John 21:1-19
Do You Love Me?

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  The scene in chapter twenty-one that we read today is Galilee.  I don't know for sure why the disciples are in Galilee.  But, since the disciples were Galilleeans, it was originally the place of their day to day lives.  Peter and the others went back to their former daily occupations.  What they were doing was basically no different from what they used to do about three years before.  Just as they used to, they went out to fish.  But, that night they didn't get anything.  They had some good fishing and they had some bad fishing.  This was another typical [time of fishing].  It was the misery, emptiness, hard work and fatigue of when no fish is caught.  It was no special thing going on, they had experienced things like this so many countless times before.  But then again, even with things like they were, their lives weren't the same as when they used to fish just three years earlier.   Why's that?  Because the Lord had risen from the dead.

A Meal With The Lord Of The Resurrection

2.  As we imagine this scene as it is, let's read more.  The light of the early dawn was coming in.  Jesus was standing at the beach.  But, unbeknownst to the disciples it was the Lord.  The Lord called out to them.  "Hey, boys, got anything to eat?"  They answered, "We don't."  So, the Lord said this to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat.  Do that and you should catch something," (verse six).  When they followed his voice and cast the net, such a great number of fish were hung up in the net.  It was so much that they couldn't pull up the net any further.  At that moment, "the disciple who was beloved by the Lord" shouted, "It's the Lord!"

3.  At this everyone might be reminded of a particular episode that is written in the scriptures.  It is not recorded in The Gospel Of John, but perhaps it was one of the events that happened that everyone in the early church knew about.  That event is the day when Peter, John and some others were called by Jesus during his days on earth and when they began to follow him as his disciples, (Luke 5:1ff).  On that day as well, they had been working the night through and didn't catch anything then either.  But, the Lord spoke to them when they were worn out from working so hard and he said, "Row out to the sea, drop your net, and fish," (Luke 5:4).  Simon Peter said, "Master, we have worked all through the night and didn't catch anything, but still because you said it, we will drop our nets in," and then they obeyed his word.  Then, "A great number of fish were hung up in the net, the net was about to break," (Luke 5:6).  They were suprised and afraid because of all this.  So, the Lord said this to Peter, "Do not be afraid.  From here on, you will be a fisher of people."

4.  It was probably this old image of Jesus the disciples had in mind, which came back to them when he shouted, "It's the Lord."  The Lord made them remember it.  So when Peter heard the words of "It's the Lord," he put on his tunic and jumped into the water.  Was he thinking that I shouldn't go to meet the Lord in my bare skin?  He swam to the Lord for about two hundred cubits (about nine hundred meters).  The rest of them went back to the land by boat.

5.  Following that comes a very impressionable picture.  As they came upon land, he had a charcoal fire a going.  The Lord himself had prepared them a meal and was waiting for them.  He had fish on it and bread too.  Then the Lord "took the bread and gave it to the disciples.  He did the fish the same way," (verse thirteen).  It was the Lord's table prepared by the Lord.

6.  Well, this fish and bread make us think of another biblical passage.  It is the story of when Christ once split five [things of] bread and two fish and gave it to the multitude to eat, (John chapter six).  I don't know how he multiplied the bread.  However, the main thing is the words of Christ that came after the miracle.  The Lord spoke as follows, "I am the bread of life.  Anyone who comes to me will never go hungry, neither will the one who believes in me ever thirst," (John 6:35).  The miracle the Lord did was not just to satisfy the hunger of the multitude, but was a sign to point to the truth that he absolutely truly was "The Bread Of Life."

7.  Just as in chapter six Christ had shared the bread and the fish, in this passage the bread and the fish are shared by the Christ of the resurrection.  The fellowship of the disciples that was centered on Christ was built on this. It was on this that the disciples were invited to the table that Christ prepared for them, and they received the nourishment that came through the Lord himself, "The Bread Of Life."  So, doesn't our image overlap the image of the disciples that is depicted here?  I think it does, because what becomes visible here is our own image invited to the Lord's Supper.

8.  The faith that believes in Christ does not bring us into another world separate from this one.  We're still in this world as ever.  Even though we have been baptized and become christians, I'd say the tasks of our daily lives are for the most part unchanged.  We work hard the same way we used to, if we have good times of fishing, there's some bad fishing days too.  Just as we've worked all night and didn't catch a single thing, we will still experience miserable things and the emptiness of things turning out to nothing but dust.  However, things aren't the same.  Because the Christ of the resurrection is there.  Because we have the Lord's table.  The table on the Lord's Day is indeed right there in our ordinary daily lives.  As you know, the holy table of communion that we encircle around does not lie off in a separate world.  Within our day to day lives in this temporary world, we are called to the Lord's Table, partake of the food that the Christ of the resurretion has prepared for us, and receive the nourishment of the Lord who is "The Bread Of Life."

The Questions From Jesus

9.  This scene doesn't just end with a meal.  After the meal, Jesus spoke to Peter directly.  He asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?"  The questioning by the Lord three times is clearly related to when Peter denied the Lord three times when the Lord had been arrested.

10.  At the last supper, it was a Peter who swore to Jesus that "For you, I will give up my life."  But, Jesus said, "You're saying you will give up your life for me?  I clearly declare this.  Before the rooster crows, you will say three times that you do not know me," (13:38).  Shortly after, what Jesus said came exactly true.  The depiction from The Gospel Of Luke is especially impressive.  "The Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Peter remembered the words of the Lord when he said, 'Today, before the rooster cries out, you will say three times that you do not know me.'  Then he went out and wept bitterly," (Luke 22:61-62).  However, Jesus three times asked Peter who had denied him three times like he did and who had exposed his own weaknesses and sinfulness, "Do you love me?"

11.  We must especially keep in mind that Christ was only asking him "Do you love me?"  Christ was not inquiring into what happened in Peter's past.  Peter's future was not being determined by the events of his past.  We often think that events from the past, whether from faults or failures or misfortunes, have determined our lives.  Of course, the facts of the past are real.  The stains in our lives are stains.  We can't go back and erase the past.  But, the really important thing for us and for Christ is whether we love Christ now.

12.  At this new beginning, it was a Peter who would not [now] say swelling with pride in himself that "I love you."  His feelings show themselves clear to us by the way he talks.  He is no longer fuming and claiming, "For you, I will give up my life."  He only replies, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  That was the best answer he could give.  But, it was enough.  The reason Christ asked him three times was not because Peter's answer was not good enough, but in order to restore the Peter who had denied the Lord three times back to newness of life.

13.  Entrusted to this same Peter was the care of Christ's sheep and the service of His church.  From here on, he accepts the trust given to him by Christ and begins to live anew and afresh.  However, oddly enough, Jesus doesn't touch at all upon the exact way in which Peter was to pastor the church.  Instead of pastoral direction, he said this to him, "I plainly declare this to you.  When young, you tied your belt by yourself and went where you wanted.  But, when you are old, you will extend both hands, have your belt tied by others, and be brought where you don't want to go," (verse eighteen).

14.  "To extend the hands" meant to the first century church "to be crucified."  He was saying here that Peter would die a martyr.  He showed that late in life things would not be like he thought but that at the end he must carry out a miserable death.  However, it puts it like this in the text at the end, "In trying to show how by what kind of death Peter would manifest the glory of God, Jesus spoke that way.  After he said that, he said to Peter, 'Follow me,'" (verse nineteen).

15.  If he would have said, "By completing your assigned mission and manifesting the glory of God, you follow Christ" that would be easy to understand no doubt.  But, that's not what Christ said.  What he is saying here kind of goes beyond our common sense understanding.  The Lord is saying that even though Peter's life might not have gone like he wanted it to and that he might suffer and then die a miserable death at the end, the glory of God will be manifested even in his death, and even in his death Peter will be able to obey and will be able to follow Jesus.

16.  In reality, the questions of "How will our lives go?" and similarly "How will we die?" are major questions for us.  And just as how we live doesn't go the way we would like it, neither will how we die go the way we want it to.  At the end of my life, I would like to die surrounded by my family and church brothers and sisters at the parsonage saying "Thank you" to all of them.  I think when it's all over, with a smile on your face you should die like you're falling asleep.  But, it probably won't go like that.  Any way, that's not what we should really hold dear.  For, even if we see our old age in some way or other, or even if we finish life in death one way or the other, [all that matters is that] we still love Christ wherever we are and that beyond death we can still follow Christ.

17.  The Lord is speaking to us today with this message as we surround his table.  He asks, "Do you love me?"  He also calls out to us today with "Follow me."  What matters now is this:  How will we respond to the Lord's message?

 
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