons who follow Christ and hear and do His word; then imagine the church as a whole, and even the whole world following and obeying Him. This wonderful world of peace, order and joy will be seen in a coming day. It speaks of ‘these are they who follow the Lamb wheresoever it goes’ (Revelation 14:4). Now, let us now look around our Christian companies: and we have to humbly admit that things are not as they should be. It cannot be because the Lord has asked us to do something complicated or unclear. The simple word is ‘Follow thou me’.
This was not the first time that the Lord had asked Peter to follow Him. He had already been following the Lord for a little over three years. Earlier, when Peter did not know Him anything like as well, the Lord had said, ‘Come after me’ (Matthew 4:19) – and Peter had obeyed. So had Andrew, James, John and the other disciples. Peter had had three years’ experience of the Lord’s love, care and companionship. Many followed the Lord because of what He had done for them: having been cured of blindness, deafness, leprosy or demons. However, the gospels do not suggest that any of the twelve chosen disciples followed the Lord as a result of such miraculous healing. However, there must have been something more than the disciples saw in Jesus.
Matthew is another example. As far as the scripture records, Matthew was sitting doing his job, taking the taxes, counting the money and keeping records. We know nothing of Matthew’s prior experience with or knowledge of the Lord. However, when Jesus just says to him, ‘Follow me’ (Luke 5: 27).
I think that what caused these beloved disciples to leave what they were doing, was that they saw something about that Man that they had never seen before. He had no great outward personality or charisma (Isaiah 53:2) nor did He make promises of outward greatness or power. Here was a Man in outward humility, with no natural distinguishing features that would mark Him out. Yet there was something different which caused these disciples to follow. So what makes us follow the Lord Jesus? We have put our faith and trust in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the One who suffered and died for us. That alone would make Him worthy to be followed. He is worthy, but there is something deeper.
If we are going to be enduring, constant, faithful followers of Jesus, we have each for ourselves to answer the question, ‘How much does the Lord Jesus Himself mean to me?’. In John’s gospel, the Man Christ Jesus is the absolute centre: persons like the woman in John 4 were drawn to Him, not just because of what He did but because of what He was. The woman said, ‘Come, see a man’ (Matthew 17:5). Such was the humanity of Jesus: He thrilled the Father’s heart in every step, thought and movement. He also thrilled the hearts of those who followed Him. Peter illustrated this in John 6. The Lord had ministered His word, but there were two completely opposite results. Many of the disciples said, ‘This word is hard. . . and walked no more with him’ (v.68). Peter had found an all-absorbing object in the person of Christ, a kind of Man that he had never come across before. Peter continued following.
At one point, Peter had said, ‘We have left all things and have followed thee; what then shall happen to us?’ (Matthew 19:27). Now Peter was asking what was going to happen to them. The Lord had spoken of receiving a hundredfold. In (John 21) we see the Lord giving Peter another commission and He re-issues this challenge to follow, for the Lord would be physically here no longer. What was the Lord offering Peter from a natural perspective? There was nothing for his personal benefit. Jesus said, “I want you to be a shepherd”. Peter might well have answered, “Lord, that is a little bit odd. You took me up to be a fisher of men. I know about fishing, that is in my blood. Now you are telling me to be a shepherd. I do not have any experience of being a shepherd”. In fact, Peter was probably the most qualified person there to be a shepherd having spent three years with the Good Shepherd, observing the greatest, most skilful and wonderful Shepherd there has ever been. The Lord effectively says, “Peter, you are going to have a career change. You are now going to be a shepherd. It is will be hard work: you are going to have to feed My lambs; you are going to have to shepherd My sheep; you are going to have to feed My sheep. Then, when you get old you are going to have your liberty taken away, ending up in prison, and ultimately Peter, you are going to die for Me. But despite all that follow me.”
At first, Peter did not get the full point of what the Lord was saying. ‘Peter, seeing him [John], says to Jesus, Lord, and what of this man? Jesus says to him, If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.’ (John 21:21-22). The Lord is saying to Peter, “Let Me make it absolutely plain and clear to you: ‘Follow thou Me’: nothing else matters”. We must give Peter the credit for honouring His Lord: in the main, he followed his Lord faithfully. His link with Christ and his valuation of that blessed Man kept and preserved him. Peter was a true follower of Jesus Christ, even to martyrdom.
How about each one of us? Your comfort zone or personal choice does not enter into it. The Lord’s word is: ‘Follow thou me’– a very direct command that comes to each of us individually. it is right to value one another, but ultimately our Christian pathway is defined by how we follow Christ personally. As we follow Christ we find that there are others are following Him too: we are all heading towards the same destination because we are following Him, not one anothe.
When we come together we have a single objective, following Christ. That is what unites us. Each one of us will have received the command, ‘Follow thou me’. It is not a complicated command: the big question is, ‘How?’.
We might say that if Jesus were here, it would be easy to follow Him – if He walked out of the door, we could all follow. I think the gospel suggests that it would not make it any easier if Jesus was physically here or not. The Lord Jesus in His wondrous grace and in His infinite wisdom has given us things to help us. Peter says ‘Christ…leaving you a model that ye should follow in his steps’ (1 Peter 2:21). We have Christ as a model before us, and we can follow in His footprints. In virgin snow, where no one has walked before, a person’s footprints are clear, and we can follow them easily. The Lord has left us clear footprints:
- There is a footprint of suffering.
- There is a footprint of wondrous grace.
- There is a footprint of perfect humility.
- There is a footprint of utter dependence.
- There is a footprint of complete trust in God.
- There is a footprint of prayer.
- There is a footprint of devotion.
- There is a footprint of righteous indignation.
All of those things were seen in the life of Jesus here. A follower of Jesus Christ has been given a perfect example in the life and footsteps of the Lord Jesus. Hence we can ‘follow in his steps’.
We cannot see Him physically; we have to use what we call faith. That is the difficult bit, needing concentration and a committal to follow Christ. We cannot set our path automatically like a plane on auto-pilot. There has to be a day-by-day commitment to follow Christ. My scripture for that is Hebrews 12:2, ‘Looking steadfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith’. The Spirit will help you. If you still struggle and find it too difficult, put your hand out and Jesus, in His precious, condescending grace, will take it and lead you, if necessary, by the hand. Hebrews tells us that one of the reasons he came into manhood was so that He may take hold of the seed of Abraham by the hand (see Hebrews 2:16). But He will lead us together to a very glorious place, into the greatest and most wondrous privileges that we can ever know. The heart of God is full of blessing and happiness for us. God has called us to be happy. I am not sure how much we believe that what Christ has in mind for us is the very best.
Let us not think that His voice is different in our sphere of responsibility here from our sphere of privilege. Sometimes we divorce the two. It is the same blessed Person who leads us, whether it is in the difficulties of the wilderness path here, or in the joy and privilege of going with Him to the Father and entering into that sphere of praise. The character of the leading might be different, but it is the same Person. The better we know how to follow Him, the greater we will know the blessing.
In summary, we have had two messages in our meetings today:
- ‘Hear him’,
- ‘Follow thou me’.
I leave these thoughts with us all, for His Name’s sake.
Revised by Paul Burton and checked by others. All scripture quotations are from the Darby translation