Feed My Sheep
John 21: 1-19: ‘Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way:2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as 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.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He 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.
7 Then 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. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[c] 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus Reinstates Peter
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The 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. 18 Very truly I tell you, 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.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”’
I suppose that the occasion in John was a bit like your Tuesday following Easter. There were some special times over Easter, but b Tuesday it was time to move on. It was time to restock the fridge, time to reach for the laundry detergent, to find cheap petrol, to pay the electricity bill and to go back to work.
That was certainly how Peter thought of things. Jesus had lived, walked, taught, enacted, died and had risen from the dead, but what this all meant was not entirely clear.
Maybe that describes you too. Impressed, but how does that affect the Tuesdays of life. Peter thought the same.
How it would affect the disciple’s future remained uncertain, and now here they were on their home waters back by the Sea of Galilee. After all this time, the boats were still there.
After all the high and low points of the last few years, Peter decides to go fishing. Does he think that all that has happened was exciting and worth a chapter or two in his autobiography, but now that it’s over it is time to rebuild the fishing business? Back to the old days in boats on the lake, to re-establish contacts and contracts.
Just like the days before Jesus until He walked by and called them to follow Him. Back to the nets Jesus saw them repairing, that had once strained under an enormous weight of fish. Jesus looking on in delight, the fisherman in wonder and disbelief.
It was just like the old days now, and so too with what follows. Jesus appears on the shoreline mysteriously. He calls out, knowing the answer, ‘Have you caught anything, children?’
Like many a grumpy fisherman, embarrassed by the empty bucket, or not wanting to betray a good spot, the answer is a surly, ‘No.’
Then they are thrown into perplexity as Jesus tells them to cast their net onto the other side of the boat. Again it is like the old days as there is a net-straining, blister-creating, back-bending haul. The kind of success most fisherman hope for but are generally displeased to hear others have had.
In verse seven something starts to happen in the boat. There is more than fish at stake here. ‘It is the Lord,’ says the disciple whom Jesus loved, John. He says this of himself, not because Jesus loved him more than the others, but because he recognized the wonder of Jesus’ love for him, despite everything. He felt so grateful that he always referred to himself as the disciple Jesus loved.
Peter, true to all we know about him needs to hear no more. Regardless of the time of day, or the temperature of the water, he dons a garment and plunges in. He streaks to the shore to be with Jesus.
Jesus has taken them back to the first days when they started with him, and does so with a miraculous gift. See the graciousness of Jesus, betrayed but forgiving. Always the giving God, giving forgiveness, new life, the miraculous haul and new starts.
Jesus never gives up on people, He has even started the fire. He has the fish, and the bread. This is the giving God who inspires us to be stewards.
We only give because God first gave. He began the giving and calls us to respond in the same way, giving, not in a tightly calculated manner. Giving not what is the minimum that we can get away with but with the same generosity He gave, wanting to bless and find pleasure in our giving.
Stewardship begins with God’s gifts to us, especially through the gift of Himself.
In verse 10, Jesus presides over the breakfast. He is attendant, servant, cook, and host, inviting them to bring fish for the meal. He wants us too to bring what we have and to offer him our time, our money, our church, and our families. Whatever we offer to him he blesses and uses.
In verse 11 we get the impression that Peter had enormous strength. It says that he dragged the net ashore. Now 153 fish the size that you and I catch would not be significant , but 153 large fish is a sign. It is an adjective usually reserved for the fish that never made it into the boat. And the substantial meal that followed showed it was time for business.
Australia deals with the business of remembering once a year during ANZAC Day. It is one of the most moving days of the year for many Australians, and that is to be welcomed. For a moment Australians have a sense of history, or origins, and an appreciation for sacrifice. People were prepared to die for others to prevent evil triumphing. People were even prepared to go against their own consciences.
We were a militarily naïve country, unsophisticated militarily compared with well-prepared and armed enemies who coveted the free world and its resources. People gave their freedom for other’s freedom.
How much more perfectly does this happen in Jesus on the cross? It reminds us that Jesus needs to attend to that business of the future: his anger, his church, its leadership, its possibilities.
Peter is confronted with one who gave up His life to evil in order to defeat it. Who at the same time satisfied the holiness of the Father with His own holiness, and did it not for himself but for us.
The holy died for the unholy, that they might be holy.
Jesus wants to know what Peter is going to do with all of this. Is he going to go back to fishing and its lack of productivity? Or something else? Jesus asks him three times to balance out his three-fold betrayals; the denials that he knew Jesus before innocent enquirers.
Jesus shifts the imagery from fish to agriculture. He has a job for Peter, but first he needs to know something of Peter; the same things he seeks to know of us.
Do we love him?
It is the ultimate question, and it gets to the heart of the issue as questions tend to do.
When I acquire new gadgets, tools and electronic equipment, my wife has a way of getting to the key issue. What did it cost? To me this seems a minor irrelevance in the pursuit of domestic advancement, sometimes followed by temporary insomnia.
In a similar way when Peter is questioned, he could not list off all the evidences of his love for Jesus, though Jesus could of himself.
When you talk to someone about God, don’t ask them if they believe in God, ask them if they love God. That is all the Lord wants to know, and wants of us. Do we love him? Anyone can believe that God exists, in the same way that we may believe Siberia exists but has no significance for us. But do you love God brings the issue home, as does the question do you worship God?
Relationship is what matters. Note the close connections Jesus draws; if Peter loves Him he will care for His flock. To love Jesus is to love his people; to shepherd them, to protect and feed them. To give them what they need.
While this applies to Peter, and especially to pastors, it applies to all of us. If we love Jesus we show it by loving his people. By doing what will bless them, encourage them and help them to find what they need in their Christian life, sometimes we will have to rise above our own personalities. If we are naturally inclined to be combative, fractious, always wanting our way, or excessively timid, diffident or withdrawn, the Lord helps us to rise above our natural inclinations and ways of relating in the ‘flesh.’
Even personalities can be honed, tuned, refined and remade through the power of Jesus. So let’s avoid going back to the nets – to any old or unhelpful ways – and feed His sheep. To care for His flock.
Though this can have risks. Peter is told at this time that he will die for Jesus. He will be dressed up and mocked like his Lord. History records show that he faced crucifixion in Rome and he asked to be hung upside down, so as not to die like his Lord.
So the Scriptures leave us with encouragement and challenge; Jesus stands by the shoreline of your life.
He gives and gives. He pardons. He calls. He understands what life is like to be you. He understands what it is like to be going through what some of you are going through at present. He simply wants to know how we respond.
Do we delight in giving? Do we give sacrificially? Do we give committedly? Do we love God’s people even when they are hard to get on with?
Is our personality more and more captive to the Christ who frees us to be what we can be?
All this comes from the one who ask you, ‘Do you love me? If so, prove it by how you love my people.’
By George Robert Iles
April 29, 2001.