EN ES

Sermon: Restoration: John 21:1-25


New Testament Reading: John 21:1-25

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 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. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 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. 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. 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. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 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. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 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.’ 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.’ 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. 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.’ (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.’ Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’ So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’ This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:1–25, ESV)

Introduction

Some have wondered about John chapter 21. It seems to some like a strange addition to a letter that has already been concluded. It is true that everything comes to a climax in chapter 20. Jesus lived, he died, he rose again, he appeared to his disciples in his resurrection, leading even doubting Thomas to say, “My Lord, and my God”. And Chapter 20 seems to conclude nicely with this little remark: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV) It feels like a conclusion. But then there is chapter 21.

It is understandable, then, that some believe this chapter to have been added later by someone other than the original author. Ultimately, I find their arguments to be unpersuasive. For one, there is no manuscript evidence that would suggest this chapter was a late addition. And two, there are good reasons to believe that chapter 21 was indeed a part of the original, literarily speaking.

For example, notice how chapter 21 ties up some loose ends. Peter would go on to be one of the prominent leaders in the days of the early church, but at the end of chapter 20 we know him only as the one who denied Jesus three times over. The author picks up that important element and brings it to a conclusion.

Notice also how chapter 21 is forward looking. In it Peter is restored and recommissioned to serve Christ from that day forward. A word is said about Peter’s future. And a word is also said about John’s future. While chapters 1-20 primarily look back upon the life of Christ, chapter 21 has a forward looking aspect to it.

When you read it it feels a bit like a one of those sequel hooks that sometimes appear at the end of a movie. The movie itself has come to a climax and a conclusion, but a scene is added at the end in order to communicate the idea that there is more to the story.

This is the literary effect that chapter 21 has upon the Gospel of John. It wraps up loose ends, and it does so in such away to communicate that Christ will continue his work in the world through his Apostles, and through the church that is to be built upon them. In other words, the story does not end with Jesus’ early ministry. In some respects, it has only just begun.

Notice three things about this passage:

Jesus Revealed Himself To His Disciples For The Third Time

First of all, notice that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples for the third time.

We know from other sources that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in his resurrection more than three times, but John presents us with three instances. The number three often represents completion. God is Triune. Jesus rose on the third day. Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus, as we will see, will ask if Peter loves him three times. Here John presents us with three instances where the risen Christ revealed himself to his disciples.

It is interesting that John does not count Jesus’ appearance to Mary. If that were counted, this would be the fourth appearance presented in his Gospel. It is not as if Mary wasn’t a disciple. It is not as if her testimony didn’t count. If it didn’t count John wouldn’t have told us about her experience at all. John is not belittling Mary’s experience. Rather he is drawing attention to the significance of the eye witness testimony of Jesus’ original disciples – the Apostles of Jesus, who were uniquely called and commissioned by him. It is the word of the Apostles that serve as the foundation of Christ’s church. And for that reason John draws attention to them. They saw the risen Lord, not once, not twice, but three times. He appeared to them, not as individuals, but as a group. They, together, were sure that he was alive. Their testimony is true.

Notice that there were seven of them. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were there at the Sea of Tiberias, also known as the Sea or Lake of Galilee. Some commentators insist that there is something symbolic about the number seven. I’m not so sure. There is nothing the Gospel that would lead us to take the number symbolically.

And notice that Peter is still functioning as a leader, despite his shortcomings. He said to the others,  “I am going fishing”, and they followed him. Some have suggested that it was an act of rebellion for Peter to go fishing. The idea is that he was further abandoning the call of Christ, returning to his old way of life, and encouraging the others to the same. He was a fisherman when Christ called him to become a fisher of men, and now he was returning that old profession in rebellion against the call of Christ.

It preaches well, I’ll admit. But we should be careful about being too hard on Peter. These men were in Galilee in obedience to the command of Christ. He told them, “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Mark 14:28, ESV) They left Jerusalem for Galilee after the Passover feast in obedience to Christ, not in rebellion against him. And there is noting inherently sinful about going fishing. Might we not commend Peter for his work ethic? Instead of sitting around idly he went to work. Good for him. And in a moment we will see Peter responding to Jesus, not as a person in a state of rebellion would, but as one who is repentant, longing to commune with the risen Lord.

That said, it should be admitted that the narrative does portray the Apostles as directionless. They do not know what to do. They are far from fruitful, this we must admit. The fishing that night typified their overall experience in life during that season. They worked all night and caught nothing at all. They needed the risen Lord. And they needed the promised Holy Spirit before they could get on with the fruitful work as it is portrayed to us in the book of Acts.

They fished all night and caught nothing. They were coming into shore. And being about 100 yards away from the shore they saw a figure standing there in the early morning light. The man called out to them saying, “‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’” (John 21:5, ESV) The man then said, “‘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.” (John 21:6, ESV).

The disciples did not know that it was Jesus when he first spoke to them. It was probably early morning and the light was dim. Perhaps they assumed it was another fisherman giving them some helpful advice. But when they pulled in this incredible catch, John, along with the others, knew that it was the Lord. Remember that they had a similar experience with Jesus when he called them for the first time.

Peter, being the impetuous person that he was, tied up his loose garments and jumped into the water to swim the 100 yards that separated him from Jesus. Of course the other disciples were left with the task of dragging the huge catch of fish to shore, but Peter needed to see Jesus more than he needed the fish.

Notice that once the net was dragged to shore and the fish were counted two things are said: One, there were 153 of them. And two, the net was not torn so that none were lost. Why would John record these small details for us?

Some have labored to find significance in the number 153 as if it had some specific and esoteric meaning. I haven’t been persuaded by their attempts. They are far fetched, in my opinion. What is clear is that there were lots of fish in the net. It was an unusually large catch. One that you would expect to break the nets. The disciples took the time to count the fish because it was such and unusually large catch. Also, we should pay attention to the comment that the nets were not broken. Not one fish was lost.

It does seem as if something is being symbolized here, we just need to be careful not to push the symbolism too far. The obvious symbolism seems to be this: the disciples of Christ who are fruitless in and of themselves, are made fruitful by the risen Christ. It is by his word that they have an abundance. It is by his word that they loose none. Certainly this symbolizes the fruitfulness of the ministry they will soon enjoy in the name of Christ and by the power of the Spirit whom he will send. They will indeed be fishers of men. Their nets will be full. None of those given to the Son by the Father will be lost. The church, beginning with the Apostles themselves, will cast out their nets in obedience to the word of Christ, and will bring many to salvation from every tongue, tribe, and nation.

Brothers and sisters, consider the narrative of John 21. Consider the aimless, fruitless, and frustrated disciples. This is what life is like in this world apart from the risen Christ. It really is futile. It really is empty. The writer of Ecclesiastes spoke truth when he wrote, “Vanity of vanities… vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2–3, ESV) This world is truly empty, in an ultimate sense, apart from Jesus Christ. He is the one that brings us to God. He is the one that brings us life everlasting. He is the one who brings true fulness – true meaning and significance – to our lives today.

Jesus revealed himself to his disciples for the third time, and he filled their net.

Jesus Refreshed His Disciples

Noticed, secondly, that the risen Lord refreshed his disciples.

I will not say much about this. Simply notice that when the disciples get to shore Jesus had a charcoal fire built and a few fish on it. He also had bread. Jesus then invited them to bring some of the fish they had just caught to contribute to the meal. Perhaps this symbolizes the facts that the disciples would soon go into the world as fishers of men and would indeed be used to bring many to Christ.

In verse 13 we read that “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.” (John 21:13, ESV) He served them. This should remind us of how Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet in the upper room before they partook of the Passover meal. He served them in his earthly ministry, and he served them in his resurrection.

This was an important lesson for the disciples to learn. Jesus had promised that he would not leave them as orphans. Here he is demonstrating to them that his care for them remains. He served them – he refreshed them – in his resurrection

Jesus Restored His Wayward Disciple 

Notice, lastly, that Jesus restored his wayward disciple.

Peter had denied Christ on the night before his crucifixion. He denied his Lord in public. He denied him three times over. Here we see that Jesus restored Peter.

Peter, as I pointed out before, was repentant. He was eager to see Jesus. And notice that Jesus was happy to see Peter. Jesus does not shun repentant sinners. He receives and restores them. But he restores them, not by ignoring sin – not by brushing issues to the side – but by directly addressing sin. Christ calls us out about our stuff. He rebukes us. He convicts us.

Notice that Jesus confronted and restored Peter in public. Peter denied Jesus in public, and Jesus confronted and restored Peter in public. It was after breakfast, and in front of the other disciples, when Jesus addressed Peter saying, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15, ESV) This was restoration was important for Peter, but it was also important for the other disciples to see.

Notice that Jesus called Peter by his “old” name. Jesus had renamed him “Peter”, but here he refers to him as Simon, son of John”. This seems to be a rebuke, confronting Peter with the fact that he had stumbled back into his old ways.

And notice that Jesus does not simply say, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”, but “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” In other words, “do you claim to love me more than these other disciples do?” Jesus is here addressing, not only the threefold denial, but the sin of the heart which lead to the denial – pride. Peter was self confident before the denial. He was sure that he would never deny Jesus. He was sure that his love for Jesus was supreme. Here Jesus addresses that issue saying, “Is it true, Peter? Do you really love me more than these other men do?” Peter’s response is a good one. He did not claim to love more than the others did. He simply said, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

This question was repeated three times. Peter was offended that Jesus asked him for the third time, “do you love me?”, but the meaning was crystal clear. Jesus’ three questions corresponded perfectly to Peter’s three denials. Clearly Jesus was confronting the sin of Peter. And clearly he was communicating the fulness of the forgiveness and restoration he desired to extend. For every denial there is a reaffirmation of Jesus’ commitment to 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.’ 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.” 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.” (John 21:15–17, ESV)

Jesus not only forgives Peter. He also restores him to his office with the words, “feed, my lambs”, “tend my sheep”, feed my sheep”. Peter was an Apostle, but the Apostles were also to function as Pastors and Shepherd who care for the flock of God. That is way Jesus called Peter to initially, and that is what Jesus restored him to.

Isn’t the forgiveness of God incredible? He washes away our sins the moment we believe upon Christ. He justifies us – declares us not guilty – fully and completely. But he also restores us again and again as we struggle with sin in this world and return to him with repentant hearts. His mercies are new everyday.

It is here that Jesus says a word about Peter’s future.

“‘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.’ (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.’” (John 21:18–19, ESV)

When John wrote these words Peter had already been put to death for his faith. He was probably crucified. Some claim that Peter requested to be crucified upside down, not feeling worthy to die in the same way that his Lord had died. The historical evidence for that is actually rather week. It is likely that he died by way of crucifixion though.

It is important to notice that Jesus restored Peter, revealed that he would one day be martyred for his faith, and the commanded him, saying, “follow me”. This is the Peter, who only a couple of weeks earlier was too afraid to follow Jesus faithfully. He is restored by Jesus and empowered to follow Christ has he ought to, even to the point of death.

Peter, in typical fashion, turned and saw “the disciple who Jesus loved” (John), and said “what about this man?” What will his fate be? In other words, Lord, you have reveled to me that a difficult road is in my future. What about him? What will he have to endure? Jesus responded, saying “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22, ESV) Evidentially a rumor spread concerning John that he would not die (he was was probably in his late 80’s or early 90’s when he wrote). But that is not what Jesus said, only “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:23, ESV)

The will of God is different for everyone. Some live short lives. Others long. Some endure more suffering than others. We should not be concerned as to why some have it one way and others another, but we should, each one of us, fix our eyes upon Jesus and follow him faithfully to the end.

Peter stumbled badly, but he was restored powerfully. He would serve Christ faithfully from that day forward, even to the point of death.

Conclusion

Here in verse 24 we have what seems to be a remark from someone other than the author. They speak of John, saying, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24, ESV) It is likely that these are Christians, or fellow elders who were with John when he wrote, perhaps in Ephesus. They are testifying that these are his words, and that they are true.

And then we again have the remark that,  “there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25, ESV)

This sounds at first like an exaggeration, but there is truth to it. Jesus Christ is such and incredible figure that if everything were said about him it my be true that all the books in the world could not  contain the words. John’s Gospel has been rich indeed in revealing the glory of Christ to us.

May we believe in him, and find life in his name.

Comments are closed.


"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church