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Life of Christ (1996-1998)


John 21

An epilog is a literary device in which an author makes final comments. Today we will see Christ’s epilog to the leaders of the church, his last lesson, in word and deed. Here it is:

(John 21 NIV) Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: {2} Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. {3} "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. {4} Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. {5} He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. {6} 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. {7} 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. {8} The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. {9} When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. {10} Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." {11} Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. {12} Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. {13} Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. {14} This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. {15} When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." {16} Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." {17} 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. {18} I tell you the truth, 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." {19} Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" {20} 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?") {21} When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" {22} Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." {23} Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers 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?" {24} This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. {25} 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.

This is the epilog; the exit (the Ascension) is the last act. Matthew portrays the grandeur of the exit; John, the intimate friend of Jesus, portrays this last, ordinary encounter. There is an ordinariness about it which is quite remarkable. The disciples went fishing; it’s their occupation, their trade.

Indeed, some scholars hold there is nothing miraculous in the catch. It may be that Jesus just had a better angle to see where the fish were. Whatever the case, there is one thing which is clear: Jesus invites them to breakfast. This is no ghost, no spiritual cloud, but solid flesh. It is as ordinary as a campfire breakfast.


One of the aspects of Scripture which is often neglected is the artistic. God is creator, the author of the creative arts. In its supreme moments we see this in the Psalms, but here it is shown in the exquisite detail of forgiveness and restoration. First note the name Jesus uses for Peter: “Simon, son of John.” Have you ever yelled at your kids, using their full names? I sense something of that here. It is obviously a formal occasion, for on only one other instance does Jesus use this phrasing.[1]

To understand both the art and the forgiveness, we must recall the offense. Peter has denied his Lord three times.

·         “I am not” (one of his disciples)[2]

·         “I am not”[3]

·         But the third time[4] Mark records that he did it with curses, telling them he didn’t even know what they were talking about.

This triple denial brings out a triplet restoration. It has fascinated scholars of the Greek for two millennia. Consider:

·         Three times Jesus asks him if he loves him. The first time Jesus asks, he uses the Greek word agape, an intense love. Peter replies using phileo, which is used of friendship. This is repeated the second time, but the third time Jesus descends to Peter’s ability and questions him with phileo. In the first two he sets the standard; in the third, paralleling Peter’s third denial, he brings it down to what Peter can do.

·         Peter replies with “you know.” The first two times the Greek word is eido, which can roughly be translated, “know for certain, know for a fact.” The third time he says, “you know (eido) all things,” and then “you know (ginosko) that I love you.” Ginosko relates more to knowing in the sense of feeling or perceiving, as in “I know that she loves me.”

·         Surprisingly, there is an alternation in the word translated as “feed.” You’ll note that in the second phrasing, the NIV translates “take care of.” That’s because the first and third times Jesus uses the word bosko, which means “feed or pasture.” The second time it’s poimaino, which means “tend, or supervise.” Combine this with the progression of lambs, sheep and sheep and you can see again a progression from high to low. First is the delicate task of feeding the newborn lambs, then supervising the grown sheep, and finally down to feeding the grown lambs. From the most important down to the least important tasks of shepherding, Jesus leads Peter from self-importance to servanthood.

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. In this simple, beautiful example we can see some of the key points of this:

·         Jesus does not ignore Peter’s denials. He redeems them. So too we are not privileged to ignore sin, but rather to redeem and restore the sinner through the grace of Jesus Christ. We too must seek and save.

·         Note that he restores Peter to his position as leader of the disciples. Indeed, he is instantly seen as their leader in Acts. All of us are sinners, and it is not sufficient to forgive if we will not allow the forgiven sinner to participate in the life of the forgiven church.

·         No one, not even a close follower who denies you, is so far gone in sin that they cannot be redeemed. They may think that what they have done is unforgivable – but God is in the business of taking sinful failure and turning it into glorious success.

·         The material with which God works often determines the results. Great sinners, it is said, make great saints.


This scene provides us some insight into the life of a disciple. Like other such scenes, we must infer from what we see.

The heart of a disciple

Note Peter’s first reaction: John says “It is the Lord,” and Peter immediately grabs his clothing and jumps in to swim to shore. Do recall that this is in the light of his three denials! Most of us (to use a C. S. Lewis phrase) would “rather let sleeping worms lie.” When we sin, we don’t want to see the Lord; we don’t want to pray, because that would just make things worse. As with a toothache, we want something to make the pain go away – something other than a dentist. But Peter is a true disciple, despite his failures. When the chance comes, he swims toward the Lord. The repentant sinner runs toward the light, for there he finds the cleanness he desires. The unrepentant sinner runs from the light, so as to hide the filth he has.

The servant nature of discipleship

Most of us would love to be missionaries – on Waikiki Beach (I know a man who is one). But

·         The servant of God is not allowed to choose his living and dying. Jesus already knows how Peter will die; now Peter knows too. Jesus knows how we will die; it’s just that he hasn’t shared it with us yet.

·         Nor is the servant of God allowed to choose his place of service. Paul, before the Macedonian vision[5], was prohibited from going what he thought was the right direction. God had other plans.

·         Nor are we allowed to make comparisons (why did he get Waikiki and I get Fullerton?) “What is that to you?” A servant stands or falls before his own master.[6]

The nature of the servant’s love.

There are two things that Jesus makes clear to Peter about a servant’s love for his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

·         Such love is expressed in obedience to his commands. The restoration does not ignore the sin, but puts Peter back on the track of obedience.[7]

·         Such love from a leader of the church – and so many are leaders, whether we wish to be or not – is expressed in the phrase, “feed my sheep.” It’s almost like, “love me, love my kids.” If you are the true servant of Jesus Christ, you will want to feed his sheep.

Last Instructions to the Leaders

Just as the night in the room of the Last Supper was a set of last minute instructions, so too is this episode. What singles it out is that it seems particularly meant for leaders of the church, and as such it bears some closer examination.

Feed My sheep

·         First, there is the word “feed.” Teach them the word; as it also says “take care of,” it includes rebuke and restoration. But first and foremost, teach them the word of God. Have sound doctrine, and convey it regularly to the flock.

·         Then, remember whose sheep they are! They are not yours; they are His. It is not given to you to claim them; you are a servant. If your ministry is built on personality or charisma you are hiding the Christ from the eyes of your followers.

·         Finally, recall that they are sheep. They will follow. So lead them carefully; keep yourself pure so that your example will not lead them astray.

Bear with suffering

·         Why should I bear with suffering? Note the phrasing about Peter’s death: by what kind of death he should glorify God. You suffer because you are his servants (it is inevitable); but suffer so that it brings glory to him. The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.

·         Whatever that suffering is, follow Him. Nothing else matters.

Restore the sinners

·         It is first necessary to forgive, as Jesus so frequently taught. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

·         You must also restore. We are given the ministry of reconciliation. It is not sufficient to say, “I forgive,” and then do nothing. We have a minister in our church, brother W., who has gone through this experience. I am happy to say that he has been restored to ministry upon repentance. Not immediately, but as he has shown himself capable.

Do not envy

“What is that to you?” In this Jesus shows us that we are not to envy one another. For some time I myself had this problem. I was always worried about the attendance numbers, and dreaming of the time I would have the largest class in the church. But God showed me his way in this story:

The story is told about F.E.B. Meyer, who was a minister in the 19th century. He had a congregation in the middle of London. A friend stopped by to ask how things were going. He heard a sad tale; within two miles of his church were three of the greatest preachers on earth (I recall one being C. H. Spurgeon). The church was half empty and Meyer was depressed.

Two years later the friend returned to find the church filled. He asked Meyer what caused the turnaround. Meyer confessed that God had convicted him of the sin of envy. So he got down on his knees and began to pray for the other churches. “I asked God to fill their churches to overflowing – and out of the overflow He has filled mine.”

We are not here for our glory, leaders, we are here for the glory of God.

[1] John 1:42, where Jesus tells him that he will be called Cephas (Peter)

[2] John 18:16

[3] John 18:25

[4] Mark 14:70-72

[5] See Acts 16:6-7

[6] Romans 14:4

[7] See John 14:15

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