The last chapter of Johns Gospel gives us one more story about Jesus and the disciples. Why was this story added to the Gospel of John?
It was just another day in the life of Jesus and HIs disciples. We have a typical fish story. A typical miracle. A typical, post-Easter, “surprised-to-see Jesus” story. Well, there is the story of Peter–having to swear his allegiance three times–an embarrassing reminder for Peter. That’ll preach, as we like to say.
The first verse is really the prologue: 21 Jesus later appeared to his disciples along the shore of Lake Tiberias.
Then we back up a little bit and learn that the disciples have gone back to fishing for fish, back to their pre-Jesus calling. They’re not looking for Jesus or sharing what He taught them. They’re definitely not fishing for men. It’s as if they’ve erased the last three years from their lives. Life goes on, back to normal.
It makes sense to me. They’ve been laid off. In the meantime, there are bills to pay until they’re called back to work.
As far as the disciples knew, the Jesus Business was closed: no Jesus, no traveling, no teaching, no miracles. Would He reopen? When? Who knew? At least they had a boat and a lake full of fish. What else could they do?
LIttle did they know that Jesus was going to perform another miracle, and simultaneously, reopen the Jesus Business.
At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we learn that Peter and Andrew were called from fishing for fish to be fishers of men.
Matthew 4: 18 While Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers. One was Simon, also known as Peter, and the other was Andrew. They were fishermen, and they were casting their net into the lake. 19 Jesus said to them, “Come with me! I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish.” 20 Right then the two brothers dropped their nets and went with him.
Now, here, at the very end of His ministry, Jesus confirms and redefines this call.
I love the parallels between the Matthew beginning and the John ending: both times, they are in a boat, fishing. Both times, Jesus calls them to join him. Both times, he invites them to “fish for people.”
But this time, the invitation is fraught with danger. It requires more than stowing the nets and walking dusty roads.
Furthermore, Jesus has to make sure that Peter understands the seriousness of his mission.
The lesson is painful. The pain derives not from the danger of future trials, but from the recollection of the most humiliating, shameful night of Peter’s life.
The lesson starts the night of the last supper with Jesus.
John 13: 36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”
37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
Sadly, tragically, Jesus’ prediction is correct. In Chapter 18 of John, Peter blatantly, thoughtlessly denies knowing Jesus to those who are gathered in the high priest’s courtyard.
You may recall that Peter is not a particularly decorous or restrained person. He is impetuous and emotional. So it is no surprise that while he claims in Chapter 13 that he will lay down his life for Jesus, in Chapter 18, he contradicts himself and declares he doesn’t know Jesus. Peter lives in the moment.
But this final conversation between Jesus and Peter is the turning point in Peter’s life. You might think the turning point would have been that first call to leave the boats and nets behind, but I think not. Peter’s life changes most dramatically when he receives the command to “Feed my sheep. This is where the line is drawn between the Peter we know in the Gospels and the Peter we know in the Acts and the Epistles.
15 When Jesus and his disciples had finished eating, he asked, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than the others do?”
Simon Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I do!”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus said.
16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus told him.
17 Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus had asked him three times if he loved him. So he told Jesus, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.”
Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.
In this threefold question and commitment, the relationship between Jesus and Peter is renewed and strengthened. Peter has received the commission for the rest of his life. He is no longer the wandering, wondering follower. He is the leader. He is following in Jesus’ footsteps, taking on the work of Jesus. Jesus is honest with him, or at least as honest as metaphors allows.
18 I tell you for certain that when you were a young man, you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will hold out your hands. Then others will wrap your belt around you and lead you where you don’t want to go.”
19 Jesus said this to tell how Peter would die and bring honor to God. Then he said to Peter, “Follow me!”
Peter is fully restored as a disciple, fully restored to follow in Jesus’ footsteps with more competence and authority than we or he could have imagined.
He once again belongs to the inner circle, completely forgiven and completely empowered to reopen the Jesus-Business, to go beyond the footprints of Jesus, to take Jesus’ ministry into the rest of the world.
Is there a message for those of us who will never make it into any version of the Gospels or the Epistles? Peter is a great character in the Greatest Story Ever Told. What can we learn? That we shouldn’t deny knowing Jesus? That’s a whole other sermon. We probably all deny Jesus, through words or actions, ten times a day. Maybe you don’t; I do. I forget. I take the easy way out. I’m afraid of what people will think or say. I don’t make a very good disciple. So, yes, there’s a lesson for me.
But I want to look at this from a different angle. If Peter is a character in the Greatest Story Ever Told, so are we. That story didn’t end with the last sentence of the Book of Revelation. If it did, this Bible would be read only in ancient literature classes in some university. The story, the Jesus-Business, is still in business. And hiring every day! We never get laid off. We take a vacation once in awhile, but our job is always waiting for us when we return.
One of the blessings for our situation is that we do not head out into the world knowing that we will be imprisoned and harassed and tortured and killed because we share the Good News of the Jesus-Business. When Jesus restored Peter to the sales staff, his benefits package was a foretaste of failure. And yet, Peter did not fail. How many people came to know Jesus through the efforts, the preaching, the healing, the miracles of Peter and the other disciples?
How many people have come to know Jesus’ love and salvation through the generations of disciples that have followed, century after century? We know that many of those saints have suffered a fate similar to Peter’s and that there are still people dying for their faithfulness to Jesus.
So, should you feel guilty for not being persecuted for your faith? No. Not all of the original disciples died unnatural deaths because of their faith–the “disciple whom Jesus loved” probably died a natural death.
What I want you to remember is that you are in the Jesus Business. It’s sort of a family business. And because this family business takes care of you, maybe it’s important to think about how you contribute to the family business. You can wear a cross around your neck. You can worship on Sunday. You can pray. You can read Scripture and devotions. You can share your time and talents and gifts with your neighbors. When you do these things, do them in the name of Jesus.
In your prayers, thank God that you have the freedom to openly and freely act in Jesus’ name. In your prayers, pray for those who are still persecuted for believing in the same Lord and Savior. In your prayers, thank God for the saints, like Peter, who have gone before us. In your prayers, thank God for the saints who have welcomed you into the family business, the Jesus Business. Amen.