One of my new favorite passages in the Bible is John 21. The power of this passage was always lost on me, and I want to take a moment to thank my good friend Timothy for helping me see this passage with new eyes. His insight inspired this post.
John 21 is a passage I never really gave a lot of thought or attention to. It always seemed to me like it was a really anti-climatic ending for the Gospel writings. It is a quiet conclusion to what I would consider the greatest story ever told. The gospel accounts end with a quiet breakfast on the beach.
John says it like this:
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
I love the disciples. I see so much of myself in them. They are just so human. Remember that Christ had been crucified, buried, risen, and had appeared to the disciples resurrected. They had witnessed the risen son of God, and what did they do? They went fishing.
Imagine if you had experienced all the disciples had experienced. Imagine if you had spent years at Christ’s side witnessing his miracles and hearing his teachings. Imagine if you had seen him crucified and buried only to see the risen and resurrected Lord three days later…. Now imagine what it must have been like going back to work after all that. I’d imagine it would probably take a great deal of time to process everything that these men had just gone through, so I guess fishing seemed like as good a use of time as anything.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.
I love this passage. One of the guys on the boat recognizes Jesus and Peter is so overjoyed to see him that he can’t wait for the boat to reach shore. They were only about a hundred yards from the beach, but Peter decided that he was going to jump in and swim the distance rather than wait patiently on the boat to reach the shore. I’ve been very happy to see people in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy that I would leap out of a boat to get to the shore faster.
When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
“Come have breakfast” just makes me smile. Remember that Jesus had already accomplished everything he came to this world to do. The victory had been won, the chains of sin and death were shattered, a new day had dawned. So what does Christ do? He makes breakfast.
I love the fact that we worship a God of small things as well as big things. God does not always come with pearls of lightning, rolls of thunder, and a blinding flash of light. Sometimes he just wants to chat with you on the beach over breakfast. Christ could have been seated at the right hand of God in glory. He could have been justly worshiped and exhausted by the heavenly host! Instead he decided that, for the time being, he’d rather visit disciples and have a quick bite to eat. That is the love Christ has for us.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
This is yet another passage where I completely missed the point for a long time. Why does Jesus ask Peter three times if he loves him? Because Peter has denied Christ three times just a few days ago. Jesus was reconciling Peter. Imagine the shame that Peter must have felt after he had denied Christ and acted so cowardly during Christ’s time of need. In spite of his overwhelming joy at seeing the risen Lord, I have no doubt that Peter was still deeply ashamed of himself and his cowardice. This was Christ telling Peter that all was forgiven. He was telling Peter that he was not concerned with the past sins. Peter had temporarily given up on Christ, but Christ had never given up on Peter. God had not forgotten him, and Christ was still going to use Peter to do great things.
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return,what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
Of course Peter is still Peter, and in true Peter fashion he almost misses the point entirely. Luckily for Peter, and us, Christ is patient and makes his point absolutely clear. Jesus had a job for Peter, and he has a job for us as well. He calls us to follow him, and tend to his sheep.
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.