John 21

Forty days passed between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. According to Acts 1:3, Jesus spent these days “presenting Himself alive” to His disciples and talking to them about His kingdom.

The third of these post-resurrection appearances occurred very early one morning after seven of the disciples had been fishing all night. The fishing was Peter’s idea. He had probably assumed that although Jesus was alive, he would not be considered His “apostle” anymore — not after he had failed Jesus so miserably, denying Him three times on the night of His arrest. Surely after such disloyalty Jesus would not trust Peter again, so it was back to the sea and the nets for the outspoken disciple who made big promises he couldn’t keep.

Neither Peter nor his mates knew it was Jesus on the shore calling to them and giving fishing tips. But when they pulled in 153 “keepers,” John (the disciple whom Jesus loved, v.7) realized that the Miracle-Worker was behind the catch — it was Jesus!

Peter’s reflex was to swim to meet the Lord, who was waiting with a charcoal fire and a fisherman’s breakfast. A net was not the only thing Peter hauled ashore that day. He was also dragging a load of guilt, the shame of failure, and uncertainty about the future of his usefulness in ministry. In the conversation that followed, Jesus relieved Peter of his baggage and restored his apostleship.

It is one of the most well-known exchanges in history: for each of Peter’s three denials, Jesus allowed an affirmation of loyalty and love. And for each of Peter’s affirmations, Jesus repeated Peter’s assignment: “Feed My sheep.” Peter understood that Jesus expected him to be a leader in caring for the “flock” of new believers who would respond to the gospel.

And Peter did just that. His preaching on the day of Pentecost produced thousands of new “lambs” and under his teaching and leadership (along with the other disciples, of course) that flock (the original church) flourished and scattered abroad to turn the world upside-down. Peter was faithful to the death, never again denying Jesus — not even when he was martyred under the rule of Nero around AD 67.

By the time John finished writing his gospel, Peter had been in heaven for twenty years. John affirmed his authorship of the gospel (v.24) and debunked a rumor about his own death — important points of clarification for the longest-surviving eye-witness of the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as the birth and advancement of the original church.

In the closing verse of the book (and the final statement of the four gospels), John reminds us that what he and the others recorded was only a small part of the life and work of Jesus. He had done and said so much more that all the books in the world could not contain it. And He is still working today — through you and me and His church around the world. Are you available for Him to work through today?