John 21:1‑19  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
(John 21:1-191After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself. 2There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. 3Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. 4But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 5Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. 6And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. 7Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. 8And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. 9As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. 11Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. 12Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. 14This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. 15So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 18Verily, 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. (John 21:1‑19).)
A careful study of these verses will enable us to trace, in them, three distinct kinds of restoration, namely, restoration of conscience, restoration of heart, and restoration of position.
I. The first of these, restoration of conscience, is of all-importance. It would be utterly impossible to over estimate the value of a sound, clear, uncondeming conscience. A Christian cannot get on if there is a single soil on his conscience. He must walk before God with a pure conscience—a conscience without stain or sting. Precious treasure! May my reader ever possess it.
It is very obvious that Peter possessed it in the touching scene, " at the sea of Tiberias." And yet he had fallen—shamefully, grievously fallen. He had denied his Lord with an oath; but he was restored. One look from Jesus had broken up the deep fountains of his heart, and drawn forth floods of bitter tears. And yet it was not his tears, but the love that drew them forth, which formed the ground of his thorough restoration of conscience. It was the changeless and everlasting love of the heart of Jesus—the divine efficacy of the blood of Jesus—and the all-prevailing power of the advocacy of Jesus that imparted to Peter's conscience the boldness and liberty so strikingly and beautifully exhibited on the memorable occasion before us.
The risen Savior is seen, in these closing chapters of John's Gospel, watching over His poor, foolish, feeble, erring disciples—hovering about their path—presenting Himself, in various ways, before them—taking occasion, from their very necessities, to make Himself known, in perfect grace, to their hearts. Was there a tear to be dried, a difficulty to be solved, a fear to be hushed, a bereaved heart to be soothed, an unbelieving mind to be corrected? Jesus was present, in all the fullness and variety of His grace, to meet all these things. So also when, under the guidance of the ever forward Peter, they had gone forth to spend a night in fruitless toil, Jesus had His eye upon them. He knew all about the darkness, and the toil, and the empty net, and there He was on the shore, to kindle a fire and prepare a dinner for them. Yes, the selfsame Jesus who had died on the cross to put away their sins, now stood on the shore to restore them from their wanderings, gather them round Himself, and minister to all their need. "Have ye any meat?" developed the fruitlessness of their night's toil. " Come and dine," was the touching expression of the tender, thoughtful, all-providing love of the risen Savior.
But let us note, particularly, the evidences of a thoroughly restored conscience, as exhibited by Simon Peter. "Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved, saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea." He could not wait for the ships, or for his fellow-disciples, so eager was he to get to the feet of his risen Lord. In place of saying to John or to the others, " You know how shamefully I have fallen, and although I have, since then, seen the Lord, and heard Him speak peace to my soul, yet I think it more becoming in one that has so fallen to keep back, do you therefore go first and meet the blessed One, and I shall follow after," in place of aught in this style, he flings himself boldly into the sea, as much as to say, " I must be the very first to get to my risen Savior; none has such a claim on Him as poor, stumbling, failing Peter."
Now, here was a perfectly restored conscience—a conscience without a single spot—a conscience basking in the sunlight of unchanging love. Peter's confidence in Christ was unclouded, and this, we may boldly affirm, was grateful to the heart of Jesus. Love likes to be trusted. Let us ever remember this. No one need imagine that he is honoring Jesus by standing afar off on the plea of un-worthiness; and yet it is very hard for one who has fallen or backslidden, to recover his confidence in the love of Christ. Such an one can see clearly that a sinner is welcome to Jesus, no matter how great or manifold his sins may have been; but then he thinks the ease of a backsliding or stumbling Christian is entirely different. Should these lines be scanned by one who has backslidden or fallen, we would press upon him, most earnestly, the importance of immediate return to Jesus. " Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." What is the response to this pathetic appeal? " Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God." " If thou wilt return, Ο Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me." (Jer. 3:22; 4:122Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God. (Jeremiah 3:22)
1If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove. (Jeremiah 4:1)
.) The love of the heart of Jesus knows no change. We change; but He is " the same yesterday, to-day, and forever;" and He delights to be trusted. The confidence of Peter's heart was a rich feast to the heart of Christ. No doubt, it is sad to fall, to err, to backslide; but it is sadder still, when we have done so, to distrust the love of Jesus, or His gracious readiness to take us to His bosom again.
Beloved reader, have you fallen? Have you erred? Have you backslidden? Have you lost the sweet sense of divine favor, the happy consciousness of acceptance with God? If so, what are you to do? Simply this, " Return." This is God's own special word to the backslider. Return, in self-judgment, and in the fullest confidence in the boundless, changeless love of the heart of Christ. 1)0 not, we beseech you, keep away in the distance of your own unbelief. Do not measure the heart of Jesus by your own thoughts. Let Him tell you what is in His heart toward you. You have sinned, you have failed, you have turned aside, and now, it may be, you are afraid or ashamed to turn your eyes toward the One whom you have grieved and dishonored. Satan, too, is suggesting the darkest thoughts, for he would fain keep you at a chilling distance from that precious Savior who loves you with an everlasting love. But you have only to fix your gaze upon the blood, the advocacy, the heart of Jesus, to get a triumphant answer to all the enemy's terrible suggestions, and to all the infidel reasonings of your own heart. Ό0 not, therefore, go on another hour without seeking to get a thorough settlement of the question between your soul and Christ. Remember, " His is an unchanging love, free and faithful, strong as death." Remember also His own words, " Return, ye backsliding children"—"Return to me." And, finally, remember that Jesus loves to be trusted.
II. But the heart has to be restored as well as the conscience. Let this not be forgotten. It often happens in the history of souls, that though the conscience may be perfectly clear as to certain acts which we have done, yet the roots from whence those acts have sprung have not been reached. The acts appear on the surface of daily life, but the roots are hidden down deep in the heart, unknown, it may be, to ourselves and others, but thoroughly exposed to the eye of Him with whom we have to do.
Now, these roots must be reached, exposed, and judged, ere the heart is in a right condition in the sight of God. Look at Abraham. He started on his course with a certain root in his heart, a root of unbelieving reserve, in reference to Sarah. This thing led him astray when he went down into Egypt, and although his conscience was restored, and he got back to his altar at Bethel, yet the heart was not reached for years afterward, in the affair of Abimelech, king of Gerar.
Ail this is deeply practical and most solemn. It finds its illustration in Peter as well as in Abraham. But only mark the exquisitely delicate way in which our blessed Lord proceeds to reach the roots in the heart of His dear and honored servant. " So when they had dined." Not till then. There was no allusion to the past, nothing that might cause a chill to the heart, or bring a cloud over the spirit while a restored conscience was feasting in company with a love that knows no change. This is a fine moral trait. It characterizes the dealings of God with all His. saints. The conscience is set at rest in the presence of infinite and everlasting love, ere there is the most distant allusion to the roots of things in the heart. When Simon Peter, in the full confidence of a restored conscience, flung himself at the feet of his risen Lord, he was called to listen to that gracious invitation, "Coma and dine." But, " when they had dined," Jesus, as it were, takes Peter apart in order to let in upon his soul the light of truth, so that by it he might discern the root from whence all his failure had sprung. That root was self-confidence, which had led him to place himself in advance of his fellow-disciples, and say, " Though all should deny thee, yet will not I."
This root had to be exposed, and, therefore, " When they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" This was a pointed and pungent question, and it went right to the very bottom of Peter's heart. Three times Peter had denied his Lord, and three times his Lord now challenges the heart of Peter—for the roots must be reached if any permanent good is to be done. It will not do merely to have the conscience purged from the effects which have been produced in practical life, there must also be the moral judgment of that which produced them. This is not sufficiently understood and attended to, and hence it is that again and again the roots spring up and bring forth fruit, and scatter their seed a thousand-fold around us, thus cutting out for us the most bitter and sorrowful work, which might all be avoided if the roots of things were thoroughly judged and kept under.
Christian reader, our object in this paper is entirely practical. Let us, therefore, exhort one another to judge our roots, whatever they may be. Do we know our roots? Doubtless, it is hard, very hard, to know them. They are deep and manifold; pride, personal vanity, covetousness, irritability, ambition—these are some of the roots of character, the motive springs of action, over which a rigid censorship must ever be exercised. We must let nature know that the eye of self-judgment is continually upon it. We have to carry on the struggle without cessation. We may have to lament over occasional failure; but we must maintain the struggle, for struggle bespeaks life. May God the Holy Ghost strengthen us for the ceaseless conflict.
III. We shall close this paper with a brief reference to restoration as bearing upon the soul's position or path. The conscience being thoroughly purged, and the heart, with its varied roots, judged, there is moral preparedness for our proper path. The perfect love of Jesus had expelled all fear from Peter's conscience; and His threefold question had opened up the roots in Peter's heart, and now He says to him, " 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 hand, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, follow me."
Here, then, we have, in two words, the path of the servant of Christ. " Follow me" The Lord had just given Peter the sweetest pledges of His love and confidence. He had, notwithstanding all past failure, entrusted him with the care of all that was dear to His loving heart in this world, even the Iambs and sheep of His flock. He had said to him, " If you have affection for me, feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep," and now, in one brief but comprehensive utterance, He opens before him his proper path. " Follow me." This is enough. It includes all beside. If we want to follow Jesus, we must keep the eye continually upon Him; we must mark His footprints and tread therein. Yes, mark them and walk in them; and when tempted, like Peter, to " turn about" in order to see what this one or that one has to do, or how he does it, we may hear the correcting words, "What is that to thee? Follow thou me." This is to be our one grand and all-absorbing business, come what may. A thousand things may arise to distract and hinder. The devil will tempt us to look hither and thither, to look at this one and that one; to imagine we could do better here than there, or there than here; to be occupied with, and imitating the work of some fellow-servant. All this is met by those pointed words, " Follow me."
There is immense danger, in the present day, of following in the wake of others, of doing certain things because others do them, or doing things as others do them. All this has to be carefully guarded. It will be sure to come to nothing. What we really want is a broken will—the true spirit of a servant that waits on the Master to know His mind. Service does not consist in doing this or that, or running hither and thither; it is simply doing the Master's will, whatever that maybe. " They serve who stand and wait." It is easier to be busy than to be quiet. When Peter was "young" he went whither he would; but when he got " old" he went whither he would not. What a contrast between the young, restless, ardent, energetic Peter, going whither he would, and the old, matured, subdued, experienced Peter going whither he would not! What a mercy to have the will broken! To be able to say from the heart, " What thou wilt—as thou wilt—where thou wilt—when thou wilt." " Not my will, but thine, Ο Lord, be done."
" Follow me." Precious words! May they be engraved on our hearts, beloved reader! Then shall we be steady on our course, and effective in our service. We shall not be distracted or unhinged by the thoughts and opinions of men. It may happen that we shall get very few to understand us or sympathize with us—few to approve or appreciate our work. It matters not. The Master knows all about it. Let us only be sure of what He has told us to do, and do it. If a master tells one of his servants, distinctly, to go and do a certain thing, or occupy a certain post, it is his business to go and do that thing, or occupy that post, no matter what his fellow-servants may think. They may tell him that he ought to be somewhere else, or to do something else; a proper servant will heed them not; he knows his master's mind, and has to do his master's work.
Would it were more thus with all the Lord's servants! Would that we all knew more distinctly and carried out more decidedly, the Master's will respecting us. Peter had his path and John had his. James had his work, and Paul had his. So it was of old, the Gershonite had his work, and the Merarite had his; and if one had interfered with the other, the work could not have been done. The Tabernacle was carried forward or set up by each man doing his own proper work. Thus it is in this our day. God has varied workmen in His house and in His vineyard; He has quarrymen, stone-squarers, masons, and decorators. Are all quarrymen? Surely not; but each has his work to do, and the building is carried forward by each one doing his own appointed work. Should a quarry-man despise a decorator, or a decorator look down with contempt upon a quarryman? Assuredly not. The Master wants them both, and whenever the one would interfere with the other, as, alas! we so often do, the faithful correcting word falls cu the ear, " What is that to thee? Follow thou me."