We are now just past the half–way point between Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost … only 14 more days until the Ascension of Jesus. This 50–day period emerges as a focal point for disciple-building … “equipping & mobilizing men to follow Jesus.” There’s much to learn from what Jesus said and what He did during this post–Resurrection period with His followers … Clues for how we might follow Him, too.
One of the most popular passages describing words and actions directed toward Peter is found in John 21:15–23. Thrice–repeated questions of Jesus … “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” … have sparked innumerable interpretations of what Jesus said, how He said it, and how Peter replied.
This post will focus on the larger context of what was going on during that “grace-filled breakfast @ the beach” … specifically, what happens when we follow … or fail … Jesus?
- The first clue this final chapter in John’s Gospel reveals is that Jesus meets us at our point of greatest need. (John 21:1–3)
Peter declares to some of his friends, “I am going fishing” (v. 3) … of course he is! … and Thomas, Nathanael, the “thunder–brothers” James & John, plus two unnamed disciples immediately join him. They’re in the right place … angels and Jesus Himself had instructed the disciples to head to Galilee … an action they had delayed. But now that they are there, and unsure of what to do next, they do what comes naturally … they go fishing.
Even though they had already experienced two personal encounters with the resurrected Jesus (v. 14), it appears like they’re still confused, or sorrowful, or maybe lost in their own unfulfilled expectations of Who Jesus was … or is. Sound familiar? … even though we have twenty centuries of historical hindsight to draw from, we frequently fall into the same “funk” while following Jesus.
- This is why the next observation (vv. 4–11) is so important … Jesus sustains … exceeds! … our every need.
Verse 3 records, “… that night they caught nothing” … which reminds us of a similar scene when Jesus first met Peter in Luke 5. And just like then, Jesus now performs the miraculous. He prepares a charcoal fire, complete with grilled fish and bread! He provides a catch of fish exceedingly abundant and beyond capacity … 153 to be exact! … without tearing the fishing nets!
But He is about to perform even deeper miracles beyond the physical … miracles of the heart.
- The third thing we notice in this miracle–filled story is that Jesus invites us into relationship and fellowship with Him. (vv. 12–14)
“Come, dine!” [KJV] … two short imperatives in Greek … usually translated, “Come and have breakfast” … an invitation, really, into relationship … “Let’s share a meal together, this morning, here on the beach of the Sea of Galilee, where we’ve invested so many precious times together during the past three years.” The invitation was a normal, expected element of the First Century hospitality culture; yet Jesus is about to turn this impromptu meal into a platform for so much more!
In verse 10, Jesus had already invited His disciples to “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught” … also an imperative … an opportunity to participate in providing the breakfast entrée. In Jesus’ native tongue, to “participate” essentially meant to enjoy “fellowship” with one another. His commanding invitation applies to us as well, living in the 21st Century, to join Him in close community, and to participate in His post–Resurrection life, even during something as basic as an everyday meal.
These first three clues set the stage for the conversation with Peter that follows in vv. 15–22. It is from this dialogue that we learn two results from meeting Jesus, being sustained by Jesus, and coming into relationship and fellowship with Him.
- Jesus repeatedly offers to forgive our failed attempts to follow Him. (vv. 15–17)
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Without diving into the details of specific terms used by Jesus and Peter to describe “love” … ἀγαπάω vs. φιλέω … it’s clear that Jesus is offering His thrice–denying disciple three new opportunities for restoration.
I wonder if Peter recalled an earlier dialogue with Jesus about the nature of forgiveness?
- “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21–22 … see also Luke 17:4)
The text then states that Peter was “grieved” because Jesus had asked him the same question three times. The word literally meant “to throw into sorrow” to the point of “making one uneasy.” It’s used 36 times in the New Testament, always in reference to a heavy emotional response.
Forgiving a person who has wronged us, as well as receiving forgiveness from a person we have wronged, can be equally difficult. Jesus is teaching with His words, as well as modeling with His actions, the true nature of biblical forgiveness. It appears from Peter’s last written correspondence that he grasped what Jesus revealed to him.
- “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Peter 1:2-7)
- A final clue for following Jesus based on the reality of His forgiveness is … Jesus commissions us for future service. (vv. 15–17)
Coupled with Jesus’ three questions are three commands:
“Feed My lambs” … “Shepherd My sheep” … “Feed My sheep”
In the Greek language, all three are present tense, active imperatives … indicating a direct command requiring an ongoing, obedient response. Peter’s obedience to God’s purposes for his future will be tied to Peter’s acceptance of Jesus’ forgiveness.
Jesus concludes the conversation with His favorite invitation/command … “Follow Me!” (v. 19). And when Peter gets side–tracked by his buddy John’s presence, Jesus repeats and focuses His invitation/command on Peter … “You follow Me!”
What, then, can we expect when we follow … or fail … Jesus?
- Jesus meets us at our point of greatest need.
- Jesus sustains … exceeds! … our every need.
- Jesus invites us into relationship and fellowship with Him.
- Jesus repeatedly offers to forgive our failed attempts to follow Him.
- Jesus commissions us for future service.
Here are four questions to ponder as 21st Century followers of Jesus:
- As I follow in the footsteps of Jesus, what is my current greatest need?
- In what areas of my life do I need Jesus to sustain me?
- Where do I most need to experience Jesus’ forgiveness?
- How might Jesus want to use me in the future?
Peace & Joy!