Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
John 20:31 tells us the purpose for things being written by God in the gospel according to John. Listen: “These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”The things of God written down by John to accomplish such a wonderful purpose probably refer first of all to the accounts of the various appearances of Jesus after His resurrection, and to the miracles Jesus performed then in the presence of His disciples. All these are written that we might believe the Truth Jesus, and get a Life unlike any other life.
But, really, every thing in John has been written for the same purpose. There’s no word wasted on a lesser thing. From “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) to “Amen” (John 21:25). All written as revelation of the identity of the person and office and work of Jesus of Nazareth. All written for light and faith and life for God’s elect.
Well, fellow Bible students, as we enter a last Bible Study of John together we do well to ask ourselves this question: How is our light, and faith, and life? Which is to say, How has our Bible study been?Have we believed this Jesus in and through our Bible Study of the inspired apostle John? How noble—with Christian, Berean, Bible-searching nobility and humility and diligence and expectancy—have we been?
In this age …
where things are Mc and we are all on the move and wanting things fast;
where things are Man and man believing Man;where things are Mush and feelings and experiences and thrills….
Among these antichristian spirits …whose purposes are exactly that we not believe Just Jesus;who posit many revelations of many saviors all equally valid;who preach the god Tolerance, and death to dogma and dogmatists.
And then, what has our Bible study done, to bear fruit in our lives? What really has revelation done for and in our life? To our waistlines? Our dating? Our marriages? Our work? Our play? Our attitudes? Our chit-chat? Our humility? Our pride? Our prejudices? Our prayers? And our purposes?
It’s not too late. If belief has been weak, and good fruit meager, there is still now. And this study. In fact it is just for you. In this last chapter of John we see our resurrected Lord appearing to His disciples again. He powerfully re-calls the disciples from their fishing to be fishers of men. He tenderly reinstates the fallen Peter. In every way Jesus continues to reveal Himself as the Christ, the Son of God.
For us. You see? You and I are being re-called, reinstated, rebuked, reminded, reconfirmed, here in the last chapter of John, and now in this next chapter of our life. The Savior God with us is appearing to us now.
We’ve gone fishing. We’ve been playing golf. We’ve been amusing ourselves to death. Or we’ve been building one barn after the other in which to store this world’s goods. We’ve been, of course, having a little religion. But the things which are seen have seized us. Good things. Bad stuff. All kinds of doing and being done unto. So real! Yet they have taken over. Stocks, Handicaps, Work, Internet, School, Ministry…. All these have become our preoccupation and our lords. We’ve left off believing the written things of God and the God of the written things. We’ve been living and doing. We’ve not been living and doing the Word.Shame. There has been this sense of our hypocrisy, our double-lives, our little faith. We do not like it. But we wonder how life could be different, better, the way Christian lives are supposed to be. We hang our heads, cowering in fear, perhaps, as we enter another round of our feeble “good fight,” and we are, we know, supposed to be winning, and yet have been so knocked around and bloodied. What good can Faith be for this fight this day against this Foe?Look! Now He is coming, this Jesus. He stands on the shore. We cannot quite see Him yet, perhaps. But He’s there. You are fighting in your life. Fighting to make a living. But there is nothing in all your punching, in all your night and day.
Jesus comes and says just one word: Why?
And then another: I have won! I have fought and died in your place and to cleanse you of your archenemy sins, make you fearless before sucker-punching devils. I am risen. I am crowned. For your justification. For your right to life. Champion! Yours!
And another: Believe! Trust Me! Out of the faith I have given, and in the power of the Spirit breathing life in you: Believe! Look to and be ruled and liberated by my Word, and wield it for victories over worlds in my name….And this: Live! In the world, yet not of it. Fishing. Yet fishing for men. Single, yet with God. Married, yet married to Me. Getting. Yet getting understanding. Rejoicing here, yet joy in the Holy Ghost. Dying. Yet never dying….And: I am with you always. I love you! And still, though you be weak. My strength is made perfect in your weakness! My love in your lovelessness! My faithfulness in your faithlessness!
One more thing in this chapter of John, and for this next chapter of our faith-life, and for when the brief story of ours on earth is done. There’s the Word that the half and much more has not been told us. Certain things are written of Jesus and what He did. “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”(John 21:25).This simply means that Jesus is Wonderful! He is the God Wonderful, and Messiah of God Wonderful! Revealed, yes. So we’ve a true knowledge of God, yes. But He is so much more! We have a drop. He is an ocean. We have Him with us. He is most High. Revelation written. That we might believe….So much unbookable! That we might live each day falling on knees in wonder. That in grateful hearts there might be the small but sure beginning of endless praise.
For Study, Meditation, & Discussion
1.Jesus visits His fishermen (vv. 1-14).
Jesus now appears to His disciples the third time since His resurrection. They are fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (the same as the Sea of Galilee [cf. John 6:1]). They had caught nothing all night. Now a man appears standing on the shore. The disciples see the man. It is Jesus. But the disciples do not recognize Him. Not until He performs a miracle will they know.
Some commentators blame the disciples for going fishing. One even describes the scene as one of “complete apostasy.” Is there any evidence in the passage, and in Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter, that the disciples, by their fishing, had about given up on their calling to be fishers of men (Confer Matt. 4:18-20; Luke 5:1-11; and John 15:5)?
While you and I are thinking on this—is it possible that ministers are called to the ministry only for a short time, but then one day are not? Also this: are ministers, while they are ministers, ever to be involved in any occupation besides the ministry of the Word and sacraments (Think of Paul and his tent-making. See also Acts 6:4; I Tim. 5:17)?
List at least five incidents in this narrative which are miraculous.
153 fish caught! A great deal is made by some of the exact number—153. Is there any symbolism here? What are some important things to remember when interpreting the numbers in Scripture symbolically? Not considering now the exact number of fish—is there any significance in the large amount of fish? In the fact that the net did not break (cf. Luke 5:1-11 where the nets did break)?
2.Our Lord’s reinstatement of Peter (vv. 15-17)
Why did Peter, once he realized that it was the Lord who was appearing to them and who had provided a miraculous catch of fish, jump into the sea and swim toward the Master Fisherman?
From other narratives we learn that Jesus had appeared to Peter already in private (Luke 24:34; I Cor. 15:5). Why?
At this time Jesus reinstates Peter into his office of apostle. Why was it necessary for Jesus here publicly to reinstate and reconfirm Peter? How does this bear on the church’s dealings with ministers who may, sometimes, fall into grievous and public sin?
Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus more than these (v. 15). Is Jesus by this asking if Peter loves Him more than he loves the other disciples, or more than he loves his fishing gear? Or is Jesus asking ifPeter loves Him more than the other disciples love Him? (Hint: what was Peter’s fault that Jesus is seeking to have Peter acknowledge, repent of, and confess?) Or is there some other explanation?
Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Why three times? Each time, all Peter can do is to acknowledge that the Savior knows he loves Him. What is the evidence that Peter at this time is truly sorry for his sin of denying Jesus? Is there any significance to Peter’s using the Greek word phileo for “love,” rather than agapao? (A Strong’s Concordance and/or a good commentary will be helpful here.)
The Lord Jesus calls Peter to feed His lambs, and His sheep. This certainly is proof that Jesus is re-authorizing and re-calling Peter to the work of apostle! How do ministers and elders today feed the flock of God (cf. I Peter 5:1-3; II Timothy 4:2)?
Roman Catholic scholars think to find proof here, as they think to find elsewhere (e.g., Matt. 16: 16-19; II Sam. 5:2), for their contention that Peter was the most important apostle, and that therefore all Peter’s successors, that is, in their view, all the popes of Rome, are the prime ministers of the church. What do we say? Is there anything in the text itself which speaks of Peter as the first and most important (prime) minister of the church? What do passages such as Matthew 18:18; Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1-4, and others have to say on this matter of the authority of leaders in the church? What is the Reformed and Presbyterian rule of church government which guards against hierarchy?
3.Peter and John and Jesus (vv. 18-24)
Verses 18 and 19 are a prediction of Peter’s death. Many think that the reference to Peter’s “stretching forth the hands” when he is old is a prediction of death by crucifixion. This might explain why John says in verse 19 that Peter would glorify God in his death. Assuming that Peter did die a martyr’s death, even by crucifixion, just how would Peter glorify God in this way (cf. I Pet. 4:14-16)?
“Follow me,” Jesus says to Peter. Any particular reason Jesus would say that to Peter at this point? Look up in a concordance all the times the word “follow” is used in reference to “disciples following Jesus.” List five things involved in our following Jesus.
For whatever reason, Peter inquires as to what the beloved disciple John would do (perhaps asking by this if John also would die a martyr’s death), verse 21. Jesus tells Peter it is none of his business (v. 22)! It need not concern Peter whether John dies on behalf of Christ like Peter will or whether John is living when Christ comes again. John, writing long after these words were spoken by Jesus, then reflects that the rumor was spread, due to misinterpretation of Jesus’ words, that John would never die. He then sets the record straight, saying that “Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” What do John’s careful interpretation of Jesus’ exact words in verse 23 and his own attestation of the truth of his testimony (v. 24) say of the authority of Scripture? Do you believe in verbal inspiration? What are some classic passages which teach the unique, divine character of the whole Bible, John included? How does this doctrine of Scripture affect your doing?
4.Perspective (John 20:31)
This third appearance of Jesus to His disciples (the last recorded in John) is so tht we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have life through His name.
What do we learn here of Jesus as Savior? Sovereign? Servant? Sympathetic High Priest?
Have you ever had to be “reinstated”? What virtue of the Lord Jesus have you found most comforting and reassuring when you have backslidden, even denied the Lord, but then are brought back? What are some passages of the Bible you might share with a backslidden friend (e.g., Is. 55:1ff.)?
Jesus, in asking Peter about his love for Him (vv. 15-17), is asking us too. He comes to us today in His Word. We have our work, our toys, our dates, our spouses, our children, our investments, our hopes. He confronts us while pointing to those things: Lovest thou me more than these? He confronts us too when we boast in religious pride that we love Jesus more than others in the church do. How does your faith in the Lord Jesus and your humility show itself in deeds of love and thanks to God for His wonderful salvation?
5.Unbookable (John 21:25)
The inspired John pays Jesus the greatest honor when he writes that he supposes (read: he is firmly convinced!) that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written if all the deeds of Jesus were to be recorded.