By Jared Warner
May 5, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
John 21:1–19 (ESV)
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, 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 go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
15 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, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him 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, “Tend 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Last week we met with the disciples in the upper room. They sat in this room because it was where they stayed just prior to Jesus’s trial. This was the room where they celebrated their Passover meal, it is where Jesus washed their feet and where Jesus explained the meaning of life. Which is what I think the elements of communion represent. They came to this room and they stayed in this room because it had meaning to them. It was a safe place for them, comfortable and secure. They could stay in that room sitting securely behind the locked door, they could stay in that space not worrying about what the world might think of them. Not worrying that maybe on the other side of the door they could face trials as well. They stayed in that room because they were surrounded by friends and family. People that had similar ideas and experienced similar events. We like the safety of the familiar. No matter what happens in life it is good to know that you can go home. I yearn for places like that at times. Places where people do not judge my success or care about what I am doing. A place where a hug is the greeting and food is soon to follow.
The disciples had stayed in this place for a while now. They had been there for over a week eating and worshiping together. They were trying to grasp just what life from this point on would be like. They had spent three years following Jesus. They walked where he walked, ate what he ate, served where he served (or where he directed them to go). For three years Jesus was their life. They believed that he was going to be their king. They thought that he was going to unite Israel and usher in a new era like that of their King David. A time where they could live and worship without any fear or outside influence. They desired a safe kingdom where they would be free.
But something happened that changed everything. One of their own betrayed Jesus, and the result of that betrayal was the death of their king. They watch him walk through the city carrying a cross. They watched as people mocked and spit on him. They watched as their own nation rejected the very person, they devoted their life too. They watched with the knowledge that just a few days prior the very same city cheered and proclaimed him to be their king. But everything changed. The king was hung on a tree. Shamed and cursed. The injustice of that event rattled them to their very core.
They buried him in a grave. They wrapped his broken body with strips of linen, and they watched as government officials sealed the tomb with a massive stone. They watched as everything they lived and dreamed was sealed in cold stone. Do we understand how significant this would have been? Their dreams died, and what they lived for was sealed away never to return. The loss they must have felt. Total loss.
Then something amazing happened. After three days Jesus rose. He visited them as they sealed themselves in a room. They went out and they found their remaining friends and brought them back to the room. He lives…but what does that mean?
They remained in that room unable to find a direction forward. The betrayer killed himself. And the others sealed in a room, self-imprisoned. Why? Because most of them were no better than Judas and they knew it. Peter denied Jesus three times on that night. Mark is believed to have run away naked. And every one of the men but John had pressed back into the crowds as their teacher faced his greatest trial. Each one in some way rejected their beloved teacher. He lives but who are they? Are they still disciples, do they still have any claim to faith? They denied, they doubted, they ran away, they cried when they should have stood firm, they let an injustice happen and they took a step back and watched. And they locked themselves in a room, afraid to move forward and afraid to leave. They wanted to stay, but could they? They, in their mind, had failed their king. He was triumphant, but who were they? In that place, Peter stood, and he said, “I am going fishing.”
The most amazing thing about scripture, is that the people within it are so real. In so many systems of belief those people regard as sacred are larger than life and can do nothing wrong. Our scripture has amazing and miraculous feats, but it also shows the humanity. David was a man after God’s heart, but David was a terrible father and a womanizer. Solomon was the wisest man of his era, attracting the attention of the rulers of the entire world, yet he the man who built the temple of God was an idolater. Samson killed an army with the jaw of a donkey yet threw away his entire lifestyle for the attention of a daughter of his enemy. The Apostles could heal the sick, yet they locked themselves in a room. Peter the rock of faith denied his Lord. Our heroes are human. They are very human, like us. They do amazing things at times and they fail miserably.
They sat in that upper room, they considered what to do next. Jesus had not told them what to do and he had only come to them a few times. They know that everything was changing but they do not know what to expect. Peter stands up and says, “I am going fishing.” In that one seemingly simple statement Peter expresses what so many of us feel. When he says I am going fishing he is saying, I am going back to my old life.
I want us to sit with this phrase for a while. “I am going fishing.” He like so many of us tried and failed. He tried to live a life of a disciple. He tried to do good works. He tried to be a good person. But when the test came, when he could have stood in faith and support of his Lord, he denied him. He denied Jesus his best friend, he denied him because he was afraid. We often think of our spiritual leaders and spiritual ancestors as being heroic in their faith, but each one of them is human and they often fail. I am not excusing the injury that people might cause to their friends and families, but we all struggle in life.
People have this idea that they are too sinful to be in the church. That they need to get their life together before they can attend. If this was the case every church building would be empty today. We all fall short of our own personal expectations; how can we stand before a God whose expectation is Jesus? We fail, so we like Peter say, I might as well just fish.
The man who struggles with addictions to explicit materials tries to stop, but he fails. He says to himself I am going to turn over a new leaf and be pure from now on, and ten minutes later something triggers in his mind and he falls again. So often we judge that man and tell him it is unacceptable, and we are right it is unacceptable. It injures the ones closest to him, it erodes trust and it creates expectations on others that cannot be fulfilled. We judge him, condemn him, we see his struggle, but do we help? Those that are struggling need encouragement not judgement. When they face judgement from others or themselves, they look at their life and say I might as well just fish. I give up. I can’t be holy. And they return to a lifestyle of harm.
We see this in many forms. We see it in those that struggle with body image issues, with people that struggle with substance abuse, with students who struggle in a subject in school. They face a challenge and instead of asking for assistance they just throw up their hands and give up. “I am going fishing.” Peter says, and what do the others say. “We are going with you.”
They might be there to support their friend who is struggling, but I do not really think so. I have a feeling they are all looking at their lives of the past few years and they all feel the same. They are thinking, “Peter you are right. You denied him, and we ran away too. We do not deserve to be in this room, we do not even deserve to say that we were once Jesus’s friends. We let him down and we might as well fish too.” I thought about this and wondered what Matthew would have done on that boat. They all went, even the ones that were not fishermen. They stayed together even in their disgrace. They go out on the boat and they fish all night catching nothing.
Imagine how they might feel at that moment. Many of these men were experienced if not masters in their trade. They left that life to follow Jesus, they left this life they knew and were secure in. They left that life, risking everything only to return feeling as if they failed. Jesus lives but what are they? They get on the boat, and they fail again. They fail at the one thing they had going for them. They go back and they cannot even catch enough fish to feed themselves. Imagine sitting on that boat. Imagine the anxiety and the depression they may have experienced. They went home and a hug was not waiting for them and the smell of grandma’s cooking was not filling the air. They labored all night and they experienced yet another failure.
Have you been in that place? Have you found yourself so focused on the things going on around you that you are not able to lift your head to see what is in front of you? They struggled all night throwing the nets out and pulling them in. They rowed to another area and threw the nets out again, and again, and again. Their bodies are fatigued, their emotions are a wreck, and they are now starving and have no fish. Then someone on the shore yells at them. “Children, do you have any fish?” You can almost feel the tension in the air but look at their response. They only say one word, “No.” They feel like failures. They feel as if they have nothing to offer the world, but in their frustration, they reply to this question as men with integrity. The reality of the situation is even though they feel like they have nothing to offer the world or God, when they respond to those around them, they are not angry or bitter, but they are polite. Then the guy on the shore had the nerve to tell them to throw the net on the other side.
What would you say at that point? I think at this point the disciples were probably beginning to laugh a little. They were probably thinking they were in experiencing déjà vu. They throw the net and struggle to pull it back. The ones in the other boat come and join them when they see the struggle they are having and together they pull. As they are doing this John and Peter look at one another and John says, “It’s the Lord!” Jesus lives and they feel as if they failed. He takes them back to the beginning of their journey. To the moment they first believed and reminds them of who they are. Peter reaches for his clothes and jumps into the water. He swims as best he can to the shore. While the others row to shore.
In their failure and in their back-sliding struggle Jesus finds them. He tells them to bring some fish and to come and eat breakfast. He reminds them of who he is and who they are. He is with them as they recollect the memories of their past experiences, and slowly they begin to reemerge. Jesus sat with them eating bread and fish. He laughed with them and he looked into their eyes and saw their sorrows.
They had met with Jesus now three times after his resurrection, and they are still unsure as to what to do. They want to continue but how? Jesus looks at Peter in this moment and he asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” This statement is filled with such relational history. When Peter’s brother Andrew first brought Peter to see Jesus this is how Jesus addressed him. “You are Simon Son of John, you shall be called Cephas (which means Peter).” Jesus is reminding Peter who he is. Then he asks do you love me more than these? I have heard many comments on this, but as I was studying the commentator says that Jesus is reminding Peter of his own words during their Passover feast. That Peter loved Jesus more than anyone else and would give his life for him. Jesus is reminding him of who he is, he is reminding him of what Peter claimed, and he is reminding him that nothing has changed. Peter answers yes. Jesus asks again two more times and Peter affirms that he loves Jesus. He does this right in front of them all. Imagine the pain that Peter was experiencing, imagine the pain Jesus must have been experiencing as he watched and pushed his friend to tears. But it is important.
They are all feeling like failures, wallowing in their own self judgement. They have lost sight of who they are or what they are to do. Peter was the one taking this all the hardest. He said he would die for Jesus, yet he denied him three times. So, Jesus asked three times do you love me. Three times peter answered yes. And in that discourse Jesus tells us the point and purpose of the church. Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Tend my sheep. DO YOU LOVE ME? Feed my sheep.
They forgot who they were, because in their mind they were cowards and failures, unworthy to call themselves disciples. Yet Jesus will not leave them there. He takes them back to the beginning the moment they first believed. He reminds them of the begin of their relationship, and that he called them. He acknowledges their struggle, and he meets it head on. Do you love me? I know you denied me I told you that you would, but do you love me he asks. If you love me, feed and teach the young. If you love me encourage those around you. If you love me, help provide for the needs of others. If you love me, Jesus says, follow me. Just like you did when this all began.
We get caught up on many things. I am not good enough, I sin, I am not the best. Or maybe they are not good enough, they sin, and are not the best. Friends this is not what we should worry about. Of course, they sin, of course you sin, we are human we struggle, and we fail. And we fail with gusto. This does not mean we stop. It does not mean we should lock ourselves in a room. It does not mean that we should go back to our previous life and lifestyle. We are people loved by God. Loved to such a degree that he sent his son to live among us, to teach us, to encourage us and to die and rise to save us. He came to redeem us, to restore us to our rightful place, in communion with God. Never forget that. I am Jared son of Carl, but I am also beloved child of God and so are you. Because of this follow and return to your rightful place, follow your creator, redeemer and friend. Follow and as you do feed his lambs, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep. You are beloved and so is every other person. They are his not ours, and they are also loved. Feed those that need it and tend those that are injured. Remind everyone you meet that they are loved.
We can often lock ourselves in rooms out of fear. We can also turn our backs on who we are and return to our old ways. We can be distracted, and our attention moved from truth to a lie. But one thing remains. God loves you. God wants you. God came for you. And God wants to bring you home. As we enter in to this time of open worship. Answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love him.” If you do what is he calling you to do?