He is not finished with you yet. . .
In John 21 we find 7 of the disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee after a long night of fishing. They had traveled from Jerusalem after seeing the risen Savior and now they were back in the area that they knew so well.
Jesus had risen from the dead and taken steps to help His disciples believe. The women had seen the angels. Two disciples had encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Jesus had appeared twice to the disciples and now they had followed Christ’s instructions and traveled north to the area of Galilee waiting to see when He would next meet with them.
Scripture then tells us how Christ revealed Himself to them again.
In John 21:1-3 one reads,
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21:1-3
As we continue on this journey with the disciples from Easter towards Pentecost scripture again writes of Jesus’ need to reveal Himself to the disciples. This time it happened as seven of the disciples were fishing on the Sea of Galilee (Sea of Tiberias). The purpose was no longer to convince them that He was alive. They now believed. Jesus wanted to show them something more.
They had been fishing all night and caught nothing. At least three of them were professional fishermen. It was not too uncommon to catch nothing in those waters, but we can be sure they had hoped for something more.
The story then continues.
4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. John 21:4-8
Just as the sun was coming up Jesus stood on the shore and called out to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” The word “children” is likely a phrase used for an elder speaking to young people, or a father to his children. This question in its original form already expected a negative response. It could have been translated like this. “You didn’t catch any fish did you?” Jesus often began his lessons and made His points by asking questions. It helped them realize their situation and their need. They had to admit that their best efforts had resulted in nothing all night.
Jesus then instructed them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. If you were a professional fisherman who had fished all night and caught nothing, would you have obeyed the instructions of this stranger on the beach? In humility, they did, and caught so many fish that they could not pull them all into the boat. It must have been amazing. It had seemed that there were no fish at all that night and in a moment their boat was full to overflowing.
It was at that moment that John realized that something did not make sense. Only then did it come to mind. “It is the Lord!”
It could be he thought of the time in Luke 5, when they had just met Jesus. Jesus had asked to borrow their boats so He could sit out on the water and better teach the crowds who had come. After teaching, Jesus had instructed them to “Put out into the deep and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon had answered,
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.”
It was at the end of this miraculous story in Luke 5 that Jesus had told first told them that they would be fishers of men and in response they had “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” In a similar way to how they had responded to Jesus’ first call, they would now need to do the same.
This miracle opened their eyes as they recognized and remembered the handiwork of Christ. John realized it first, and once John had declared that it was Jesus, Peter put on His outer robe and “threw himself into the sea” to get to Christ as soon as possible. That might seem quite illogical, putting on his robe and diving into the water to swim 100 yards to Jesus, but in their day a proper greeting would never be done partially dressed. It is likely Peter naturally thought of the proper way to greet Jesus and threw on his robe as he dove into the water.
Many times after our failings we avoid the presence of Jesus but Peter, even with his recent betrayal, dove in and swam towards Him.
In this story we see once again Jesus revealing His presence to the disciples when He thought the time was best. They could see from the human perspective that it was a man on the beach. They could also hear His voice, but somehow they could not tell that it was Jesus. Once again, like the road to Emmaus, Jesus had a purpose for when and how He revealed Himself to them.
He allowed them to catch nothing in their own power and wisdom so that they would see the power of God. He allowed them to be delayed in seeing it was Him so that in the process He would accomplish even more in their lives.
The truth would apply to their evangelism. They were called to be fisher of men. This lesson would be key as they sought to bring people to Christ. In their own power and direction they would catch nothing, but in the power and direction of God they would be used mightily.
They would also have to remember that a person will only truly “see” Jesus once the Father reveals Him to them. Scripture shows us time and again that we cannot believe on our own. Without the Spirit’s leading, man will always view the gospel as foolishness. It is only through revelation that we come to see who Jesus truly is.
In Matthew 16:15-17 Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
In this one story we see the disciples reminded of their calling in the beginning, the essential role of the power of God if they are to “catch men for Christ” and if non-believers are ever going to see Jesus as He truly is.
The story then continued.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus gathered the seven disciples around the fire. He had already set up a fire with fish and bread. He had them bring fish from their nets and the writer notes that even though there were so many the nets did not tear. God’s workings were evident in the situation.
They shared a time of fellowship together. Then Jesus turned His attention towards Peter.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Jesus first asked Peter, “do you love me more than these?” It is hard to know exactly what was meant here, but there are a couple of possibilities. It could be that Jesus was pointing towards the nets and the fishing boat as He asked Peter this question. It would have been like saying “do you love me more than you do your fishing?” Was Peter going to follow Jesus or was he going to return to fishing?
When Jesus said, “do you love me more than these?” it also could have meant “do you really love me more than these other disciples love me?” If so, Jesus could have been referencing what Peter said during the Last Supper. In Matthew 26:31 we read that “Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”
Peter had set himself up above the rest, vowing to stay with Jesus, but Peter would eventually deny Christ three times just as Jesus foretold (Matthew 26:34-35). It must have been such a difficult memory for Peter. We read in Luke 22 that in the midst of Jesus’ illegal trial before the High Priest Peter had followed at a distance. Peter was in the courtyard as the trial progressed. He could see what was happening and while there he was pointed out three times as being a follower of Jesus and three time he denied it. After the final denial, the rooster crowed, and Luke 22:61-62 says, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. . . and he went out and wept bitterly.”
Can you imagine the shame that must have come over Peter in that moment? Jesus was surrounded by all those who hated Him and wanted Him put to death. Jesus was being falsely accused and even struck. And at the exact moment of Peter’s third denial Jesus searched the crowd, looking beyond all that surrounded Him in the moment and locked eyes with Peter. Oh, the guilt that must have come over Peter.
As Jesus now asked Peter the question He was not seeking to embarrass or berate Him. Jesus was letting Peter and all the other disciples know that they were being reinstated. As they had just seen in the boat, Jesus was still ready to work in their midst. They were not being taken out of the game, or being put on the shelf. Jesus was renewing their call, but Peter must understand what would be required and have a true awareness of His need for God’s spiritual power in His life.
Similar to Peter’s three denials, Jesus now asked a similar question to Peter three times. “Peter do you love me. . . then feed my lambs.” Peter do you love me. . . tend my sheep.” Peter do you love me. . . feed my sheep.”
It is like asking a child, “Are you telling the truth?” Their first response is a quick, confident, “yes.” The parent then asks again, a little slower and a little more serious, “Are you telling the truth?” The child again responds, “yes” but with a little less conviction and avoiding eye contact. The parent asks the third time, turning the child’s face to look in his eyes and the child finally, in a submissive voice and a bowed head, says, “no.”
It was likely with this type of purpose that Jesus asked three times. He sought a deeper answer. An answer that was thought through. An answer that came from a deep place in Peter’s heart and not just a superficial correct answer that was expected.
Each time Jesus followed Peter’s answer of “yes” with a phrase of responsibility. The overflow of His love of Christ would be seen in how Peter fed Jesus’ lambs and tended Jesus’ sheep. If Peter loved Jesus, then it would be confirmed by the way that Peter would care for those who followed Christ. His vertical love of Jesus would overflow into a horizontal care for Jesus’ followers.
Jesus then shared with Peter how Peter would glorify God in his death. With this in mind Jesus then commanded Peter to “follow me.” The command literally meant to “keep following me.” With a renewed calling, dependence, and power Peter was to continue serving Christ until his final breath.
Jesus is extending a similar call to each of us.
We, too, are to be reminded to walk in that same calling that we first received when we began following Jesus Christ.
We, too, must be dependent on Christ as we seek to see Him more and usher others to see Him as well.
We, too, are called to love Christ in a way that overflows to the love of others.
We, too, must be willing to live a life and even die a death that will glorify God.