Morning Message – John Cline
John 21 – Reader: John Renfree
In the first century, there were four Greek words for love: 1. Eros – sexual love, 0 times in the New Testament 2. Storge – family love, 1 time in the New Testament 3. Phileo – brotherly love, 24 times in the New Testament 4. Agape – unconditional, whole-hearted love, 275 times in the New Testament
Remember those last two words for love, phileo (brotherly or sisterly love) and agape (unconditional love), for they will come into play in the life of the apostle Simon Peter in a powerful way, as we will shortly see. During their Last Supper together, on the night before his death, Jesus had demonstrated to his apostles what agape love looked like when he took a servant’s towel and filled a basin of water and washed their feet. He had unconditional love for them, right to the end. After that act, he then broke bread which symbolized his coming sacrificed body on the cross and he gave them wine which symbolized his crushed and shed blood for them. It was a supper of heavy topics, topped off by Jesus telling his apostles that one of them was about to betray him, which would lead to his arrest, trial, and death. The apostles inquired who would do such a thing? Jesus stated that the one he next gave a piece of bread to would be his betrayer and then he gave it to Judas Iscariot, saying to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” None of the other apostles understood what was going on. They incorrectly assumed that Judas had been sent on some errand concerning the feast they were eating, but they correctly understood that something ominous was afoot. Being his disciples and loving him, they wanted to protect Jesus, so his words were hard for them to take. He then told them,
“Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 13:33b)
Jesus was talking about him going to the cross and then ascending to heaven, which really were two places the apostles could not go with him to, at least at that moment. But the disciples desperately wanted to Jesus to change his mind or, at least, assure him that he would not be undergoing anything bad on his own. They “had his back”, as our modern-day vernacular would say.
Simon Peter asked him, “Lord where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (John 13:36,37)
Now, we might admire Peter for his stated commitment to Jesus and for his courage, but Jesus knew that Peter’s words of bravado were only for show.
Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (John 13:34-38)
Jesus was then betrayed by Judas Iscariot who told the Jewish religious leaders where they could find him. They sent their guards to the place told them by Judas Iscariot to arrest Jesus. The first stop of six on the six-phases of a kangaroo court Jesus would be put through was at the house of Annas the high priest. Simon Peter and the apostle John followed the guards taking Jesus to that spot, and John, who knew Annas, arranged for the two of them to get inside the courtyard for a close-up view. Now…
Annas had been the high priest of Judaism from 6-15 A.D.
After he had stepped down as the official high priest, Annas still continued to be called the “high priest”, just as former Prime Ministers and Presidents today retain their title for life. Thus, Annas, in his position as a former high priest, still had a lot of influence in Jewish religious life, including with…
His son-in-law Caiphas who reigned as high priest from 18-36 A.D.
It was a cold night, so Peter and John stood by a fire in Annas’ courtyard to warm themselves. The girl who had brought them in then recognized Peter,
“You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” (John 18:17)
This was Peter’s first denial of the three Jesus had predicted. Meanwhile, Annas questioned Jesus but did not get the answers he was hoping for. His guards felt that Jesus was being rude to Annas, so they punched Jesus in the face.
Then Annas sent Jesus, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest. As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” (John 18:24,25)
Peter’s second denial. You can almost feel his throat getting dry, his heart starting to race, and perspiration forming on his forehead, can’t you?
One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again, Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.” (John 18:24-27)
Peter’s third time of denying knowing Jesus or being his follower. A rooster was crowing for the night had ended, and the first sun rays of daybreak had come.
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61,62)
What a heartbreaking scene! Perhaps, the worst scene of horrible self-realization shown in the entire bible. Earlier, by the way, in another attempt at bravado, when Jesus had been arrested in the garden Peter had taken out a sword, swung it and cut off an ear of one of high priest’s guards. In response to the other apostles questioning him if they should also take up swords, we read,
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” and he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:51)
John’s Gospel tells us that the injured-by-Peter then healed-by-Jesus guard was named Malchus, an indicator that most likely Malchus had converted to becoming a follower of Jesus after that incident, and thus one who John’s first readers were familiar with. In any case, last week we finished at the end of chapter 20 in our sermon series through the Gospel of John, so today we will pick up where we left off. To set the scene, though, we need to recall that on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene and some other women who were disciples/followers of Jesus had gone to his tomb to prepare his body with spices for burial. But there, an angel met them, saying,
“Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:6,7)
Did you notice that they were instructed to “tell the disciples” “and Peter”? All of heaven wanted Peter to realize that his denial of Jesus was not the end of the story. Jesus was alive and would see them in Galilee.
So, she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2)
Peter and John then ran to the empty tomb to see for themselves. Later that Easter day, two other disciples who were on the way to their home in the village of Emmaus had Jesus appear to them. They went running back to where the others were hiding in Jerusalem only to be told by the apostles,
It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:34)
It was crucial that Peter be informed and personally experience that “Jesus is alive”, because of his feeling of sinfulness and weakness following his three-times of denial. That’s the main part of the narrative of announcing Jesus’ resurrection. On Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples but, inexplicably, the apostle Thomas was not with them. So, Jesus arranged to reappear to them the following Sunday, making sure that Thomas was there. Following those two appearances…
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “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. (John 21:1-3)
The Easter Sunday angel had earlier told them that Jesus would appear to them in Galilee, so Peter arranged a fishing expedition, going back out on the sea where they had previously worked as fisherman before being called by Jesus to become “fishers of men/people”. The seven apostles fished all night but caught nothing, an event similar to what happened three years before, just prior to Jesus initially calling them to become “fishers of men/people”.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, (the Sea of Galilee), the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So, they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So, they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)
There was a special bond between Jesus and Simon Peter right from the start, one made all the more endearing by Simon’s recognition of his own sinfulness and weaknesses while in the presence of Jesus. Simon Peter knew who Jesus was. He also knew who he was, a sinner. That is a key point in the life story of Peter. Ok, back to John 21…
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 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. 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. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. (John 21:4-8)
Simon Peter’s birthname had been Simon. His father was Jonah/John, and his brother was Andrew, one of John the Baptist’s disciples. As a disciple of John the Baptist, Andrew had the revelation that Jesus was the long hoped-for Messiah. He was so excited by this insight that he went and got Simon.
And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:42)
Cephas/Peter means “a rock”. Jesus was saying that Simon would become a “rock”. He could not have perceived what Jesus really meant. At a later date, some time after Jesus had been teaching about the Kingdom of God and concerning who he was, Jesus asked his apostles, “Who do people say I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist or Elijah the prophet or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets”. At that, Jesus turned to Simon…
“But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon answered (correctly), “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:16-18)
This was Peter’s shining moment! From then on, Jesus called him exclusively “Peter”. That would have been such an honour and thrill for Simon. Jesus believed in him and saw him for who he really wanted to be, and could be, a “rock”, solid and unmovable! Back to chapter 21: Jesus had salvaged the fruitless fishing expedition of Simon Peter and the others by enabling them to fill their net with a catch of large fish. They towed their catch to shore.
When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 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. (John 21:9-11)
153 was apparently the number of known people groups in the world at that time, so that precise number of 153, while showing that the writer of this Gospel book, John, had been an eyewitness of this catch, was also a symbolic tie to Jesus telling his followers to take the Gospel to every nation.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:13,14)
Now, here is where everything I have said thus far, all comes together:
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.” (John 21:15)
Sadly, we only have one word for “love” in our English translations, whereas we earlier saw that the original Greek in which the New Testament was written, had four words for love: eros for sexual love, storge for love within families, phileo for brotherly or sisterly love, and agape for unconditional, never-ending love. Now, listen carefully to what Jesus asked Simon Peter in the original Greek, Jesus asked him, “Simon son of John, do you truly agape me, love me unconditionally, in a manner which is more than these?”, presumably pointing to the other apostles as he asked his question. Did you notice that Jesus addressed him not by his spiritual name “Peter” but by his natural name “Simon”? This must have grieved Peter for the implication was that Jesus no longer regarded him as a “rock”, a “Petros” but as merely a human being, no different from any other human being, one born of flesh to human parentage. He was Simon, son of John. Crushed by this phrasing, Simon answered Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo love you, like a brother.” You can just picture Jesus cocking his head at that answer. So, Jesus then takes the question down a notch, asking not a comparative questions, but a simple straight-forward question of statement:
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.” (John 21:16)
Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, so you agape love me with unconditional, never-ending love?” “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo love you like a brother”, Simon again answered. A second time, Jesus would have cocked his head, we can imagine. Jesus then brought his questioning of Simon’s love down to another level, to one Simon could affirm.
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.” (John 21:17)
This third time, Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you phileo love me, like a brother?” “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo love you like a brother.” Jesus knew that this was the best he was going to get out of Simon at that moment, but then he indicated that in future years, Simon would grow into becoming a “Petros”, a “rock” once again, and that he would come to love Jesus with an agape love, unconditionally, right to the end.
“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.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:18,19)
Following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first Christians, Peter became an agape lover of the Lord. As he served Jesus, feeding his lambs, taking care of his sheep, feeding his sheep, Simon Peter became fearless, not with the old machismo bravado that he formerly strutted out, but with a fierce determination for the Gospel message and Jesus. The first Christians all knew him as “Petros the rock”, not as Simon the son of human parentage. Peter’s earlier weaknesses and sinfulness and his three-time denial of Jesus were not the end of his story, but, rather, the comparative proof that Jesus had saved and transformed him into a “rock”. As the years went by, Peter was repeatedly arrested for proclaiming that “Jesus is alive, the only “Lord of Lords” and “son of God”, in fiery denunciation of the Roman Emperors who claimed those things for themselves. The Roman authorities could not stop Peter from preaching this truth. He did not fear them. Why not? Because he agape loved Jesus, right to the end. In 64 A.D., upon hearing that he had been sentenced to death for proclaiming Jesus and insulting the Roman Emperor and Caesar Nero, Peter asked his Roman executioners to, after they had nailed him to his cross, turn the cross he was on upside down when they planted it into the hole they had dug, explaining, “I denied my Lord and do not consider myself worthy to die as he did.” Peter’s humility joined with his fearlessness for Jesus made him worthy of heaven. Chapter 21 ends with Peter asking Jesus about the apostle John’s fate, seeming as Jesus had just told him about his own fate but Jesus told him not to worry about John but about himself. “You must follow me!”
Peter 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?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers 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?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus 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. (John 21:21-25)
We are who Jesus says we are. We are his. He has saved us and is remaking us into the kind of person we want to be and know we should be and can be. Jesus is restoring us to the born-again spiritual glory God had given to us in our first birth, our physical birth, but which we had lost through bad decision-making and sin. Through a second birth, a spiritual one, God’s agape love then changes us from simply having eros/sexual love, storge/family love, or phileo/brotherly or sisterly love, to agape love which is unconditional, without reservation, to the end. So, in that kind of love, feed Jesus’ lambs, feed his sheep, and take care of others as Jesus would have you do. Follow him and know that you are who he says you are. “Follow me!”, Jesus says.