Jesus and His disciples have gone back “home“, to Galilee. It was much “safer” in Galilee because they didn’t have the Jewish religious leaders stalking them at every move. Jesus had completed His work in Jerusalem, so there was no good reason to stay there. They would stay in Galilee until Jesus instructed them to go back to Jerusalem right before He ascended back into Heaven. Jerusalem was to become their “headquarters“, but not yet.
When we are hungry, those three words are music to our ears, and when they carry with them a restoration of lost relationships, they are even sweeter. Some of a family’s sweetest and most cherished memories are made while eating together, and nothing says “family” quite like eating a meal together, and it doesn’t matter whether it is a sumptuous holiday-feast or a simple one-pot-dinner. Eating a meal together carries an even more special significance in the Bible.
Jesus had a two-fold purpose for this event, to reassure Peter than he had been “disowned“, and to give Peter his new commission. This was a “family” meal, a meal of “reconciliation“. Satan was probably gloating over Peter’s denial of His Lord, but Jesus wasn’t going to allow Satan to have the “last-laugh“. Satan’s victory was going to be short-lived. The last time they had been together as a “family” was for Passover and the Last Supper.
David, the psalmist, points us to this special significance in the 23rd Psalm:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)
Jesus Appears at the Sea of Galilee
21 After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, and He manifested Himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and 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 also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. (John 21:1-3)
Peter had “blown-it” BIG-TIME, after he was SO adamant that he would never deny or desert Jesus. In case we need a “refresher“:
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31-35)
Does this all sound familiar? “I WILL NEVER…”
Who could blame Peter for going fishing? He had been a commercial fisherman before Jesus called him, so fishing was the one thing that he DID know how to do. After all, fishing was “comfortable“, fishing was “familiar“, and fishing was “safe“. Fishing was everything he wasn’t feeling at that time, so Peter and several other disciples went fishing. Besides, they had families to feed. How could Jesus ever trust him with carrying on the ministry after He ascended back into heaven after he made such a horrible blunder?
4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” 6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.
Just as the sun was starting to peep over the horizon, when it was still too dark to make out anything or anyone in the distance, Jesus appeared on the beach. Jesus had told His disciples that He would meet them in Galilee, and there He was. Did Jesus just “guess” that they hadn’t been successful because they were still out there, or did He “know“? Jesus has demonstrated “limited-omniscience” on several occasions during His ministry, such as when He “saw” Nathaniel under the fig-tree (John 1:43-51), and yet He sometimes seemed to be “blissfully-ignorant” on other occasions, such as when He asked where Lazarus was buried and didn’t know the date and time of the fall of Jerusalem or when He was going to return in triumph. Either way, He asked them anyway. “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?”
They answered Him, “No.” 6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.
This wasn’t the first time Jesus had told them where to fish resulting in a “net-stretching” catch. When Jesus first met Peter and his buddies in Luke 5:1-11, there was a similar result. It was also when Jesus issued the call to “Follow me“. Coincidence?
7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. Why did Peter put on his outer garment? This certainly WASN’T the first time Jesus had seen him naked, so did he do it out of reverence for Jesus? It wasn’t what I would have done if I was going to jump into the water and wade ashore. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish. Peter also left it to the other guys to drag the net-full of fish back to shore.
9 So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” 11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
When they arrive, it seems that Jesus had a campfire going and was cooking breakfast. It would seem that Jesus had a menu of bread and fish, something that we’ve seen Jesus do before, but this time, instead of the disciples rounding up fish and loaves that Jesus multiplied, Jesus has fish and loaves and the catch of the disciples will be the multiplier; Jesus has passed the torch, you might say.
John provides us with some eyewitness details in this portion of the text: there were 153 large fish in the net, Peter drags it ashore and Jesus is not only the cook, but the server. Interesting isn’t it? A guy who was executed, dead and buried is putting on a fish fry! He is no ghost, for I can’t recall a single time when I’ve ever heard of a ghost eating fish: Jesus had arisen from the grave bodily.
What was a “large” fish, three to five pounds? I was tickled to death to catch a one-pounder a few weeks ago, because that made it a “successful” fishing-trip for me. If they averaged four-pounds each, their catch was over six-hundred pounds of wiggling, squirming fish. A LOT of people were going to eat fish that day.
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.
“Come and have breakfast.” They were going to eat a “family-meal” together, and nothing says “family” quite like eating-together. As He had done at the Last Supper, Jesus served them first.
The Love Motivation
15 So 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, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again 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, “Shepherd 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 all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.
John used two different Greek words for “love” in this exchange between Jesus and Peter, “agapeo” and “phileo“. “Agapeo” is “self-giving love“, and “phileo” is “brotherly-love“. Some commentators and scholars don’t see anything “significant” about the change in Greek “love-words“, but I believe Jesus was using the difference in the meaning of the words to make a point. So, let’s look at this exchange using the Greek words for “love” to see if we can get a sense of the true-meaning behind it.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you “agapeo” Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I “phileo” You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you “agapeo” Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I “phileo” You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you “phileo” Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you “phileo” Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I “phileo” You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep”.
Does anything jump-out at you?
Maybe we can catch the meaning by substituting the meaning of each word.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you “love Me with self-giving love” more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I “love You like a brother“.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you “love Me with self-giving love“?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I “love You like a brother“.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you “love Me like a brother“?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you “love Me like a brother“?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I “love You like a brother.”” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep”.
Shortly before Jesus was crucified, He had warned His disciples about the persecution they were going to have to endure as the continued to carry-out His mission. Life was NOT going to be easy. The sense I get from this exchange between Jesus and Peter is that He was asking Peter if he had the commitment and self-giving love which was going to be required. Was Peter willing to give his life for Christ? That was a tough “pill” to swallow for Peter, as evidenced by his “I love you like a brother” responses and him being grieved that Jesus asked him three times.
Even though Jesus and Peter finally got on the same “page” with their last exchange, Jesus’ point was already made. When Jesus called Peter to be His disciple over three years before, He said “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”(Matthew 4:19). Jesus had called Peter to “get out of the boat“, to be a “follower“, an “apprentice“, a “learner“, and after more than three years of intensive-learning, Jesus was calling Peter to “get out of the boat” again, to leave the relative-comfort and obscurity of being a fisherman, to put his training to work “catching” men by spreading the Good News that God’s Kingdom Had come. Peter’s new calling was going to require more than a superficial-commitment and “friendship-love“; it was going to require that Peter put all of himself, sacrificially, into this ministry. He was to “tend” and “shepherd” the “sheep“, lovingly and tenderly, and put their well-being ahead of his own.
Why Did Jesus ask Peter the same question three times? Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of His arrest, and Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him. Could it be that that had dawned on Peter? Could it be that Peter felt terrible guilt over his cowardly denial? Let’s not forget that this is the first time that they had been off together since Jesus’ death, and Jesus has some business to settle with him. Peter must learn to care for the other followers of Jesus, His “sheep,” and this means taking the charge seriously and selflessly, a lesson that must not be lost on all leaders of the church today.
As Jesus, in love, laid down His life for His “sheep“, we are called to love and serve our “flock” sacrificially too. We are also called to “feed” and “tend” our flock, and “feeding” implies looking for the best “pasture” so that they are healthy and grow. As ministers of the Gospel, we must be diligent in our preparation so that we deliver the best “spiritual-food” we can possibly give to our flock. To do any less is to shirk our responsibility.
Our Times Are in His Hand
18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
Peter wasn’t promised an “easy” life, and we know that he died as a martyr for Christ. Early-church historians have recorded that Peter was crucified, however he insisted that he be crucified upside-down because he wasn’t “worthy” of being crucified right-side-up like his Lord.
We aren’t promised an “easy” life either, and if we remain faithful to our Lord, we may also die as martyrs for Christ, but we HAVE been promised that “He will never leave us nor forsake us“. Our times are in His hands. I can’t think of anyone more “qualified” than God to entrust my care to.
Peter’s call to “Follow me” is also our call. We are loved, we are accepted, and yes, we are called to “follow” Christ also.
20 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
Why was Peter curious about what was going to happen to John? Did he wonder if John was also going to be martyred for Christ? 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
Jesus’ call to Peter was unequivocal, “You follow Me!”
24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Other Apostles are certifying that John’s account is true and accurate, because they were there too.
Too much to write…
25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. (John 21)
Even taken together, the Gospels only give us brief “snapshots” of Jesus’ life and ministry. It would have virtually-impossible to tell everything, even if someone was writing it down as it happened, but what we have is adequate for its purpose.
Why This Gospel Was Written
30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)
John actually sums-up the whole purpose of all of the Gospels in one brief statement: “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name”.
Have you found new life in Christ?
We will wrap-up this study, based on John’s Gospel, next week, with the Great Commission and Ascension of our Lord. Stay tuned, as we will be moving into Ruth next month.
Sola Deo Gloria!