Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist – John 21:20-25

Recycled from December 27, 2009.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

“Each call of Christ leads to death.” These words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship are appropriate not only for the Twelve, but also for you and me. When the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith, He bids you leave behind the siren call of the world’s riches and pleasures. He bids you take up your cross and follow Him even to death that you may receive the crown of everlasting life.

Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist was the only one of the Twelve that did not suffer a martyr’s death. Instead of the color red decking the chancel furnishings to proclaim the shedding of blood as a confession of faith, there is white to proclaim victory and purity. Saint John suffered much in his life, including exile to the island of Patmos. It was in exile where Jesus opened heaven for John to write the book of Revelation. While John suffers much, his writings declare comfort found only in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.

John’s words of comfort in Christ are appropriate to hear in this Christmastide. Our Lord’s birth according to the flesh comforts us. This holy Child, conceived without sin, will grow in stature and wisdom before men to suffer a brutal death. So will all but one of His Twelve. The one dying a natural death will suffer too, but in a different way. Perhaps that’s why Peter’s comment in John chapter 21 is striking.

Peter says, Lord, what about [John]? A few verses before today’s Holy Gospel, Peter heard Jesus say “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, 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.” Tradition has it that Peter died on a cross, just like Jesus. Unlike Jesus, Peter was crucified upside down so no one could confuse his death with his Savior’s death. Even in Peter’s final moments he confesses Christ, not Peter, as Savior of the nations.

Jesus’ words to Peter have great meaning for you too. When the Holy Spirit calls you to follow Jesus, He girds you and carries you where you do not wish. A child of God does not live for himself. A child of God lives for God. Nevertheless, you want control. You, perhaps like Peter, are concerned with other people’s business rather than concerned about hearing and keeping God’s Word. A child of God is concerned about the needs of others, but not so that you can take advantage of a particular situation.

Peter would die contending for the faith. John would also die, but not in a dramatic fashion as Peter and the rest of the Twelve would die. What is that to you? It’s not given to you to worry about other people’s lives so that you can control what happens to them as well as to you. What’s important to our Lord is to heed His call to Peter, to John, and to you: Follow Me.

When you follow Jesus, even to death, you come to the light of everlasting life. You come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Around 75 percent of John’s Gospel is unique to John’s Gospel. John focuses on the miracles of Jesus Christ. John also focuses on our Lord’s fulfillment of the Jewish festivals, especially Passover. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. Christ’s blood is the testimony of our heavenly Father’s favor toward mankind. Here’s how John puts it in the Epistle: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

Your joy is full because Jesus Christ fills the manger with His Body. The love of the Father is born to wash you from your sins in His own blood. Jesus makes you kings and priests to His God and Father by adopting you, calling you by name and putting His Name upon you through water and His Word. He nourishes you through the preaching and teaching of His Word. He gives His True Body and Blood as your food and drink in His Holy Supper. When you fall short of the glory of God because of sin, you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

John’s words remain with us today because his words are Christ’s Words. John’s words show us the Savior who does miraculous things: changing water into wine, healing a man at the pool of Bethesda, multiplying five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 men, healing a man born blind and raising Lazarus from the dead. All these miracles point to the greatest miracle of all: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. What is that to you? That is your hope for eternal life. That is Peter’s hope and John’s hope too. Your hope and their hope begins in a stable and ends with an empty tomb. You have this hope written in the words of Holy Scripture, penned by men who wrote as the Holy Spirit gave them words to write. Praise God for Saint John, whose words bring comfort as you bear the cross of Christ through death to life everlasting.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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