Saturday, October 12, 2013

New Opportunities - John 21

From the birth of Christ to His death, burial and resurrection, John writes at the end of his gospel account, “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). But surprisingly, John is still not finished. An incident occurred on the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias) and involved some matters that needed to be included before his gospel record was ended.

John’s gospel is not simply a challenge to believe, but a call for commitment. He wants us to know that believing Jesus and His teaching will change your life. Following Jesus demands action. He requires of His children obedient service and full commitment. So the apostle not only presents the facts of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, but concludes with a challenge. New life brings about new opportunities.

To take full advantage of those opportunities though, we must understand our relationship with Christ. Yes, He is our Savior, but He is also our Lord and Master. Therefore, …

I. Whatever He Commands, We Do John 21:1-8

“After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. [2] Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. [3] Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. [4] But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. [5] So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” [6] And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. [7] Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. [8] But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.”

According to Matthew’s gospel, the reason the disciples were at the Sea of Galilee was because Jesus had told them to go there (Matthew 28:16). But when they got there, they did not find the resurrected Jesus. They waited and waited …. Finally one evening, Peter decided to go fishing, and six others went with him. They had obeyed Jesus and come to Galilee, but He never said they had to sit and do nothing. Peter – as always – was not a patient man.

After they labored all night fishing and had caught nothing, another test came. A figure on the shore told them they should cast their net on the right side of the boat. As if these seasoned fishermen had not already tried everything they knew to bring in some fish! Still they had caught nothing. What could it hurt?

This description of a miraculous catch of fish at the close of Jesus' earthly association with His disciples provides a beautiful parallel with a similar miraculous catch made at the beginning of His ministry. At that time, Jesus had used the great catch as an illustration that He would make these fishers to become fishers of men (Luke 5:4-10).

One wonders whether the disciples remembered that earlier scene when the voice called from the shore, asking if they had caught anything and then telling them where to cast their nets. The apostles had been watching for Jesus, but for whatever reason they did not know Him as He called to them across a hundred yards of water in the dim light of dawn. But when they followed His command, and the nets were filled with fish, they knew this must be Jesus.

After the catch, it was John who first exclaimed, "It is the Lord!" (John 21:7). But it was the impetuous Peter who quickly jumped overboard to swim to Him, barely remembering to grab his clothes on the way. Sitting idle, he had wanted to fish. But now he had no time for fishing; he wanted to get to Jesus. This is one more indication of his genuine commitment to the Lord.

In fact, this is the first sign of commitment in any true believer. Whatever He commands, we do! Peter can't even fathom why anyone would disobey the Lord. Many years later, seeing some who call themselves Christians turning away from the Lord and His commands, writes, “For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them” (2 Peter 2:21).

So if you want to take advantage of the new opportunities that are available to you as a Christian, the first lesson is a simple one: Whatever He commands, we do. The second lesson is just as simple …

II. However He Provides, We Accept John 21:9-14

“So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. [10] Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” [11] Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. [12] Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. [13] Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. [14] This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.”

Finally, the disciples came to the shore, dragging the fish – 153 big ones. They found that Jesus not only was there, but had provided for them. A warm fire was burning and the fish were ready to be cooked for a satisfying breakfast along the beautiful shore of Galilee.

John specifies that this was Jesus' third appearance to the disciples after He was raised from the dead (John 21:14). He already reported to us Jesus’ appearance to the apostles in chapter 20 – the first without Thomas present, and the second with him included. Now Jesus appeared to seven of them, five of whom are named. Because it had been commanded, I would presume that the rest of the apostles were waiting somewhere nearby to meet Jesus, even though John does not name them all. Remember, whatever He commands, we do.

But the lesson in this second point is this: However He provides, we accept! To the apostles, Jesus said a simple thing like, "Come and have breakfast." But to those who will listen today, Jesus is still the gracious Host. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. [38] He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).

There’s an old hymn often used as an invitation, which was based on Luke 14:17 and says so poetically, “All things are ready; come to the feast. Come, for the table now is spread. Ye famishing, ye weary come, and thou shalt be richly fed.” There’s the lesson for us. Jesus wants us to come to Him. He’s ready to provide for us … and however He provides, we accept! Third lesson …

III. Whatever He Demands, We Give John 21:15-17

“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” [16] He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” [17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.””

What did Jesus really mean when He asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Why did Jesus ask Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” Great questions … but not the center of our attention for this message. I want to focus on the instructions Jesus gave Peter.

He first said, “Tend My lambs,” then, “Shepherd My sheep,” and finally, “Tend My sheep.” Back in John 10:12-13, Jesus taught a lesson to His apostles about shepherding, “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13] He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.”

Peter ran away from the wolves once when he denied Christ before His crucifixion, will he do so again? He would not if he were truly concerned about the sheep. Real love will motivate such a leader to defend the flock at all costs. Thus Peter’s later response as a shepherd is to instruct the flock, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. [9] But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

I also like the differences in the words that Jesus uses in those three statements, because together they give us a composite picture of the shepherd’s task – to feed the flock and to protect them. Paul tells us in Titus 1:9, a shepherd's task is in “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine (feed them) and to refute those who contradict (protect them).” And every one of the flock must be so fed and protected, from the young lambs to the older sheep.

Considering the context of vs. 15-17 of our text then, we must then conclude within our own hearts and minds, “Whatever Jesus demands from us, we will give Him.” Jesus does not want merely our friendly love, but a complete and compelling love. And He demands that His flock – whether young or old – be well-fed and well-protected. Fourth lesson …

IV. Wherever He Leads, We Follow
John 21:18-19

““Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” [19] Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!””

After assigning to Peter his life’s work of shepherding the flock, Jesus added a warning of coming times of trial. Peter would eventually suffer and die for the cause of Christ. Right now, as a young man, the apostle had the freedom to dress himself and go where he wanted; but later, he would unwillingly be dressed in chains and led to his death.

Once before, the Scriptures had prophesied of Peter’s failure and denial, but not this time. John prophesies now that someday Peter would glorify God by his death. Eventually, he would prove that his loyalty to Christ was greater than his loyalty to life itself. In fact, the term martyr comes from the Greek word meaning to bear witness. John is telling us that Peter would become a Christian martyr, bearing witness in his own body of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Then, after a warning of what was to come, Jesus gives the clear instruction, “Follow Me.”

Before his denial of Jesus, Peter had once asked the Lord where He was going. Jesus had made a reference about the cross, but had informed Peter that he could not follow at that time. On that occasion, Peter had replied that he would lay down his life for Jesus. That was when Jesus had given the warning that Peter would deny Him instead of following Him (John 13:36-38). But now the denials were behind, and so was the death of Jesus. His resurrection had been accomplished, and victory lay ahead. Peter's faith and love were confirmed – and would only grow stronger.

Earlier, we said, Whatever He commands, we do. But what if the following of Jesus' commands leads to death? Will you still trust Him even then? Now – following a clear warning of impending death – the command is simply, “Follow Me.”

Peter did, and taught Christians to do the same. In 1 Peter 2:20-21, the apostle says, “… if, when you do what is right and suffer for it, you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” In other words: Wherever He leads, we follow … even if it may end in death. Last lesson …

V. However It Ends, We Remain Faithful John 21:20-23

“Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” [21] So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” [22] Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” [23] Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?””

Jesus had already given Peter his instructions, but for some reason – rather than focusing upon his own work – Peter sees John and says, “What about him?” We cannot know what motivated Peter to ask the question, but Jesus’ reply is easy enough to understand. “What business is it of yours?”

Once again, Peter’s attention had wandered. Jesus had told Peter to shepherd and feed the flock. Following Jesus would eventually cost him his life. “But what about John? Am I going to be the only one to suffer and die for you?”

What does it matter? How does John’s situation in any way change the instructions already issued? “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”

As usual, there are always some who jump to conclusions without really listening to what is being said. From this saying of Jesus, a rumor went out that John would not die before the Lord would return. But that’s not what Jesus was saying ... and John wants that clarified. The topic at hand wasn’t John’s future, but Peter’s.

This is a valuable lesson for us, as well. What’s it to you how others are serving Christ? If the Lord gives you a life filled with persecution and death, and gives to someone else a life filled with blessing and long life, that’s not your business. If the Lord calls you to serve in a harsh environment while others serve in safety, what is that to you? You do what the Lord tells you to do. Its easy to stand back and criticize how others are serving, but are you doing your work for the kingdom?

Whatever our lot in life, we must remain obedient. God put a light at the end of our tunnel. Peter says in 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” Stay in the tunnel, people! However God chooses for our lives to end, we must remain faithful. As Christ says in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Conclusion, John 21:24-25: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. [25] And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”

“We know that his testimony is true.” Whoever the “we” is, they are acknowledging John’s testimony as a true record of events. But John wants us to know in closing that this is not intended as a definitive and complete record of everything that Jesus ever did. Even when this book is added to those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the four writers have only begun to tell all that could be told about Jesus.

But it is not the amount of information, but the truth of what had been told that is important to every one of us. This is a reliable and truthful account of that which we need to know to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to commit ourselves to His cause.

Each day brings about new opportunities. Following these five simple guidelines will insure that we make the most of those opportunities. 1) Whatever He commands, we do; 2) however He provides for us, we graciously accept it; 3) whatever He may demand of us, we give it to Him; 4) wherever He leads us, we follow; and 5) however things may end for us, we continue to remain faithful to the One who is our Lord and Master.

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