Do you love me? – John 21

Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John has brought much controversy over the years. Some modern Bible scholars believe that the chapter was not part of the original Gospel and was added later by another author. However, the correct way to view this chapter is that it is sort of an epilogue written by John to tie up some loose ends in his gospel. This chapter serves several purposes. One, it gives the reader and explanation for the Apostle Peter. It shows how Peter, after denying Christ, is restored into right fellowship with Jesus. A lesson to be learned here is that even though we may make mistakes and do things that hinders our walk with God and our service, we can be restored through proper repentance. Secondly, this chapter also refutes a rumor that had been going around about John. The rumor was that John would live until Jesus comes again. John very clearly states that this is not what Jesus said. The most applicable purpose of this chapter, however, is that John wanted to show us how we can relate to the resurrected Christ. He shows us a picture of how we can demonstrate our love for Jesus. In looking at this valuable picture, there are several things we can learn.

Cast your nets (v. 1-6). Jesus had told His disciples on an earlier occasion that He would make them fishers of men. Here we find Peter and some of the other disciples out fishing. They tried all day long, but they could not catch anything. Jesus comes along on the shore and yells out to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. The disciples did as was suggested and they caught more fish than they could handle. There are three valuable truths that we see here. (1) Cast your nets. You and I must be obedient when it comes to fishing for men. We have been commanded to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. We must be obedient to the call. We must be obedient to work toward reaching others for Jesus. (2) Leave the results to God. We cannot make someone get saved. We cannot manufacture success. The disciples did not catch anything until Jesus came. Our source of power is Jesus. He alone can save. Our job is to cast the nets, He is the one who will bring in the catch. (3) Cast your nets on the right side of the boat. The reason we may not see people saved or the church grow, is because we may not be fishing in the right place or in the right way. Just like a professional fisherman studies his craft and learns where the fish are and what type of bait to use, so we must study our culture and consider what methods work and what does not work when it comes to bringing people to Jesus. I had a conversation with a relative of mine who is also a pastor. He has struggled in pastoring a small church and has worked hard to see the church grow. He told me that he has had several conversations with people from churches that are growing. He asked them if they have a regular door-to-door visitation program. Every one of those from a growing church said, no, they do not have a regular door-to-door visitation program. I am not saying that having such a program is bad, however, this is an example of how we need to evaluate what works and what does not work. Unfortunately, many churches are using the same methods that they used twenty years ago. Brothers and Sisters, we need to understand that culture is constantly changing. The way people respond changes over time. This is why we must learn to cast our nets on the right side of the boat. If we are going to reach people for Jesus, we must do so in a manner that will bring in the biggest catch! I am not talking about compromise or changing your beliefs or lowering your standards. I am talking about your method. How do you go about reaching people for Jesus? How does your church reach out to its community? At the church where I pastor, we strive to go where God opens a door for us to go. One way our church reaches the lost is by involvement in the local schools. We have adopted our local elementary school for the purpose of providing assistance to the teachers and staff and to share the Gospel with the children at the school. We have an after-school club that is attended by over 60 students. In the 2017-2018 school year, we have seen 33 children come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior! We also have an annual school Sunday where we invite all the teachers and staff to join us for church and we provide a meal for them after the service. We also work to provide training for our church members in how to share their faith in their everyday life. In the first four months of this year, we have seen 8 people baptized and we have seen several new families come to be an active part of our church. To God be the glory! All of this was done without any door-to-door visitation or other ‘traditional’ methods. Utilizing social media and websites in bringing people to Christ is also very effective. The point here is that, if you are going to catch fish, you got to fish in the right place and with the right bait. If you or your church is struggling to see people come to know the Lord, then examine where you are casting your net, how you are casting your net, and what bait are you using.

Fellowship with Jesus (v. 7-14). When the disciples realized that it was Jesus standing on the shore, Peter jumped into the water and swam to Jesus. He could not wait until the boat came to the shore. He wanted to be with Jesus immediately. In verse seven it mentions that Peter grabbed his coat because he was naked. This does not mean that Peter was out there fishing naked. It means that he was ‘stripped for work.’ Peter putting on his coat shows his respect for Jesus. He did not have much to wear out there on the boat, but, he wanted to look his best. When the disciples came to shore, they sat down with Jesus and had a meal together. Sitting down for a meal is a physical picture of fellowship. It is to commune with one another. Fellowship is a word that means ‘partnership.’ It has to do with being close to someone, like the kind of partnership that is seen in a marriage. When we talk about fellowshipping with Jesus, we are talking about being close to Him. If you truly love someone, you are going to want to be with them. If you truly love Jesus, you will want to be with Him. You will want to be close to Him. Let me ask you, how is your fellowship with Jesus? You may be saved. You may be on your way to heaven, but, are you close to Jesus now? To fellowship with Jesus is to spend time in His Word. It is to learn all you can about Him. It is to get to know Him. Are you getting to know Jesus? Are you spending time in His Word? I am not talking about having a five-minute devotion. Are you engaged in deep Bible study? Are you searching the scriptures and discovering the truth? Think about how you spend your time. How often are you looking at your cell phone? How much time do you spend in front of the television? How many minutes of the day are wasted with frivolous things? What is important to you? Are you spending time with Jesus? Do you fellowship with Him?

Love Jesus (v. 15-17). In these verses we see a public restoration of Peter. Jesus provided an opportunity to make it known that Peter is forgiven for denying the Lord. Jesus asks Peter three times if He loved Him. This parallels with the three times that Peter denies Jesus. The first question touches on a claim that Peter had made on multiple occasions. Basically, Jesus is asking, ‘do you love me, as you have said, more than these other disciples love me?’ Peter responds with an emphatic ‘yes’. Jesus then asks Peter the same question two more times and each time Peter responds with a strong ‘yes.’ There are two Greek words that are used here for love. Both Agape and Phileo is used. However, these words are used interchangeably in John’s Gospel and we should not place to much significance on the use of these words in this passage.

Warren Wiersbe writes this: “In spite of his faults and failures, Peter did indeed love the Lord, and he was not ashamed to admit it. The other men were certainly listening “over Peter’s shoulder” and benefiting from the conversation, for they too had failed the Lord after boasting of their devotion. Peter had already confessed his sin and been forgiven. Now he was being restored to apostleship and leadership. The image, however, changes from that of the fisherman to that of the shepherd. Peter was to minister both as an evangelist (catching the fish) and a pastor (shepherding the flock). It is unfortunate when we divorce these two because they should go together. Pastors ought to evangelize (2 Tim. 4:5) and then shepherd the people they have won so that they mature in the Lord.”[1] Peter is being called by the Lord into the office of a pastor and evangelist. It is important to note that such an office comes with certain requirements and qualifications. However, it is also important to note that all believers are called to do the work of evangelizing and shepherding. Though we may not at all be called to those official offices, we are called to those actions. Every believer is called to win the lost to Christ. Every believer is also called to make disciples. You may say, ‘I am not qualified, I lack knowledge, I lack skill, I cannot tell others about Jesus and disciple others’. Yes you can! The one prerequisite that Jesus makes is that you love Him. If you love Jesus you will automatically tell others about Him. If you love Jesus, as you are growing, you will help others to grow. The natural outcome of loving Jesus is serving Him in this way. Are you winning people to Jesus? Then, you love Jesus. Are you discipling others? Then, you love Jesus. If you are not involved in these things, can you honestly say that you love Jesus? Think about it.

Follow Jesus (v. 18-23). Jesus makes one more call to follow Him. To follow Jesus is to obey. How do we obey Him? By casting our nets, fellowshipping with Him, and loving Him. To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. Can you honestly say that you are a Christian? Are you following Jesus?

In verse 24-25, John concludes his gospel by confirming that His testimony concerning Jesus is true. He also mentions how that the world cannot contain the books that could be written concerning all that Jesus both said and did. However, as John 20:31 says, “These are written that you might believe…..” What about you? Do you believe? If so, then: cast your nets, fellowship with Jesus, love Jesus, and follow Jesus.

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 398). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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