This page provides links to the short videos in the “What are we doing here?” Growth Group studies.
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?
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.
“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!
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
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.
What does it take for you to believe in something? In other words, why do you believe the things that you believe?(eg, the earth is round, Cathy Freeman one the women’s 400m in 2000, your place of birth was…, what makes your car go, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is risen from the dead).
It’s the end of the Gospel according to John. These last two chapters talk about what happens following the death of Jesus when the hour had come and gone and Jesus had finished the work that he came to earth to do. The entire Gospel of John has been outlining where Jesus came from, what he came to do and what the result will be for anyone who believes. John 20:31 gives us the purpose in John’s mind for writing everything that he wrote and why he chose to leave other things about Jesus out.
John 19:42, the final verse of the previous chapter, leaves us on the Friday of Jesus’ death and with the dead body of Jesus buried in a tomb.
The structure of this chapter is quite straight forward. It’s all narrative and so we only need to look for scene changes.
- 1-10 – Disciples see an empty tomb
- 11-18 – Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus
- 19-23 – Jesus appears to the disciples
- 24-29 – Thomas sees the risen Jesus
- 30-31 – John tells us why he writes
Each section reveals more and more the reality of the risen Jesus a bit like the rising of the sun reveals more and more of the details of the earth.
20:1-10 – The Disciples see an empty tomb and believe
“on the first day of the week” – This would be Sunday, the day after the Saturday Sabbath. At least 36 hours has passed since the death of Jesus. John 20 begins on the third day.
“…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first…He saw and believed.” Well, this unnamed disciple who is probably John the writer, loves the fact that he can beat Simon in a race. But he is also listed as the first disciple to have believed as a result of seeing. What did he see? An empty tomb with discarded tomb clothes. Why would anyone steal the body of Jesus and leave the linen and cloth there? That makes no sense unless they wanted it to look like there was a resurrection! So, John saw signs of the resurrection and he believed. See John 2:22.
20:11-18 – Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus and believes
Mary is in grief and distress but she has not understood what John now understands. She is still picturing Jesus as dead. Jesus speaks to her three times before she recognizes his voice. It isn’t until he says her name, perhaps affectionately, that her eyes are open and she now knows that Jesus is risen. While John saw an empty tomb and put the pieces together, Mary needed a personal interaction with Jesus. I don’t want to take this too far, but there are different ways to come to faith and some people respond on the logic more than the relationship. Neither is more right but both are important. After all, Mary still responds to solid evidence rather than simple minded persuasion. She is responding to facts just as much, even more, as John. Both came to a point of conviction that Jesus was risen.
“I have not yet ascended to the Father.” I believe is referring to ascending to the Father in the bodily sense. After his death on the cross, Jesus dead body remained in the tomb until Sunday morning. His spirit was with God the Father in Paradise. Now, his resurrected body is to ascend to the Father. Why couldn’t Mary “hold on” to him? This is only to urge Mary not to hold him back from returning to the Father. He has not risen in order to remain on earth physically, but to be the first fruit of the resurrection.
Mary says, “I have seen the Lord.” This is her statement of faith and she now believes because she has seen Jesus. Not simply signs to a resurrected body, she has seen the living body of Jesus.
20:19-23 – Jesus appears the disciples and anoints them
This is the trickiest section of this chapter but it is all about the anointing of the disciples to continue the mission of Jesus throughout the world. It is John’s way of describing the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 (I am not saying they are the same event but that they serve a similar purpose).
Notice firstly, how Jesus immediately addresses the disciples. He says, “Peace be with you!” Remember that Jesus had spent 5 chapters before the cross preparing them for the cross and his departure. Now he returns with the great gospel truth that there is PEACE. God’s message to mankind is now: peace. But only because of Jesus. Think of all the times in the Old Testament and in the entire gospels where God’s word came through a prophet with a simple message of peace. I can’t think of any. Warnings, threats, preparation for danger, promises for a future day – but now the day has come. And the message we have is: peace from God.
Notice that he just appeared without going through any doors? I think it is good to note that a miracle took place and then move on. Does it say something about his risen body? Maybe, but Philip also moved instantly from one place to another by miracle and he had not yet died (Acts 8:39).
Notice thirdly, that “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Moving from fear to joy is a great thing – especially when Jesus predicted this would happen. See John 16:20, 22. Their time of grief is over. Time to rejoice because Jesus is risen!
Next, we have the anointing of the disciples to continue the mission on earth. Just as the Father sent Jesus into the world to seek and save the lost, Jesus is now sending the disciples for the same end. The breathing of Jesus on them reminds us of Genesis, and the creation of mankind. Just as John begain his gospel with a reminder of the beginning (John 1:1), he ends his gospel with a new beginning. New life (John 3) is brought into the world.
“Receive the Holy Spirit.” This event is not to contradict Acts 2 which tells us that the Holy Spirit had not come yet. The two events serve different gospel purposes. In John 20, Jesus is re-establishing his 11 disciples (although Didymus wasn’t there) after they had all deserted him. Jesus is also enlightening them through the Holy Spirit about the interpretation of Old Testament scripture. See John 7:38-39 to hear John’s promise that the Spirit would come after Jesus was glorified. What occurs in Acts 2 is an outpouring of the Spirit into the world. This account in John is about illuminating the disciples for their task of taking the gospel into the world. It is paralleld in Luke 24:45 when it says that Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
“If you forgive…” This is nothing to be scared about. Quite the contrary. When the gospel is preached and believed, the announcement that sins are forgiven can certainly follow. This is about assurance! Some have distorted these verses to think that priests can give specific absolution and announce forgivenenss for this or that sin. But Jesus is declaring that PEACE is offered to everybody now in the name of Jesus. This is the message that the disciples went out to preach, Acts 13:32, 38-39; 16:31; Romans 10:9. Jesus is not giving them special religious powers – rather, he is declaring peace where religion and the Jewish law previously was inadequate. Jesus words are about assurance.
20:24-29 – Thomas sees Jesus and believes
Just as Mary required some one-to-one attention from Jesus before she believed, Thomas demanded to see Jesus. The encouragement to us in these verses is that Jesus expects us to believe on the testimony of these first eye-witnesses and calls us blessed when we do.
Both Thomas (Aramaic) and Didymus (Greek) mean twin. He is famously remembered as Doubting Thomas – which is sad and unfortunate. He was also the Brave Thomas, prepared to go and die with Jesus back in chapter 11:16. He was also Clarrifying Thomas in 14:5 when he wanted Jesus to tell them where Jesus was going and how to get there. He calls on Jesus to declare: “I am the way, the truth, and the life!” He moves the disciples to go with Jesus to witness Lazarus’ resurrection. He is the clearest in all the scriptures to declare that Jesus is God. Poor Doubting Thomas for his sad reputation.
Notice that Jesus affirms Thomas’ conclusion about his deity. Never let anybody get away with saying that Jesus never claimed to be God. This is a very significant event. Rather than decades or centuries going by before people started to think of Jesus as more than a man, it was by the end of the day of the resurrection! A Jew who knows fundamentally that there is only one God (Ex 20:1-2; Deut 6:4, Mark 12:29). Something incredible happened that day that convinced 11 Jewish men plus the women with them to WORSHIP a man as God!
Blessed: joyful, favoured, happy and peace from God. Be happy and rejoice, everyone who believes that Jesus is LORD (Yahweh) because this is exactly what God wants from you – this is righteousness. Believe is more than imagine. I can believe that God is real and so are angels. But God is glorified in us when our hearts are turned to him and to Jesus Christ whom he sent. Thomas moved from wondering if Jesus might be risen to believing it and it changed his attitude toward Jesus and God. For a person to believe and be saved, it means to take the claims about Jesus seriously.
20:30-31 – the reason we believe
John wrote down all of the words of his gospel so that we might believe something. Many books and movies are written and produced so that we might think something, or experience something, or be moved and made aware of something. John’s hope and prayer is that everyone who reads his account would take him seriously and consider what has been written and then turn to Jesus to live. Why? 1) Because Jesus is the Christ. This is the greek word for the Hebrew word, Messiah, which means chosen one, anointed one, KING. He is the promised one that God had asked Israel to look out for. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. 2) Because Jesus is the Son of God. His relationship with God is that he is the Son. The eternal Son. John want us to know that Jesus’ existence didn’t begin in the manger (John 1:1-18). He is not simply the Son of David as the Messiah was said to be, but the Son of God. Jesus is more than a prophet. He is better than Moses, and David and any of the angels. He is in very nature, God. 3) Because if we don’t believe, we do not have life. John 17:3, “This is eternal life: that [we] know God – the One True God – and Jesus Christ who was sent from God.” Eternal life is not about avoiding hell (although this is important) but about embracing life and living it to the full. Without Christ there is no life. Remember this corny line: Know Christ – Know Life…No Christ – No Life.
Anyone who wants to get the most out of life and is serious about knowing the truth needs to read the book written by John, study it, get to know Jesus, believe that he is who he says that he is and then live.
The empty tomb, the physical appearance of Jesus, his words of peace and the testimony of the disciples give us reason to believe and put our trust in the risen Lord Jesus. He is God, come into the world, to give life to everyone who believes.
- Do you believe in the resurrection? Paul says that this is the most important part of our faith by far: 1 Corinthians 15. If you do not believe in the real resurrection of Jesus from the dead, then you are still lost in your sin and you have no hope. All four gospels end with this evidence. The sermons in the book of Acts all promote first and foremost, the risen Jesus. If you believe in the resurrection, then does your life show it? Ask yourself: is my life and lifestyle driven by my belief in the resurrection?
- Do you believe in the confidence of life eternal? I’m talking about assurance. Jesus said: Peace be with you. He said, Go and tell people their sins are forgiven. He said, blessed by God are all who believe that Jesus is LORD. He finished his work on the cross so that we could be forgiven and be able to know our God in spirit and in truth. He has given us his Holy Spirit so that we will know the truth. Doubt and denial are enemies of our faith. Do you believe in the forgiveness of your sins and how has that affected your life?
- Do you believe that life is all about Jesus? If your life is not moving toward Christ-centredness then it is probably moving away from it.
Our Father in heaven, thank you for sending Jesus into this world to save us. We thank you for the resurrection and pray that we will be confident in the truth of the resurrection. We thank you for sending the disciples into the world and we pray that you will also send us. Fill our hearts with the joy of knowing peace through Jesus. Help us to live for the glory and honour of Jesus’ name. Amen.