John 21. Theme: Mission. Sermon by Pastor David Williams. Strathalbyn Church of Christ. 11 April 2021.
Pray: Lord open our ears, that we may respond in faith and in action.
Why is it here?
Why do we need Chapter 21? Jesus has risen and appeared three times. John has just explained why he wrote his book at the end of the last chapter. What more needs to be said? Well there are two big issues left hanging. First, the disciples and their mission – so far, they’ve done nothing. Second, Peter’s fate is left hanging. These two issues need to be sorted.
Let’s look at the chapter in 4 parts:
1. The disciples’ mission
2. Peter’s mission
3. John’s mission
4. Christ’s mission
1 The disciple’s mission
Jesus had given his disciples a job, he had sent them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”, John 20:21. Years before, at that same lake, he called them away from their boats to be “fishers of men”, so why are they back here fishing? Were they disobedient? Before we jump in and judge them, let’s consider a few things.
First, they were meant to be there, as Jesus had said, “after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee”, Mark 14:28; 16:7. Also, this fishing was before the Spirit had come at Pentecost. But didn’t they already have the Spirit? Jesus had breathed on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22), but this saying seems to have been a promise – anticipating Pentecost - rather than a life changing event then and there.
There were good reasons to go fishing too: They had been on an emotional roller coaster in the last week – the elation of Palm Sunday; the utter despair of the crucifixion; and the astonishment of the resurrection. These guys needed some time out. And they also needed to eat.
Brekky served by Jesus
And isn’t this where you would expect Jesus to meet people? Out fishing? The church has painted a false image of Jesus surrounded by golden haloes and angels and monks in robes. If Jesus turned up today, it would not likely be in a church building, but somewhere like Don’s back paddock as he’s fixing the fence to keep out foxes, or with Mark in his truck as he recycles metals.
Jesus showed himself to ordinary working blokes on a beach, blokes like Peter who failed him, Thomas who doubted him and two guys who weren’t even given names here. Jesus meets us in the messiness of our lives – Peter had to quickly get dressed to meet Jesus.
In the practicalities of life, Jesus doesn’t just meet us, but he serves us too, as he served the fishermen a cooked breakfast after a hard night’s work. And he still meets our practical needs. One of our members shared that when her husband died, she was reminded of a verse from Isaiah, God will be a husband to the widow (**Isaiah 54:5-6). **In claiming that promise she saw remarkable answers to her prayers, as the Lord provided her with work, a home, people and provision.
We can do nothing!
They learnt some good lessons on that fishing trip. First, “what we can do without Jesus is not a little; we can do nothing”, v3, Jn 15:5. Through the night, these seven professional fishermen caught nothing. Before dawn a stranger called from the beach “throw the net on the other side”. Perhaps to humour this landlubber, they did so and immediately had a catch that beat all records. 153 large fish. Jesus was teaching them how to catch men – by trusting his word.
Are we trusting in our own abilities or in Jesus? Even Billy Graham could not save a single person, by his own eloquence. Saving anyone is utterly beyond our ability – for it means raising the spiritually dead to life. With humans these things are impossible. With God, all things are possible – even saving your husband, your children, your neighbour. So, when you have tried and failed again, to invite to church, to persuade, throw the net out again on the other side. Throw out the net – against all earthly wisdom, trusting only in Jesus. For Jesus can and will save.
Harvesting the nations
The vast number of fish shows us that God’s mission is huge. Like the 153 fish, yet in a net that did not break, so there is no limit to the number of converts heaven will receive. His mansion does have many rooms (Jn 14:2). We can get depressed on the decline of faith in Australia and in the West. Yet when we see the big picture – God’s picture, it is breathtaking. Take just one example - from a single Christian in Nepal in 1951, there are today around 400,000. Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars, and Revelation speaks of “a multitude that no one can number from every nation, tribe, people and language”, Rev. 7:9. We are today seeing the nations coming to the throne of the Lamb and we all have a role in this.
2 Peter’s mission
You can learn a lot by seeing how people act. Peter acts like a dog that knows it is in trouble – with its tail between its legs, trying desperately to please. So, Peter flings himself into the water – leaving the others to haul in the heavy load of fish. When Jesus asks them to bring the net – Peter singlehandedly hauls the net that the other six had struggled with.
Jesus on his part sets things up – recreating the scene where Peter denied him. It is dark. Faces are hard to recognise. There is a charcoal fire – like the one Peter stood before with the soldiers. Peter had denied Jesus in public, so before he could again be a leader, he had to be restored in public. This very awkward interview with Jesus took place in the presence of the other six disciples – those called “more than these” when Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me - more than these?” Previously Peter boasted that he loved Jesus more than anyone, but he failed – denying Jesus three times. Now three times he is challenged to affirm his love. Jesus is gentle but firm. He doesn’t make demands of Peter; he doesn’t say, “How could you?” but he does restore him. He restores Peter not by law but by grace.
Peter couldn’t follow Jesus until this unfinished business had been dealt with. Have you unfinished business? Things you have done that still put-up barriers with others; things that continue to bring shame. It is one thing to bring these failures to the cross – and we need to do that. But sometimes, we also need to confess to another, one we have wronged, or to another human – like David before the prophet Nathan. It may be that this is not possible. But no matter, there is no failure that God will not forgive. There is no shame that God will not remove. “Failure is never final with God”. God will restore you, heal you and make you fit again for his service.
Peter was indeed restored. He was to show his total loyalty to his master by being crucified himself – he was to stretch out his hands on a cross. Imagine being Peter and having this hanging over your head for three decades! We don’t have a specific prediction like Peter’s, yet we are all told to take up our cross, and like Peter, Follow him. Mk 8:34.
Feed my sheep
Leaders have a particular role in feeding Christ’s sheep, but it is something we should all do – for we are to love one another. We can all offer words of encouragement and prayers and offer help to one another. Peter wasn’t just restored for his own mental well-being. He was restored so he could feed Christ’s sheep. It’s a package deal being a Christian. We are adopted into Jesus’ family. We don’t just love and serve our Saviour, but our brothers and sisters too. You wouldn’t go to a friend’s place and then ignore or ridicule his wife or children. But this is what some do to Christ’s bride, the church – Christ’s brothers and sisters. Commitment to Christ means commitment to his people. I am my brother’s keeper! That means, we cannot be effective as Christians unless we engage with the church – that means committing yourself to a local church and attending regularly – and not just to warm the pews but to participate, to serve. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but we are blighted today by a lack of commitment. Sport, work, holidays, family – there are so many excuses for not coming to church. How will you feed Christ’s sheep, how will you serve your brothers and sisters if you don’t even show up? To most of you, though, who do show up – week after week, I say, and Christ says, well done. Thank you!
We need to remember too – especially pastors – that the church belongs to Jesus, not us. He calls Peter to “Feed my sheep”, (cf.10:11). Where the rubber hits the road, for many of us is when it comes to change. We don’t like change. We are not comfortable with it. And yet some churches have become museums because the members resist change. But does the church belong to Jesus or to me? So, will I complain when changes put me outside my comfort zone, or will I rejoice because those changes are bringing new people into church?
We need to let the Lord deal with his sheep in his own way, and for Peter, that included John.
3 John’s mission
Peter had just been told he would be crucified. He saw John following and asked, “what about him”. Jesus replied, “Mind your own business!”
It was a very natural question. After all Peter and John were friends. They were fishermen together when Jesus first called them. Peter asked John to find out who was to betray Jesus, v7, Jn 13:24-25. They had raced together to the empty tomb, Jn 20:2-10. So, it was a natural question, but a wrong one. Their ministries would be so very different – Peter, the leader and martyr. John, the writer.
The lesson for us is clear. We need to allow Jesus to shape and guide his followers as only he knows best. We should beware of putting our expectations on anyone – whether they are helpers at church, or spouses, or children. We need to give people the freedom to grow in the way that God intends, not the way we would prefer. Don’t worry about others, Jesus told Peter, “You follow me”.
John the evangelist
So, what was John’s mission then? John – who six times called himself the disciple Jesus loved – was the son of Zebedee and brother of James (Jn 21:2). He was also the disciple who wrote this gospel (Jn 21:24). He is called John the evangelist. John was an intimate companion of Jesus, an honest witness, and we can have great confidence in the historical accuracy of his gospel. John was one of the first disciples of Jesus (Jn 1:35-40). He was known to the High Priest and was present at Jesus’ trial, Jn 18:15-17. He stood next to Jesus’ mother at the cross and he was at the empty tomb. He ate breakfast with Jesus on that beach. Our faith is based on historic facts – as John put it, “signs done in the presence of the disciples”, Jn 20:30. The signs were written by John “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”, Jn 20:31. John wrote his eyewitness testimony so that we may believe in Christ and believing have life. John was indeed a great evangelist.
4 Christ’s mission
John’s witness was of vital importance, but John recognised that it was but a tiny contribution to Christ’s work. He concluded, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written”, Jn 21:25. Is this sheer exaggeration? Not in John’s thinking. Consider Christ’s mission as John describes it.
Consider the beginning of Christ’s work. In words that echo Genesis 1, he is the one who was “in the beginning with God”, Jn 1:2. “All things were made through him”, Jn 1:3. He created and sustains all things. Christ did not just bring creation into being, but also the new creation. And he will return to bring about an eternal age of glory, Jn 21:22, 23. As John wrote in Revelation, he is “the beginning and the end”, “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:8; 22:13). And like Peter, we are to follow him Jn 1:37,43; 21:19,22 - not just for this life but eternally. It is a glorious journey we are on – as we discover more and more about our Master. Heaven will be eternally fascinating beyond our wildest imagination. Truly, the world cannot contain the books that could be written of Christ.
Pray: Lord, perhaps there are things said that have unsettled us. If this unsettling is from you, help us to respond, trusting and obeying you.
Conversations with Rev Chris Jolliffe, Trinity Aldgate
Barnett, Paul. (2005). The shepherd king: reading John today. Sydney: Aquila Press.