Text: John 21:1-17
Today we conclude our “Journey to Easter in John” in chapter 21. I realize we are past Easter and past the resurrection, but this is a kind of epilogue to the story we’ve been following.
Last Sunday – Easter Sunday – we looked at several of those who interacted with the empty tomb and then the risen Jesus. They weren’t looking for resurrection; it found them. JESUS found them, coming to Mary, then the disciples, and then again to Thomas. And he appeared to others as well.
And today he appears to a group of the disciples and specifically interacts with Peter. I want to look at that appearance and interaction and then, since it is such a personal encounter, I want to share a personal story of how Jesus found me.
In John 21, in that strange post-Easter time, we find seven of the disciples together. Peter announces, “I am going fishing” and the whole group decides to go with him. Now that’s not too strange because many or all of them had grown up as fishermen and it was natural for them to go together to handle the nets. Nonetheless, it must have been a frustrating night for them, because they did not catch any fish; no one likes to fish and catch nothing.
And then, as the sun was rising, they experienced an amazing event that Luke tells us at least four of them had experienced three years earlier. Luke (ch. 5) records that Andrew, Peter, James, and John also had a failed night of fishing that ended with a miraculous catch and Jesus saying, “Follow me.”
The young disciple, John, turned to Peter and said, “It is the Lord.” Peter put his outer garment back on and dove in the water to swim to shore. The others were left to haul in the fish and bring the boats to shore. By the time they got to the shore, Jesus had a fire going with fish cooking, and bread ready to eat. Jesus invites the disciples to “Come and have breakfast.” Come, sit with Him; come, worship Him; come love Him and be loved by Him; come enjoy God’s provision and the result of God at work in your life. The disciples did not need to ask who this was. They knew him as their Lord and friend. Jesus had come to them yet again, in love and with grace.
We don’t really know why these disciples went fishing that day. What seems apparent in the scene that follows is that Peter was feeling cut off from Jesus. He had betrayed Jesus and denied every knowing him, and resurrection or not, Peter probably felt like his discipling days were over.
Jesus’ conversation with Peter flows right out of the encounter with the larger group. Peter, who had done all the other disciples have and more in terms of giving up, running away, and denying him, now must confront his own failures and see what the Lord has in store for him. Jesus came and found him in the Upper Room. Jesus has come and found him fishing with the other disciples. And now Jesus comes even further in to speak with him personally, to find him in his particular lostness.
Three times, matching each time Peter denied knowing him, Jesus asks Peter some variation of “Do you love me?” Three times Peter has the opportunity to respond. And three times, Jesus answers with some variation of “tend my sheep.” Three times, “Peter, will you turn to me and love me?… Then I have work for you to do – to share in my own work.”
Jesus’ words to Peter do not end there, but with the same words with which he began three years earlier. On that day, after telling Peter and others to push back out and throw their nets back in, Jesus invited them to “Follow me.” So also, on this day of second chances and new starts, Jesus calls Peter (and then John!) once again, saying, “Follow me.”
That part of God’s grace – God’s GIFT to us – is always so striking. God doesn’t just forgive and restore us, but calls us again to share in His work in the world. That’s complete forgiveness; that’s resurrection and new life. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
I have experienced Jesus coming to me like this, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in more direct ways. Last Sunday I referenced a hard time in my life in my early 20s. After the service someone asked if I had shared the details of that with the church before. I have, but it’s been several years and it’s worth sharing again in this context.
In my life I have had two dreams that I think came from God. One of them came when I was 24 nearly two years after I moved to Nashville following college. After the rich friendships and Christian community in college, I was isolated, lonely, and spiritually dry. I got to the point where I lost interest in what I didn’t have, yet I knew that I needed it. The few times I prayed, it was, “God, help me want to want you in my life.” That’s how distant and removed God seemed. I did finally make myself start going to church, mainly to be around the people of God, to put myself in the vicinity of faith. I think that was part of me remembering what God had done before, even if these were new people and I felt like I had “lost” the old college friends. I kept hoping that some sermon or conversation or realization would open everything back up, and it just never happened. Then I had a dream.
In that dream I was visiting a large mansion with a huge grassy lawn all around. This was a familiar setting for Nashville. One of the musicians from the church I was attending came out… it seemed like his house. And he came out and hugged me and invited me to run and play in the yard like a little kid. If I could have scripted the dream, I would have made him Aslan from the Narnia Chronicles, but I think he probably played the same role – a stand-in for Jesus. And I wept tears of release and joy. I hadn’t cried once in the two years I had been there, and not much before that. Something opened up in me during that dream – something deep within me. I believe God answered my feeble prayers and communicated with me in the way I needed it. I had probably created enough walls and barriers that no sermon or song or thought could have done it. But God’s ways are far deeper than our ways.
It was not an instant turnaround, but it was the significant spiritual turning point in that very dry and lonely time in my life. It opened me back up to conversation and relationship with God and I believe it is an example of Jesus coming to find me when I was lost. It was God’s GIFT of grace when I was stuck and couldn’t find a way forward.
Hear the Voice of Jesus Say
How many of us need to hear God’s declaration, not just that he wants and uses ordinary people like you and me, but that He comes even to those who have failed and fallen, to call you and me again and again. To you who are burned out, used up, off track, ashamed, and full of doubt; welcome to the disciples’ club!
Just as he did with the group of disciples, inviting them to the fellowship around the fire…
Just as he did with Peter and John…
Just as he does with me…
Jesus says to you, “Do you love me? Tend my sheep… follow me and be a part of what I’m doing. I love you; I forgive you; I want you.”
Some Music Used
- Jesus, All for Jesus
- I Will Offer Up My Life
- I Will Rise
- Let Your Kingdom Come
- Come, People of the Risen King
- I Will Offer Up My Life
- Who You Say I Am (Hillsong)