The following sermon was done as a first person narrative from the perspective of Jesus’ disciple, Simon Peter, based on the account recorded in John 21:1-19.
In those days following the resurrection, there was so much uncertainty. It was hard to process all that was taking place. Those last few weeks were such a whirlwind. One moment Jesus was with us, the next moment, he was arrested, then beaten, and then crucified. I still can’t believe how it all transpired so quickly. And then we get news that Jesus is alive. I wanted to believe it and I had even seen the empty tomb but it just didn’t make sense, at least not until he showed up in the room where we gathered, holed in, afraid to be seen anywhere in public. But when we saw him, oh what joy filled my heart. Our teacher, the Lord, was alive! Why didn’t I just believe the words that He had spoken? But if I’m honest, I couldn’t properly express my joy that day. It was hard to see the man who I had denied even knowing. Maybe he didn’t even want me there? A week later, he showed back up and though he spoke to us, I really didn’t have a chance to sit down and tell him that I was sorry and that it would never happen again. In those days, we never knew when or where Jesus would show up or when He’d leave. After that second meeting, several of us decided that we’d head home. Go spend some time in a familiar place, and do some familiar things, and besides we needed food to eat. So we traveled more than 70 miles to our hometowns. One night I decided I wanted to go fishing and some of the others decided to join me. We fished all night and didn’t catch anything. If you’ve ever fished for hours with nothing biting, I’m sure you’ll understand when I say, I had a lot of time to think. That night as I sat in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, I was thinking of all that I had seen on this lake and its shores these last 3 years. It was on these waters, a little over 3 years ago, not too far from where I was on that night, when Jesus called out to me and Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” What an incredible journey began that day, if you had told me then, what I know now, I wouldn’t have believed you. Like that one time when Jesus decided to teach from my boat (Luke 5) and asked me to throw down my nets into the deep water after not catching anything all night. Sounds familiar, right? I knew he was crazy but I couldn’t tell my teacher, “No.” So I did and we pulled up so many fish that the nets began to tear. I had never seen anything like it. It was just before that, that I had let him know that my mother-in-law was sick and just over there in my home in Bethsaida (pointing to Northeast), that Jesus went in and healed her. Now some of you may be wondering if I was happy about that or not, but I was overjoyed. I was leaving my wife behind to go and be a student of Jesus. It brought me much comfort to know that she had her mother there to keep her company and help out, while I was on the road.
(Pointing to the north) Over there is Capernaum, where we experienced so much with the Lord. That’s where the centurion came to see Jesus for his servant, who was paralyzed and fearful and Jesus spoke words and the servant was healed (Matt 8). Or that time when we came into town there and were questioned about paying the temple tax, and Jesus sent me to come down to these waters, just on the shore over there and to catch a fish and he told me that I’d find the coin in its mouth to pay the tax. I’ve spent my life fishing but had never found a coin in any fish I’d caught or cleaned, but sure enough, the first fish I pulled up had the coin right in its mouth. That was also the place where many people stopped following Jesus, because they couldn’t handle what he was saying. Just a day before that, we were just off the shore over there (point towards the east parking lot), and Jesus took a small lunch and fed over 5,000 people with it and then sent me and the other disciples out to gather up leftovers. Leftovers?!?!?! (John 6) What an emotional few days that was. We witnessed Jesus feed the 5,000, then he sent us out in the boat to sail towards Capernaum, while he stayed behind. Next thing you know as the winds came and the sea got rough, we see Jesus walking on the water near the boat, and then not really thinking about what I’m saying I call out to him, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” And he did, and against all of my previous experiences and knowledge, I stepped out and began to walk toward him until I took my eyes off of him and focused on the storm. (Matt 14) The next day, I thought we were finally having our breakthrough as the multitudes that had been fed were coming back and Jesus began to teach them and at the end of it, they ALL left, everyone but the 12. Jesus, even asked if we wanted to leave. Leave?!? Where would we go, for Jesus was the one who spoke the words of eternal life (John 6). Almost, any direction I looked from that boat, I was reminded of another teaching, like over there (pointing northwest) when he gave the Sermon on the Mount. (pointing east) Just off the shore over there, Jesus cast the demon out of a man and sent it into the pigs. Boy did that upset the locals! 3 years ago, myself and 11 other young men who didn’t really know each other, set out with the Lord and now it’s hard to imagine my life without Jesus and them. And now I’m joined by six of them wondering what’s next while we fish. Thomas, the one who doubted that Jesus was raised to life, was sitting towards the front of the boat. Near him was Nathanael, the one who questioned him at the beginning of his ministry. Sitting near me were, James and John, great guys, even if their ambitions were a little misguided from time to time. In 3 years, these men had gone from strangers to friends to brothers.
You get the point. Lots of memories and still no fish. Day was breaking and we were prepared to return with empty hands and empty stomachs. We were about a hundred yards from the shore when we heard a voice call out to us, “Children, do you have any fish?” Looking into the sun, it was hard to make out anything more than the shape of the man. We yelled back, “No.” Sadly, no. We had no fish for ourselves, let alone any to sell or feed someone else. The man hollered back, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you’ll find some.” Oh great, another know it all fisherman, but we were desperate and might as well appease this man before we head in. So we went ahead and cast the net and when we went to haul it back in, we couldn’t it was too heavy. And immediately, John knew it was Jesus. As soon as he said, “It is the Lord,” I knew it too. I wasted no time. I hurried and threw on my outer coat and dove into the water and swam towards shore. “Bring everything in with you,” I hollered back to the others. I got to the more shallow areas and began to run towards Jesus.
When I got to him, I embraced him but wasn’t really sure what to say. I was so excited to see him that I barely recognized that Jesus was already cooking breakfast for us. I sat down and waited for the others to get to shore with the boat and fish. As I waited, I became aware of that very familiar scent, fish cooking over the fire and the smell of fresh bread. Even now, it makes me hungry thinking about it. When the others arrived to shore to join us at the fire that Jesus had prepared, he told us to bring some of the fish that we had caught. While the others took some time to greet Jesus, I headed over to the boat to get some of the fish, so that we could all enjoy a nice breakfast together. I drug the net ashore and took a look at the haul for that day. I’m sure you’ve all heard a fish story before, but I’m telling you each one of the fish we caught that day was large. We would later count them up, 153 fish in all that day. I still can’t believe the net held them all without tearing. Anyway, I grabbed some of the fish and took them back to Jesus.
As I walked back to Jesus and the others, I thought about how familiar this was. It’s like things were back to the normal we had come to know, by beginning our day by having breakfast with Jesus. The last meal we shared together was during the Passover on the evening he was arrested. There was a different mood that night, but I didn’t realize that it would be our last meal with him. Life was such a blur for me since that night. As the disciples and I gathered together in Jerusalem in those days following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, we would often talk about how we longed to have one more meal with Jesus, just like we had become so accustomed to. And even though he would pop in, we were never sure if we would get this opportunity again. But here it is, breakfast with the Lord. I gave the fish to him and as they cooked, we just spent time with Jesus. He continued teaching us, we made small talk, and then he served us the bread and fish. I don’t know if the fish tasted better that day because I was so hungry from the long night of working or from the stress of the last couple of weeks, or if it was because it was spent with Jesus. Needless to say, this was one meal that I was not taking for granted. At the time I didn’t know if things were going back to the way they used to be or if this would be our last meal with our master.
As we ate, I thought about all that I wanted to say to Jesus. I still needed to tell him that I was sorry. I needed to tell him that I had learned a great lesson, that even though I talked a good talk, in the end, I failed. I failed myself and I failed Him. But I couldn’t bring myself to start that conversation. As we finished up eating, Jesus turned to me and said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” It seemed like such an odd question to me at the time. And it took me a moment to realize what he was really asking. He wasn’t asking me to compare my love for him to the other disciples, because he never called us to love him more than someone else, just to love him with all of our own heart. No, he wanted to know if I loved him more than the fish. If I hadn’t already been so humbled in the last few weeks, I might have taken greater offense to the question. Even though I know that he knew my heart, I answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” I mean come on Jesus, you can see and perceive and understand all things, so you know the answer to this question, ‘of course, I love you.” So Jesus said to me, “Feed my lambs.” Now, I had just spent more than 3 years with him, so I know he didn’t have any animals that needed cared for and I had spent enough time with him that I knew what “sheep” meant. I thought about the parable he told of the 1 lost sheep that wandered away from the rest of the fold and how the shepherd left the 99 others and went after that one. I thought about the time when we saw the crowds and he noted that they were like sheep without a shepherd. I thought about the time he told us that he was the good shepherd and that the sheep hear his voice. I thought about the sheep that he told us about that were not yet part of this fold and needed to be brought in. I was to feed these people, these sheep, which belonged to Jesus.
But Jesus wasn’t done with me. He once again asked me, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” I thought I had made myself clear, but I guess not. Maybe the whole crucifixion, resurrection thing messed up his hearing, I don’t know. So once again, I responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And he tells me, “Tend my sheep.” Not only was I to feed them, but I was to shepherd them, to guide them, and care for them, and protect them.
Then he asked me once more, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And upon hearing that third question, I was overcome with grief. I’m sure you could’ve seen it on my face. I probably looked like I had seen a ghost, I may have even looked like a ghost. I’m sure you’ve had an occasion when you are so overcome with grief, that you just become sick to your stomach, that’s how I felt. As he asked me the third time, “do you love me?”, I’m sure I must’ve heard a rooster crow at that moment as my mind raced to my denials of Jesus. Did my denial grieve Jesus as much as it was grieving me? Was this a passive way for Jesus to get back at me? Was he finally going to come out and say, “I told you so.” With hurt in my voice, I responded, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” I mean, he absolutely saw and understood the hearts of people. It was as if he could look right through them and see the soul of mankind. He did this with the rich young ruler who asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. I saw and heard how he interacted with the woman at the well. There were all of those discussions with Pharisees. He knew man’s heart, better than man knew his own heart. Maybe that was it, maybe Jesus knew my heart better than I did. But I knew that I loved Jesus. And I knew that Jesus knew it too.
In my mind, it seemed like a long drawn out pause before Jesus spoke but I’m guessing it was just a moment before he responded. I was waiting for a condemnation of my actions, for something, and surely I deserved it. But he said nothing of the sort. He once again instructed me to “feed his sheep.” Oh what peace came to my mind. Oh what love and grace was displayed to me that day. I did not deserve that second chance to prove that I was his disciple. I did not deserve that second chance to live up to the name he gave me, Peter. I don’t even know why Jesus’ words and actions continued to surprise me. But he was always teaching us and revealing His nature and the nature of our heavenly father to us. And he did so once more in that moment.
Next, he spoke words that I initially misunderstood and dreaded, but later came to embrace. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” He was saying, “Peter, you used to go about your business without a care in the world. You dressed yourself as you pleased, you went wherever you wanted, but one day that will change. A day is coming when you someone else will dress you, and you’ll be led where you don’t want to go. And your hands will be stretched out.” Anyone who was familiar with crucifixion knew what it meant to have your hands stretched out. He was telling me that I would eventually be led against my will, to my death. It didn’t make sense. And while I was still processing all of this, he spoke words that he had said to me before. Words that I still cherish as they were words that changed my life. One minute, I was fishing with my brother, then I heard his words, “Follow me” and I did. And now, he tells me that I will be led to death and once again he tells me “Follow me”. I didn’t know how much my understanding of those words would change since I first heard them 3 years ago. Jesus made it clear to us, that if anyone wanted to follow Him, that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross in order to do so. Those same words spoken, “follow me,” but they seemed so much heavier now, but then at once as I understood what was going on, the words all of a sudden seemed so joyful. Jesus was inviting me to continue following Him. I was still useful to my Lord. In spite of my failures, he could still use me!! Follow you, Jesus? Of course!! Even to death, Jesus? If that’s what you want.
I would have more time with Jesus before He would ascend to heaven but I’m not sure if I treasured any of it more than I did that breakfast with Jesus. It was then I realized what it means that God is quick to forgive. It was then I realized what it means for God to be merciful. It was then that I realized, that God can use anyone, in spite of our past.
Today, if I could encourage you in any ways based on my experience with Jesus that day it would be this:
- Love Jesus! Love him with everything that you have. Love him more than your job! More than your home! More than your comforts and familiar surroundings! You will never spend a moment thinking, “I wish I had loved Jesus a little less back then.”
- I’d want you to know that Jesus wants to use you for great things and that nothing you’ve done can make you useless to him. I never envisioned after denying Jesus that he could still use me. I couldn’t even envision that he would want to use me. Perhaps you’re here today, thinking, “You don’t know what I’ve done.” I don’t. But Jesus does. I mean Jesus even knew how bad I was going to blow it before I even denied him, before He even chose me. And in spite of that, he chose me to be his disciple, to forgive me and to give me me a second chance.
- I’d encourage you to feed and care for Jesus’ sheep. There is great joy in it. I’d encourage you to find those sheep that are already believers and encourage and teach them with the words of Jesus. Help guide them, watch after them, and care for them when the need it. Find those sheep that have not yet come to believe in Jesus and share with them what He has done for them. Guide them to enter into his fold, watch after them and care for them, even after they believe.
- Finally, let me encourage you to keep following Jesus. You may not know where it’s going to lead, but I promise you that it’s worth it. Whatever that next step he’s leading you to take, follow Him. That person in your life that he wants you to show love to, follow Him. That big leap of faith to take part in a mission trip, follow Him. Baptism? Follow Him. Starting that new ministry? Follow Him. Leading your family? Follow him. Or maybe it’s for the first time ever to come and truly follow him, to confess your sins and seek his forgiveness, to confess that he can save you of your sins because he paid the price for them by dying on the cross and that he has overcome them, because he overcame the grave, and ask him to come and be a part of your life. Entrust your life to Jesus, follow him. You’ll never regret it.