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Path of Restoration

John 21

One might conclude that the Gospel of John ended with the 20th chapter. It clearly has all the marks of a finale. But it is the universal testimony of the early church that the 21st chapter is clearly included. Perhaps – we will not find out in this life – John felt it so embarrassing to Peter that he withheld it. This may be; if so, it is likely that Peter told him to include it anyway.

1Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias.£ It happened this way: 2Simon 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.

4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

5He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

6He 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.

7Then 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. 8The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.£ 9When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

11Simon 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. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15When 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.”

16Again 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.”

17The 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. 18I 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.” 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20Peter 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?”) 21When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23Because 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?”

24This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

25Jesus 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.


The power of the ordinary

To most of us, “I’m going fishing” implies a trip to the mountains or the sea, but always a good time. It is something we do with our leisure. To Peter and the others, however, this represents going back to the old line of business, for his trade was that of a fisherman. We may ask why they did this.

  • First, I think, it was their occupation – something at which they made money. They were still unsure of what was to happen, and it never hurts to lay in a little cash.
  • More probably, there is a certain comfort in doing something by manual labor which you have done many times before. Being an apostle was tough; they felt much more at home as fishermen.
Common sense

If there is any one thing which pops up as an objection to Christianity, it will be this: it is against common sense. This is quite the case; divine sense is higher, greater and better than our common sense.

We see that here – with a little background. Boats in those days did not have a rudder as we know it. They were steered by putting a board over one side and using it like a rudder. That board would be tucked under someone’s arm and muscled around until the heading was right. Given that most people are right handed, they’d want to do this on the right hand side of the boat. That side became known as the steering board side – shortened by our time into starboard. The other side was the one you put up against the dock (to avoid damage to your steering board). That side was the port side.

Now, if you are fishing with a net, the very last thing you would want to do is to throw the net from the right (starboard) side of the boat. It is very likely to foul your steering board. So when Jesus tells them to throw the net on that side, it is against plain sense to do it. At that point, having been at it all night, it could only be a sense of frustration which led them to try such a stupid thing.

The extraordinary ordinary

Our Lord is, once again, teaching them who is Lord of All. The night’s empty nets are forgotten in this huge catch. It is an extraordinary event – in an ordinary way. God often works that way.

There is a Peanuts cartoon that tells us of this. Snoopy has his water dish in his mouth; he’s thirsty. He takes it over to a pipe sticking up out of the ground with a hose faucet on it. He kicks the pipe – and it begins to rain. The rain fills his water dish; he drinks from it; and on the way back to his dog house he thinks, “I’ll have to think about that one.”

You see it, I hope. The not-quite-miraculous event in ordinary times. It serves not so much to convince us as it does to bring God to our minds. In his mercy, he does this quite a bit, for it is the gentlest way of restoring the common sense Christian in an uncommon relationship.

The Process of Restoration

It is not sufficient to bring about the repentance of a sinner. It is necessary, but not sufficient. To be sufficient we need to bring about the restoration of the sinner. Christ here shows us four steps:

  • The solemn, deadly inquiry
  • The humble answer
  • The demonstration of faith
  • The warning of suffering to come
Solemn inquiry

See first that Jesus asks the critical question: do you love me? He will repeat the question with another verb at the end, but that is condescension to Peter’s failings. All the questions of the old covenant disappear; Christ does not ask Peter if Peter fears him, or if Peter will work for him. The core question: Do you love me?

  • The first time, Jesus adds the phrase, “more than these?” The reference is to the fishing boat and nets; how many today are married to their jobs?
  • The second time, Jesus simply asks; no conditions.
  • The third time Jesus uses a verb which does not imply so great a love (the two verbs are translated “Truly love” and “love” in the NIV).

All this is done with great formality (“Simon, son of John”) so that all will know that what is being said is of first importance.

Humble answer

“Lord, you know…” Peter makes the only true reply to this. He acknowledges the Lord’s omniscience. By offering no defense, he throws himself on the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not let the matter rest with one inquiry. As Peter betrayed him three times, so shall the question come. As our Lord was hurt by those three times, Peter is hurt by the third repetition. It is an exquisite example of speaking the truth in love.

Demonstration of faith

A verbal agreement is not sufficient. Christ tests Peter again in the task he gives him. Curiously, there is an alteration of thought in these three queries:

  • The first time he is to “pasture” Christ’s “lambs”.
  • The next time he is to “watch over” Christ’s sheep.
  • Finally, is to “pasture” Christ’s “sheep”

We can but conclude he intended Peter to carry out the tasks assigned without reference to who is whom.

The Warning of Suffering

Christ knows what Peter will suffer. It may not seem like it, but this is an aspect of restoration: shared suffering.

Permit me an example: suppose you decide that you don’t like football, despite being on the team. You tell the coach, and he sits you on the bench, where you will wait. Now suppose you change your mind. How do you know the coach has accepted you? You are accepted when you’re allowed to wear pads under the uniform and go out and get yourself knocked silly. You are accepted when you join in the suffering.

Christ suffered too; the servant is not above his master. Therefore, all of us who truly believe should expect suffering.

Restoration of the Believer

The restoration of a believer follows the same pattern:

Do you love the Lord?

Remember that Jesus started out by asking Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” If you are not willing to place Christ above all else – family, job, esteem – then you will not be restored. For example:

  • Are you in church only on Sundays which are convenient?
  • Do you spend time, daily, in prayer?
  • What is your giving like? Inside and outside the church.

These are uncomfortable questions. Jesus asks them, so that we might realize that we need to put him first.

The Humble Answer

“Lord, you know…” was Peter’s answer. If you had to call Christ as your witness of the love you have for him, what would be his testimony? Here are a few more questions which may make it easier to decide:

  • Do you act like a Christian, all the time?
  • Is he our constant companion in prayer?
  • Do we set aside time each day for him?
Demonstration of faith

This may sound heretical at first. After all, we are saved by faith, not by works. But we are not talking about salvation but restoration. If only for ourselves, we need to show the world our restoration.

  • Do we use the gifts given us by the Holy Spirit?
  • Are we willing to be servant leaders for the one who washed the disciples’ feet?
  • Or did your mind immediately reach for an old and familiar excuse which will logically defend our lack of action.
Warning of Suffering

If you are a Christian, you should expect to suffer for it. It really is that simple. So I have but two questions for you:

  • You are going to suffer because of him; do you really expect it, or does it come as a surprise?
  • When it comes, do we share it with Christ – so that he may be our comfort?

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