The Reversions of Jesus
When he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me — Joh_21:19
The First Command
It is deeply significant to notice the reversions of our blessed Lord. The last command that Peter got (Joh_21:19) was the first that ever broke upon his ear. When Jesus was walking by the sea of Galilee He saw Peter busy at his fishing. It was not the first time that they had met, as we learn from the Gospel of St. John (Joh_1:42). The Lord had met him and seen his latent strength and given him his new name of rock, but hitherto Peter had been free. It was of that our Lord was thinking when He said: Once thou “walkedst whither thou wouldest” (Joh_21:18). Peter had no Master then. He was free to go wherever his heart took him. And the first command that Jesus laid on him was “Peter, follow Me,” and Peter left his nets and followed Him. Then the Lord of Galilee was risen. In a little while He was going to the Father. He was laying His last commands on the disciples in view of the years that were to come. And the last command He gave to Peter, in that never-to-be-forgotten interview, was the first command that Peter ever got.
The Same Command Came at the End with Deepened Meaning
One thought which springs from such reversions is how words are deepened by the years. How beautifully in this instance is that illustrated. When Peter first heard that word of Christ he was a young man, dreaming the dreams of youth. Conscious of power, he was growing restless at the thought of spending a lifetime dragging nets. And when the Lord said, “Peter, follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men,” He struck home, with His unerring touch, to that slumbering and uneasy discontent. That was what following meant for Peter then. It meant the realization of his dreams. It meant a loftier and nobler service than he could hope for by the sea of Galilee. Peter was like a Highland lad, rebelling at being a tenant farmer all his days, and then one comes and calls him to the ministry. Now the years had passed, and life had come. Peter had been in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had witnessed the suffering of Jesus and learned the necessity of cross-bearing. What a depth of meaning now in the words “Follow me,” a depth that he had never dreamed of once, when he first heard the call beside the lake.
And when we come to think of it that is what life does with every one of us. It does not give us new words after the years; it fills the old words with a deeper meaning. Think of the word war, for instance. How little it meant to us twenty years ago. It was a word of history and far-off battlefields, in those quiet and peaceful days. Then came the Great War, pouring its tides into our hearts and homes. And what a depth of meaning we never dreamed of once is wrapped up for us now in the word war. Think of the word mother. When we were young we took the word for granted. We never saw the patience and the sacrifice sleeping in that word mother. Now with the flight of years we understand, and the word is richer by ia thousand times than when it was uttered by the lips of childhood. Life does not come to us with new words. It comes to us with old familiar words. By joy and sorrow, by suffering and striving, it fills them with meanings which once we never saw. And that is just what Jesus did with Peter, when at the end, infinitely deepened, He gave him the first command he ever got.
Return to the Old and Simple Things
Again how often, after life’s experience, do we come back to the old and simple things. That is precisely what Simon Peter did under the perfect handling of the Lord. These three years that he had spent with Jesus had been the greatest years of Peter’s life. Old things had passed away; they were years of exploration and adventure. Walking with Christ is always a fine adventure; it is a launching out into the deep, and so had it proved itself with Peter. He had been led to a new thought of God; he had fathomed the secret of his Lord; he had stood on the summit of transfiguration; he had eaten the sacramental bread. And now, in the hour of Christ’s departure, when he might have looked for something strange and wonderful, he was led back to the old simplicities again. “Follow me” was the earliest word in Galilee, when the morning was beautiful and life was tranquil. Since then the windows of heaven had opened and all the deeps had been broken up. And now, after that spiritual voyaging, Jesus lays on him anew the first command, and leads him back to the old and simple things.
And so does life do in many different ways, often, for instance, in reference to the Bible. From all the glory and the wealth of literature, life brings us back to that old Book again. Need I recall to you Sir Walter Scott, dying beside the music of bagpipes. “Lockhart,” he said, “read to me from the Book,” and Lockhart answered, “Which book, sir?” And then Scott, the same great heart in dying as he had been in living, said, “My dear, there is only one book.” What a poorer world it would be for many of us without the glorious stories of Sir Walter. What a poorer world it would have been for him without his ballads and his Dryden and his Shakespeare. Yet, when the hand of God had touched him, and deep was calling unto deep, “My dear, there is only one book.” He was back to the old simplicities again. Mortal needs conspired to bring him back. And what mortal needs conspired to do for him Christ did for Simon Peter. He brought him back to the old and simple word which he had heard in the morning by the sea of Galilee, “Follow thou me.”