Theme: Background to the Story
In this week’s lessons, we look at Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21, where he restores Peter after his denial, and commissions him for useful service.
Scripture: John 21:15-22
The second lesson is that if we are directed by Christ, we are fruitful. When Jesus tells them to throw their net on the other side, that is what they do, and the result is that they draw in all these fish, 153 of them. It’s interesting that we have the exact number. It may simply be evidence of an eyewitness who was there. John of course was there, and he wrote this Gospel. It says at the end that he was a witness to these things. Another idea may also be that in the rabbinic literature there are statements that suggest that there are 153 nations. If that’s the case, then you have a picture of evangelism, because that’s what fishing always represents in the Gospels, as the disciples, by the direction of Jesus Christ, literally go out to all the peoples of all the nations of the world.
This brings us to our passage that involves Peter particularly, with an emphasis on the importance of loving Jesus. What is most essential for us in the church age in terms of our service towards God? Do we have to be wise? No, because we aren’t wise. Do we have to be particularly skilled at the task that we’re given to do? No, not really that. God does give us the gifts we need to function, both in the church, and in our service of the Lord in the world. What we most need is love for Jesus Christ. And that’s what Jesus is teaching Peter here. If you love Jesus, there are things that are going to follow from that.
And then there are these two final commands. Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, and finally he says, “Follow me.” And so in both of those we get back to something we found at the very beginning of the Gospel. It’s a way of emphasizing it and saying that it’s true for all time. That is kind of a summary of what this last chapter of John is about, and how it fits with the first chapter of this Gospel.
Now in the case of Peter, we want to go back and see what had happened that is the background for the restoration of Peter that we find in John 21. We know it has to do with his denial of Jesus Christ, but the way John presents that is interesting. In John 6 Peter is mentioned after Jesus gives his famous discourse on the bread of life. He’s the one that said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
He is also brought forward in a special way in chapter 13 as preparation for what we find here in terms of his restoration. Now you have to read between the lines a little bit, but I’m going to ask you to do that because if you look at the very end of chapter 13, you find what is happening in Peter that leads up to Jesus’ prediction of this denial. In verse 34, Jesus gives a new commandment: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
What I want to suggest is that when the disciples heard that, they should have said, “Well, we don’t really love one another very well. And here Jesus is telling us to do that. We need to learn how. How are we going to learn how to love one another? We’re going to learn how by learning how he loved us?” And so their thoughts should have been directed to Jesus Christ. They should have asked, “How does he love? He’s going to demonstrate it.” He says that elsewhere. A man shows his love by giving his life for his friends. That’s what he’s going to do.
But that isn’t what Peter was thinking, in my judgment. Peter was a lot like us, and here he heard this great discourse by Jesus on love. I think what went through Peter’s mind at that point was how strong his love for Jesus was. He didn’t say to himself, “My goodness, I don’t know how to love. Jesus is going to have to teach me.” In addition, Jesus is talking of the need to love one another, and Peter doesn’t seem to be doing much thinking about the rest of them.
This explains what happens when Jesus says that he’s going away, because Peter wants to know where he’s going. And the reason he wants to know where he’s going is that he wants to follow him. Why? Because he loves him so much. That’s what Peter’s thinking. Jesus said, “Where I’m going you cannot follow now, but you will follow later,” which prompts Peter to ask in verse 37, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now?” Then look at his boast immediately after this question: “I will lay down my life for you.”
Peter, you see, seemed to have some sense about what Jesus was saying. He was saying he was going way, and they were all confused and they really didn’t want to believe that what Jesus was saying is that he was going to die and go back to heaven. So Peter says, “Well, why can’t I follow you now, because even if it’s death, I want you to know that I am willing to lay down my life for you, and furthermore I’ll do it.” And then Jesus said, “Will you? Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
What is the second lesson seen in chapter 21?
From the study, what is said to be the most essential element in our service of the Lord? Why?
Review the other occasions where Peter is mentioned in this Gospel. What do we learn about him?
Reflection: What things does the world count as necessary in order to be successful in accomplishing a given task or goal? How does the church sometimes look like the world in the methods it uses to measure success? What things are we to focus on instead?