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Life of Peter

Breakfast at the Beach

John 21

Lesson audio

Going Fishing

John 21:1-11 NASB  After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way.  (2)  Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.  (3)  Simon Peter *said to them, "I am going fishing." They *said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.  (4)  But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  (5)  So Jesus *said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No."  (6)  And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.  (7)  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved *said to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.  (8)  But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.  (9)  So when they got out on the land, they *saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread.  (10)  Jesus *said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught."  (11)  Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.


Doing What You Know

(You should note that Christ has already appeared to the disciples at least twice.) It may seem curious to the modern observer that the disciples, or at least some of them, went fishing. They are involved in the greatest event in history, something well beyond their own comprehension or experience, and their reaction to it is to go fishing. It may seem strange behavior. To them, however, it would not seem so strange; they were professional fisherman. In times of anxiety and stress, there is a comfort in going back to the routine and the familiar. When you don't know what to do, you do what you know.

It is also not strange that they caught nothing. Anyone who has ever been fishing understands that the fish are under no obligation to be caught. It is discouraging, but it is not unusual. As professional fisherman this would not be the first time they had experienced such a thing. Fishing all night is not unusual either; many fishermen around the world use some sort of light to attract the fish to the surface and then net them.

Wrong Side

To understand what is happening here, we need to review a little nautical terminology — and where it came from. Most readers will know the nautical terms "port" and "starboard". What's interesting to us in this context is the root of these particular words. Starboard is a contraction of the phrase, "steering board." This dates to the days before the invention of the rudder — something which came along the late medieval time. Until you had a ship whose stern stuck out of the water, it made no sense to put a hole in the bottom of the boat for the steering board. The steering board was kept on the right-hand side of the ship (because most people were right-handed) and muscled around to steer the ship. Thus, the right-hand side of the ship was known as the steering board side, later contracted to starboard. The other side of the ship, the left side, was called the port side because that was the side you laid alongside the port. That way you didn't damage your steering board.

What does all this mean to us? It means that the steering board would be on the right-hand side of the ship and you would cast your nets on the left-hand side of the ship. You have to be a pretty frustrated fisherman, then, to take the advice of some guy on the shore telling you to put your net on the right-hand side. It's likely you will foul your steering board — a nasty mess. But it's also possible that I am the shore can see something you can't — so it might be worth a try.

Every now and then you get a result which is unexpected. It tends to get your attention. So when you've been fishing all night and you've caught nothing, and then you get a boatload of fish by doing something which seems wrong, you pay attention. It's not exactly a miracle; technically, it's a providence. It's a very convincing providence. Peter catches on immediately. If you will recall, every time Peter gets in a boat with Jesus things do not go according to plan. He recognizes the results immediately.

Peter's Reaction

Peter recognizes Jesus by the results. It's an important point for us today. Some of us have the vague idea that we would recognize Jesus if he appeared to us in miraculous form, but otherwise he is completely unrecognizable. That's because we no longer teach the concept of providence. Have you ever had one of those incidents in your life where everything just came together? It wasn't exactly miraculous, but you could see the hand of God working behind the scenes? That's providence. Quite literally, it is God providing for you (hence the name, providence.) Peter sees it; do you?

It's interesting to note that Peter stops to put on his outer garment. We can assume the other disciples would've left it in the boat; perhaps Peter wanted Christ to know that he had all of Peter, missing nothing. Partial commitment does not become the Christian.

He then swims to shore. It is a remarkable display of his enthusiasm; he's only 100 yards offshore, and it won't take that long to row the boat there. But Peter is a man of action, whose motto seems to be, "direct action whenever possible." The contrast with John is instructive. John is more contemplative by nature, and his contempt for the boat to take him to Christ. It seems that the reaction depends upon the disciple. Here is an instance where it is important to remember the saying, "Judge not."

One final point: note that Peter helps haul the net in from the shore. The true disciple of Christ is willing to do the work, no matter how hot and sweaty it is.


John 21:12-19 NASB  Jesus *said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord.  (13)  Jesus *came and *took the bread and *gave it to them, and the fish likewise.  (14)  This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.  (15)  So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He *said to him, "Tend My lambs."  (16)  He *said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He *said to him, "Shepherd My sheep."  (17)  He *said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus *said to him, "Tend My sheep.  (18)  "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go."  (19)  Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, "Follow Me!"



Please note the phrase, "None of the disciples ventured to question Him." It's a modest way of phrasing the fact that none of the disciples at this point had the guts to ask, "Are you really Jesus?" This is, by all accounts, the third time the disciples have seen him in a group. At this point, they know what they're dealing with. They just don't know what to do with it.

We may make a culinary note at this point: Jesus brought the bread. Jesus cooked the fish that they caught. Breakfast, it seems, is a cooperative effort between the disciples and Christ. This may seem a minor point to you, but it actually is quite important. Many Christians have the idea that everything depends upon their efforts. If they can't see a way to get it done, then it can't be done. Other Christians have the idea that all we need to do is pray and things will happen; we don't need to really do anything. The truth is in the middle. Like breakfast, Christian endeavors are a cooperative effort between Christ and the disciples. The key is to figure out what he wants us to do and what we should leave to him.

There is a very deep theological point here, also. Christ eats breakfast with them after the resurrection. It is common these days to hear the Christ had some sort of spiritual body (think ghostly). One of the reasons he eats with the disciples is to show them that he is fully human. The importance of this point has been appreciated since the early days of the church — because the heretics who are fond of that spiritual body have been with us since the early days of the church.

A Note on the Greek

The reader will pardon this diversion into the Greek language. The passage in question is almost impossible to translate correctly into English. The reason for this is somewhat unexpected. Normally, the English language has many more words for a similar concept than does the Greek language. In this instance, however, Greek has for words which are correctly translated into the English word, “love.”

·         Storge, which means the kind of love you would have within a family.

·         Eros, from which we get our word "erotic", means sexual love.

·         Phileo, which is often translated "brotherly love", is the word used here in all three instances by Peter. It generally implies an affection which comes from the heart but not the head.

·         Agape, which is used by Christ in the first two instances, means a love which comes from the will. Put shortly, it is love which stems from the head more than the heart.

You can easily see how this changes our understanding of the dialogue. Christ uses the higher and stronger word in his first two questions; Peter replies with the weaker one. On the third try, Christ uses Peter's word. The implication is that Christ is willing to accept what Peter offers; the emotional side of love. It also implies that what Christ desires is more than that. The matter is at once simple and powerful: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. You may not be capable of doing all that, certainly not all the time. But Christ accepts best effort.

Restoring Peter

May I point out one simple thing? Notice that Jesus waited until after breakfast to have this conversation. It is an example of our Lord's grace. Have you ever had to go to someone and apologize — and dreaded the meeting beforehand? You understand the emotions that Peter must have felt. He probably expected to be chewed out royally, and he was not looking forward to it. He probably suspected that he was going to be kicked out of the group of disciples. Jesus counters that feeling by including Peter in the meal. In the culture of that time, if you were invited to eat with someone it was a sign that you were included in their group. If you eat my home, you must be welcome in my home. By doing this, Christ made Peter feel welcome with him.

There is a simple, classic point made about this passage by virtually every commentator. Peter denied Christ three times; Christ restored Peter three times. At the very least we may conclude that the grace of Christ is all sufficient. More than that, we may also conclude that Christ will take us back no matter how many times we have offended. For those of us who are experienced sinners, this is very good news indeed.

Each time that Jesus speaks to Peter here he gives him the same task: take care of my sheep. In so doing he confirms Peter as the head of the disciples. More than that, however, he tells the rest of us how much he cares for us. There are many things that Peter is going to have to do, as we shall see. But Christ has him focus on the one most important thing: take care my sheep. Winston Churchill tells us that when British generals first heard the American generals use the phrase, "overall strategic objective", they laughed. But then he says, "later on, its wisdom became apparent." It helps to know what your main objective is — and always to keep it in focus.


Almost casually, Jesus then tells Peter how he is going to die. It is a curious thing about Christianity: the assumption is that the Christian will suffer. The greater the service to Christ, the greater the suffering. This is, as the physicists put it, "intuitively obvious to the casual observer." How can this be? The world hates Christ. The Prince of this world is Satan; hate is his greatest weapon; Christ is his great enemy. It is no great logical leap, therefore, to see that Satan will hate those who love the way Christ loves. Peter's service will be great; likewise his suffering.

What about Him?

John 21:20-25 NASB  Peter, turning around, *saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?"  (21)  So Peter seeing him *said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?"  (22)  Jesus *said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!"  (23)  Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?"  (24)  This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.  (25)  And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they *were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself *would not contain the books that *would be written.


Peter Changed

The change in Peter is rather breathtaking. From the man who was worried about his status he has gone back to being Peter the bold. The first thing he does is ask the question which is none of his business. That takes guts.

It also shows us the close union of Peter and John. As far as we know, Peter didn't ask anything about any other disciple. As we shall see, the two of them are inseparable in the early days of the church. It's an unusual pairing, perhaps. For if Peter is the man of action then John is the man thought. It is as if Christ were saying to us through this great friendship, "you need both action and mind." This is true for each individual Christian; it is even truer for the church as a whole. Paul makes this point several times when he describes the church as a body. Peter alone cannot perform the tasks assigned; he needs the help of the other disciples. No matter how great you are in the church, you are still part of the body.

Why Did He Ask?

Remember, please, the last thing before he asked was the statement by Christ about how much he was going to suffer. Peter's question relates to that suffering. In effect, he's asking how much John is going to suffer. Why would he do that?

·         Some writers feel that Peter is deflecting the pain of the suffering which is coming. It's a rather psychological concept.

·         In another sense, Peter is sharing the pain. He knows he's going to suffer; it always feels better to know you're not suffering alone. That's just how human beings are built.

·         It's also possible that he's just curious. John is, after all, his best friend.

The apostle John records the answer simply as, "none of your business." God never told Job why he was suffering. Often enough, suffering comes without explanation. If our own suffering comes that way, how much more unexplained is the suffering of others. One of the reasons we are discouraged from judging others is that we have the tendency to see in their suffering some unjudged sin. For this reason, God seldom if ever tells you what somebody else is going to suffer. It's a form of, "lead us not into temptation." God tells us only our own story and that day by day.

The reason John records this in his gospel is rather simple: Christ's answer was misunderstood by some in the early church to mean that John would live until Christ returned. That's not what Christ said, as John points out.

Restoration of the Believer

We may close this lesson with a few points to remember:

·         As often as you fail, Christ is there to restore you.

·         You may not see it that way. You may think that there is a limit to love, because your love is limited. But remember that his love is greater than your love. Count on that.

·         Christ's love for you does not depend on anyone else. It doesn't matter what your pastor thinks or your wife says; Christ's love is eternal.

Remember the Prodigal Son; his father ran to greet him and bring him home.

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