Expo Preaching
Life in Jesus Name
Chris Appleby
John 21:1-25
Life in Jesus Name
19 mins 19 secs
Views: 19
Jesus' call is the same for us today as it was for Peter and the other disciples back then. Follow me. Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. The gospel is ours to proclaim. Jesus has risen. Jesus has paid the penalty for sin. Jesus has provided the cure for the worst disease known to humanity, the disease of sin and death. And he provides us with a net that will allow us to gather up all those that he chooses; to bring them safely into his kingdom. That net is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God for salvation to all who will believe.

Jesus has risen. He’s appeared twice to his disciples as a group. The second time he tells Thomas that those who believe in Jesus without having seen him are blessed, and John concludes chapter 20 with the statement that the things he’s written are here so that we who read them later may believe and, believing, may have life in Jesus’ name. But the story isn’t quite finished. There are still some loose ends; and there’s still the future ministry of the Church to come. And so he lets us in to a brief incident that occurs in Galilee while the disciples are awaiting Jesus return to the Father.

The disciples have returned to Galilee at Jesus command to await him. There are 7 of them this night, and they're obviously getting restless. You can sympathise with Peter can’t you? Jesus has told them to wait for him, but as we all know, waiting can be hard. Peter doesn’t enjoy being in lockdown any more than you or I. So eventually Peter jumps up and says "I am going fishing." He's a man of action. He's sick of sitting around doing nothing. It can't hurt to do a bit of fishing while they're waiting. They need to eat and they can use the money. Well, the other 6 think this sounds like a great idea. "We'll go with you," they say. So they go, but they catch nothing.

Then, just after daybreak, Jesus appears on the shore and says, "Hey guys, not doing too well, huh? Try over there, on the right." And as they cast their nets, they catch a huge haul of fish. Well, this had happened before hadn't it? And John is the first to realise it. He says to Peter, "It's the Lord." As usual, Peter jumps into action. He ties his robe around him and swims the hundred meters or so to land, leaving the other disciples to pull the boats and their catch into shore. There he finds a fire burning with fish on it already. But Jesus wants to use what they've caught as well, so he tells Peter to go and bring him some of the fish from the net. This is going to be a meal where they share together, in fellowship, the fruits of their labour.

But first the important job of counting the fish is completed. It’s not clear why. Perhaps the Galilee times the next day would have a headline about this huge catch of fish. All we know is it was 153 fish! An impressive catch by any measure! Yet the nets are not torn. In the previous incident in Luke 5, that huge catch caused the nets to break and the boats to sink, but here the nets hold firm. And so they sit down to eat, realising that it's the Lord with whom they're eating.

It seems to me that John must have included this incident to teach us something important about following Jesus; about life after the resurrection. But what is it?

Well, first of all, I think we're meant to read this incident in the light of other times that the disciples had encountered Jesus on the edge of the lake. The first time of course was when he first called them to follow him. In Mark 1, Jesus comes up to Peter and Andrew and James and John and calls them to follow him and he will make them fish for people. In Luke 5, after he's finished teaching the people, he tells them to put their boats out into deep water and let down their nets and they pull in a huge catch, just like this one. And again he calls them to follow him and they'll begin to catch people rather than fish. And in this passage at the end of his conversation with Peter he again calls him to follow him.

But this time there's something different. When John mentions night you can't help but notice it. It's a recurrent theme throughout the gospel. Several times Jesus has said some variation of, "Work while you have the light. The night is coming when no-one can work." So when John tells us that that night they caught nothing, our ears should prick up. What is he alluding to? Is it that their efforts on their own initiative proved fruitless, but when Jesus appears, just after daybreak, their nets were full of fish? Is he reminding us of Jesus words: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (15:5)?

Might this be a warning for us as we try to bring people into God's Kingdom? How often do we depend on programs, on techniques, on psychological strategies to bring us success, rather than depending on the leading and the power of God? Why is it that the fastest growing churches around the world are the unsophisticated churches of the global south? I received an email from a contact in Nepal last week telling me how they’d had 100 baptisms in the last year, despite lockdowns and the ongoing effects of the earthquake a few years ago! So how does this happen? Is it because they depend on the power of prayer for their success? Is it because they rely on a simple direct presentation of the gospel rather than sophisticated techniques? Or because they take Jesus at his word and do what he commands rather than doing their own thing?

There's something else that's different in this account from that other one in Luke 5. As I said, there when they pulled in the nets they began to break, but here, even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Again, there's a parallel here with the preaching of the gospel after Jesus has risen and has sent his disciples out into the world. Previously when they went out to preach it was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But now the net is full of large fish and the net still remains intact. It’s as though Jesus telling them to throw the net on the other side of the boat is a metaphor for the focus of the preaching of the gospel now being widened so that many more will hear about Jesus. In fact the gospel net now spreads to the ends of the earth. Yet no matter how many people it catches it will never break. It’ll just continue to catch more.

This is something that we've seen over the past century or so. Christianity has now spread to ever corner of the globe. It may not be strong in every place but it is present in most parts of the world, and where it's present it's growing, particularly where it's been allowed to stand in its own strength.

The other interesting feature of this early morning meal is the graciousness with which Jesus invites them. These are ordinary working men, with all the glory and failings of human nature. There's Peter, the failure, there's Thomas the doubter, there's the hotheads, the sons of Zebedee, there's the faithful and loyal Nathaniel, and there's the anonymous, faceless disciples, the 2 others who are not named.

And despite the fact that they're eating with the risen Lord, he invites them to bring some of the fish they've caught to add to the meal. He authenticates their work by adding their fish to the meal. And so we're told that this is the third time Jesus has appeared to the disciples. As if we needed further proof that Jesus is truly risen, here he is with them a third time, this time sharing a meal with them, perhaps prefiguring the end time meal, the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).

But having finished eating, Jesus turns to Peter. There's still one piece of unfinished business to deal with. You may be able to imagine how Peter is feeling as all this is happening. He hasn't forgotten what happened while Jesus was being interrogated by the High Priest; how he denied he even knew Jesus. 3 times! He bears a load of guilt that’ll weigh him down forever if it isn't dealt with. Have you ever felt like that? Like you have something in your past that weighs you down. Something that you've done that you're ashamed of or that causes you great regret? In Peter's case it's even worse, because he's the one who stood up in front of the other disciples and said, "I'll even die for you". And now they all know how he failed.

Yet he's the one to whom Jesus said, "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church." So he needs to be restored, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of the church. So Jesus confronts Peter publicly, just as his failure had been in public. And notice he addresses him, not as Peter, the rock, but as Simon, the ordinary man who suffers from the same limitations as the rest of us. He needs to know that Jesus loves him as ordinary Simon. But he also needs to know that if he'll come to Jesus in humility and trust then he can again be Peter, whose leadership and witness will form a solid foundation for the church to come.

So he asks him, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" More than the other disciples? More than the fish that he's just caught or the joy of fishing? Or more than the other disciples love Jesus? It isn't clear is it? But it may be that he's reminding him of his boast that even if all the rest fall away, he'd stand firm. And how that boast had failed the last time he stood before an open fire warming himself. In fact that sort of boast will always fail, because it depends on the strength of the person making it. What Peter needs to learn and what we need to learn is that our success will depend on the power that Jesus will give us. So Peter is asked three times if he loves Jesus. And each time he answers yes, Jesus commissions Peter for ministry within the Church. And what’s the nature of that ministry? Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. His ministry is one of service. He's to work as an under-shepherd, tending Jesus' sheep. Back in the upper room Jesus has already asked his Father to protect the sheep. Peter's job is to feed them, to tend them. And it's not in his own strength that he'll do that, but in the Father's.

So Jesus first deals with Peter's sin and then commissions him to work on his behalf. And John finishes his gospel with the same call with which the other gospels begin. With the command "Follow me!" When Peter gets distracted by what Jesus might have in mind for John, he's told in no uncertain terms to forget the other disciples and concentrate on this: on following Jesus.

It's all too easy isn't it, for us to look around at how God might be dealing with other Christians? You see this especially in ministry circles. We get distracted so easily from what we're supposed to be doing by the things that we see other people doing, or not doing. We get put off by others' successes. We waste time pointing the finger at people who are doing what we think is the wrong thing. But when we do that I can imagine Jesus looking at us with a disappointed look on his face and saying, as he did to Peter: "What is that to you? Just make sure you follow me." "Make sure you do your job properly and don't worry about how I deal with others."

Jesus' call is the same for us today as it was for Peter and the other disciples back then. Follow me. Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. The gospel is ours to proclaim. Jesus has risen. Jesus has paid the penalty for sin. Jesus has provided the cure for the worst disease known to humanity, the disease of sin and death. And he provides us with a net that will allow us to gather up all those that he chooses; to bring them safely into his kingdom. That net is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God for salvation to all who will believe. This gospel of John was written so that people might come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they might have life in his name.


I pray that we might be a Church that continues in that gospel lifestyle, of bringing in people, of tending the sheep, feeding them with the word of life. Let's pray that that might be so.

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