FEED MY LAMBS John 21
” ’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’ ” (John 21:16).Those who love Jesus are still responsible to care for His sheep.
The disciples went fishing, and Jesus joined them on shore (21:1–4). When they recognized Jesus, Peter leaped overboard and swam in his eagerness to reach Him (vv. 5–14). Jesus recommissioned Peter, questioning his love the same number of times Peter had earlier disowned Him (vv. 15–17). Jesus predicted Peter’s manner of death (vv. 18–19), but turned aside questions about John (vv. 20–23). John closed with an affirmation that his testimony about Jesus is true (vv. 24–25).
Understanding the Text
“I’m going out to fish” John 21:1–3.
In New Testament times fishing wasn’t a recreational activity. It was work. It was the profession followed by several of the disciples before Jesus called them. So there’s a question about Peter’s decision to go fishing. Was this planned as just a day’s activity? Or did he intend to return to his old profession? Actually, since the Resurrection Jesus had only appeared to the disciples two times (cf. v. 14). The disciples were obviously uncertain about their future. Were they to just wait for Jesus’ return in glory? If so, they had to do something in order to eat, didn’t they? The fact is that Jesus had very specific plans for the 11. They would never go back to live ordinary lives again. It’s like this for us too. When we meet Jesus, our lives change—forever. No, I don’t mean we should quit our jobs, and take up professional evangelism. I simply mean that our relationship with Jesus becomes the most important thing in our lives. We’ll keep on working, but work won’t be “ordinary” anymore. We’ll labor to the best of our ability, because we’ll be aware that honest work honors our Lord. We’ll continue to have the same relationships we had before. But those too will be changed. Now we’ll be far more sensitive, more concerned and loving. We’ll care about people who may not have been important to us as persons before. I don’t blame Peter for going back to his fishing. He wasn’t yet sure just what he was supposed to do. How wonderful that you and I are sure: we’re to serve Jesus and others in everything. And our lives will never be “ordinary” again. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” John 21:4–14. What’s the significance of the amazing catch of fish? John said both that the net was so full they couldn’t drag it in, and later that he counted 153 “large fish.” I suspect it served both as a sign of comfort, and as a promise. It was a comfort, because Jesus displayed no anger that His disciples had returned to their old trade. The disciples might have felt a little peculiar about that, but the great catch of fish put them at ease. Primarily, though, I think the net filled with fish was a promise. It was Jesus’ way of saying, “Don’t worry. I can and will continue to meet every material need.” The disciples would soon set out on the most insecure of all lives: they would be traveling evangelists, dependent on others for their food and lodging. Though these skilled fishermen had practiced their trade all night, they had caught nothing. But a single word from Jesus filled their nets. We can’t depend on our own skills or abilities to meet our needs. But we surely can depend on Jesus! “Large fish, 153″ John 21:11. Why include the specific number? Why not just say, “there were a whole bunch of fish”? I suspect it was because we human beings are quite numbers oriented. I know I am. For one thing, I have a retarded daughter, Joy, who lives in a special residential care center in Arizona. Joy’s expenses run between $17,000 and $18,000 a year—and much of this is not even tax deductible. I have another responsibility that runs about $10,000 a year, so between these two and taxes, I need to earn some $40,000 a year before I have a single cent to dedicate to my own family’s normal expenses. Joy is 28 now, and all these years God has supplied whatever I’ve needed to care for her and the rest of the family. There’s never been anything in the bank, and often piles of bills awaiting payment. But always, just in time, the nets have been filled. And when I’ve counted, as we numbers—oriented people tend to do, there have always been the 153 fish we need, and more. “Do you truly love Me?” John 21:15–23 John tells us that Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” While the Greek text shows a fascinating use of different words for “love” and for “know” (see DEVOTIONAL), the overall purpose of the questioning was healing and restoration. Peter had denied Jesus three times. His tears of anguish afterward show how great his grief was. Even though Peter was hurt that Christ asked him the same question three times, the triple affirmation of love was important to Peter. How do we know that the triple affirmation was for Peter rather than for Jesus? Because after the first expression of Peter’s love, Jesus commissioned him to “feed My sheep.” Christ accepts our love immediately, and graciously permits us to serve Him. He asks us to reaffirm our love, so that we might examine ourselves, and be sure that our love for Him is real. When you and I realize that we do love God, we are motivated and freed to serve Him without self-doubts. “Do you truly love Me more than these?” John 21:15 There are three possible references in “these.” Jesus might mean, do you love Me more than these other men do? He might mean, do you love Me more than you love these men? Or He might mean, do you love Me more than these things—his boats, nets, and the rugged life of a fisherman. We don’t know which was really intended. Actually, we don’t need to know. All we really need to know is that we love Jesus as much as we can, without comparing ourselves with others. That we love Him more than the dearest of human companions. And that we love Him more than the occupation which we so completely enjoy. Do we love Jesus “more than these”? Yes. Jesus means more to us than anything else in life. “The kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” John 21:19. Peter was commissioned, and then called: “Follow Me.” Peter did follow. He followed for the rest of his life, taking the lead in the church’s early evangelism and, reliable tradition tells us, ultimately ministering to the growing Christian community in Rome itself. There, tradition also says, Peter followed Christ to death by crucifixion. But as a last request Peter begged to be crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to die in the same fashion as his Lord. This death is what Jesus refers to: a death that came by stretching out aged hands, to receive nails like those that pierced the hands of Christ. A triumphant death. Peter once denied Jesus with his lips. But from that time on his every action was one that affirmed the authenticity of his trust in the Saviour. In life, and in death, Peter’s faithfulness brought glory to God. “Lord, what about Him?” John 21:20–25 Peter loved and revered Jesus. But Peter could still say foolish things. One of the most foolish things a Christian can do is to ask, “What about him?” It’s foolish, because Christ, not you or I—or even Peter—is Lord. We need to take Jesus’ reply to Peter to heart: “What is that to you? You must follow Me.” Our responsibility is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and follow Him closely. This is challenge enough. It’s not our place to question God’s leading of another disciple of our Lord. “Jesus did not say that he would not die” John 21:22–25. John outlived all the other disciples, many by as much as 30 years! He was a very old man when he wrote this Gospel: some think in his 90s. During the decades that had swept by after Jesus’ resurrection, John had seen the church grow explosively. By the time he wrote, second and even third-generation Christians were common. And so John penned the Gospel that bore his name as the last living witness to events he himself had seen, heard, and played such a vital part in. “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (v. 24).
You Know I Love You(John 21:15–19)
Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” The first two times that Jesus posed this question, John records the Greek word agapao. To capture its implications, the NIV translates it, “Do you truly love Me?” This Greek word is used in the New Testament to speak of God’s great love for us in Christ. This is the word, for instance, in John 3:16 and 13:34–35. “Truly love” is probably a good English translation. Each time Peter answered, “Lord, You know that I love [phileo] You.” The third time Jesus also used the Greek word phileo, usually understood to emphasize friendship, fondness, or liking. Some Greek scholars believe the two are used interchangeably here: others are sure that Peter’s answer shows hesitancy to respond to Jesus on the deeper level the question implies. But perhaps more interesting is the shift in the words Peter used, when he said, “Lord, You know that I love You.” The first two times Peter used oida, a word that indicates an intellectual acceptance of a fact. The third time Peter used the stronger ginosko, which indicates knowledge gained through experience. You and I can and will love Jesus in many ways, on many different levels. But the love that counts, and that equips us to feed Christ’s sheep, is a love that proves itself in experience. Tell Jesus you love Him. But also show Him you love Him in all that you do.
Spell out your love by your actions, and its reality will never be misunderstood.
“O God, let the words of my mouth offer hope and confidence and give fresh assurance. But only when my life reflects Your Word.”—Jack L. Moore