Today we will see a model of God’s Kingdom mercy, restoration and commission to ministry.
John 21 gives us our only glimpse into this event. Most of the gospels focus on post resurrection appearances in or near Jerusalem, but John gives us this third appearance of Jesus, and the setting is at the Sea of Galilee.
Seven disciples are present for this. John reveals the identities of all but two.
If you read this, there might be a flash back to Luke 5, where Peter first became a follower of Jesus. In Luke 5 Peter, James and John and perhaps others have just come in from an all night fishing trip, they are washing their nets as Jesus comes up to them, leading a large crowd. Jesus gets into Peter’s boat and asked Peter to put out a little from the shore so Jesus can teach the crowds.
Luke says nothing about what Jesus taught, but that when He finished Jesus told Simon to put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch. Peter is tired.
Peter tells Jesus, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” What is Peter thinking? What does he expect?
At this point in Peter’s relationship with Jesus, he doesn’t think doing what Jesus said would do anything other than dirty his freshly washed nets.
Luke’s account of this is almost humorous. Peter goes from being mildly irritated but compliant, to wildly excited, to deeply convicted of his sins as he realizes this Rabbi, Jesus, is holy. Peter falls at Jesus’ knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.”
This was a catch of fish like Peter had never seen. He caught the fish and Jesus caught Peter.
By the time we get to John 21, Peter knows that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter has witnessed Jesus’ power over sickness, evil spirits, the weather, gravity, even death. Peter has heard Jesus’ teachings and instructions, and received both blessing and rebuke from Jesus. Peter became more and more committed to Jesus. Until that last night after the Passover when Jesus had said, “All of you will fall away on account of me.” Peter had looked Jesus in the eye and made his stand: “Lord, even if all fall away, I WILL NOT!” In other words, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, I love you MORE THAN THESE!” But Jesus knows better. Jesus knows Peter better than Peter knows Peter.
Jesus spoke. “Peter, tonight, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Peter had insisted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you!”
But he did.
John 21 is important because it tells us the rest of the story. It tells us how Jesus took this fallen fisherman back into His service.
It wasn’t private, and the story was preserved in scripture for all future generations to know it.
Here we are again by the Sea of Galilee. Peter and the others are just coming in from another all night fishing adventure with no fish to show for their efforts. Their about 100 yards out when on the shore they see someone and hear Him shout, “Children, haven’t you got anything to eat?” They give a one word answer: NO! So, the stranger on the shore says, “Cast your nets on the right side of the boat and you’ll find some!”
Now, the guys in the boat must at least have wondered, is this a joke? Like, sure, our problem is, we’ve been throwing the nets out on the wrong side of the boat, right!
But, something in them made them do it anyway. Perhaps it was kind of like Peter in Luke 5, “Ok, ok, let’s just do it.” No expectation of success. Not entirely sure why. But that voice…
I realize I’m filling in here. John just says, “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” Now, you know what’s on everyone’s mind. John is the first to say it, “It’s Him! It’s the Lord!” Peter will be the first to get there, he grabs his shirt, jumps in and swims to Jesus.
There is something beautiful about Peter’s heart. Is there not? Something so connected to Jesus that He can’t wait on the boat to get there and be close to the Lord, who He denied.
The other six men tow the net and row the boat to shore. All of them meet Jesus there on the shore of Galilee, where they had spent so much time with Jesus before the cross. All of them had fallen away, just as Jesus had said, and now all of them gather to Him.
Jesus has a food already made for them. Fish and bread are cooking on a fire. It’s early morning. The chill of spring is in the air. The resurrected Christ, met with them there. Outside. Under the open skies. This is where Jesus had spent most of His time in ministry. It wasn’t inside a building gathered in rows of pews, complete with heat and air and a P.A. system. Outside where the breeze blows, and the storms sometime come, and the heat and cold of the seasons are felt. That’s where Jesus met with Peter and this group of men. That’s where Jesus called them to follow Him the first time. That’s were Jesus will call Peter to follow Him again.
John 21:14 tells us that this is the third time Jesus has appeared to them after He was raised.
There’s a few threes that seem to echo here. Peter’s three denials are met with three questions of Jesus, and three commission statements for Peter to carry out.
After they’ve eaten, that’s when Jesus asks the questions. After breakfast conversation. Jesus uses Peter’s given name: Simon. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
I’m convinced Jesus’ words do not refer to the fish, but the other disciples. And not about his love FOR them, but compared to their love for Him. I’m convinced that Jesus is asking, “Do you love me more than these others here love me?” Isn’t that what Peter said to Jesus that night He was betrayed? “Even if all these fall away, I will not.”
Jesus confronts a humbler, more cautious Peter this time. In the original language there’s a word play here that our English Bibles miss. Jesus first asks Peter, “Do you “agape” me more than these?” Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, You know that I “phileo” You.”
Jesus hears Peter’s response and says, “Feed My sheep.” Then Jesus does it again, “Simon, son of John, do you “agape” me?” This time Jesus drops the “more than these” and just asks Peter if he has this kind of love for Jesus, “agape” love, that kind of love that will sacrifice one’s life for another.Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, You know that I “phileo” You.” Peter won’t dare to claim the sacrificial love he earlier had so boldly declared. Again, Jesus tells Peter, “Take care of My sheep.”
Jesus asks a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Only this time Jesus drops the level of love from “agape” to the same word Peter has been using: “phileo.” He meets Peter’s confidence level here, but Peter is disturbed. This is the third time. Peter’s emotions are stirred and he says what he knows is true, “Lord, You know all things, You know that I love you.” Jesus does know. He knows Peter better than Peter knows Peter. Jesus again gives Peter the commission: “Feed My Sheep.” Then Jesus tells Peter’s future. Jesus gives Peter assurance that Peter’s love is real, lasting, and finally, even “agape” sacrificial. Peter will die for Jesus, just as Peter had said that night in the garden, but it won’t be like Peter thought.
Then Jesus called Peter to do what Peter had started when he first met Jesus, that day recorded in Luke 5. Jesus said, “Follow me” and He must have begun to walk with Peter beside Him. Peter, poor Peter, has to do one final comparing of himself with others. He looks back and sees John following too and asks Jesus, “What about him?”
Jesus straightens Peter out again. “If I want him to remain alive till I come back, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
Here’s your take home:
Seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness will lead us to places we may not wish to go, but Jesus will go with us all the way. Follow Him! Don’t compare your life to others. Just keep your eyes on your King. See the king? Keep seeking His kingdom and righteousness.
Do you remember when you first committed to following Jesus? Our baptism marks our pledge of a good conscience toward God. We are buried with Christ in baptism, as we are baptized into His death, and raised with Him to walk in newness of life. The blood of Christ washes away all our sins and we are clothed in Christ, given His Holy Spirit, redeemed from our lostness into His saving grace. Remember?
How have you done since you first began to follow Him? Have you experienced any bumps along the way? Have you found yourself distracted or off the path of His will? How’s your love for Jesus doing these days? Is it filled with hope and joy? Or not?
In Revelation 2 we read of the Ephesian church and a message Jesus sent to them. Jesus commended them for several items of faithfulness. But then Jesus gives them this rebuke: I have this against you. You have forsaken your first love. Repent and do the things you did at first…
Jesus wants to know from all of us: Do you love me?
Loving the Lord is critical for our walk with Him. The first commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. This empowers us to obey the second commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another…. feed His sheep.
The fear of God puts us to our knees. The love of God puts us to work for Him.
Do you love Jesus Christ? It will show by how you care for His people.