A Sermon on John 21:15-22 by Rev. Dr. Daniel L. Wong at Martin Grove Baptist Church, Toronto, Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
You know what it’s like. You are working in front of the computer screen for hours. You have a lot of screens open. All of sudden your curser freezes. You try different ways to get it going. You don’t want to do it. You might lose some of your precious data. You feel frustration but you have to do it. You search for the Control-Alt-Delete and reboot your computer. You have a fresh start.
Sometimes our lives need a reboot. We have a tangled mess, too many windows open. Our minds are filled to overflowing that it disturbs our sleep at night. Sometimes it is recounting the mistakes we made.
This is how Peter must have felt. He wanted a fresh start. Regardless of his resolve to be faithful to the Lord, he failed. It was as the Lord predicted. He denied that he even knew the Lord not once, not twice, but three times. Most painful was what is recorded in Luke 22:60-62, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” I preached about this on Good Friday.
It plays over and over in our minds. Peter went to clear his mind, to have a fresh start—he went fishing. There is nothing sinful in this. We do not need to read into this that they were returning to their old profession. They were waiting for the Holy Spirit’s outpouring after the resurrection.
The gentle waves were lapping against the side of the boat. When the disciples were in a boat, Jesus calmed the storm and Peter walked on water. Peter tried but received the “Oh you of little faith.” At least he had this experience that no one else shared.
- Look for God’s reminders to restore you
Let us notice how the Lord uses a number of things to jar Peter’s mind and bring him healing and restoration, to have a fresh start.
The disciples fished all night and didn’t catch anything. That sounds familiar. A voice like a smooth stone skipping out to him from the shore, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” was the reply. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” They did it. The water was churning with fish. As the net fills up, so does his memory. Do you remember what memory? It was the morning Jesus first called him to be a disciple (Luke 5:3-11). He and his partners were cleaning their nets after they had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus told them to row out to the deep water and let down their nets. The catch was so incredible the nets began to break and the boat started sinking. He remembers how he realized then that Jesus was Lord. How unworthy he felt to be in His presence. Falling at Jesus’ knees he pleaded with Jesus to leave him. But Jesus didn’t leave. “Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (Luke 5:10). It has been noted, “Never in the Gospels do the disciples catch a fish without Jesus’ help” (Raymond Brown, The Gospel of John, 1071).
Suddenly it dawns on John, it is the Lord. What do you do when you’ve failed a friend? You go to him. Within a flash, Peter is in the water swimming to Jesus. Wet and shivering, Peter reaches the shore.
His eyes look down to see a fire of burning coals. His hands instinctively reach out to warm them over the coals. We see memory in motion again. It was on that fateful night that a similar fire had warmed him the night of his denial (John 18:18). The same Greek words are used but not in the New International Bible version. It is the same in the Chinese Bible—“tan huo.”
One hundred and fifty-three fish are found in the nets. Jesus prepares the meal without these fish. There is a sharp contrast to the disciples’ inability to provide food for themselves.
Fish and bread sound familiar? In both the feeding of the 5000 and 4000 fish and bread were miraculously multiplied by the Master. God as the great provider! Food and particularly bread speak of sharing fellowship, one aspect of the communion meal.
Simon Peter, Simon, Son of John, were names used in his calling (John 1:42). This is a focus on his human nature. Often we are reminded of our past by our nicknames. Jesus doesn’t say, “Some friend you turned out to be…. I’m really disappointed in you, you let me down, you’re all talk, and you call yourself a disciple?”
Instead, he simply asks, “Do you love me more than these?” Was this referring to people, or fishing? This is the ultimate question. One noted, it is the ultimate question when one is faced with temptation.
We see the interplay of the Greek word for “love.” Jesus asks Peter twice if he loves him with the agape love. Peter responds with phileo or the kind affection type of love. On the third time Jesus uses that phileo love to which Peter affirms it. There is a distinction https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Jesus-Forms-Peter-as-Leader-as-Disciple
Was Jesus coming down to Peter’s level? There are three affirmations for the three denials, one affirmation for each denial. There is a confession of his love. It is not what we do but rather whether we truly love the Lord.
For Peter, Jesus used a net full of fish, a coal fire, bread and fish, three times affirmation, and “follow me.” What is the Lord using to jar your memory? What is God using to bring you back to him?
- Carry out God’s purposes for you
Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, and feed my sheep. Take care of people I entrust into your care. The good shepherd was recommissioning his shepherd.
You haven’t fouled out of the game. You have made mistakes but they are forgivable. God forgives and restores. Peter’s ministry was not over. He is re-commissioned.
What I see is the Lord affirming His love to Peter, using means that seemed painful but necessary. As tonsils are infected, they must be taken out. It is painful when it comes to healing.
This is the burden of many Christians. They are laboring under something they did wrong in the past. Those in shame-based cultures are laboring under the cultural weight of shame. We may have wronged our parents and trying to do something to make it up. Whatever you have done wrong in the past, God is there with love and forgiveness.
- Be careful of comparison
Once Peter knew his fate and Jesus’ invitation of “Follow me,” he got into the comparison game. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw John. He inquired of his future. Like a parent getting a child’s attention, Jesus said not to worry about him but “you follow me.” According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down. What about John the Apostle? He died of old age. Each is to be faithful in following Christ.
That is at the heart of Christian discipleship – following Christ. That is a unique task and it looks different for each one of us. Everyone has different gifts and talents. Each to be committed and utilized for God.
On New Year’s Day, 1929, a University of California (Berkeley) football player named Roy Riegels made Rose Bowl history. He was playing defense when an opposing player dropped the ball. Roy grabbed the ball and took off for the end zone. In his confusion, he headed the wrong way. His own teammate took off after him and was able to tackle him before he made a touchdown for the other team.
The University of California took over with the backs to their own goal line. The other team’s defense was tough so California had to punt. But the other team blocked the kick in the end zone and scored a two-point safety. This was just before half time. The men went into the locker room. What will Coach Price do with Roy Riegels? “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.” That included Roy Riegels. The men went back to the field but Roy sat there with his head in a towel. The coach repeated his statement. Roy responded, “How can I go back on the field? I have failed the University of California and you, coach.” Get up and go on back, the game is only half over.” What a great coach! (From an illustration by Haddon Robinson, https://bible.org/illustration/1929-rose-bowl). YouTube on the incident: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEVR7fCxJ_U
God is the God of the second chance and third and fourth. What a great God. God’s love is affirmed along with love and forgiveness and puts us back into the game.
On Good Friday, with our delectable breakfast, there were colorful fresh flowers on the table. There were pansies and violas. Pansies are annuals but violas are perennials. They expire at the end of the season but poke out of the ground around now and begin to flower.
This is Easter Sunday, a time of resurrection. A time for a fresh start.
Some practical ideas to have a fresh start. Push the pause button. Take some time to reflect. What is God trying to remind me? What is being used? What is holding me back? It the shame of a past deed or relationship. Seek restoration, forgiveness. Maybe it is to get out of your rut. Change a habit or pattern of life.
Some of the ideas for this sermon taken from Ken Gire, Intimate Moments with the Savior: Learning to Love (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989)