HG180 John 21
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Soon after Easter day, we are not told exactly when, the seven disciples mentioned here went on a fishing trip. After all this is what Peter, James and John did before Jesus called them. Now, we assume, since they left everything to follow Jesus at the start that this is one of their father’s boats or, perhaps, they rented one. I know many men who love going fishing, I am not one of them. The only appeal is perhaps the silence, the sound of the water and the black starry sky. Come to think of it, it is very appealing - just not the fishing part. I want to be the one that doesn’t catch anything. But that is not normal.
These men are not like me however, though they wanted to and though these are experienced fishermen they did not catch a thing - it must have been very disappointing for them. It is hard to work and receive nothing in return. I am sure that there was great camaraderie on the boat despite all this. Now it is time to pack up and go home and they start to draw near to the shore enough that a Man on the beach calls out to them and they can hear. “Did you catch anything?” they are asked. “No”, they say.
Throw your net over the side of the boat and you will catch. There is a familiar ring to this story - didn’t this happen before? Indeed, we read in:
So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken;
And what do you know, with no question, with no pride saying ‘we’re expert fishermen - what you’re suggesting is ludicrous’ - they throw their net on the other side and lo and behold fill the net with fish.
Now it becomes obvious who the Man on the beach is. It is none other than Jesus. At which point Peter who has an eye for the dramatic throws himself into the sea to swim for shore - instead of staying onboard and rowing there. Plainly Peter made it to land first and helps haul the net up with the 153 fish. Very precise in their counting - they probably sold the fish at market later that day, after all, there are still bills to pay and lives to live.
Jesus knows about our toils and work and is not interested in us having a fruitless life. So, Jesus enters in and gives us the guidance we need if we are open to hear it. The point is Jesus cares. For the disciples who had experienced this before it was to confirm that they were no longer called to be fishermen but fishers of men as Jesus told them in:
Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Of course there is a spiritual picture to all this. There were the seven disciples on the sea and getting nothing for their labours. The sea in Scripture is almost always representative of the nations when not talking literally about the sea. And we are called to fish in the sea of people. However, I am reminded of
Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.
Sometimes we will fish for people and not get any. Other times will seem especially blessed. Either way it takes work and effort as any fisherman will tell you. But the point we need to get above all is what Jesus says in:
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
This is true of all ministry and life but especially when it comes to evangelism but that does not mean that we can rest back awaiting a divine command from above - we already have it in the great commission - we are told to go - and the reason we are not as successful as we should be is because we’d rather stay at home.
Back to the disciples’ reality: The upshot was they needn’t have bothered about the fish for Jesus was already cooking breakfast and not with the fish they caught though he did cook some of their fish too. They seem almost surplus to requirements. And then he gives them fish and bread. All very reminiscent of the feeding of the four and five thousand. This appearance by Jesus, the third time to the disciples, was to make them realise beyond a shadow of doubt that He was no ghost, that He really is alive. You can imagine that between appearances you might think that it was all an imagination or hallucination.
But now we come to the crux of the story. Breakfast was great, Jesus’ cooking is second to none but there is something of a cloud over one particular person and that was Peter. Peter who in his impetuousness said: “I will die with you” just before they arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, who fled after he cut off the son of the high priest’s ear with a sword, and then whilst following Jesus from afar and coming into the courtyard of the high priest warming himself by the fire was asked on three separate times: You know Jesus, don’t you? And denying Him every time swearing with oaths and probably swearing like a fisherman that He did not know Him. And the famous crow made his voice heard and the realisation set in on Peter that he had done the very opposite of what he claimed he would do for Jesus.
The great thing is that Jesus was not caught out by surprise and had already prophesied it would happen this way. It just so happened that Jesus was being led from one place to another through that same courtyard just as Peter denied him the third time and shot Peter a look and their eyes met. The omniscient eyes of Jesus looked right into Peter’s soul. How devastating that must have been, obviously for Peter but also for Jesus. His best friend, one of His inner circle, he had been dismissed as of being no one to him.
Yes, indeed, when Jesus appeared after his resurrection to Peter He said: “Peace be with you”. Something that would ordinarily be comforting but he could not get over the look given by Jesus when He had failed. He could never know peace again. He doubted he could ever be on good terms with Jesus again.
Since then, nothing has been said. When the women saw the angels at the tomb they said go tell the disciples and Peter what they had seen and heard. Peter was now an outsider.
Now, whilst they were warming themselves after breakfast and the banter had died down.
Jesus asks Peter three times, “do you love me?” And each time Peter is much more cautious about his answers than before for he can no longer be so bolshy about his faith for he felt humiliated, he felt he had let Jesus down, himself and the others, he was so ashamed. He can no longer bear it.
Oh the grace of God and Jesus. Indeed, Peter had made a right mess of it but Jesus did not want to leave him in the pit of despair and self-condemnation.
Instead, he wants to put Peter back into a right relationship with him and get him back on the road, as it were.
The first time: Jesus asks: Simon, do you love me more than these other disciples? Here Jesus uses the word ‘agape’ - unconditional love. What was Peter’s first reply? Gone is the impetuousness. He doesn’t say I unconditionally love you but instead uses a different Greek word, a lesser word: ‘phileo’, which means I have affection for you.
No longer could he say as he had before in:
33 Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
And Jesus’ use of the name of Simon was to make him think of what he was without Jesus in his life, before Jesus called him ‘Peter’.
The second time: Jesus asks: Do you love me? Here Jesus uses the word ‘agape’ and Peter’s second reply was ‘I have affection for you.’ This time Jesus does not compare with the others - simply - Simon, do you love me?
The third time: Jesus asks: Do you love me? Here Jesus uses the word ‘phileo’ that Peter had been using - do you have affection for me Peter? And Peter answers you know I have affection for you. Jesus accepts His answer for He truly does know that this is the truth. Peter uses the word ‘know’ in two ways here: One - you know every little detail, that is the omniscience of Jesus and second, you know me personally, intimately. Jesus knows how much we truly love Him.
Three times Peter denied, three time Peter affirmed his love for the Lord. Feeling chastened, for sure, revealed by the using of a lesser word for love but as a result he is restored to a right relationship with Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus around a fire and now Peter had confirmed his love for Him around a fire.
Each time Peter answers Jesus says something each time: the first time “feed my lambs”, the second “tend my sheep” and the third time “feed my sheep”. Not only was Jesus restoring the relationship but He was also giving him something to do. You know that this relationship is right when despite his failures he was given a new work to do. This reveals that Jesus had faith in Peter not so much about Peter’s faith in Jesus.
This also gives us great hope. Indeed what we do we may fail whether through incompetency, through moral failure, through laziness and through a myriad of other things…the past is not always a reflection of the future. Past failures does not mean you will fail in the future. And this is what Jesus sees: he sees our potential when others will not get past our lack of success. And this means that we should also be able to move on from our mistakes too.
First, though, we have to get our relationship right with God and that is what Jesus sought to do with Peter, and the first thing to know is: do we love God? do we love Jesus for this is the first command, right? We are to love God with all our heart, soul and strength; this is the priority to everything else. Our true goal in life is God Himself.
Then, and only then, can we move onto serving Jesus. This, of course, is another way of showing our love for God - but we have to be cautious - serving can be a means within itself - that is, serving others can be self-serving for it makes us feel good. We always need to evaluate whether we serve Jesus for Him and His glory or for ourselves. Remember Mary and Martha - serving is good but being with Jesus is better.
But it was not going to be all plain sailing - indeed what he feared the first time, that is suffering and death, is going to be the future for Peter. Whilst this did not happen for a further 30 years Peter was himself led out to be crucified during the reign of Nero.
At this evening’s service, God willing, we are starting to look at 2 Peter, a letter written by this same Peter, to the Church and he mentions this conversation in that letter as something that was soon going to take place. He probably was already a prisoner at the time. But he knew Jesus had prophesied it right after he had been restored to a right relationship with Jesus. And Peter was not looking to run this time, and indeed tradition says that he requested to be crucified upside down for he was not worthy of dying like his master. He faced it like a man, but a man who knew His Saviour well.
Peter asks Jesus about John but Jesus says that is none of his business. You look to what I have called you to: you follow Me. We are all called to individual responsibility for the health of one’s relationship with God. Indeed it says in:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
I am not responsible for how you live but I am responsible as Peter was, to feed His sheep. I do what I am to do. You do what you are to do. We stand or fall each of us, before God, and God is able to make all of us stand even after enormous failure. We put our hope in the grace of God. Now, Jesus asks, “do you love me?”
11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Hughes, R. K. (1999). John: that you may believe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Leadership Ministries Worldwide. (2004). The Gospel according to John. Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide.
Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Blum, E. A., & Wax, T. (Eds.). (2017). CSB Study Bible: Notes. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 11:27 26 April 2019.