Christ's Last Days On Earth
Scripture passages: John 21:1-19
It has been several days since Christ has appeared to the disciples. They continue to meet weekly in the upper room, hoping and expecting Him to reveal Himself, but He does not. They are restless. They have no work here in Jerusalem where they have been since Christ’s ordeal. The only thing that has kept them here is the hope that Christ will again show Himself in their midst. Then, as they are discussing among each other what they should do, one of them remembers the words of the women. “Tell my disciples to go into Galilee.” So they start off for their old homes.
In Galilee the disciples wander aimlessly, with a lack of direction. They try to get back to their old lives, but their feeling about fishing is not as enthusiastic as it had been in earlier days. They keep expecting their Friend and Teacher to show up, to teach them, to direct them as what to do. But day after day goes by, and still no Christ. As they look at the Lake of Galilee they are reminded that it was here that Jesus had called them. They look up to the mountain where Jesus had preached His great sermon, where He had taught them the Lord’s Prayer. Their thoughts turn to how, near here He had fed the multitude, and had performed many miracles. In the heart of each of the disciples, burns a feeling of desire, of the need to see Christ again.
Seven of the disciples, Simon Peter to whom the Lord had given a special revelation after His resurrection; Thomas, who once doubted, but doubted no more; Nathaniel, who had been a faithful follower of Christ since he had been called; James, and his brother John, whom the Lord loved in a special way; along with a couple of other disciples are gathered at the lake Tiberius (Galilee). They aimlessly watch the fishing boats coming and going. Suddenly Peter jumps up and says, “I’m going fishing.” At once his six friends say, “We are going with you.”
Peter hoists the sail on his boat, checks out his gear, and the party starts off. All night they sail back and forth. Peter muses on the time he saw Christ walking on the water. He remembers the excitement he felt as he jumped from the boat and began walking on the water to meet Him. Then he remembers his fear as he realized what he was doing, and the sinking feeling he had as the waters began to engulf him. He remembers how Christ was suddenly there to pick him out of the water. He remembers Christ’s rebuke that if he had kept his eyes on Him, he would not have sunk. Yes. Peter remembers those things, and then tries to block out the memories of the several other times his impulsiveness got him into trouble. He remembers how Christ forgave him time and time again for his blundering. Oh how he longs to see his Lord again. Now, cold and discouraged he says to his fellows, “We have tried all night and have caught nothing. What is it with this fishing that does not seem the same as it used to? Let us head back to shore.”
As Peter and his companions head shoreward, in the dim light of the morning, they see a Stranger standing on the beach. He speaks, “Children,
(this term was used as we would now use the term, ‘Friend’) “have ye aught to eat?"
Thinking that the Man on the shore was asking them if they had any fish to sell, Peter answers, “No. We have toiled all night and have caught nothing.”
The Stranger replies, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.”
Had this Man seen something they had missed? A shoal of fish? Dubious that it would do any good, the disciples do as the Stranger bid. All at once their net becomes heavier and heavier. It is all they can do to hold it. John suddenly remembers another scene when Jesus gave them a draught of fish, and then called them to be His followers. He turns to Peter and says excitedly, “It is the Lord.”
Again Peter acts impulsively. He jumps into the water and swims to shore. He could not bear to wait any longer to see his Lord. The others leave their ship anchored, and take the little boat ashore, dragging the fish net with them.
On the shore Jesus--for it really is He--has a little fire going, and on the coals a fish is broiling, and fresh bread stays warm at the side. To the cold, wet and discouraged disciples, the warmth of the fire and the smell of fish and bread permeating the air renews their spirits. Jesus says to the disciples, “Bring of the fish which you have just caught.”
Peter and the others drag the net on to the shore. They count the fish. There are one hundred and fifty-three large fish. Amazing! The net should have broken, but it is still intact. Exhausted, but happy with their catch, the disciples partake of the breakfast Jesus has made ready for them.
Breakfast is now over. The disciples sit resting after their night’s toil. Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Simon, son of Jonas,
(his old name before he had become a disciple) lovest thou Me more than these?”
Peter’s conscience stabs him as he remembers that night before the crucifixion when, as they were going to Gethsemane, Jesus had told His disciples that they should all be offended because of Him. Peter recalls, with shame, his answer, that though all of the disciples may forsake Christ, he would remain true. He remembers, but wishes he could forget, how when Christ told him that he would deny Him, he had replied, “Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee.”
And yet he had. To his utter shame, he had denied his Lord three times. Oh how he had suffered because of this terrible weakness in his character. Yes. Peter remembers that Christ had come to him separate from the others and he had confessed his weakness. Yes. Peter knows that Christ has forgiven him. So why now was Jesus singling him out to ask him if he loved Him? Jesus should know that he loves Him. His answer, rid now of all the old boastful claims, was, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love (have great brotherly love for) Thee.”
Jesus says to Peter, “Feed My lambs.”
In other words, Jesus is saying to Peter, “If you care for Me, I will give you work to do for Me. Take care of the little children whom I love.”
A few minutes later Jesus says again to Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” This time the word “love” has a stronger meaning. It means an unconditional, self-giving love. And once again Peter answers, “Yea Lord, Thou knowest that I love
(have a great brotherly love for) Thee.”
Jesus says, “Feed My sheep.”
He was saying, “Guide and protect the grown ups also.” But then Christ turns a third time to Peter and asks, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?”
Jesus knows that Peter, as yet, does not understand the “agape” kind of love, the kind of love so strong that he would die for; so this time He uses Peter’s term of “love” (friendship). In other words He is saying, “Are you sure you care for Me as a friend?”
Peter is grieved because He has asked him three times, “Lovest thou Me?”
Was Jesus reminding him again that it was three times he had denied Him? Surely Jesus must know his heart. He knew that Christ had forgiven him, so why was He asking him again, ‘Do you love Me?’ He answers, “Lord, Thou knowest all things. Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
This time Jesus says to him, “Feed My sheep,”
using the word “sheep” which includes both sheep and lambs. In other words, Jesus is saying, “I want you to care for people, children and adults, as I have done, guiding and protecting them, and giving them all that they need.”
And finally the meaning hits home to Peter. The Lord is telling Peter that He wants him to work for Him. He wants him to become a “Fisher of men.” In spite of all Peter’s past failures, Christ is commissioning him to leave his old profession of fishing and work for Him. Peter’s heart is filled with a new ambition. Christ has forgiven him for his failures.
Christ would lead Peter on to become a Pillar. But there was yet one more step before he would be ready to take on this task. He must wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.