A Voice in the
Wilderness

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" You Follow Me! "
- John 21 -

"Simon Peter said to them, I am going fishing. They said to him, We are coming with you also. They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing." (vs3)

The other day in an e-mail exchange with somebody, the subject of "jobs" came up. Actually, in this case, since the 'job' in question was a church music position, in a very real sense, it was about "ministry". Discussing the difference between "pushing" on doors to try to open them, vs -waiting- on the Lord to "open" doors. The observation between the two of us from our past experiences that, when we went PURSUING AFTER some ministry, things pretty much fell flat, or were fraught with problems; but when the Lord was opening doors, that was when things were according to His will; and things progressed according to God's plan.

Mary has come through the emotions: Show me the body! Thomas has skeptically: I can't believe unless I can put my finger.... And Peter; oooh, Mr. Peter! Blusteringly: I'LL NEVER DENY YOU! But now in utter failure, having denied the Lord, seeing the empty tomb, seeing the Lord appear in the room where they are gathered... but for the most part, Jesus is NOT AROUND day-in and day-out, like has been the case for over the past three years. He hasn't been fishing in all that time, working his "job", because following Jesus around in ministry has been a different life.

But Jesus is (essentially) gone. Now what? I'm an utter failure! I couldn't even stick up for Jesus when it counted most, and now look at me! Well... I guess I better start thinking about providing for my family. 'Can't just be sitting around here twiddling my thumbs, staring at the walls; all of us sitting around in silence staring at each other. What is there to say to each other? We thought Jesus was going to be Israel's "deliverer" (Ac1:6), but He died; and now He's no longer around. What's left? Gotta face 'reality' and get back down-to-earth. What else do I know? What else can I do?

I'm going fishing. Yeah, we're with you.

And notice John gets right to-the-point: "...THEY CAUGHT NOTHING."

"Children, you do not have any fish do you?" (vs5) Hey fellas! You didn't catch anything, did you... No!

"Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." (vs6)

Notice this exchange is different from the first time Jesus gave this command. Jesus began and ended His ministry with telling them to cast the net out the boat, for fish. The first time Peter retorts, "We have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net." (Lk5:5)

This time the text does not tell us that they argued. Jesus commanded, and they let down the net. They obeyed. Why? Even though they are emotionally downtrodden right now, have they been so-used to obeying the Lord, that it was like second nature to them to do so? Even though they weren't mentally cognizant that it was Him, they knew His voice? (10:27)

Also notice that each time, as they are laboring for themselves, that they were catching NOTHING. They were fruitless.

The first time, as they had caught nothing; and then obeyed Jesus, they caught a whole bunch to where the net began to tear and the boats began to sink. As they are all marvelling, Jesus says, "From now on you will be catching men." (Lk5:10)

This time, they again catch a lot of fish, but the net does not tear. And then Jesus has a conversation with Peter; similar to the first time; but wrapping up the heart of the matter...

"So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these? He said to Him, Yes, Lord; You know that I am deeply fond of You. He said to him, Feed My lambs." (vs15)

Rather than look at the 'three-times' Jesus asks, and Peter answers (with different kinds of "love" and "fondness"), let us see if we can understand the overall -heart- of the matter with Peter. We often tend to shake our heads at him, because he was always speaking first, and thinking later. (Like us) He blustered out to Jesus in the storm, and then began to sink in doubt. (Mt14:31) Confidently asserted that he would die with Jesus, and then denied Him.

Peter, do you love Me more than these? Some people speculate whether Jesus was asking after his love compared to the other disciples.

However, when we see Peter's entire legacy with Jesus (having been in this same place myself before the Lord in a similar 'discussion', I 'recognize' what is going on here. I've been there!), I truly believe that Jesus at this moment is confronting the very core essence of Peter's existence. Jesus is asking Peter to "count the cost" to follow Him. (Lk14:28) Peter, there is a scales before you. Take everything you know; your life, your fishing, your family, your friends, your failures (you know you are not a success: both times we've had this conversation, you had caught 'nothing' until I came along) and put them on one side. Now, put Me on the other side. Which way is the scale tipping?

When Jesus confronts each one of us He does the same thing. If you have not faced this 'discussion' with Jesus, it is quite possible you do not know Him; or at best, you are not what you should be; you are stagnant.

Take your life: your childhood with all its happiness and hurts, your career, your marriage, your possessions, education, dreams, everything that is -you-... put it on one side. Jesus is on the other side. It's a "Y" in the road, and you are steam-rollering along, non-stop... you HAVE TO make a choice. Which way do you proceed?

THAT is what Jesus is asking Peter. It's now or never, Peter!

Oh, but, but... Look at the schools I went to. Look at my 'successful' career. Look at this empire I've built with my own bare hands. Companies, streets, parks and institutions are named after me. People look at my life and wish to be like me. You're asking me to give up ALL THAT?

Earlier Peter had said, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." (Mk10:28) Well, right now Jesus is confronting him, as if to ask: HAVE YOU REALLY? Have you REALLY 'left' it ALL? Where is your love for Me? (Remember: within this entire context is the fact that Peter had denied knowing Jesus, and when he did so, Jesus even though on trial, when the rooster crowed, had looked over at him. Lk22:61 Sorta like when you were a kid, and misbehaved while out in public, and got that look from dad that said: we'll 'talk' about this later when we get home. So, this conversation is finishing that which was begun earlier) You're such a tough guy, huh? You're gonna die with Me? Are you even "deeply FOND of Me"? (vs17)

This cut Peter to the quick. It was one thing to hear Jesus preach to others. Amen, Lord! Preeeach it! Give it to 'em, with both barrels! And if they reject, "...Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?" (Lk9:54)

But what about -you-, Peter? "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife (Yes, even wife! The one with whom a person is "one flesh". She might not be saved. She may not love the Lord the way you do. When -you- are following the Lord, she is not your "partner". She answers to the Lord 'individually', just like you do. Rom14:12) and children, and brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." (Lk14:26) Here we have the nitty gritty 'application'. "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it unto eternal life." (Jn12:25)

Now Peter, while you're sorting this all out in your heart, realize that of your own abilities you were not successful. In the career that was your trade, you were catching nothing. I came along, you obeyed Me, and you reaped to overflowing. Back then, I told you that you would be "catching men". Now, let's expand on that: "Feed My lambs (vs15), Tend My sheep (vs16), Feed My sheep." (vs17)

Notice the 'full' ministry of a shepherd. Just as John repeats to the Fathers, Young men and Children. (1Jn2:13-14) The ministry isn't merely to GET THEM SAVED. No, it also includes "feeding" the flock. And also "tending" the flock. When my uncle used to raise sheep, there was feeding, shearing, bobbing their tails, tending to the needs when they would get tape worms, and other medical procedures. A person gets saved, and then the 'lamb' needs "feeding". There are all sorts of needs of the sheep that need "tending"; exhortation, warning, counsel, encouragement, etc. But just because a lamb grows up, that does not mean the care stops. The adult sheep need "feeding", too.

Peter, you were staring at the walls, and at each other, and decided to go-it-alone, and go fishing. You caught nothing. But this is what -I- want you to do. And on Pentecost under the Holy Spirit Peter preached and 3000 were saved (Ac2:41), and as the Church grew, it was worldwide: They "turned the world upside down" for Christ. (Ac17:6)

However, if you've decided you love Me, here's what you will face. As Paul (Rom1:1), Jacob (Jac1:1), Judas (Jud1:1) and Peter later would write (2Pt1:1) "a BONDSERVANT...of Jesus Christ". According to the dictionary, a "bondservant" is one who is "obligated to serve without wages". Typically, where a "slave" might have been purchased from a trader, a -BOND-servant was one who, having come into debt and hard times, had deeded himself to the master as a means of paying his debt. By his own efforts at life he, essentially, had 'failed', and was at the end of himself, with no way out; and his creditor became his master, ordering his life.

Peter, your life will not be your own. "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish. This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, Follow Me." (vs18-19) Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified.

But Lord, what about this fellow? (vs21)

U-u-uh! (wagging index finger) You never mind him! As a bondservant you do not "judge another's servant" (Rom14:4) Like training a dog to walk a tight leash, and it is cranking its head around to see what other dogs or things of interest there might be to go chasing after... -YANK-! "Nooo! Heel!"

"If I intend for him to remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." (vs22)

They might be given a life of luxury, but you are always struggling to make ends meet. "You follow Me!" They might be pastoring a mega-church where they are popular and people like them, but you have barely a handful of sheep and you have a lot of enemies. "You follow Me!" They might be president or director of a missions board, bible college or seminary, and you are standing at the local park or street corner passing out tracts in the rain. "You follow Me!"

Besides: many of them only have sheep 'clothing' on, but "inwardly they are ravenous wolves." (Mt7:15)

I've shared this before in another context, but it's been awhile and fits here. Shortly after I had married my unequal yoke, I was still floundering in terms of what to be doing for my 'career' in life, after university. My desire was to serve the Lord in ministry, and knew God's 'call' was upon my life. But the 'doors' were not yet 'opening'. And so I was doing various little things while 'treading water' (so-to-speak), "waiting" on the Lord. (Ps27:14)

Then at one point, there was a family get-together at which my father-in-law, a successful businessman, a member of his church's board of elders, took me aside and counseled me. As he knew my heart's desire to serve God, his counsel was to sit down, figure out 'what' it was I wanted to do in ministry, and then just "go-for-it". (You know...like a person making a business plan, and then implementing it) The basic mentality was: If I didn't pick some direction, and start out... I'd never get there.

By contrast: When Israel followed God in the wilderness, sometimes they were on the move. But at other times, they stayed put for periods of time. "...they kept the charge of Jehovah, at the mouth of Jehovah..." (Num9:17-23)

So anyway, I followed father-in-law's advice. I did some things. But my life was yet to be turned upside down, inside out, topsy turvey, as I would eventually come to realize I had married into an unregenerate pack-of-wolves, and my unequal yoke would counsel me in directions for the deliberate purpose of getting me -OUT-OF- ministry, and I would ultimately find myself 'alone'. A miserable FAILURE! Kinda like where Peter was.

It was at -THAT- point that the LORD got my attention, and what I should have continued "waiting on the Lord" for, came into being. It was His doing. The doors that He opened. The steps that He arranged. In the direction He led. It was no longer me sitting down and making plans, and "going for it". Other than writing studies and mapping out tentative mailing schedules for them (schedules that He often changes), I have not 'made-a-plan' in many years...except, perhaps, for things like vacation trips, or going shopping.

Peter failed under his own efforts. (Like PB failed under his) But with Jesus, there is a big catch of big fish...

However, we must give our lives as bondservants...and "follow" Jesus. Not leading out, "going-for-it", and asking Jesus to walk along-side me and "bless -my- endeavors"...

But rather, like when the Lord knocked S/Paul down, as he had been militantly pursuing his own agenda, and humbled him...

Saul replies, "Lord, what do You have in mind for me to do?" (Ac9:6)

Amen!

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