First thing we had to do was get used to the idea of being PREGNANT. That we were going to be PARENTS. Then there was getting used to the idea of CHILDBIRTH.
As the months passed, Caron got bigger and bigger. Morning sickness came and went. There were books to be read, and classes to attend. Before we knew it, it was time. Labour had started. The evening of the 22nd of September, 1990.
All through the night, and all the next day it continued. The grand final between Penrith and Canberra passed in a blur. Finally about 9 pm that night Alex was born.
But, of course, that was only THE BEGINNING. The days that followed in hospital were full of all sorts of challenges. Learning to change a nappy, the first bath, how to wrap her up, how breast-feeding worked. How to work out what each different cry meant.
Finally, it was time to go home. We placed her so carefully in the car seat. I wanted to wrap Alex up in cotton wool. I remember driving back from the hospital very slowly and smoothly. I scarcely took a breath.
We gently carried her up the stairs to our unit in Bexley, and put her in the bassinet. We breathed a sigh of relief. We looked at her, then looked at each other, and we both thought, “What do we do NOW?” Who made us responsible for this little life? What were we thinking?
The pregnancy, the preparation, the delivery, the hospital. They were all just the START of the story. The INTRODUCTION. Not the END. The adventure was ONLY JUST BEGINNING.
And it’s the same type of feeling we get at the end of chapter 20 and into chapter 21 of John’s Gospel. What next?
In one sense, the story’s FINISHED. Jesus is resurrected. He’s appeared a of times to the disciples, proving himself alive. He’s promised them the Holy Spirit.
And John’s able to conclude at the end of chapter 20, summing up Jesus’ life.
30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
All written down for US, so that we might BELIEVE who Jesus is/ and HAVE LIFE.
Seems like a great place to stop. But is that THE END? Or is it only THE BEGINNING? What are the disciples supposed to do NOW?
And that’s why John’s included ch 21 for us. In some ways he COULD have finished at the end of ch 20. But ch 21 answers the “What next?” question.
And perhaps that’s something YOU need too. Perhaps something major’s happened. A , or a loss of some sort. Retrenchment. Or perhaps even something WONDERFUL. Marriage, or children, or retirement. A major turning point that just seems to redefine you. Or pull the rug out from UNDER you. And you don’t know what comes next.
So what am I supposed to do NOW?
It’s something my Dad’s just experienced. He’s retired after 34 years of parish ministry. To make things MORE difficult, many of you know Mum died 3 years ago. So, Dad’s spending his days asking the “What next?” question.
And God’s answer to Dad, and to us, from John 21/ whatever OUR situations/ is THIS. It’s the same one Jesus gave those FIRST disciples. God’s priorities for life. Here they are:
- Catch fish in Jesus’ strength.
- Feed the sheep in Jesus’ love.
- And take up your cross and follow Jesus.
Simple. Catch fish in Jesus’ strength. Feed the sheep in Jesus’ love. And take up your cross and follow Jesus. Simple, but at the same time something to spend your whole life working at getting right.
1. Catching fish in Jesus’ strength
Let’s get into it. Ch 21. Jesus’ two appearances are past. A week between them. Perhaps Peter and the other disciples have spent a few more days, waiting for something ELSE to happen. Waiting for Jesus to appear, and tell them what to do NEXT, and how to DO it.
But there’s NOTHING.
They’d spent three years FOLLOWING. Not really making any decisions about where to go, or what to do. But now Jesus is nowhere to be found. WHAT NEXT?
At some point, Peter says (v3), “We can’t sit around here for the rest of our lives. I’m going fishing. After all, we’ve got TO EAT!”
So that’s what they did. Seven of them. In a boat on the Sea of Tiberias, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee. It’s Peter’s home patch. They SHOULD be able to catch something. But they fished all night, and didn’t catch a thing.
Dawn’s approaching. Black is just starting to turn to grey. They can just make out the shapes of trees and hills on the shore. About a hundred metres away.
Then they hear a voice from the shore (v5). “Fellas, haven’t you caught anything?” They make out a dark shape on the beach. Nothing, they grumble.
‘Try the OTHER side of the boat, and you’ll find some!” says the shape.
You can imagine the disciples rolling their eyes. “Everyone’s an expert!” But they did it. We don’t what difference it made. But when the disciples DID try the right side, their net was so full of fish, they couldn’t haul it in.
At which point John realises it must be Jesus on the shore, “It’s the LORD”.
And as soon as Peter hears that, he picks up his coat, wraps it around his waist, jumps overboard, and starts swimming to shore. This is the Peter who wanted to go fishing in the first place. And now he’s got a net full of fish, he’s not even interested in pulling them in.
He only went fishing because Jesus wasn’t around. And now, HERE HE IS! Forget the fish, get to Jesus.
And when the boat finally catches up to Peter, and makes it to shore. There’s Peter and Jesus, next to a warm, inviting fire, with bread roasting and fish grilling. Jesus has cooked them breakfast!
Yet another strange but memorable event. The glorious, resurrected, victorious Jesus, vindicated king of heaven and earth. Squatting in the sand, s the coals, flipping fish fillets, and toasting bread rolls.
The miraculous mixed with the mundane. The glorious hand-in-hand with the everyday. The miracle of a -defeating Messiah, and a bumper catch of fish, combined with the downright ordinariness of a servant and a hot breakfast.
And so, if this chapter was about JESUS, it would be a funny place to finish. It would actually be a rather weird afterthought. After all, chapter 20 already FINISHED the story of Jesus. They were all written down so people would believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and have life in his name.
That chapter’s FINISHED. But THIS one (ch 21), I don’t think, is primarily about Jesus. Instead, it’s about THE DISCIPLES. And here’s the point:
THE STORY’S NOT OVER. In fact, the task’s ONLY JUST BEGINNING. They’re witnesses of everything that’s happened in the last three years. Everything written in the first 20 chapters. But now, in ch 21, they’re to KEEP FISHING.
But fishing for PEOPLE, not FISH. Keep pointing people to the miraculous signs of the first 20 chapters. So people would believe and have life. They’re to KEEP FISHING. THAT’S what’s next!
John doesn’t mention it, but back in Lk 5, we read a SIMILAR story, early in Jesus’ ministry. Also in the Sea of Galilee. It may even have been the same section of coast.
Jesus was teaching the crowds by the shore, and things were getting crowded, so he hopped into Peter’s boat, and they pushed a short distance into the water while he kept preaching.
At the end of the day, he told the disciples to sail a bit further out, then to let down their nets. But Peter pipes up, “We spent last night fishing, and didn’t catch a thing. But because it’s YOU, we’ll do it.”
And when they do, there’s so many fish the nets begin to break. And it takes TWO boats to haul them in. Even then, the boats are so full they start to sink.
The men are astonished, but Jesus calms them with these words (Lk 5:10) “Don’t be afraid, FROM NOW ON YOU WILL CATCH MEN.” The men pulled their boats up on the shore, left everything and FOLLOWED JESUS.
Fast forward three years, the disciples are fishing again. Perhaps even pushing into the water those same boats they’d hauled up year earlier. And again they’re catching nothing. And AGAIN Jesus guides them and fills their nets.
And the message is, “Keep fishing for PEOPLE. Just like I called you to do THEN. Keep proclaiming the message of life and forgiveness that comes through trusting me. But don’t do it on your own. It won’t work. Look to ME for strength and guidance. I’m the one who puts fish in nets. Without me, you won’t succeed.”
He’s promised them HIS HOLY SPIRIT. But they haven’t received the Spirit yet. And when they DO, that’s when we see changed men, and a changed world. Which is the story the NEXT book in the Bible tells us about – ACTS.
So, when you ask the question, “What next?” The first answer Jesus gives is, “Keep doing what will ALWAYS be important: CATCH FISH IN MY STRENGTH”.
2. Feeding the sheep in Jesus’ love
The NEXT part of Jesus’ answer comes in his conversation with Peter. Breakfast is over. And it seems like Peter and Jesus go for a walk on their own. They’ve got some business to sort out (v15) Jesus asks, “Do you truly love me more than these?”
Jesus KNOWS Peter’s heart, but this is an encounter FOR PETER’S BENEFIT. After all, it was only a few days earlier Peter had sworn he’d lay down his life for Jesus. But then had denied him three times before the night was over.
Jesus knows his heart. But he wants to give Peter the opportunity to experience forgiveness. The chance to be re-affirmed and re-commissioned for the future.
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replies, “you KNOW that I love you.”
And here’s Jesus’ response, “FEED MY LAMBS.”
Three times the same interaction. The same number of affirmations/ as denials from Peter. Yes Lord, You KNOW that I love you.
And each time, the same response, “Feed my lambs, look after my sheep, feed my sheep.”
Look after the sheep who belong to the good shepherd. That’s the job of those who love Jesus. The way to SHOW our love for Jesus/ is to look after his sheep. His followers.
You can’t say you love Jesus, but want nothing to do with his followers. People ask whether you can be a Christian and not go to church. But the question’s wrong-headed. When you’re a Christian, when you love Jesus, you want to feed his sheep. Show and teach and encourage OTHERS to love him, too.
Jesus’ sheep are his greatest and most precious possession. HOW great? He says back in Jn 10:15 “I am the GOOD SHEPHERD. I lay down my life for my sheep.”
What sort of commitment are YOU showing to Jesus’ sheep? What are YOU giving up so they might be fed, and built-up, and encouraged?
It was a lesson Peter took to heart. What he gave his life to doing. Listen to what he wrote to the elders who read his first letter. A lesson about love, and humble, generous shepherding. All done for the glory of Jesus. 1 Peter 5 v1.
5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Great words, aren’t they? Ones worth spending your life working out.
What next? Jesus answers, Catch fish in his strength, and feed sheep in his love.
3. Take up your cross and follow Jesus
The third answer Jesus gives/ is to take up your cross and follow him. He commands Peter for the third time to feed his sheep. And then he has A PROPHECY for him. Have a look at v18.
18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will STRETCH OUT YOUR HANDS, and someone else will dress you and LEAD YOU WHERE YOU DO NOT WANT TO GO.”
Which doesn’t sound like the CLEAREST prophecy. But thankfully John EXPLAINS it for us.
19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “FOLLOW me!”
In other words, his hands will be out on the crossbar of a cross, then he’ll be led to his crucifixion.
Jesus has just commissioned Peter to SPEND his life feeding Jesus’ sheep. Now, he adds that he’ll even GIVE his life to the task. Those who follow Jesus must be willing to follow him even to . Giving EVERYTHING as Jesus gave everything. It’s why Jesus finishes the prophecy with the command, FOLLOW ME!
This is John’s version of a command Jesus gives in each of the other gospels, Like Matt 16:24
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
It MAY mean . It certainly has for thousands, even millions, of Jesus’ followers down through history. Even TODAY, people lose their lives for standing up for Jesus.
But FOR YOU, following Jesus will mean something UNIQUE. No other follower of Jesus is in your position, with your gifts, your opportunities, your challenges, your temptations.
It might be something in church, or at school here. It might be in your street, or in your family, in your workplace, or your uni, or in your holidays. It might be in Australia or overseas.
Where can you be standing up for Jesus, taking up your cross and FOLLOWING. Serving HIM, feeding his sheep in his love, catching fish in his strength?
I don’t know what taking up your cross will look like FOR YOU. But like ALL of those who follow Jesus, it will take COURAGE, and TRUST, it will take COSTLY COMMITMENT, it will take LOVE, and ENERGY, and HUMBLE SERVICE.
And there’s nothing more important for you to be doing.
What next? Catch fish, feed sheep, take up your cross!