1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.[a] It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus[b]), 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.[c] 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.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL
VERSION ®. NIV®. COPYRIGHT © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by
Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Why do you suppose the disciples were fishing again?
- Why was this interaction with Christ so significant?
- What does this passage teach you about your failures and the Lord’s heart toward you?
- What does this teach us about our calling to serve the Lord?
- How does this story communicate the gospel to you?
John 21:1-25 | So What?
*This is a transcript is generated from the sermon audio. This document has not been edited for spelling, grammar, or exactness.
It’s hard to believe. We’ve only been in here about a year, and I know lots of people have done lots of things, but I can promise you that Corey’s really felt the burden of this. Why don’t you thank him for it? I’m always glad to give Corey a little bit of a breather. Need to forewarn you today. This is preacher’s Choice today, so don’t blame Corey for anything that happens in the next 25 minutes. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated Easter, and in a few more weeks, May 18 to be exact, it will be Ascension Sunday. That’s not something that most Protestants think about, but it’s the day that Jesus ascended into Heaven traditionally. And in the 40 days between Easter and Ascension, the risen Christ made sporadic appearances to the disciples. Unfortunately, or fortunately depends on your perspective, the Gospels are not consistent about these appearances. Some of the stories only appear in one Gospel. There doesn’t seem to be a common timeline to any of them. And Paul talks about appearances that there’s no stories recorded in the Gospels at all about. And skeptics look at those disparities and they say that’s just proof that these are made up stories, that this is not real. But I see just the opposite. To me, a fabricated story would have been smooth and consistent and would have been tight, and there wouldn’t have been anything in there to question. It would have been seamless, no inconsistencies. But I see these disjointed, inconsistent stories as proof that something really happened. Something happened that was unprecedented and unexpected. Something happened that was so outside the experience of the disciples that they were shaken to their very core by it. And they spent the rest of their lives trying to make sense of it and to explain it to others and to interpret it. And so this morning I invite you to look at one of those appearance stories with me. It’s an appearance of the living Lord that left a permanent mark on the disciples. And the story is found in John 21. That’s the very end of the Gospel of John. If you’re using one of the Bibles there in the chairs, it’s on page 934. And while you’re looking at that, just a word before we begin, the beginning and the ending of the Gospel of John is just a little bit strange. Chapter 20, those last verses really sound like an ending. It seems like the end of the Gospels, but then there’s chapter 21 after that. Now, books today, if you’re a reader, you know it’s very common to have a forward or a preface and then at the end of the book have an epilogue or an afterword, while the main text is in between. You’ve got things before and things after. And I think that’s one way to look at what’s happening here in John that verses one through 818 of chapter one really read like a preface or setting up of the story. And then Chapter 21 is like an afterword, an epilogue. And so I assume you found Chapter 21 of John now and we’re going to read the whole thing but not all at once. And so you may want to keep your finger in it or keep a marker there handy as we go back and forth. And if you’ve got it, let’s take a look at our text then, not on the screen but just back up real quick and look at the close of Chapter 20. Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name. Sounds like the end. Want to close the book and put it up? But John said, no, wait, there’s more happening. You’re missing the epilogue. You’re missing the so what to the whole Gospel. And that’s what Chapter 21 is. So let’s take a look at the first few verses of that. Afterward, Jesus appeared again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberius. It happened this way. Simon peter Thomas called didymus Nathaniel from Cana and Galilee, the sons of Zebedee that’s James and John and two other disciples were together. I’m going out to fish, Peter told them. And they said, we’ll go with you. And so they went out and got into the boat. But that night they caught nothing. Put your finger there. We’re told at the beginning that this story is by the Sea of Tiberius. That’s the Sea of Galilee, a big lake and there’s nothing more specific about it than that. But this would have been familiar territory for the disciples because they’ve walked this shoreline many times with Jesus and on the hillsides, all kinds of things. And some really significant things happened in this part of the country. The shoreline of the Sea of Galilee is sprinkled with fishing villages because it is a center for commercial fishing. Even today. The most abundant fish is a little sunfish, about the size of a big blue gill. And they’re a schooling fish and they’re easy to catch with nets. The fish are dried and they’re sold all over the country. And it was a prosperous business. And we know from the rest of the Gospels that Andrew and Peter and James and John were commercial fishermen like their fathers and that their home was in the area of Capernium. That’s on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. And so it’s reasonable to assume that disciples tagging along with Peter, James and John would end up in their hometown. But this is a strange group of disciples. Don’t know if you noticed it when you were reading. There’s only seven of them. Four are missing and two of the seven that are there aren’t even named. And two of those that are named nathaniel and Thomas have no connection with fishing whatsoever. If this is a fabricated story, then the writers already failed Creative Writing 101 because the cast of characters makes no sense in the story. And we wonder why is this unlikely group of disciples in Capernium, almost 80 miles from Jerusalem, several days walk? When did they get here? What are they doing here? Now it makes sense, at least to me, that Peter, James and John headed home. The gospel accounts are consistent that the disciples were confused and afraid after the crucifixion. And while the resurrection appearances of Jesus may have brought some relief that Jesus was alive, it raised more questions and uncertainties. If Jesus was alive, why didn’t he stay with them, holding the group together? What were they supposed to be doing now? Was all the work that Jesus started ending now? So what now? I imagine that Peter, James and John headed home because they were still confused and afraid and they didn’t know what else to do. They needed to be in a safe, familiar place to sort things out. But why Thomas and Nathaniel and whoever the other two were? I imagine that they were just as confused and afraid as Peter, James and John. But three years with Jesus had created a bond between them that was hard to ignore and just throw away. And they followed just because Peter seemed to have a plan, even if it was a pretty thin one. And maybe that’s a measure of their depression and desperation at this point in time. The story reads like they’ve been hanging out with when Peter announces out of the blue, I’m going fishing, and the others just followed along, knowing the rest of the gospel. We really can’t help but be disappointed at this. Just three years previously, Jesus on this very same beach had called disciples from fishing boats to make them fissures of men. But here they were, back in the boats, sailing the same lake, casting the same net, catching the same scaly fish. Jesus was alive. So what? But let’s not be too hard on them because I’m certain this was not recreational fishing. And I’m also certain that it’s not even about making money. Peter, James and John did the same thing that we do when chaos and uncertainty threatened to drown us. They returned to something familiar. They returned to a routine. The others went along because they didn’t have a better idea of what to do except that they found some comfort in staying together. It really wasn’t about catching fish anyhow. They fished all night and caught nothing. And maybe there’s a parable here about trying to do things without Jesus, but I’m not going to go there. But to be kind, maybe their hearts really weren’t in it and they were just going through the motion. And so after a long dark night with nothing to show for their efforts, their stomachs were not the only things empty and hungry. There was a deeper ache. There was no fish, no peace, no comfort. Darkness was smothering them. Back to our text, picking up at verse four. Now, early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus. And he called out to them friends, haven’t you any fish? No, they answered. He said, Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you’ll find some. When they did, they were unable to haul in the net because of a large number of fish. And then the disciple whom Jesus loved that’s John said to Peter, it is the Lord. And as soon as Simon Peter heard him say, It’s the Lord, he wrapped his outer garment around him for he’d taken it off and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat towing the net full of fish for they were not far from the shore, about a hundred yards. And when they landed they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it and some bread. Jesus said to them, bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught. Simon Peter climbed aboard the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish. 153 but even with so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, Come and have breakfast. None of the disciples dared to ask him, who are you? They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. Back to the story. It’s dark all night fishing and the sun begins to rise over the hillsides to their back. And as the sunlight chases away the darkness there on the shore in front of them they see a lone man and he’s waving at them. Hey, boys, you caught anything? I expect there was some under the breath grumbling at that point especially from the professional fishermen. And so the response is pretty curt no. And the stranger replied, try the other side of the boat. What a stupid suggestion. There might be noobs on board this boat. But Peter, James and John had grown up fishing. They learned fishing from their fathers. They knew their trade. Besides, they had already put the nets away and were heading in. Still maybe the humor of the man, maybe because it didn’t matter anymore they got out one net, cast it out to the other side of the boat waited for it to sink and then began to pull it in. And quickly they realized that the net had captured an entire school of fish and they strained to put it in. Pull it in. In my imagination, Peter and John are standing next to each other and they’ve got 1ft on the gunnel and they’re pulling steady and strong on that hall of nets to pull it in. And in a moment of insight, John leans over to Peter and whispers in his ear it’s the Lord. One of the strange inconsistencies in most of the resurrection appearance stories is that those closest to Jesus didn’t recognize him. There was something different there. Here Jesus is recognized by John in the unexpected catch of fish. Something about that triggered in him. I know who this is. And upon hearing that, Peter dropped the net, grabbed his outer garment, jumped into the water and quickly made his way to shore. And the story tells us nothing about his meeting with Jesus, not a word. And in a few minutes the the other disciples had beached the boat and secured the net full of fish and they joined Jesus and Peter by the warm glow of the charcoal fire that already had fish and bread on it. I’m sure that the memories and questions had to be going off like firecrackers at this point. Maybe their gloom was lifted as they remembered better times on this beach with Jesus because there he was again. Or maybe they were embarrassed and afraid, embarrassed that they were even here, afraid of how Jesus might respond to them. But where did Jesus get any fish? Maybe they remembered that it wasn’t far from here that Jesus blessed a boy’s meager lunch of fish sandwiches and fed 5000 people. And about those fish, 153. For 2000 years followers of Jesus have tried to figure out what that 153 fish was all about. Raymond Brown is probably the greatest gospel of John’s scholar in this century. I was privileged to have a class with him many years ago and we worked through this story. And I remember as the class was nearing in getting close to an end and people were asking questions, one of the other students after John, after Raymond had gone through all these possibilities for what this 153 fish was asking but what do you think it means? Father Brown stood there a minute and said I like to imagine that someday when I’m in heaven there’s going to be a seminar on the Gospel of John that John himself is going to lead. And I can promise you that I will be at that seminar. And when it comes my turn to ask a question, I’m going to ask him john, what does that 153 fish mean? And John’s going to kind of laugh and says it means I’m a fisherman. It means I counted. It means that’s how many? There were a side story. But it’s a good warning to us to be careful about looking for esoteric meanings and things in scripture. Sometimes it simply is what it is. We don’t need to scour for things for us to know anyhow, be careful about that. Back to the story, maybe the gospel the disciples were encouraged as they remembered sailing across this same lake with Jesus and him healing the possessed man on the other side of the lake. Or maybe that charcoal fire triggered memories of another charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest the night Jesus was arrested, while he was being interrogated, before he was sent to Pilate and ultimately the cross. But the biggie what was Jesus doing here? So what? Relief, shame, curiosity, whatever. It seems like they didn’t talk very much. Only a few words of Jesus are recorded here. Bring some of your fish. Come and eat breakfast. No accusations, no interrogations, no I told you so disgraceous hospitality like they had always experienced with Jesus. How many meals had they eaten with Jesus? Three years of ordinary meals. But there were also some very special ones that they had with him and some other people. And then there was that puzzling meal just before Jesus was arrested that night. Did they notice the way that Jesus took the bread and broke it and handed it to them? The risen Jesus provided not only food for their bellies, but more importantly, food for their empty, aching souls. The living Lord satisfied the deeper hunger that was needed most. See, Christian faith is not about an old book composed of lifeless letters printed on dead paper. Christian faith is not about a man who lived 2000 years ago and said and did some wonderful things. Christian faith is not about a good man who was executed by crucifixion. Christian faith is not about ancient legends, hallucinations or imaginations. Christian faith is about a living Lord who invites us to table fellowship despite our fear and uncertainty and unworthiness. An imaginary friend or a literary character from long ago can invite us to join him with gracious hospitality and satisfy our empty, aching souls here and now. Verse 14 sounded like an ending, but again, there’s still more to the story. Let’s pick up in verse 15. When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these? Yes, Lord. He said, you know I love you. And Jesus said, feed my lambs. Again Jesus said, Simon, son of John, do you truly love me? And he answered, yes, Lord. You know that I love you. And Jesus said, Take care of my sheep. 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. I tell you the truth. When you were younger, you dressed yourself and went out where you wanted. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hand and someone else will dress you and lead you to where you do not want to go. Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he said to him, follow me. I imagine, as they finished eating breakfast. Jesus nodded to Peter, come with me. And they began walking down that beach. I suspect Peter was a little bit apprehensive about it, and his apprehension was well founded, because in a few steps Jesus asked Peter, do you love me more than these? Here it comes. Peter remembered the night that Jesus was arrested. He had bragged that he would stand by Jesus to death. The other gospels say he boasted that if any, all the rest of you can run away, but I will always be here. But we know the story. And Peter remembered, do you really love me more than all the others? The question burned, and in his shame, Peter managed to butter out, you know I love you. And Jesus responded, feed my lambs. Peter was puzzled. He knew Jesus was prone to say some strange things. And Peter also knew that he often put his foot in his mouth when he was responding to Jesus. What was Jesus talking about? What should he say? But before he could say anything else, jesus put his arm around Peter’s shoulder and asked him a second time, do you love me? More quickly this time Peter responded, yes, Lord, you know I love you. Jesus said, Take care of my sheep. Peter’s anxiety is growing at this point. He was a fisherman. His father was a fisherman. His whole family made their living off this lake. He didn’t know anything about sheep. Jesus stopped and turned, put both hands on his shoulders and looked Peter in the eye and asked, do you love me? And that third question wrecked Peter. He remembered the charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest. He remembered the three times he denied even knowing Jesus. Just like Jesus had predicted. All the memories of that awful night and the glaring spotlight on his failures was just too much. The rock crumbled and fell to his knees, broken and blubbering. God knows I love you. And Jesus said, Feed my sheep. And he reached down and took Peter by the hand and lifted him up. And Peter remembered that hand and another failure. It was the same hand that lifted him from the swirling water when he tried to walk to Jesus. That hand rescued and redeemed and restored the risen Lord brought restoration to Peter and redirection to his life. The restoration was a not so subtle reenactment of Peter’s threefold denial. But the three insist three questions do you love me? Was not a triple accusation like Peter received it, but an insistent invitation. Peter was not condemned to live with the shame of his denial. Restoration was possible in the living Lord, but there is even more that’s hidden in the language here. Greek has eight words that can be translated as love in English, and two of them are at play here. Jesus asked Peter, do you love me? Using the Greek word agape. And if you’ve been in church any length of time at all. You know that agape means a wholehearted sacrificial kind of love. Jesus was asking for a lot, the same kind of love that he had shown the disciples. But Peter responded using the word filial, the word more commonly meaning a brotherly or friendship kind of love. The second time, Jesus again used agape, but Peter still uses Felia. But the third and final time, Jesus changed and uses Felia do you love me? And Peter still responds I love you Felia. Apparently, Jesus wanted agape, a wholehearted self sacrificing kind of love. But the best Peter could manage Felia. Maybe after all his failings, Peter felt unworthy to describe his feelings for Jesus this way. Maybe he was just being honest. But the really important move is at the end, when Jesus changes and finds Felia an acceptable place to start, god’s grace is showing. Here, God or Jesus wants agape but accepts Felia. He accepts us where we are. He gives us a beginning place. That’s good news, because none of us can love Jesus perfectly agape, especially at the beginning. It’s something we grow into. I think that’s what discipleship is all about growth toward agape for God and for one another. Our love begins imperfectly, but it grows and in the end will be perfected as agape. Jesus restored Peter despite his imperfect love. And at the same time Jesus redirected Peter’s attention. The command to feed or tend Jesus sheep was essentially if you love me, love the things I love. There’s no separation on that. Obviously, Jesus is not talking of literal sheep. It’s a common reference to the people of God. But Jesus, in the three years of ministry he had with his disciples, had enlarged that notion to include everybody. All of humanity is Jesus flock or called to be. Loving Jesus and tending his sheep are inseparable. In fact, tending Jesus sheep may be the essential pathway to learning how to love God perfectly. Loving Jesus is never about just me and Jesus. It means being attentive to the needs of others. It means tending to the down and the out and forgot about. It means bringing comfort and hope to those being devoured by their own sin or oppressed by the sins of others. Jesus summed it all up with the command follow me, imitate me, be my hands and feet and voice. Back to the story, verse 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’s going to betray you? When Peter saw him, he asked, Lord, what about him? And Jesus answered, If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me. Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die. He said, only if I want him to remain alive until I return. What is it to you? This is the disciple who testifies to these things, who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. And if every one of them were written down, I suppose there would not even be that. Even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. Peter heard the loving invitation of the risen Lord and had been rescued, redeemed and restored despite his failures. And then he quickly fell back into old behaviors. He began comparing himself to others. He saw John and asked, what about him? This was a persistent problem among the disciples. They wanted to be in charge of others. They wanted to be assured that they were better than the others. They wanted others to do it the way they were doing. They wanted others to look and act like them. And the problem continued in the early church. Paul wrote about it frequently. Let’s be honest, it’s a problem for us also. Some of it is just ugly, fallen human behavior which is hard to break. But we also have a hard time reconciling the call to be one in our love for Jesus with the reality that each one of us is gifted and called uniquely by that same Lord. Paul and Ephesians would say there’s one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. And at the end of it say but to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Jesus response to Peter was sharp just stop it. What I choose to do with him is none of your business. Your job, your one job is to follow me. Christ has risen. So what? The living Christ means that we’re not left to ancient legends, our imaginations, or even a dead book. It means that we can meet with a living person who knows us and recognizes us and responds to our needs here and now. It means that a living person calls to us, who invites us to come and be filled, to be rejuvenated. It means that a living person who lifts us out of our self centered despair and restores our relationship with God despite our failures. And it means a living person loves us, invites our loving response, and asks us to love others in the same way Christ has risen. So what? It means we follow a living Lord. It means abundant life. It’s the invitation to live in the resurrection day by day. Let’s pray while our musicians come. Lord, we come to you today. For some of us, it’s been a dark, despairing time. Circumstances are terrible for us. We don’t know what to do with it. And yet you call to us, you invite us to fellowship with you. You promise us to care for us and give us what we really need, even if it may not be what we want. Some of us come that have failed you again and again and again, so habitual that we’re ashamed of it. We know we’re not worthy, not good enough to be here. And still you invite us to love you the same way you’ve loved us. You’ve reached out and taken us by the hand and rescued and redeemed and restored us. Some of us get distracted by others and we just keep comparing ourselves to others. We just don’t know if it’s about us wanting to be in charge or if we just feel unworthy. But you call us to attention. You focus, as our job is to follow you. Lord, we rejoice that we have a living Lord who loves and calls us in this way. Amen.