April 30, 2017
Playing the game of hockey is an ongoing learning experience. Each week when I play I carefully watch the better players. I watch what they do on the ice. Then I often ask a player why did he this or that? Or why didn’t he do this or that? I try to remember what they tell me. Sometimes I go home and write it down. But I don’t just write it down. I also try to put it into practice when I am on the ice. By doing this my game has improved. I’m continually learning.
Living the Christian life is an ongoing learning experience. Jesus Christ is our primary teacher through the Holy Spirit as we prayerfully read the Word of God. Believers who are further along in the faith also have much to teach us, but we must always recognize that people will disappoint us. All followers of Christ are students and subject to failure. There is never a time in our Christian life when we no longer need to follow Jesus. And as we look at Jn.21:15-22 we see that Jesus Christ, our Lord, challenges his disciples to follow him.
I. WE FOLLOW JESUS DESPITE WILLFUL DISLOYALTY. Jn.21:15-17
It is hard to know how things unfolded in those weeks after the resurrection of Jesus. The disciples had gone to Galilee just as Jesus told them to do and last week we saw in Mt.28 that they met Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. But in reading the accounts of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances, we see that Jesus would appear and then disappear. Here in Jn.21 it seems that this was a time of uncertainty for the disciples. There was a lack of clarity about what they were supposed to be doing. In that uncertainty, Peter decides that he wants to go fishing and 6 other disciples think that is a good idea. Obviously not all of the disciples are together.
As far as I can tell from the text, it’s not as if Peter decided to go back to the old life of being a fisherman. They didn’t know what to do and so fishing was as good as anything else until things became clear. But they fished all night and caught nothing. As dawn approached, Jesus appeared on the shore and since they were not far from shore, he called out to them, asking if they caught any fish.
When they said, “No,” he told them to cast the net on the right side and they suddenly had an abundant catch. Just as John seemed to be the first to believe Jesus had risen from the dead, here John was the first to realize that it was the Lord. Peter threw himself into the sea and swam back to shore while the others came in the boat with the fish.
When they got to shore the first thing they saw in v.9 is a charcoal fire. Jesus is grilling some fish for breakfast. It is interesting to note that there is only one other mention of a charcoal fire in John’s gospel in Jn.18:18. There Peter is standing in the courtyard of the High Priest as Jesus is being questioned about his disciples and teaching. Peter is warming himself by the charcoal fire. It is in that courtyard that Peter denies the Lord 3 times.
Now, according to 1Cor.15:5, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to Peter before appearing to the 12. My thought is that at that meeting Jesus would have assured Peter of his forgiveness. This situation is meant to restore Peter’s place of leadership among the disciples. Adding some fish to the fire, they all eat breakfast. From my reading of v.12-14 it does not appear to me to be a free and easy time with Jesus. I’m not saying the meeting was filled with tension, but there seems to be an uneasiness, hesitation, in the presence of Jesus. In v.13 we are told that Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.
There are a number of exegetical issues found in these verses. I do not want to take the time to address them because from my study I do not believe they are significant enough to change the meaning of the passage. I could talk about them but that would take too much time.
Here Jesus addresses Peter and he asks Peter three times, “Do you love me.” The fact that Jesus asks three times coincides with the three times Peter denied the lord. Twice Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” By the third time that Jesus asks the question Peter is grieved, and he responds, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
But notice that the first time Jesus asks the question he says, “Do you love me more than these?” Was Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than you love these other men?” Was Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than you love fishing?” Was Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than these other men love me?” All three ideas make sense and speak to the matter of discipleship to Jesus. But as we think about Peter we are reminded that Peter was the one who pledged his undying loyalty to Jesus. In Mk.14:29, Peter says, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” When Jesus told Peter that he would deny him, Peter responded, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same.” In the garden of Gethsemane it was Peter who drew his sword to cut off the servant’s ear. He was ready to fight for Jesus. But despite his promises of loyalty and bravado, three times he denied ever knowing the Lord.
Men and women, being a follower of Jesus calls for full surrender of our lives to Jesus. But do we not see Peter in each of our lives? You may not have denied the Lord in so many words, but have we not all pledged our allegiance to the Lord and surrendered our lives to the Lord only to act in willful disobedience to him? In fact, all of us regularly find ourselves resisting the good commands of Jesus in one way or another. And some of us may have, in fact, denied the Lord by choosing not to publicly identify ourselves with him for fear it might jeopardize our career or our standing with our co-workers and friends.
The grace and mercy that Jesus showed in restoring Peter is surely extended to every follower of Jesus. Peter did not draw away from the Lord. He loved the Lord. In fact, I believe he loved the Lord even when he denied the Lord. When Jesus told Peter that Satan demanded to sift him like wheat in Lk.22:32, Jesus said, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."
Do not become so grieved over your disobedience that you do not turn back to the Lord. Satan desires to sift all of us like wheat. And he does. And we fail. Followers of Christ continue to follow Jesus despite willful disloyalty. He knows all about it. He is full of forgiveness and love for you. Always turn back to him.
II. WE FOLLOW JESUS IN FAITHFUL SERVICE. Jn.21:15-17
When Jesus said, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers," he implies that forgiveness and restoration opens a door for ministry. Here in v.15-17 Jesus tells Peter 3 times, to feed or tend the Lord’s sheep. He was giving Peter a ministry. Peter was to nourish and care for Jesus’ sheep.
Let’s think about this ministry. Peter is given a ministry that flows out of his brokenness and his relationship with Jesus. Jesus didn’t commission Peter with an elaborate installation service. He commissioned Peter at a very humbling moment in Peter’s life. He didn’t commission Peter by endowing him with great authority. He commissioned Peter by questioning his love. I don’t want to diminish the role of Peter and the other apostles, but I do want to say that all who follow Jesus are given ministry to the body of Christ, the sheep. And all of us are to serve the Lord and each other out of our love for Jesus and our brokenness. Our brokenness helps us be humble and gracious towards each other. We are to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us. We are called to build one another up in the Lord by speaking the truth in love and honoring one another above ourselves.
If we love the Lord Jesus, then we will seek to care for his sheep. You say, “I don’t know how to do that.” Well, here’s how to begin. When you read the New Testament, especially the epistles where instructions are given for how we are to treat one another in the church, ask yourself, “How could I do this?” For example, when Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens,” ask yourself, “Is there anyone in the church whose burden I can help bear.” Ask the Lord how you might help bear someone’s burden. There are many of these “one another” passages. If Christ is our Lord we will seek to follow him in faithful service.
III. WE FOLLOW JESUS TILL OUR LIFE’S END. Jn.21:18-19
When we read the book of Acts we see that Peter has a prominent role in the church from the very beginning. It is Peter who stands up among the others to urge them to replace Judas among the twelve disciples. It is Peter who preaches on the day of Pentecost. It is Peter who is thrown into jail for preaching the gospel. It is Peter who receives the vision about including Gentiles in the church. And it is Peter who brings the gospel to the house of Cornelius, the Gentile centurion. Peter had a ministry of preaching and healing. He moved about freely giving leadership in the church. He wasn’t the only leader. There was James the brother of Jesus, and there were the other apostles. But Peter stands out.
In these verses we learn that a day would come when Peter would no longer move about freely. In fact he would experience a time when he would be at the mercy of others who would take him to a place he did not want to go. John explains that Jesus was giving Peter an indication of how he would die. The words of Jesus have often been linked to the tradition that Peter was crucified upside down.
But notice in v.19 that John tells us that Jesus was showing Peter by what kind of death he was to glorify God. How interesting is that! Do you realize that followers of Jesus glorify God in their death? How can that be? How can death bring glory to God?
In John’s gospel, Jesus alludes to the cross as a means for showing the glory of God and bringing glory to God. In Jn.12:23-24, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Through the cross Jesus accomplished the will of the Father in defeating the powers of Satan, sin, and death. His death was the means to eternal life through his resurrection.
Jesus took up his cross and he calls all his followers to take up their cross in self-denial. But more than that, when we come to face our own death, we also have the privilege of bringing glory to God. In Phil.1:20 Paul writes, “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” When we come to the day of our death we desire to bring glory to God, dying in the faith, fully trusting in Jesus, faithful to the end. That is our goal.
IV. WE FOLLOW JESUS WITH UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. Jn.21:20-22
It is very common to compare oneself with others. Competition can bring the best out in us, but it can also bring the worst out in us. Clearly Peter got a little distracted when he saw John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. How would you like that? You have been having a meaningful conversation with the Lord, but then out of the corner of your eye you see the disciple whom Jesus loved. I imagine Peter has some sense that John was very close to Jesus. And something like that can really get under a person’s skin.
Peter’s question is literally, “Lord, but this man, what?” O my! Do you know how many pastors look at other pastors and say, “Lord what about this man? Why is his church doing so well?” And it’s not just pastors. In local congregations it is not uncommon for some to wonder about others. “Why do they get to be in charge? Why does so and so seem to be so blessed?”
Jesus’ response to Peter is just as terse. “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what to you? You follow me!”
When it comes to following Jesus it is easy to get derailed by looking at others. The Lord does not shortchange any of his followers. Maybe Peter thought John was going to get a better assignment or more recognition. Jesus makes it clear to Peter and to all of us, that we must keep our eyes on Jesus. If we don’t we will be unhappy and disappointed followers of Jesus. We must die to seeking our own glory so that we may live for the glory of God. Don’t worry about the next person in the church, you follow Jesus.
This doesn’t mean that we are to be loners in the church, it just means we are not to be busybodies, interfering in the lives of others. In our ministry to others we seek to serve selflessly, graciously and respectfully. We do not push ourselves on others. If we have any inkling that we may have offended someone, we seek to address the matter. Our goal is to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Watch anyone long enough and you will be disappointed. That is because every one of us is deeply flawed. The smartest people often do not understand themselves. The most successful people are often their own worst enemy. I have been preaching quite a bit about discipleship. Does it sound difficult to be a follower of Jesus? It is, especially in this world. But actually everyone’s life whether a follower of Jesus or not, is difficult in this world. In many ways this world is hostile to life, because it is hostile to God. Proverbs 4:18-19 says, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” Men and women we are wise to follow Jesus at all costs. His pathway is like the light of dawn. Amen