Living With a Death Sentence
8-16-15 John 21:18-19 Lesson 132
I don’t know how fresh I am from my vacation but I’m back from my vacation. If we could take our Bibles and open them to John 21, taking a look this morning at just two verses, John 21:18-19. And the title of our message this morning is Living With a Death Sentence. As some of you know I had the chance, with my family, to go to the West Coast, California, where I’m from and I had a wonderful time there and I very much appreciate Will and Gabe for their willingness to step into the pulpit and do such a tremendous job.
Just real quickly, the way I look at Will and Gabe I don’t look at them as “fillers” or people I just need a sub for; I look at them in a certain sense as my spiritual children, sons in the faith. You know, God in His providence gave me a very precious little girl but He didn’t give me any sons, but I kind of feel in a certain sense that Will and Gabe are my sons, spiritually. And the reason I feel that way is because I had both of them for many, many classes at the College of Biblical Studies, where I was their teacher. And they kind of came to me the way I came to my professors when I was going through school, very sincere, very zealous, but sometimes we can have some fuzzy ideas in our brains about things. And so I get the privilege to kind of straightening them out, just like I was straightened out by people. And we do that in the classroom through just repetitious teaching of the Bible and doctrine. And so I sort of look at Will and Gabe as sort of an ROI, Return On Investment. So it was sort of a special thing for me to listen to their sermons and watch them fill in.
Let me alert you to something that we’re doing at our church, November 7th and 8th; we are going to be hosting a conference entitled Answering Islam. Of course, Islam is something that is all over the news, even in the area that we live in, the Sugar Land area, there’s a rapidly multiplying Muslim people group. And one of the difficulties we have as Westerners is understanding the Islamic mind. I mean, what is the goal of Islam for a host country? How do you evangelize a Muslim? When Muslims have prayer vigils and block off streets, for example, what does that mean? And as Westerners it’s sort of perplexing to us why they do a lot of the things that they do.
So we’re actually inviting someone to come and speak to us, it will be a Saturday and then he’ll be here in the pulpit on Sunday morning. His name is Shahram Hadian. I got to know through Shahram through the Steeling the Mind Conferences that many times I’m involved in and I’ve listened to a lot of presentations on Islam and it’s my personal opinion is that he is the best analyst on the subject. He’s become somewhat popular; he’s sometimes a guest on shows like Glenn Beck and things of that nature. He has a radio show which you can pick up here Saturday mornings, I believe, from about noon to 1:00; I believe it’s on the American Family Radio Network.
And he is a former Muslim himself who came to Christ. He is actually a refugee, with his parents, from Iran, just before the Ayatollah took over in 1979 and someone had the courage and the boldness to share the gospel with him and he was offended by what he heard but through that offense he became a born again believer. And the Lord, I believe, has raised him up as sort of an interpreter of Islam. I don’t understand a lot of the things going on in the Islamic mind, but he understands them.
So we’re going to be talking about the infiltration of Islam into government, we’re going to be talking about how to evangelize a Muslim, we’re going to be talking about how to reach a Muslim? What do Muslims mean when they do such and such? And he’s going to be teaching several sessions for us on a Saturday, November 7th, and he’ll be back with us November 8th on a Sunday so we’ll have two sessions on that Sunday, we’ll have a plenary Sunday School class with everybody in the sanctuary. And then he’ll also be in the pulpit in that particular Sunday. I’m going to be teaching a couple of sessions, more or less to give him a rest, but as you’ll get to know him you’ll see this guy really doesn’t need rest. He is almost like the Energizer Bunny. And he has a mission that the Holy Spirit has given him about this subject of Islam. So this is something we’re going to be reaching out to other churches in the area and invite them to participate. And so you’re going to be hearing more about this as we get our flyer together and organizing starts to become a little bit more specific. I just wanted to alert you to that.
And let’s turn, if we could, to John 21:18-19, and we’re continuing on with our study in John’s Gospel. We’re at the very last chapter, it seems like we’ve been in this chapter a long time, doesn’t it? But the Gospel of John is about the light and life revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. And as you know, John writes a book about Jesus trying to document who Jesus is as evidenced by his various signs. And we are at the tail end of the book which is what we call the passion narratives. These are the historical accounts of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
We’ve studied His death in depth, chapters 18 and 19, and we are now taking a look at His resurrection. The resurrection accounts start with the empty tomb, chapter 20, and then what follows in chapter 20 and into chapter 21 are His various post resurrection appearances. There are five of them. And we have been looking at the very last one there, a conversation, and this is how John’s Gospel ends, a conversation between Jesus and Peter and John walking along the seashore of the Sea of Galilee. And this is how John chose to conclude his Gospel, with this conversation.
So it’s tempting to just sort of rush through this conversation but because this occurs at the end of the book there are specific and extremely important things that are happening in this conversation, things that will relate to the church that’s on the horizon, and things that you’ll see today that specifically relate to your life and my life.
The conversation took place on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, a place called, if I’m pronouncing this right, Tabgha, I was actually there last summer and there’s a picture of what it looks like there on the seashore. So you can get this picture in your mind of where Jesus was and how He was conversing at the very end of His ministry there, prior to His ascension, with two apostles, Peter and John.
So this conversation can be divided up as follows: Number 1, we have the confessions, verses 15-17; number 2, the cross, verses 18-19; then we’ll have the concern, the chiding, the confusion and the confirmation. Now we have already taken a look at the confessions. You might remember from a few weeks back Jesus, in verses 15-17 gave Peter an opportunity, not once, not twice, but three times, to reaffirm his love for Jesus. There is a three-fold recommissioning in that sense, just like there was a three-fold denial by Peter of Jesus. And in the process Jesus gives Peter his assignment from God. Jesus is ascending back to heaven not too many days from now and Peter is given this task of tending, or taking care of, God’s sheep in Christ’s absence. And we went through that conversation.
And what we move into now, and these are the only verses we’ll be looking at this morning is verses 18-19, which is a description of the cross. Now the cross here is not a reference to Christ’s cross; Christ has already been crucified and He’s already risen from the dead. This is not to Christ’s cross, this is to a cross that one of his choice apostles would bear one day—Peter’s cross.
And notice, if you will, verses 18 and 19 in John 21. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Verse 19, “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’”
As you look there at verse 18 it starts off with a very familiar expression that Jesus used when He really wanted to say something important. Of course, everything Christ said is important, but when He prefaces His remarks through the expression, “Truly, truly,” we know that something highly significant is about to come from Christ’s mouth or His lips. “Truly, truly” in Greek simply means “Amen, amen.” And that’s essentially what we mean when we say the word “amen” after a prayer, for example, we say it is true, or truly, or certainty.
And this is an expression that has been used multiple times in John’s Gospel. For example, you might recall as early as John 3:5, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” There isn’t a more fundamental teaching to Christianity than the spiritual birth all people must experience. And notice that Christ prefaces that with this expression, “Truly, truly.” And so obviously when Jesus says “Truly, truly,” something highly significant is about to come forth in His remarks. This will be the last time that this expression is used in John’s Gospel in just the few verses we have left to cover.
But what Jesus does here as He is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, with Peter and John, is Jesus makes a prediction, or a prophecy about Peter. And in this prophecy, verses 18 and 19, he’s drawing a contrast, if you will. The contrast is between Peter’s younger years and Peter’s older years. When you were younger, in essence Jesus is saying, you were free as a bird, you essentially were your own boss, you did what you wanted, you governed yourself. However, things are going to change when you get older. There are going to be restrictions placed upon you, and in fact, your destiny will end, not with you making a decision on your own behalf but somebody is going to take you where you do not wish to go.
And Jesus says the day will come where you will stretch out your hands. Now this expression, “stretch out your hands” we believe is a euphemism or a polite way of talking about the crucifixion. And here is the first hint that we really have that Peter would actually die a martyr’s death, identical, not completely identical as I’ll show you in a minute, but nearly identical to the death that Jesus Christ Himself died. Jesus was crucified on a cross as He stretched out His hands, and Jesus in this conversation says to Peter, “Truly, truly,” in essence the same virtual thing is going to happen to you.
And what we have studied in this book is the Lord has been gradually turning up the heat on Peter so that his character is changed, because what you see in this book is Peter early on is one of the most impetuous and self-willed people, perhaps in the entire Bible. Peter was used to being in control, he was used to calling the shots, he was used to making decisions on his own and what the Lord has been doing in these three years that He has been with Peter is gradually chipping away at Peter’s character. How has the Lord done that? He’s done that, as we have explained in prior sermons, through a series of failures. The Lord allows Peter to step out many times through human power and He allows him to fall flat on his face.
And it is through the repetition of failure that you begin to understand the folly of relying upon the flesh. It’s one thing to be told that we’re not to rely upon the flesh; it’s quite another thing to allow God to allow us to rely upon the flesh, and then we fail and God says how’s that working for you? And we begin to understand through this process of perpetual failures. I call it the breaking process of God, the limitations of the arm of the flesh, how the arm of the flesh can only accomplish so much, and how God is in the business of crafting and chiseling our characters in such a way that we will not rely upon self but we will rely upon Him.
Peter obviously would have to reach that point because not only would Peter be strategically used in the book of Acts but he would also have to learn to rely upon the Lord even in his very death, because as he would die the Lord is very clear to him that you will not be in control of your circumstances. And this breaking process of God began when the Lord allowed Peter to walk out to meet Him on the Sea of Galilee. Peter sunk, as you know. This breaking process of God continues on as Jesus allows Peter to speak and he says something ridiculous, He tries to talk Jesus out of the cross, and the Lord said to him, “Get behind Me” who? “Satan.” That was a stinging failure. And no doubt those words resonated with Peter.
And He allows Peter to fail once again in the Garden of Gethsemane when the guards are coming to arrest Jesus and Peter doesn’t like it, and he takes a sword out and starts swinging away. And Jesus corrects him very strongly and says put your sword back, these things must happen this way. And then the Lord allows Peter to fail again in the Upper Room, where Peter says everybody’s going to desert you but not me, Lord. He made that statement out of pride and out of human power and the Lord said okay, let’s see how well this works. And Peter, as you know from the rest of the biblical story, ended up denying the Lord three times, to a servant girl on one of those occasions.
And then I believe the Lord kept chiseling away at Peter’s character when Peter, in John 21, was allowed to go fishing, something he was good at, his occupation and his profession, and he was put out there on the Sea of Galilee with the other disciples and he had been out there all night and caught absolutely nothing. And the Lord said the problem, Peter, is you just need to throw your nets on the other side.
And see, all of these events are designed by God to break this man down. Why? Because he was a man of destiny in God and you cannot fulfill your destiny in God by relying upon human power. And may I just say to you, beloved, that this is the same program you’re in as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the same program I’m in. God does not want us to be depending upon ourselves to do His will and His work. What He wants are pliable, usable, dependent vessels. And the only way that can happen is if we become less enamored with ourselves and our abilities, not that God doesn’t give us abilities and can’t use our abilities but reliance upon human talent alone cannot bring forth the result that God desires to bring forth in our lives. And we just don’t realize this tendency in ourselves, this pride to rely upon self until we go through these failures. So an alteration is gradually happening here in Peter’s character, as it is with you. So Peter is being transformed from a man of self-confidence to a man who is depending upon God. And ultimately he has to depend upon others at a point in his life, even to the point of being unable to escape a martyr’s death that is in his future.
We have a tendency to look at maturity in the natural world as self-sufficiency, independence. If someone is still dependent upon somebody else, like their parents for example, we say well, they need to grow up, they need to get a job, they need to become self-sufficient. And the whole system of the world pushes us this direction; we need no dependence, we need independence, we need to be on our own, we need to rely upon ourselves. And the world looks at that and says that’s what maturity is.
But what you’ll discover in the Scripture is maturity is not defined by independence; it’s rather defined by dependence. The greater that I and ourselves, you and I, we, the greater we depend upon God for daily life is the degree that we are moving into adulthood. The world defines adulthood as independence; the Bible defines adulthood as dependence, and that is the process that Peter is in.
And I am not sure Peter should have been surprised by this prophecy. Jesus speaks to him and talks about His martyr’s death; did not Jesus say to Peter, with the rest of the disciples in John 15:20, in the Upper Room, did not Jesus say, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave,” or a servant, “is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep your word also.’” Jesus was very clear with these disciples in the Upper Room that a servant is not greater than his master. Jesus died a horrific death; why would it be any different for these disciples. So this is not front page news that Jesus is introducing to Peter for the very first time.
And what we discover in the Bible is God, the Father, was glorified through the death of God the Son. The death of God the Son brought glory to God the Father. You might remember John 12:24, Jesus spoke of His death and He said this, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus there is speaking of his imminent death in the crucifixion.
And then Jesus, just a few verses later, in John 12:27-28 connects this to the glory of the Father.
He says, ‘Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.’” Why,  “‘Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’”
So the very clear teaching of the Scripture is that the death of God the Son brought glory to God the Father. Now remember what Jesus said, He said, “A servant is not greater than his master.” If My death glorified God the Father, then Peter, the same exact thing is going to happen to you. You see that very clearly in verse 19 of John 21, where it says, “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” The word for glorification there is doxaō and it’s the exact same word that’s used in John 12. The death of God the Son glorified God the Father, now with the repetition of that same verb here and given the fact that a servant is not greater than his master, the death of Peter is going to bring glory to God the Father. What Jesus is doing here is He is revealing to Peter his destiny in God.
Now this truth, that we glorify God through suffering, is not something only for the apostles. This is something for all of God’s people. God desires to glorify Himself through our very sufferings. Now all of us are not necessarily called to be martyrs but it is a fact that many people throughout the world are dying martyr’s deaths even now as I speak. It is a fact that in the 20th century alone, the prior century, there were more martyrs deaths that took place than all of the martyrs deaths in the last 2,000 years of church history. So we have to start thinking about martyrdom and the biblical teaching about martyrdom, and in essence this is what Peter is being spoken to about as Jesus is instructing him.
And you see, Peter learned this lesson well, because 30 years or so, about three decades from the time these words and this prophecy was given, Peter, in a book called 1 Peter, wrote this, just prior to his death in 1 Peter 4:14-16: “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;  but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in His name.”
Peter’s suffering would glorify God. Peter writes a book three decades later and he says this principle is not just true for me; it’s true for all of God’s people. God allows us to go through suffering in different degrees in order to glorify Him. And so Jesus here is really bringing things full circle. Are we all going to be crucified? Not necessarily but we all suffer, don’t we? We all suffer to various degrees. There are all kinds of things that come into our lives that we wish we could be spared from.
And in the midst of suffering we have a tendency to say I must be out of the will of God. The fact of the matter is, you’re directly in the will of God. There has been so much talk in America, from American pulpits about riches and fame and popularity and so-called Christian television gives us this idea many times that Jesus is your ticket to a life of influence and affluence. And may I just say to you that the New Testament itself supports no such teaching.
The doctrine of Christianity is a doctrine of suffering and the suffering is designed and given to us by God for the purpose of glorifying Him. Peter is simply fitting into the pattern of Jesus Christ because a servant is not greater than his master and as you experience suffering in your life, as I experience suffering in my life to various degrees we are fitting into the pattern as well.
Now you can imagine as Jesus and Peter are talking here on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee all the questions Peter had. Peter probably asked all the journalistic questions, the text doesn’t say that but I’m just imagining what he was thinking—when is this going to happen, when am I going to die to glorify God, who’s going to kill me? Why will people be trying to kill me? How will my death unfold? Where are I going to die? When? Who? Why? How? Where?
And you’ll notice that Jesus gives no details on it. Why doesn’t Jesus give the script in advance? There’s a very simple answer to that; the answer is “Without faith it is” what? “impossible to please God.” It doesn’t say it’s difficult to please God, Hebrews 11:6 says “it is impossible to please” God, so when God calls us to Himself and tells us to walk with Him, He doesn’t give us a blueprint or script in advance. If I had a blueprint or a script in advance I would rely on the script, wouldn’t I, instead of relying moment by moment on God.
And this is a principle that you’ll see all the way through Scripture. You take the calling of this man, Abram, going all the way back to Genesis 12; you’ll recall that Abram was told, he was called out of the Ur of the Chaldeans where civilization supposedly began. He was called out of that era and geographic location; he was never told where he was going. God simply told him I am bringing you to a specific place, a specific land. He wasn’t told what land it was. Why doesn’t God reveal to Abraham where he’s going? Because God wanted Abraham to walk by faith.
Why doesn’t Jesus answer Peter’s journalistic questions here? Because He wants Peter to walk by faith. Why is it that God doesn’t come to you and reveal every detail of your life? Because he wants us to walk by faith, because “without faith,” the Bible teaches, “it is impossible to please God.”
What, then, does Jesus tell Peter? A simple command, two words, as it’s translated here in English, you see it at the very end of verse 19, “Follow Me.” You’re going to die a horrific death Peter, I’m not giving you all the details, but here’s what I want you to do; I want you to “Follow Me.”
“Follow Me” is very interesting in the Greek text because it’s what we call the imperative mood, the verb, which is a command. And it’s in the present tense; the imperative mood, present tense. What does that mean? When Jesus says to Peter, “Follow Me” He’s not giving him a suggestion…hey, Peter, I know things are going to get difficult for you, try on these three principles and see if it works. That’s not the idea here at all; it’s “Follow Me!”
And the present tense of the verb communicates that he is to follow and keep on following. It’s an ongoing idea, it’s not this idea that it happens just once; it’s a habitual pattern of life where every day you wake up and you say to the Lord, “not my will be done but Thy will be done, I don’t know what this day brings forth, but Lord to the best of my ability as You give me power I am going to follow You wherever that pathway leads, even though many times we don’t know where the path leads. Peter knew the ultimate destination but he didn’t know the specifics, but he knew this much, that his task was simply to follow Jesus Christ.
And so thus begins to unfold the life of Peter. We know that Peter would live another three decades, historically. And as he walked out his faith and followed Jesus every day of his life he lived every single day of his life as a man with a death sentence. He knew that the time in history would come when his life, against his very will from a human standpoint, would be taken from him. That’s why I’ve entitled this message Living With a Destiny. That’s, in essence, what Peter lived under in the ensuing three decades.
The very last book that Peter wrote prior to his death was 2 Peter and in 2 Peter 1:14 Peter makes a reference to this conversation. He says, “knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.” Isn’t it great that he calls his body an “earthly dwelling”? Some of the Bible translators translate that as a tent, Peter is saying I know that the laying aside of my tent is at hand. What does a tent imagery communicate? Well, what it communicates, in essence, is you have a temporary house, a temporary dwelling. You go to your campsite, you set up the tent and everybody knows you’re going to be in the tent for a very short period of time because when the weekend is over you’ll be returning home. And that’s how Peter looked at his body in its corrupted state, that it was nothing more than an earthly dwelling, or a tent, a temporary house for the soul. And God has a whole blueprint in mind where He’s going to take our bodies and make them as if the curse never transpired.
But the body in its corrupting state, Peter just looked at it as a tent. And how different America looks at the physical body, where we live in a culture that revolves around youth and beauty. In fact, these stars and these starlets, the moment they begin to get gray hair, any wrinkle, many of them are immediately dismissed from the career that they are in. Why? Because the culture wants youth and beauty, the body is everything. Even as you watch TV how many commercials are there that tell us about our need to have a proper diet and exercise. I’m certainly not against diet and exercise, but it seems to me that the whole thing is out of proportion, where the whole emphasis of the culture is on the body, it’s on physical appearance. And Peter, by contrast, looks at his body just as a tent, a dwelling that’s about to be cast aside as the Lord made clear to him.
So Peter, in 2 Peter 1:14 not only comments on his body, but he says “the laying aside of” this body “is imminent,” referring back to that conversation he had on the Sea of Galilee as “our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.” Peter, every day of his life, lived with this death sentence.
Now you say well, I’m glad, that’s good for Peter, but how does this relate to us? This relates to us in every way, because a death sentence hangs over all of us. Not all of us are called to die a martyr’s death, but the prospect of a death sentence is true for every single human being. Part of my trip to California coincided with my thirty year high school reunion. And you talk about an interesting experience going to those reunions; first of all, most people are unrecognizable. And the conference organizers did a brilliant thing on everybody’s name badge was a picture of how they looked in the high school yearbook. You could say oh yeah, you’re so and so, I see some faint resemblances.
One of the things, that I completely appreciate that the conference or reunion organizers set up was a memorial and they set this up just as you walk in the door and were ready to start having a good time, there’s this memorial set up there and the title of it is “Gone But Not Forgotten.” And it’s a picture of the various people and their various names that are no longer with us. In the course of the last thirty years they have all passed on for various reasons. And as you’re going through and you’re looking at this memorial it breaks…, it has such an effect on you, it breaks you out of the delusion that you’re in that somehow life is forever, because you’re look at people that you once knew.
For example, you look there at the left hand column, I recognize several people just in that column alone, I recognize Matt Denney, we played high school, Jr. High school basketball together. I recognized, down at the bottom of that column, Mitch Ottenstruer, he was my “table mate” if you will in 5th and 6th grade. And moving to that next column, at the top I recognize Diana Benstead, a young woman filled with life and vitality and now, for whatever reason, she is no longer with us. Moving into that center column I recognize Rich McFaul, we were in Indian Guides together. Do you all know what Indian Guides are? It’s kind of a pre-cursor to Boy Scouts; I was never a Boy Scout but I was an Indian Guide. And I have very vivid recollections of him and his father in Indian Guides. I recognize Brian DeHoag, I recognize Lee Johnson, I recognize Bret Shablow, he was the only person on that list that I actually expected to be there because he had been struggling in the high school years with leukemia.
Moving to the right hand column I recognize, towards the bottom, Shawn Deutsch, I recognize Liz Brewer, some of these people I didn’t know well, some of them I did know well, but you see these were people that I was alive with, that I talked with, that I had life experiences with, that I have not been in contact with for a number of years and now they are gone, now they are no longer with us.
You see, this reality of a death sentence is true for every human being, even if the Lord has not given you a specific prophecy that you will be a martyr the death sentence still hangs over us, simply given the fragile nature of life. One of my Facebook friends, a friend of mine in high school, Tod Jorgensen, wrote this on his Facebook page about that very picture, he writes this, quote: “Just reflecting on how precious and fragile life is, this picture,” referring to this one here, “was taken at my 30 year class reunion two days ago. These are classmates who are no longer with us. It doesn’t seem possible that their mortal journey has ended. They were each so young and bright and gifted. Let us all remember to treat each day as a special extraordinary gift and connect with those with love, all while reaching out to those who need love for longing and compassion. Life is delicate; we might as well handle it with the care that it deserves.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, and that’s why I took the liberty to quote him.
Even here at Sugar Land Bible Church, I have not been at the church for an extra ordinary long amount of time, I’ve been since around 2010, think about how many deaths have transpired, people that we knew, people that were once in our flock that are no longer with us. I think of Brother Mike Hammond, you know, I went away on my vacation and I came back just two weeks later and he is no longer with us. In fact, last Sunday I had the opportunity, kind of as the crowning jewel to the end of my trip, I had a chance to teach at Bayside Community Church in Florida and there was always a man at that particular church every time I went and ministered there, named Wayne Hockett, and he was always so gracious, he followed everything that I had done in ministry, listened to all the teachings, read all the material that I had produced. In fact, many times over the years that I have been going there I got a surprise gift in the mail from him. For example, one time in a sermon I made a reference to Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his study on the book of Romans, and here it shows up in the mail, Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ four volume set on Romans from Wayne Hockett.
And I’m speaking in this church and I go to the back of the church at the end because of the benediction and how they do it, the pastor reads the benediction from the back of the church rather than the front of the church, and I look to my left where Wayne normally sits, I don’t see him; I see his wife but I don’t see him. I see his son, I don’t see him and I think to myself, well, he must be sick, maybe he took the day off, maybe he had a work related conflict. And then following the service his wife, now his widow, comes up to me with tears telling me that Wayne, in the subsequent months since I have not been at that church died of heart related issues.
I think of Dr. Harold Hoehner, I was just talking about him with somebody a little earlier, my dissertation reader and how he died right in the middle of my dissertation. I take part of the blame for that, I probably bored him to death, but one day… this is how life works, one day you can be with someone and the next moment they can be gone. This is the fragile, delicate nature of life. It is not just Peter who lives with a destiny. All of us, if we understand original sin are living with the exact same sentence. Tomorrow is never guaranteed for any of us.
Genesis 3:19 lays it all out in crystal clear fashion once the fall of man happened. It says: “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, until you return to the ground, for from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes the judgment.” If we are not the rapture generation, I pray and hope we are, I can’t guarantee that, but if we are not the rapture generation every single person in this room will die. It’s quite similar to going through the grocery store and you buy some milk or you buy something canned and they stamp on there not good after a certain date. All of us have been stamped with an expiration date. It doesn’t matter how successful we are, how rich we are, how wonderful our bodies look, the curse of original sin and its horrific consequences still plague the human race. The mortality rate is still 100%.
Psalm 103:15-16 says this, “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes  When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer.” The New Testament, the book of James, chapter 4, and verse 14 puts it this way: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
You want to know what your life and my life is like against the backdrop of eternity? Tomorrow morning when you look at your coffee and before you drink it, notice the steam rising off that coffee, and notice how fast that steam dissipates and disappears; and that’s what our lives are like from the biblical perspective.
I believe a lot of the teachings on the shortness of life and the brevity of life are derived from the book of Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes 1:2 where Solomon writes this: “Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’” And many, many Bible interpreters miss the meaning of that; they say life is empty without God. That’s not what it’s saying here. Of course life is empty without God, but that’s not the point. This is better translated, “Vapor of vapors,” that’s what life is, the thinnest of vapors. If you want a fancy word for this we would call this a Hebrew superlative; a Hebrew superlative is the height, the apex of something, the zenith of something. We call Jesus King of Kings and Lord of Lords; that’s a superlative. We’re not just saying He is a lord, He is THE Ultimate Lord. He is not just a King, He is THE Ultimate King. Or we refer, in the Scripture many times to the inner sanctuary or either the Tabernacle or the Temple, we refer to it as The Holy of Holies. It’s not just a holy place; it’s the ultimate holy place.
And you see, in Ecclesiastes 1:2 where it describes life as a vapor of vapors it is saying life is the ultimate vapor, it passes so quickly, and it can be extinguished at any moment. And yet we have this brief vapor of time to make our lives right with the God that made us. We don’t have a lot of time to figure this out. We have a brief window of time to serve the Lord in a whole-hearted fashion, with pure motives. We think well, I’ll just postpone that and I’ll do it some other time. The Bible is screaming at us that you don’t have the time that you think.
And I believe that this death sentence, hanging over Peter’s life, is what motivated him. He realized from this conversation that he did not have an inestimable amount of time to become what God had called him to become. And once the ascension happened and he received the Holy Spirit he did everything within his power to press into that design and to become what he ultimately became in God, a critical character in the birth and life of the church, Acts 1-10, a man who wrote two New Testament epistles called 1 Peter and 2 Peter, and a man that ultimately died a martyrs death to glorify God.
And see, that is what this teaching of living with a death sentence communicates to us; it’s not just Peter who has the death sentence. All of us, because of life’s fragile nature, have the same death sentence. We have a limited amount of time to enter into a relationship with the God that made us and to press into His purposes for our lives. This is what I appreciated about this memorial because we don’t normally think this way.
We just think life goes on and on and on and on and you’re looking at classmates that have died over just a three decade period and you begin to realize the fragile nature of our existence. And it breaks us out of the deception that we find ourselves in so frequently, that life just goes on forever and ever and ever, and yeah, I’m not serving the Lord this week but I’ll have another chance next week. I’m not serving Him this year; I’ve got another chance next year. Yeah, I’ve been sitting in Sugar Land Bible Church postponing over and over again the opportunity to believe in Christ, I can always do that next Sunday. And we are deceived in unlimited fashion when we think that way. We do not understand this fragile nature called life.
That’s why I appreciate Psalm 90:10, Psalm 90 is the oldest Psalm in the Psalter and it was written by Moses; most of the Psalms were written by David. Moses preceded David by around four centuries and Moses actually authored a Psalm called Palm 90. And in Psalm 90:10 Moses says this: “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.” What’s the application? Verse 12, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”
Have you come to God with an attitude that your days are numbered? That your time upon earth is limited? Have you asked God to have His purposes and His will in your life accomplished given the vanity and the vaporous nature of life? Then if you’ve done that you’re wise; if you haven’t done that then you’re gambling, gambling with eternity, which to my mind makes us fools when we live that way.
One of the things that is very interesting in these verses, John 21:18-19, is how literally Christ’s words were fulfilled. As I mentioned before, Peter lived about another three decades and yet the martyr’s death that Jesus spoke of here eventually came. It doesn’t tell us how in the Bible but we know about it from certain extra-biblical writings. For example, 1 Clemet, which was written at the close of the first century, says this: “There was Peter, who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one but many labors, thus having borne his testimony he went to his appointed place of glory,” there reflecting on the glorification that he brought to God through his martyr’s death.
And then we have a document called Ecclesiastical History by a well-known Church Father by the name Eusebius, this was probably written in the fourth century, about A.D. 325 and this is what it says about Peter. It says, “Thus publicly announcing Himself as the first among God’s chief enemies he was led onto the slaughter of the apostles. It is therefore recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.” Eusebius goes on and of Peter he says this: “Peter appears to have preached in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia to the Jews of the dispersion. And at last, having come to Rome, he was crucified head-downwards; for he had requested that he might suffer in this way.” Eusebius, the great historian says, “These facts are related by Origen in the third volume of his Commentary on Genesis.”
If this tradition is true the time came for Peter’s execution and he just asked for one deviation from how Christ was crucified; he requested that he be crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy of being crucified the same way as the Lord had been. Isn’t it interesting how the prophecies of the Scripture, even these prophecies that Jesus is making at the end of his earthly ministry, is it not interesting how literally these prophecies come to pass. Jesus doesn’t give the detail about being crucified upside down but he does give the detail about stretching out your hands and I believe this is one of the great proofs that Jesus is who He claimed to be.
Did Jesus not say in John 13:19 “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.” He says I’m going to give you a series of short term prophecies and as these prophecies come to pass in your very own lives you will see that I am different than any other human being that’s ever walked the face of the earth; I am God incarnate, I am able to see and to declare the end from the beginning.
This is not something that is only true with Christ’s ministry; the whole Bible is filled with these things. And the Bible is the only book I know of that with 100% accuracy can declare the end from the beginning. In fact, in the book of Isaiah this is how God challenges the idols of Isaiah’s day. He says through Isaiah which of your idols can predict the future. Isaiah 46:9-10 says, “Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,  Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established….”Isaiah 48:3, 5 says this: “I declared the former things long ago and they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them. Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.”  “Therefore I declared them to you long ago, before they took place I proclaimed them to you, so that you would not say, ‘My idol has done them….”
Jesus says I’m telling you the truth before it comes to pass so that when it occurs you may know that I am He. You know, we’re living in a world of skepticism and doubt about the veracity of the Scripture. We can master all kinds of apologetic defense arguments to defend the Bible and here’s something we ought to add to the arsenal, because no other book does this. No other book predicts things before they happen, so therefore the Bible must have been inspired by an omniscient or all-knowing God whose knowledge is so sufficient that in fact He sees tomorrow as if it were today.
And how foolish this is for us not to bring this into our evangelism. Did you know that the Apostle Paul brought this into his evangelism? In Acts 17:1-3 it says, “Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead….” Paul based his whole argument in Jewish evangelism from prophetic truth. He is saying to the Jews read the Hebrew Bible, you’ll see that all of the prophecies concerning this man, Jesus Christ, were meticulously fulfilled. He is appealing to fulfilled Scripture.
And so what I believe is John, in a book of signs, has given us a tenth sign as to the reality of who Jesus is. Remember why John wrote this book? Remember his purpose statement? “Therefore many other signs Jesus performed in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
Why did John [small blank section] here? As the last living eyewitness he wanted to write a historical account of Jesus, he doesn’t tells us everything Jesus said or did, but he selectively picks signs, not to impress people but to convince people who Christ is. Not to give them an education in theology just for the sake of having an education in theology, but to inculcate in them faith, to communicate to them that Jesus is trustworthy. If He is who He said he was, as demonstrated by His signs, then you can trust Him, can you not, with the safekeeping of your soul. So John documents seven signs, changing water to wine, healing the official man’s son, healing an invalid at the pool of Bethesda, feeding the five thousand, walking on the water, healing a blind man, raising Lazarus from the dead. Those are seven signs.
What’s number eight? The resurrection of Jesus Himself. No other man in human history has said I’ll rise from the dead and then pulled it off; that’s sign number 8. Well then, what’s sign number 9? Sign number 9 is in John 21 regarding the miraculous catch of fish, where Jesus says to Peter just throw your net on the other side, a miracle of God. Well, what’s sign number ten? Sign number 10 is this prophecy that He made about Peter. Jesus made that prophecy around A.D. 33; the prophecy was fulfilled about A.D. 64 in Peter’s life. When John finally wrote this book it was about A.D. 85-95, John was written a full three decades or so after Peter’s martyrdom and the readers knew all about Peter’s martyrdom. And they could read this book and they could say my goodness, it happened exactly like Jesus said, allowing John’s readers to validate the original prophecy.
Jesus said it in A.D. 33, it was fulfilled in A. D. 64, everybody knew how Peter died; John writes a book reminding everybody about the conversation that he had had with Jesus regarding Peter; he says Jesus predicted the whole thing. What more evidence does a person need? And the problem with us, many times, is it’s a heart problem, we refuse to come to Christ on His terms because we like being the master of our own destiny. Because God has given us every intellectual argument that can be given that Jesus is the Messiah, so if a person hears the evidence and still does not respond it’s a heart problem.
And so what we are encouraging people to do here at Sugar Land Bible Church as we teach these truths about Jesus Christ is to trust in what Jesus has done. You have heard the truth, you have heard the facts, you have heard the evidence, now it’s your turn to respond, which is why John wrote this book to inculcate faith. God is not going to grab you by the throat and believe for you. I know that many theological systems teach that, we don’t believe it’s true. We believe humans must make a decision to respond to Christ. If we do not make a decision to respond to Christ then we are really not beings made in God’s image, are we? Because part of being an image-bearer of God is the capacity for choice. That’s why there was even a tree of knowledge in Eden to begin with. God gave humanity a choice right at the beginning.
And may I just say to you although the story of the Garden of Eden is long since passed, right before you as I speak are two trees, the tree of life, the tree of knowledge. And rather than getting mad at Adam why did he choose the wrong tree, God is saying which tree are you going to pick? Because you’ve got the same choice he had, especially as the Spirit of God brings you under conviction, which is what His ministry is. And so our exhortation to you is to respond to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Why do that? Because as we have said, life is short and eternity is long.
I had a wonderful quote from Jim Elliot that I was going to read and goodness gracious, that quote is so important I’m going to cram it in here one way or another. You know the quote; Hal Cooke read it to us when we were having one of our mission’s moments of business meetings. This is what Elliot inscribed in his diary just before he himself was martyred in Ecuador by the Auca Indians, a group of people that he had come to minister to and to evangelize. It’s a very famous quote that Jim Elliot inscribed just before his death. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Let that sink in, I mean, that’ll preach. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” You can’t keep your life; it’s slipping through your fingers even as I speak. What is there to hang onto given the fragile nature of life? But you can gain something which you can never lose, which is a relationship with God and your eternity with Him.
So right there, in the privacy of your own thoughts, in the privacy of your own mind, as the Holy Spirit places you under conviction, our exhortation to you, the best you know how to do it, is to trust in Jesus Christ. To trust means to rely upon, depend upon, have confidence in, these are all synonyms for what the Bible calls “believe” or “faith.” It’s something you can do right now as I am speaking, in the privacy of your own mind and thought and heart; it’s not something you have to walk an aisle to do, raise a hand to do, join a church to do. It’s a matter of privacy between you and the Lord where you trust in Him and Him alone for the safekeeping of your soul. It’s the wisest thing a person can do, according to Jim Elliot. Shall we pray?
Father, we are grateful for this conversation that You had with Peter two thousand years ago and what it means to us. Help us this week as we walk with You to realize that we also are living under a death sentence and help us to number our days so that we may have a heart of wisdom, appropriating wisely the remaining vapors that we have left on this planet. We will be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. And God’s people said…