On Easter Sunday we looked at the story of so-called “Doubting” Thomas in the gospel of John and how Jesus gently calls him to belief through his doubt. Today we will look at how Jesus calls a different disciple through his shame.
Fun Fact: I recently read a great quote by the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky about belief and doubt: “I believe in Christ and confess him not like some child; my hosanna has passed through an enormous furnace of doubt.”
A MIRACULOUS CATCH
Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.
Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.
At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.
Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.
Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.
“Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.
“Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.
This isn’t the first time a miraculous catch of fish like this has happened. Here at the end of Jesus’ earthy ministry, we’re getting a repeat of something that happened at the very beginning.
When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.
Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”
And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.
This moment in John is not just a simple repeat of an earlier miracle. Jesus is setting the scene for a very important conversation.
Fun Fact: Why does John say there were exactly 153 fish? Some scholars point to a statement by the 4th century Christian theologian Jerome, who claims certain Greek zoologists listed 153 varieties of fish known to exist (so maybe they caught one of every kind?). Unfortunately, there are quite a few holes in this argument, so it ultimately remains a mystery. More likely, this is simply because this was an eyewitness testimony, and a detail like that told and retold is not easy to forget!
In verse 9 we see Jesus has prepared a “charcoal fire.” In Greek, it’s the word anthrakia – a mass or heap of live coals. That word is used only two times in the entire New Testament. Here, and in John 18. Where Peter warms himself by a “charcoal fire” while he denies knowing Christ at all.
Fun Fact: In verse 14, John tells us, “This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.” Scholars disagree about which other two times are in view. Is he thinking of both times Jesus appeared to his disciples behind locked doors in chapter 20? Or is he thinking of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene as one, and the two locked-door appearances as the other “time,” since both instances are part of the same story? It’s unclear but interesting to think about!
DO YOU LOVE ME?
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
Jesus is dealing honestly with Peter’s denial. He is bringing Peter to a place of open acknowledgment of what he had done. But Jesus is not shaming Peter for his actions.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.
Jesus is not just forgiving Peter here. He is not just reinstating him to relationship. He’s reinstating him to purpose.
Fun Fact: Why does Jesus ask if Peter loves him “more than these”? Is he asking if Peter loves Jesus more than he loves the other disciples? Is he asking if Peter loves him more than the fish and nets (his former profession)? Or is he asking if Peter loves him to a greater degree than the other disciples? Scholars are divided, and I think any one of them could be true. Unfortunately, we just don’t know for sure!
At the beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus called shame-filled Peter to join him in his world-changing work. And now at the end, Jesus calls shame-filled Peter to join him in his world changing work.
Jesus calls his followers out of shame and into purpose.
JESUS BELIEVES IN YOU
I know some of you struggle with shame for past mistakes & sin, just like Peter. BUT Jesus believes in you.
Jesus knows you. He knows who you are. He knows what you’ve done. And he is excited to call you into a purpose beyond yourself.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
THE CHARCOAL FIRE
I know some of you have found yourself drifting recently. You’re in a time of deconstruction. The faith that you once had has crumbled.
Maybe in your reaction against Christians, you’ve unintentionally drifted from Christ. And now you feel lost and adrift from your first love.
Fun Fact: If you find yourself in a time of painful deconstruction and are losing hope that there is any path forward, I highly recommend the book When Everything Is On Fire by Brian Zahnd. Perhaps it can be the spark you need to continue on the journey.
If you are adrift right now, if your spiritual house is in ruins, if you have walked away from a faith you once held dear, my encouragement to you this morning is this: Sit by the charcoal fire and listen for the voice of Jesus.
Jesus is still calling you to join him in his mission to heal this world. Do you trust him enough to start again?