AN UNKNOWN PERSON (John 21)
The Lord Jesus, before going to the cross, told the disciples that He would rise from the dead and go before them into Galilee (Mk 14.28). The angel gave orders to the women to tell the disciples that He was risen from the dead and that He was going before them into Galilee and there they would see Him (Mt 28.7). The Saviour desired to reveal Himself there, to reassure His own, and to reunite the disciples.
As on many other occasions, Peter takes the lead. The fishing expedition results in complete failure even for experienced fishermen like Peter, James and John. There are various elements in this first division that demand our attention.
Peter was still running to do something, as his action indicates. It is difficult to know with precision why he took the decision to go fishing.
Peter had erred badly, disgraced himself, and denied his Lord. The Lords look still lingered in his mind to haunt him. His copious tears did not seem to have any therapeutic value. What was the point of going on, or even to dream that he could again be useful? It was far better to return to something he could do well.
Peter was a man of action. To sit and do nothing was not in his make-up. This disciple had to learn that sometimes the Lord causes His servants to have periods of enforced rest and quietness and of waiting patiently on Him.
We do not know just how long the disciples waited for the Lord to appear. They had nothing to eat, so the natural thing would be to fish and provide for themselves.
Peters reckless action caused other six disciples to go working instead of waiting. C H Spurgeon taught his students the value of example: "Our lives should be such as men may safely copy". Phillip Brooks gave the following counsel: "Be such a man and live such a life that if every man were such as you and every life a life like yours, this earth would be a paradise".
The fruitless evening was not the result of effortless service. The fact that Peter was stripped down to his underclothes is an indication of just how hard these men had laboured. It is possible to do a lot of work for God and not do the work of God.
Can you imagine how these seven must have felt returning as they had left? The Lord limited their quota to zero and this to teach them that even the co-operation of seven men did not mean a successful evenings fishing. Human co-operation without communion with the Lord is sure to fail.
When they were nearing the shore, a man was there to greet them. Who he was, they did not know at that moment. His question caused them deep embarrassment "Children, have ye anything to eat?" (21.5, Newberry Margin). "They answered him, No." This should have been enough to reveal the identity of the man on the shore.
The night of failure did not last forever. The dawning of a new day and the presence of the Lord on their shore brought hope to the despondent fishers. What changed the darkness of night into glorious day for the seven?
The Lords presence
Although they did not know it, the Lord was there to meet them. He knew of their failure; but would he abandon them at such an hour? The Lord is no fair-weather friend; He is always there even when all others leave. He is standing on the shore of our failure ready to receive and recover.
The Lords power
He knew there were no fish in the boat, but He knew where they were in the sea. There was not much distance between the left side and the right side of the boat, but a great distance between success and failure. Obedience to the omniscient Lord is what makes the difference between our lives having no influence or their producing eternal results.
Can you imagine their surprise? They let down the net and it was filled with leaping, living fish. A moments submission to the Lord is worth a whole nights fishing alone and at ones own independent effort. The experience can make the spirit leap just like fish.
The Lords provision
They were worried about going without a meal and starving. They arrived on the shore to discover that the Lord already had a warm meal prepared for them. The Lord was teaching them that He cares and provides for those who trust in Him alone. After they had brought the catch safely to land, the Lord told them to bring some of the fish they had caught. They were allowed to enjoy the results of their obedience. The Lord Jesus said that His food was in doing the will of God. There is still pleasure and sustenance in doing the Lords will.
The fire would warm their chilled bodies and the fish and bread would satisfy their hunger. How did these get there? Had the Lord brought them with Him? Had He performed a miracle? The Lord still uses miraculous means to satisfy His people. After years spent in serving the Lord, there are many stories we could tell of Gods timely and miraculous provision.
The Lords prodding
Peter had followed the Lord at a distance and had led others away into an unfruitful life. Now was the time for the Lord to catch Peter in His net and bring him safely to shore. Having cared for his physical needs, the Lord now turns to Peters spiritual problem.
How was Peter restored? There was no rebuke of Peter and his failure, but there were reminders. Did the Lords fire remind him of the worlds fire? Did the Lords three questions remind him of the three questions posed to him while in the High Priests court? Did he not on three occasions avow his allegiance to the Lord and swear that he would be true and loyal, even to death? Now the Lord asks him three times if he loved Him.
After his failure, Peter still kept company with the disciples; he still tried to carry on as usual. The Lord had to stop him in his tracks and teach him that it is possible to meet with other disciples and not miss Him.
What was the first thing the Lord did to recover Peter? Give him promotion? A new task to perform? Sometimes that is the bait used to keep people in the assembly or to lift their drooping spirits. The heart of the matter is the heart. If the Lord Jesus is not enthroned, if we are not in love with Him, all else is worthless dross.
Peter had been called to be a fisher of men, but now the Lord would have him be a shepherd of sheep. The Lord would not entrust the care of His sheep until Peter declared his love for the Shepherd. After giving Peter his new task and instructions, the Lord gave him this personal word "Follow me". The Lords sheep ought only to follow those who follow the Lord.
Peter had to be told to follow the Lord, but John was already doing so (v.20). Love will follow close at the Shepherds heels.
Was Peter put out because he had been brought under scrutiny? Perhaps that is why he tried to divert attention to John. The Lords reply reveals that His control is absolute. He is Lord and He will determine:
Peter would die by crucifixion, and would die an older person. How long John lived and served was no concern of Peters.
Peter had been given the task of shepherding the flock, but what about John? "What shall this man do?" The risen Lord has distributed gifts by His Spirit. We cannot choose what our spiritual gift will be, and neither can any other person for us.
John will not finish his Gospel by directing our attention to men like Peter and John. He will end it by directing us to the Lord. It has been said that in John 21 we have a net full but not broken, and at the end, a book full but not broken. The Lord Jesus did many other things that are not recorded. In Christ all fullness dwells, and we ought to dwell in and drink from that fullness.