Wednesday, May 04, 2022
Today’s gospel lesson, John 21:1-19, is part of the epilogue of John’s gospel. John’s gospel, of course, has a prologue. It starts out, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
John’s prologue prepares us to hear Jesus when He says things like, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Or, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…” (John 11:25-26)
But now, after taking us on this dizzying journey with Jesus, John comes to today’s Gospel lesson. The rest of the gospel poses questions like, “Who are you, [Jesus]?” (John 8:25) Or, “How can someone be born [that is, how can someone born in sin start all over again in the righteousness of God] when they are old?” (John 3:4)
But, today’s lesson asks the question, “Now what?”
After I’ve come to believe in Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” like the once unbelieving Thomas, and so have eternal life with God, now what? How do I live my life from now until the resurrection?
The opening of today’s Gospel lesson finds seven of Jesus’ disciples hanging out together. That in itself is healthy. We Christians need each other. This is why the New Testament book of Hebrews tells the Church: “to [not neglect to] meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:25)
So, here we meet those seven disciples of Jesus, gaining strength from their fellowship around God’s Word, but still not clear about what they should do now.
Then, Peter announces, “I’m going out to fish…” (John 21:3) Friends, the call to follow Jesus and the call to gather with His Church, is not a call away from the world or its mundane pursuits. Part of the call of Jesus is, as we’re regularly fortified and challenged by God’s Word through the Church in worship, the Church in study, and the Church in service, to go into the everyday places of life, fulfill our daily duties, and be Christ’s witnesses “out there.”
We can’t share the Gospel with others if we spend all our time with the people in our church family who agree with us about Jesus. Imagine a football team that spent all of their games in a huddle. Not much would happen.
Jesus has sent us into the world. That’s why I told Trish a few weeks ago during our staff meeting that I want to personally devote two nights a week this summer to doing kindness outreaches.
Peter decides to go fishing and the other disciples, even the ones who weren’t formerly fishermen, say, “We’ll go with you.” (John 21:3)
The disciples spend the night fishing and catch nothing. Life can be like that, even when you’re following Jesus. You seek to be faithful, maybe faithful in sharing Jesus with others, and nothing happens, no one is interested. At times like these, the life of discipleship seems futile and meaningless.
Early in the morning following this futile fishing venture, someone calls the disciples from the shore. They don’t recognize the risen Jesus at first. Jesus doesn’t say, as our translation puts it, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5) Rather than “friends," the word Jesus uses here to address them is Παιδία (paidia). It means children. It’s the Greek word that gives us the English words pediatrician and pediatrics. Jesus tenderly calls out to the disciples who have been seeking to be faithful in spite of the challenges of this world, “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” No, they don’t have any fish, the disciples admit.
So, echoing a similar incident that occurred near the beginning of His earthly ministry recounted in Luke, chapter 5, Jesus tells the disciples, still unaware of His identity, to throw their net to the right side of the boat. No one says as Peter did in that earlier incident, “We’ve been out all night. There aren’t any fish to be had.” Instead, like little children, credulous and unmarred by cynicism, they toss the net over the side of the boat. The net becomes so heavy with fish that they can’t haul it in.
This is a picture of God’s grace. There is no end to it. He loves us. His Son died to free us from our sin, from death, and from our idolatries. He covers those who trust in Jesus with His abundant forgiveness and new life, even in the midst of life’s frequent futility.
I’d been called to the hospital room of a twenty-one-year-old who had been fighting cancer for seven years. She had taken a turn for the worse. On the car ride, I prayed I could get there before she died. I walked into her room to find her sitting in a chair, eating a chicken dinner her grandmother had sent. I just looked at her, a bit shocked. She smiled at me and said, “I know. I’m complicated.” After that rally, she did, some weeks later, die. But I reflected later that while her life had been complicated by cancer and this life, she wasn’t complicated at all. She trusted in Jesus and was committed to taking the next step in His rich grace even in the midst of great pain and uncertainty.
The rich, abundant grace, love, and favor of Christ are on offer to us all, no matter how complicated (or futile) our lives can become.
John is the first to recognize the man on the shore as the risen Jesus. On hearing John say, “It is the Lord,” Peter throws himself into the water to meet Jesus.
This incident provides another contrast between that earlier miraculous catch of fish Luke talks about and this one. There, you’ll remember, after Jesus caused Peter’s nets to fairly burst at the seams, Peter fell on his face and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) But now Peter can’t wait to get to Jesus.
This is the difference between life under the Law and life under the Gospel.
A life lived under the Law is one in which we labor under the delusion that we can or must be good enough or work hard enough to gain God’s favor and forgiveness. That was the life that Peter was living earlier. God’s Law is good because it describes the life of righteousness. But it’s pure egomania for us to think that we can keep God’s Law. As the layperson (not the comedian) Steve Martin, wrote on Twitter the other day, “The job of God’s Law is to obliterate any confidence that you might have in anything outside of Jesus Christ.” Martin Luther said that the function of God's Law is to drive us to despair over our sin to the foot of Jesus Christ, to the only One Who can set us free from the debt for sin we owe our Maker!
But now, after Easter Sunday, Peter understands that despite his sins, he lives life under the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we still sin. That’s why Jesus calls us to daily acknowledge our sin so that its power over us can be covered in the grace of Jesus.
This is what Peter experiences now as he comes into Jesus’ presence.
On the shore, Peter finds that Jesus has lit a charcoal fire, “burning coals” in our reading translating the Greek word, ἀνθρακιὰν (anthrakian), from which we get the English word, anthracite. The only other time we encounter this word in the whole Bible is in John 18:18, where Peter warms himself by a fire set by Roman soldiers in the place where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. As Peter sees the burning coals, he no doubt remembers how he had abandoned the Lord on the night of Jesus’ trial.
Peter doesn’t run away though. He already knows that Jesus has forgiven him and sent him into the world, as he sends us, despite our sins and imperfections, to point others to Jesus as the way and the truth and the life.
Jesus then, in a reversal of Peter’s three denials of his Lord, underscores His forgiveness and His sending of Peter, when, three times, He asks: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
When we live under Christ’s Gospel, not only are our sins forgiven, we also have a mission, to feed the Church and to feed the world on the truth of the same Gospel that has saved us from sin, death, and darkness for everlasting life with God.
Following Jesus isn’t easy. Jesus tells Peter that his life is no longer his own, that he will die as one sent into the world to fish for people. But, you can be sure that as he walked with the risen Christ for the rest of his life, Peter, knowing that he lived under Christ's gospel, would always say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Jesus has died and risen for you. That's an accomplished fact.
So, now what?
How should we live each day?
Simply in this way: By turning to Jesus each day, confident that wherever we may go and whatever the duties of our lives may call us to do, we live under His gospel, set free to be God’s people now and always.