Feed My Sheep

John 21

John 21 is the after credits bonus scene of John’s gospel and in it Peter is restored, told to “feed my sheep,” and given a glimpse of what’s ahead.

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One of you was kind enough to give Nicole and I gift cards to the local movie theater for Pastor Appreciation Month back in October and we used those to take our kids Haven and Lincoln to see Frozen 2. The kids enjoyed the movie and we left and I learned afterward that we should have stayed for an after the credits scene- a little bonus clip that came on after the credits were done.

These after credits scenes have become popular because the Marvel Cinematic Universe used them to tie up loose ends in the story and give sneak peeks of the next installment of their series of movies. John 21 is a lot like one of these after the credits scenes.

John 21 is an after credits bonus scene.

This chapter is often thought of as kind of an epilogue to the Gospel of John because Jesus had already risen from the dead, appeared the disciples, and told them “as the Father has sent me, so send I you.” However, like an after credits scenes that have become so popular in movies as of late, this final chapters ties up some loose ends and sets the stage for what’s coming next.

Read John 21:1-7

3 reasons John gives us this epilogue.

  1. John wants to give us a parable of what the kingdom work will be.

We can best understand the importance of this moment if we think back to the moment Peter meets Jesus. Jesus sends Peter back into the water after a night of fishing and catching nothing. Peter does so to appease the religious teacher… more out of respect. Then they catch such a large mess of fish that they can hardly pull it in… Peter says, depart from me, I’m a wicked man… Jesus says, from now on you will be a fisher of men.

Think about what fishing is, it’s pulling a creature out of the world they have lived in to a whole new realm that they can’t understand and can’t live in without help… Occasionally a fish will jump out of the water and get a glimpse of what the world above the surface looks like, but they are far from understanding it… Peter had been one who pulled fish from one realm to another. Brought them into an existence they couldn’t imagine, into a world where they could not live.

Ministry is pulling people from one realm into another.

Jesus was calling Peter to be one who pulls men into a new realm, into a wholly different plane of existence, one that they had no idea existed until they experienced it, one that they can’t not live on without the enabling power of Christ…

“How’s the water?”

David Foster Wallace who was a brilliant author spoke at a commencement address in 2005 and gave this powerful little parable.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What in the world is water?”

Fish don’t even know what water is, much less that’s there’s a whole other world that exists above it.  Most people live their lives completely unaware of the real meaning of their decisions and actions, much less knowing that there is something above it…

The only way we can pull people into that reality is with Jesus’ divine help.

Peter was called to pull people into that, but after everything that is happening, he has gone back to pulling fish out of the water… and for a whole night he hasn’t had any luck, then some guy calls from the water that they should try the other side of the boat. This is the kind of advice that makes you roll your eyes, like, oh wow. Thanks! Wish I had thought of that… However, out of politeness they do what they are told, and they pull in so many fish. Peter knows in this moment that it’s Jesus on the shore.

The parable here is that we can’t pull people into the spiritual realm on our own. The work of the church that these guys would go one to build would only be possible through the power and guidance of Jesus.

2. John wants to tie up the loose end of Peter’s denial of Jesus.

We didn’t cover this in great detail, but in the wake of Jesus’ arrest, Peter is questioned 3 times about whether he was one of the disciples and all 3 times Peter denies it. He eventually swears. After this, Peter realizes what he has done and he goes out and weeps bitterly. He feels incredible guilt.

Peter was no coward. He is the one who pulled a sword on the crowd of soldiers that came to arrest Jesus. He is the one who walked on the water. However, Peter often shot from the hip.

Jesus restores Peter.

John 21:15-17…

The way Jesus frames the first question is do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than the other disciples do? Peter had said even when everyone else fails you, I won’t. Peter had thought of himself as the foremost. He had a struggle with pride. Peter doesn’t answer any of these questions with pride, rather he repeatedly answers, Lord you know, you know all things.

In all of the answers, Jesus is lifted up. Not Peter. Peter has been humbled. It’s not about Peter. It’s about Jesus. After each of these responses Jesus gives Peter a charge. “Feed my lambs.” Then, “Feed my sheep.” Finally, one last time Jesus says “Feed my sheep.”

Feed my sheep.

A fisherman was no king, but it was a position of much greater prominence than a shepherd. Shepherds were out in the fields. Behind the scenes. Fisherman were in the mix. Right in the middle of everything. To move from fisherman to shepherd was not a promotion. The metaphor here though is that if Peter loves the Lord, he will love people.

Love people.

The picture of love that we have in the scriptures is that loving God is preeminent, but love of God leads to love of people, and in loving people we grow in our love of God. In fact, when asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus says to Love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. They are connected. Hopefully as we have looked at the life of Jesus, you’ve seen that Jesus was not just someone who talked about loving people, but rather He lived out and even died out these truths.

Jesus He came as an act of Love. He died as an act of Love. John would expand on this idea in one of his later letters by saying

1 John 4:8-12

8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
12No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

How do fish who don’t even recognize the water see a whole different realm? The same way that people see God.  They see Him in the love we have for others. How would Peter be a fisher of men? Loving people who weren’t that lovable… Loving on people who are a lot like sheep.

People can be hard to love.

This past week I saw someone said, “Really it wasn’t that the Grinch hated Christmas, he just didn’t like people. Which is fair.”

3. John wants to clarify Jesus’ prophecy about the end of Peter & John’s lives.

At the very end here, Jesus tells Peter that when he is older, life will not be like when he was younger.

18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
19This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Let me point something out here before we get to the end… It might be troubling to someone to find out what kind of death you are going to die. I’m not sure I would want to know this information… Peter is no doubt startled by it.

However, I want you to see that what Jesus has given Peter is more than a hard pill to swallow. It’s a gift.

Jesus gave Peter a gift of peace.

He’s telling Peter what’s going to happen at the end so at the end, Peter will not feel like a failure. Jesus does not tell Peter that if he follows Jesus everything will be awesome. Jesus tells Peter that he will be killed for proclaiming the message of Jesus, but then he ends it with, Follow me.

If we are told that following Jesus will make everything work out all of the time, when things don’t work out, we question the truth about Jesus or we doubt our dedication to following Jesus. We are left listless.

The scripture teach us that following the commands of Jesus is like building our house upon a rock, so that when the storms come we are able to stand, sheltered in the midst of the rain and blowing wind. It does not tell us that it is like building upon a rock where it never rains…

Don’t put words in God’s mouth.

Putting words in God’s mouth is an appropriate application here, because John closes the book by clarifying something that had been spread about him. In this interchange between Peter and Jesus, Peter had said, well what about John? Jesus said, if John tarries till I return, what is that to you?Peter, you don’t get to know everything.

The word “if” was left off of this and people began to say that John would never die. And John says in verse 23

23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

The truth of God’s word is powerful and should be handled correctly.

When handled with care, it changes lives. When twisted, it hurts people.

Steve Laube has pointed out that Shakespeare used about 30,000 words in his works. The King James Bible has 12,100 different words. And we only use around 10,000 words to communicate our ideas, our emotions, and our understanding of truth.

We’ll wrap up Christmas by looking at the words of Joy and Hope, we’ve already covered Peace and Love.

Then after Christmas, we’ll focus on helping you take this word into your heart and mind on your own. We’ll be doing a sermon series on the Bible. Pastor Eric will preach on how we got the words we have in our Bible.

The words of truth, when handled appropriately, change lives.

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