Category Archives: Mission

John 21 – Jesus says, “Do you love me more?”

Opening question

What are some of your favourite endings to movies or books? After the problem of the story is resolved, there is a closing scene before the credits roll – what are some favourites and why? Maybe think of the ending of Casablanca, or Back to the Future, or the Shawshank Redemption? What affect does the ending have on the story?

Context

Everything that Jesus came to do on this earth has been finished. It was finished at the cross and proved right and effective through the resurrection. Peace has been brought to God’s people who will believe in Jesus Christ and trust in him. But there are loose ends. On the day Jesus was crucified, Peter denied Jesus three times. The disciples were scared and hiding indoors on the day of the resurrection – what will they do now? Before the credits roll on this story (and they do in verse 24), we want to know what happens after the most amazing day in the history of all time.

Observation

“Afterward” v1. John gives us no time period between the first week of the resurrection (20:26) and now. Only that this event was the third encounter between Jesus and the disciples post resurrection (v14).

“By the Sea of Galilee…going out to fish…but caught nothing” (verses 1-3). In these opening verses we are given a scenario of the disciples returning to things that they knew before they met Jesus. Their places of origin and old activities which gave them purpose before being affected by the life of Jesus Christ. Now, in his absence, they seem a little lost. Simon, the character with great initiative, suggests to do something they know and the rest follow. He has a personality to lead others. Jesus will take those gifts and direct them into kingdom work. Their attempt to do what they used to do for a living was fruitless. What they needed was for someone to give them a greater purpose in life. To lift their eyes and see that there’s more to life than work, or self-preservation. Jesus’ final mission in John’s gospel is to ignite Peter to step up and do what he has been transformed to do.

“The sons of Zebedee”(v2) were James and John according to Matthew 4:21. There were seven disciples together on that fishing trip. Why some were named and others not, I am not sure, but I suspect that the named disciples all had specific stories earlier in the book by John. Simon Peter (1:40-42). Thomas (11:16, 20:26). Sons of Zebedee (one of whom is John, the writer). Nathaniel (1:45-50). Two disciples (1:35-39?). If I am right, then this feeds into a good closing of John’s account where each of these key disciples, in John’s view, are called again by Jesus. He has no second thoughts about these men who he called to begin with. They are still to go and tell the world everything that they have witnessed. Jesus doesn’t call us and discard us.

“ Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” v6. This story sounds similar to the one in Luke 5:4-7 but they are two separate events. Despite their  similarities, they also possess many differences. I won’t list them here because it’s fun to play that game for yourself (or your group if you think it’s worth it). Since it is an event that has happened once before, Jesus is giving them a little sense of deja vu. Jesus isn’t striving for a new sign but a familiar one. As if he is saying, nothing has changed. You are still my disciples. Don’t return to where you came from. The road goes one way and you have already started it with me. Remember who called you and what he has called you to do.

“The disciple whom Jesus loved” v7, 20, 24. See also John 13:23 and 19:26. John has kept himself anonymous throughout the book and only in the second last verse of the book does he say that the one writing this book is the one referred to as love by Jesus. John doesn’t name himself in the gospel but it is the widely held view that the writer is John. The writer was a) an eye witness b) one of the disciples c) close to Jesus d) unnamed in this book. It makes sense that John is the man. He is a perfect match. Tradition also tells us that he is the only disciple that died of old age and this fits with the words of Jesus in verse 23. Aside from this discussion of authorship and John’s apparent humility to remain unnamed, I take a more powerful lesson from the phrase: ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ John described himself on each of these occasions as someone whom Jesus loved personally. Rather than being one of eleven other men who followed Jesus and saw amazing things, John knew that Jesus loved him. This is our challenge. I am not just a number to Jesus. I am not hidden from Jesus’ sight like thousands of coins in the same treasure-chest. I am loved by Jesus. Known by Jesus. He sought me and found me and called me to be a disciple – the disciple whom Jesus loved. John could say this of himself despite the attention that Peter seemed to get. John was able to write about all the encounters between Peter and Jesus without losing sight on the fact the he was loved by Jesus.

“A fire of burning coals with fish on it, and some bread.” v9. Here’s another aspect of this story that reminds us of previous miracles of Jesus. Like the fishing trip miracle, the sight of Jesus serving a meal of fish and bread is a reminder of another event with Jesus and his disciples: the feeding of the 5,000. It’s another great picture of John closing this account of Jesus by calling his disciples to continue the mission. These two miracles in particular will remind the disciples to go and fish for men and to go and feed his sheep.

153 fish (v11). It’s a strange number to make note of since there doesn’t appear to be a clear biblical allusion here. If it were 144, we might talk about the 12 tribes of Israel, 12 times over! If it were 7 or 11 or 22, we might have things to say about this number. If I were crazy, I might try and join different numbers together to come up with 153 and therefore the meaning of this number. Seriously, I can’t even imagine what numbers go together to make it! But what about this: it was actually 153 fish (not 152 or 154) because this really happened and they counted them and this was the number. Secondly, it was a number large enough to say that the nets should have broken with the load. Logic says that this number was too much. But the reality is that Jesus directed them to catch more fish than they could possibly plan to carry. Jesus is sending these men out to make more disciples. How many should they try and get? One more each? Twelve each? How about as many as they can reach and trust Jesus that it will work. How big should our church get? How big should your Growth Group be? Is it right to put a ceiling on these things or should we just obey Jesus and make as many disciples as we can and trust God with the pragmatics? Or is it true that we don’t actually have our nets in the water? If knowing Jesus is a matter of life and death and we have the life raft, lets find as many people as we can and get them into the raft with us! It might get squishy and we may have to adjust what we do at church but this is about life and death, right?

“This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” v14. See 20:19 and 26.

“Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Do you love me more than these?’” v15 By ‘these’, I think Jesus is talking about the fish. The question from Jesus is about where Peter’s first love is. Is it fishing, fish, the lake, eating food, or is it his Lord and Saviour? Good question.

“Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” v17. There’s a clear parallel between these three questions and the three denials of Peter. I bet it hurt Jesus to be denied three times. John was not the only disciple whom Jesus loved. He loved Peter too. He invite him to repent in a most personal way. This was Jesus’ relationship with Peter. I’m reminded that my salvation is not simply from ‘sin.’ My salvation is from my rebellion and my failings to love God with all my heart. Thank God that he is ready, able and willing to receive us back after we betray him.

“Feed my lambs… Take care of my sheep… Feed my sheep” v15-17. I find it interesting the Jesus uses a feeding metaphor rather than a fishing metaphor. He told the disciples, in Matthew 5, that he would make them fishers of men. Jesus could have repeated that here: if you love me more than these fish, then go and fish for men. But he focuses on the image of eating or being fed. Jesus asks Peter to feed others only after Jesus has fed Peter first. Not during the meal or before it but after. Just as Peter has been fed, so go and feed Jesus’ flock. Take care of them. You be the man now Peter. I’m promoting you from disciple only to disciple-maker. The close of John’s gospel is about Jesus calling his disciples again, but this time to lead the world toward Jesus.

“Lord, what about him?” v21. Peter took a moment to ask Jesus about another disciple who was clearly loved by Jesus. He wanted to compare himself with John and ask what will happen to him. Although it’s not a terrible question, the response from Jesus is clear: what is that to you? I’m telling you to follow me. Don’t worry about what I’m doing with him. That’s between me and him. What you need to concern yourself with is following me. Just follow me. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be envious or proud. Just love me and obey my commands – follow me.

“If every one of the things Jesus did were written down…” v25 It must have been a hard project to know what exactly to write about with Jesus. I can’t believe that these men spent three years with him and only wrote so little! Any biography written these days would have been massive. Probably the whole width of the bible. But John didn’t write a biography of Jesus. He wrote a paper to convince us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that believing we may have life in his name.

Paul writes of other occasions when Jesus met with people after the resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-8). Luke also writes of more encounters on the day of the resurrection (Luke 24). Matthew, Mark and Luke all contain events that were not described by John and John included events not mentioned by them.  We want to keep using the principle of listening to what John writes for John’s purpose. He has selected which events to write about. We have eternity to get to know Jesus better, but John has given us the way to receive eternal life!

Meaning

The old has gone and the new has come. It is time for the disciples to put aside old things and begin their mission of raising the people of God. The age of doing our own thing for ourselves has gone and now is the age to feed others as Christ has fed us. It’s time to mature and lead others to Christ. Knowing that we are loved by Jesus, grow in his love, confident of his calling, and go and make disciples.

Application

  1. Do you love Jesus more than…? What element of your life before Christ might you be putting ahead of Jesus? Are there goals, habits, passions that you have in this life which Jesus is asking you to put behind you now and follow him?
  2. Lord, what about him? Comparing ourselves to others is a dangerous thing. It can be good to model ourselves off others as Paul said on a number of occasions (1 Co 4:16, 1 Thess 1:6, 2:14, 2 Thess 3:9) but his is only when we see godliness in others which we want to pursue in ourselves. But comparing ourselves to others in a way that leads to pride or envy is to keep our eyes on our old selves and not see the new person that God is trying to create in you. Jesus said to Peter, “What is that to you? YOU must follow me.” In that sense, Jesus is asking us to put our blinkers on and pursue Jesus with all our heart. Do you see yourself as a back seat passenger of the faith, or in the front alongside you Saviour? Where is he calling you to go?
  3. How many fish do you think can fit in a net? John described 153 fish as too much for a net to bare and yet Jesus made it work. Jesus’ vision and capacity is always greater than ours. Our question should not be ‘how many can we reach?’ but ‘where should we cast our nets?’ Who knows how much we will grow but would you pray with me that our church will step out in faith, follow Jesus and be lead in his mission. Our churches are far from full. Perhaps we are focused in the wrong directions. Perhaps we are only faithfully waiting on the Lord when we ought to be (also) casting out nets.

Prayer

Lord of all creation, awaken our hearts, drive our direction and raise our expectations. Take our hearts and make them love you and adore you. Help us to follow Jesus without distraction or fear. Grow us in maturity and faith so that we will go and find your lost sheep so they may call you Father and Jesus their friend. Amen.