After Jesus rose from the dead, He revealed Himself to the disciples on several occasions. We are looking at one of those occasions in John Chapter 21 when the disciples had gone fishing and had caught nothing, but Jesus appeared on the shore and told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and then their net was filled with fish. The Bible says in John 24:7-11, "Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisherís coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. As soon as they were come to the land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus said unto them, bring of the fish which you have now caught. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to the land full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken."
It is tempting to look at this situation from a comical standpoint, with Peter in the boat in his birthday suit and then diving into the water as soon as he hears that Jesus is nearby on the shore. But we do not know for sure if it is meant to be comedy or serious. Jesus came to these men because He was not done with them. They had failed Him by forsaking Him at the crucifixion, but the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance; and the message of Jesus will always be the message of forgiveness more than anything else; and how much more capable these disciples will be at delivering such a message by being reminded of how much they also are dependent upon Godís mercy toward them.
When Jesus first met the disciples, of course they were fishermen; and He said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Now, they have gone fishing again, but they catch nothing until Jesus comes and directs them where to cast their nets. This is the last time in the Bible that we will see the disciples fishing, because Jesus still wants them to learn to be fishers of men; and their last fishing trip will forever be a lesson to them that Godís way is the best way.
Undoubtedly Jesus wanted to remind the disciples that not only will He provide the results of their endeavors, but He will also supply their material needs in this life. When the disciples came to shore they found that Jesus had provided a meal by having started a fire and the cooking of fish. The disciples had been fishing all night and were probably very hungry. The Lord knows what things we have need of, and He provides for our material needs as well as for our spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had said, "Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
In John 21:12-14 the Bible says, "Jesus said unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples dared ask him, Who are you? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took bread, and gave to them and fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples, after that he was risen from the dead." Evidently it took some time and several appearances by Jesus to get the disciples to understand that they were still accepted by the Lord: their failure to stand with Him at the crucifixion did not disqualify them from future service. Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and to do better the next time. A just man may fall seven times, but then he rises again for the next challenge. There is no shame in failing as long as you try again: thatís the message of Jesus to the disciples. The disciples were fearful and insecure in the presence of Jesus because of the knowledge of their failure. But Jesus was in no way rejecting or judgmental towards them.
Jesus needed to invite all of the disciples back and to reassure them of His interest in them and His acceptance of them, and especially Peter because of the unique way in which Peter denied the Lord at the trial. In John 21:15-17 the Bible says, "So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord, you know that I love thee. He said unto him, Feed my lambs. He said to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me? He said to him, Yes, Lord, you know that I love thee. He said to him, Feed my sheep. He said to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me? And he said to him, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love thee. Jesus said unto him, Feed my sheep."
Jesus asked Peter a question three times. He asked him, "Do you love me?" The God of love wishes to be loved. Thatís probably the main reason that He created human beings: in order that they might love Him in return. The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the earth, looking for someone whose heart is perfect towards Him. "For God so loved the world," undoubtedly hoping that He would also be loved.
Two different words are used in the Greek language in this passage for the word "love". The first two times that Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me," Jesus used the word "agapao" which is the most meaningful and the deepest and most compassionate word for love, the same word that is used in John 3:16. But when Peter answered Jesus and said, "You know that I love thee," Peter used a different word for love: the word "fileo" which is not as strong and means to love as a friend. Peter did love the Lord, but he knew that he did not love the way that he should or he certainly would not have failed at the trial of Christ. When any of us fail the real reason is because we do not love the Lord as much as we should: we loved ourselves or something else more. Remember when Jesus told the disciples, "If you love me, keep my commandments?"
Itís important to note that the third time that Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me," Jesus did not use the stronger word "agapao": He used "fileo", the same word that Peter had used. Perhaps Jesus did this in order to come down to the level that Peter was at. Jesus allowed Peter to answer the question the third time in a way that was consistent with how Jesus asked the question. There did not have to be a feeling of rejection or failure on the part of Peter. God accepts us just as we are, not so that we will stay the way we are, but so that we might be changed for the better. No one will be helped by condemning them, but by accepting them for what they are. Itís only when they know that we have accepted them, that we might then be able to influence them for the better. Thatís how Jesus did it. Paul said, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means win some of them."
Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me" three times. This gave Peter the opportunity to answer three times, and Peter did answer truthfully all three times. This is in contrast to the three times that Peter denied the Lord at the trial of Christ. Perhaps this was Jesus giving Peter a second chance. God is a wonderful God. He is a God of second chances. A just man may fall seven times but he always rises again, because he knows that he serves a merciful God. The greatness of Christianity is that even though it holds forth such high and noble goals and objectives: should you fail at any point in your journey, you can be sure that God will give you another chance. "Come now, says the Lord, and let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool. Though be red like crimson, they shall be white as snow."
Peter said that he loved Jesus, and so Jesus told Peter what Peter could do to prove his love. Jesus said, "If you love me, feed my sheep." The sheep are the other believers. Sheep need to be tended. They need to be led, and they need to be fed. In the days of Christ, sheep could not survive without a shepherd. People are like sheep. They will be led in one direction or another. Humans can do no better than to go the direction that their leaders set out for them. One of the reasons that many have gone the wrong way is because there have not been enough good shepherds to show them the right way.
Jesus said to Peter, "If you love me, feed my sheep." Peter had been with Jesus for three years. Peter had heard and had learned all the teachings of Jesus, and now Peter was responsible to teach others what he had learned. Your first responsibility is to learn from God, and after you have learned, your next responsibility is to teach others. Words are important. If people hear the right words, they might have the right thoughts, and if they have the right thoughts, they might have the right actions, and if they have the right actions they will glorify God and find the true purpose for their lives. It all starts by hearing the right things. "How shall they believe except they hear, and how shall they hear except someone tell them the good news?"
After Peter had committed his three-fold denial of Christ, he thought that he had failed the Lord beyond repair. But now Peter finds that his fears of being rejected had no substance. He is welcomed and received by Jesus, he is given a life-long commission and opportunity by Jesus to be a fisher of men and a shepherd of sheep, and in the next couple of verses Jesus tells Peter that one day Peter will be given the opportunity to even die on a cross for the Lord: the very thing that Peter swore that he would do before his denial. The Bible says in John 21:18-19, "Verily, verily I say unto you, When you were young, you clothed yourself and walked where you wanted to: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you where you would not. This said he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said to him, Follow me."
Donít underestimate the power of the Almighty God to restore to you the years that the cankerworm has eaten. God will not quench a smoking flax, or break a bruised reed. God is in the business of restoring dreams that are broken. Once Peter had sworn that he would die for Christ, but in his own strength he just could not do it. His own selfishness got the best of him: just like it has so easily and so often happened to you and I. But Peter eventually learned the lesson that if he trusted in himself he would fail, but if he trusted in Christ all things were possible. The Apostle Paul also learned this lesson and he said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Jesus told Peter that he would live to be an old man, and that then he would be put to death for his faith in Christ. And at the end of verse 19 Jesus reminded Peter of the essential requirement to fulfilling the will of God for himself. Itís very simple, but itís very critical. Itís the same thing that Jesus said to the disciples when He first met them and itís the same thing that His Spirit has said to each of us. Jesus said, "Follow me." Always ask the question, "What does God want me to do?" God has a plan for your life. There is something that He wants you to do for Him. Be careful of what you do and why you do it. You will fail each time you go your own way, but you will succeed when you heed the invitation of Jesus when He said, "Follow me."
In John 21:20-22 the Bible says, "Then Peter turning about, sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, who is he that betrays you? And Peter seeing him said to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus said to him, And if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me."
Because Peter was so quick to speak before he thinks, we are allowed to learn one more lesson from him here in the last few verses of the gospel of John. Since Jesus told Peter how Peter would eventually die, Peter is now asking Jesus to also tell him how this other apostle would die. The mistake that Peter is making is that he is too concerned about someone elseís business. Finding the will of God is very important but a very personal thing. You do not know what God wants someone else to do. Thatís between them and God. Be careful or you will be tempted to compare yourself with someone else or to be critical of them. You do not know what God wants them to do. God will reveal it to them when the time is right, if they do what you must do: follow Jesus. There will be so many temptations and so many distractions to get you off course that you must never forget that what is important for you to think about is: what must you do to follow Jesus, and not what must someone else do.
The gospel of John ends with John 21:24-25. It says, "This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written."
Copyright; 2000 by Charles F. (Rick) Creech
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