In John 21, we find Peter and the disciples returning to their employment as fishermen. Have you ever had a powerful experience in God and then had to live your everyday life? This was a frustrating thing for the disciples, and Jesus comes to them a final time in John’s gospel to challenge their thinking and to call them into a place of obedience.
[Jhn 21:1-25 KJV] 1 After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he [himself]. 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the [sons] of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 5 Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. 6 And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt [his] fisher’s coat [unto him], (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. 8 And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. 9 As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. 12 Jesus saith unto them, Come [and] dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. 15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry [thee] whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. 20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what [shall] this man [do]? 22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee? follow thou me. 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee? 24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. 25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
In the gospel of John, we have a record of three appearances of Jesus after His resurrection. In the final chapter, Jesus shows Himself to them in the Galilee, where they have returned to their vocation as fishermen. Interestingly enough, John’s gospel does not record the ascension of Jesus, just as it contains no record of His baptism by John or of His genealogy. These facts do not weaken John’s gospel, but it does set John apart from Matthew, Mark, and Luke as a unique document presenting the narrative of the life of Jesus in a very different way from the other accounts. In verse two of John, Peter announces to the group that he is going fishing. This seems reasonable to the other apostles, and they consent to go with him. Why are they doing this? Many commentators commend Peter for this action because it is practical and serves to give the disciples good use of their time in profitable activity. However, the fact that these experienced fishermen caught nothing suggests that in return to his original employment, Peter was doing so for reasons other than those for which the Father would be pleased. They go out on the ship, fish all night long, and their nets are empty when the sun comes up the next morning. In verse 4, Jesus is now standing on the shore but hiding His identity from His men, calling to them whether or not they have any meat or fish. They simply answer no, they have caught nothing.
What about you? Have you ever faced disappointment or seen your vision fade from view? What was your response? Did you just turn away and resume life as usual only to find that what worked for you before isn’t working anymore? You feel ruined for the efforts you made to step out in faith to follow Jesus, and now you are wondering what you are going to do. Whether you realize it or not, those times of discouragement and disillusionment are moments when breakthrough and blessing are about to manifest if your situation if you are willing to obey even when everything you put your hand to is met with failure. Obedience in defeat and frustration is very difficult. The disciples could have responded negatively because they were experienced fishermen and this unknown person on the shore who said, “cast your net on the other side…” what does He know about fishing? People often come to us for counsel but complain when instructed that they have done everything we might suggest. No matter what is said to them, whether from the wisdom of God’s word or prophetic directive, they merely insist they have done all they could, and what is the point? What is happening here? They are forsaking their own mercy. They are wallowing in anger and self-pity. What is the answer? Let go of the frustration and be willing to be led. The disciples cast their net on the other side and pull in a net breaking catch beyond all their expectations.
As they struggle to bring the net into the boat for the significant number of fish found in it, John looked at Peter and said: “it is the Lord!” Peter, as befits his impulsive nature, throws himself into the water and swims toward Jesus. What was happening? Peter was abandoning the disciples who were struggling to do the very thing that was his suggestion in the first place! Have you ever felt left holding the bag as it were by someone who got you into the situation in the first place? People whose lives have been impacted by God can be very unpredictable. Be willing to be led. Be flexible. Stay in the position of obedience even when you are very frustrated and see no hope of prevailing. This is where miracles happen.
When Peter comes to the shore, Jesus tells him to bring of the fish that were taken in his nets. Peter returns to help the other disciples and, upon counting, finds 153 fish, and miraculously the net was not broken. Over the centuries, much has been made of the number 153. Some of the earliest scholars believed that such a specific number of fish (representing souls) indicated that only a specific and limited number of people would ever be saved (called the doctrine of limited election). Jerome, who was responsible for compiling much of the canon as we know it, points out that there were 153 kinds of fish in the Galilee, speaking of the scope of salvation extending to all men who would come to the knowledge of Christ, a suggestion somewhat different from those who believed only in a limited election. Others employing the Jewish mysticism of the gematria connect the number 153 with the phrases “sons of God,” “Joint-Heirs,” and a few others. The gematria of the word “fishes” is precisely 153. There are likewise 153 people recorded in the gospels as receiving a direct personal blessing from Jesus during His earth walk. What does all this mean? It is Jesus reminding His men that they were called to fish MEN not to fish fish! This also speaks to whether it is legitimate for Christian leaders to be funded for full-time ministry or work other jobs and be bi-vocational. This story would seem to give credence to the expectation that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel and not be distracted with other employment opportunities.
In verse 12, Jesus invites the men to “come and dine,” and they gather around Him, not daring to ask “is it you” because they know it is although He hasn’t made Himself explicitly revealed to them. Have you ever asked this question? You think something you are involved in has God’s fingerprint on it, and you want to ask, “Lord is that you…”? Of course, it is! God is dealing with you as Jesus is with these men on the shore – in hiddenness. After the men have eaten, Jesus asks Peter the question as to whether he loves Him. He asks the question three times. Each time Jesus asks, Peter answers with a different word for love. Jesus asks each time, “Peter, do you AGAPE Me?” Agape means unconditional, total love that abandons itself fully to Jesus. The first time Peter says, “Lord, you know that I love you..” using the word “Phileo,” which means “brotherly love.” This is a very different word than the one Jesus is asking Peter to respond to. The second time Peter answers that yes, he loves Jesus and uses the word “phileo” again. That isn’t what Jesus asks. With the question, Jesus presses the issue by saying that if Peter loves Him that He should feed the lambs. What is Jesus saying to Peter? He is telling Peter in veiled language at first and then plainly in v. 18 that Peter’s life is not his own. Peter will eventually give his life in crucifixion in serving the cause of Christ, and Jesus is speaking to remove all equivocation or doubt about what Peter’s life is to be committed to.
Peter is uncomfortable with Jesus’ line of questioning and tries to divert the conversation to what John’s responsibilities are to be. Don’t we do that? When God is putting an expectation on us, we complain about what others are doing or not doing. Jesus rebukes Peter saying, what does it matter what John does? Peter’s responsibility is to focus on his own relationship with God and his own obedience, not being God’s appointed sheriff to demand others to do differently than they might be doing. Some have built entire ministries doing precisely what Jesus corrects Peter from trying to do. Many have misunderstood Jesus’ remark, suggesting that John would then live and not die on the earth, but that isn’t what Jesus was saying. He is emphasizing that Peter and every one of us is living under divine scrutiny and expectation. God is looking upon us every day to see how we will respond to the love of Christ, whose life is poured out for us. Will we always look outwardly thinking we can make judgments about what others should do and never coming to the place of obedience ourselves? Or will we let Christ’s love work its perfect work in us by laying our life down as Jesus did for the sheep, the people that He came to save?
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