From fishermen to shepherds

John 21:1–17

Jesus spent 40 days on earth in his resurrection body. Most of that time we don’t know where he was or what he was doing. We only know a few highlights from the Gospels.

On the first day of his resurrection it was quite dramatic. There was a lot of running around and excitement among his followers all day. In the evening, Jesus came to the disciples behind locked doors. Thomas was missing from that meeting. Eight days later he came again to meet with Thomas. If you were writing the script for this, what would come next?

What it looks like is that nothing much came next and the disciples got bored.

They left Jerusalem and went back to Galilee, where they had come from. That was not wrong. Jesus told them to go back to Galilee.

In Matthew 26:32 while walking to the mount of Olives with them after the last supper, Jesus says, “After I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” In Matthew 28:16 after the crucifixion, the disciples follow his instructions. “Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.”

In Mark 16:7 there is an angel who says to the women at the tomb, “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

Then when they arrived perhaps they didn’t know what to do so they went back to the life they knew. Time passes. Not a lot maybe, but several days. They were fishermen, so they went fishing. It was Peter’s idea. Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” The others just followed him. Peter was the leader. They were a team. The disciples were functioning as a group.

They went out in their boat in the evening and spent all night fishing. While they are fishing, Jesus turns up. He is on the shore, watching and waiting. He doesn’t get angry or tell them to stop. Actually, he gives them some advice so they can succeed. They haven’t caught any fish at all up to that point.

They do what Jesus says and suddenly their net is full to bursting with 153 large fish.

Up to that point no one seems to have realised who the man on the shore is, the one who told them how to catch some fish. Just like the other times, people do not recognise the resurrected Jesus. Without spiritual insight, they don’t know who he is.

But then suddenly it is John who recognises him and tells Peter. At once Peter puts on his tunic, jumps out of the boat and swims to shore. The rest of them stayed in the boat and brought the catch to land.

While they were fishing with no success, Jesus had cooked some fish and had it waiting with bread for their breakfast. There are no questions or doubts this time. They all know it is Jesus in his new body. John tells us that they have already met with him twice before. I would think they should be able to recognise his new body, but they don’t.

I love this image of Jesus and how it is still how Jesus is today. Jesus comes to us as we go about our normal daily tasks. He blesses us in our work and prepares a feast for us while we are working without any success. We only have success when we listen to him.

He comes to us without any accusation. He doesn’t criticise us for fishing. Or teaching. Or studying. Or working in a company. He prepares a meal for us.

And notice now what Jesus asks us to do. He has fed us and now he asks us to feed his sheep.

As Jesus has blessed us, we are now called to bless others.

There is this famous conversation where Jesus asks Peter three times the same question. It’s almost as if the three affirmative answers from Peter cancel out his three denials.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Three times he asks and three times Simon Peter says Yes. He professes his loyalty.

And finally Jesus says, “Then feed my sheep.”

Peter is one of Jesus’ sheep. We are all sheep. Peter is told to feed the other sheep just as Jesus has fed him. We are all to feed each other. We are all disciples, and we are all called to make disciples. We are all called to help and support each other as Peter was called.

During his last few weeks on earth while in is resurrection body, this is what Jesus chose to do.

At a previous meeting with his disciples on Easter Sunday the newly resurrected Jesus had said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

What he is saying and doing now is no different. This is the same message.

He looks at them as they fish without any success and tells them, but Simon Peter in particular, that from now they are to be shepherds. At the centre of this simple tableau is a call to a new way of life. A new way of following Jesus. A new forgiveness and a new fruitfulness.

From now on they won’t be just going here and there as he tells them. Now they have to go and make disciples themselves. Now they have to go and feed the sheep themselves, instead of waiting to be fed by Jesus all the time.

It is a much bigger and wider mission than before. It is much harder and much more dangerous.

In fact all of them, except John, will be killed for taking up this mission.

Jesus resurrection is not their assurance of a safe and happy life fishing on the lake of Galilee until it is time to die and go to heaven to live with Jesus.

They went back to that. They saw it and tried it. And now they know their future is not on a lake in a little boat, but out in the world feeding sheep. Feeding sheep is of course the same thing as making disciples.

I think it is good to note that Jesus says we are to feed the sheep. He doesn’t say we should herd them or eat them. The sheep do not exist for us. They exist for Jesus. We have the job of loving them and feeding them.

We can see fishing as what we and the rest of the world are doing anyway. And we can see the feeding of the sheep as the new kingdom work that Jesus is calling us to do.

What things are you doing that are fishing. And what things are shepherding?

We are sometimes in danger of being so busy fishing that we have no time for shepherding.

You may object that you need to catch fish for your breakfast. If you don’t work you won’t eat. Of course there is much truth in that, but what we just saw was that Jesus prepared the meal without any help from his disciples.

Peter changed when he faced up to his previous mistake of denying the Messiah three times. And then declared his allegiance. Jesus holds out to all of us this forgiveness. And then he said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Our challenge is to be able to see Jesus when he comes and drop our tools, repent and accept his forgiveness. And then follow him into a new way of life to feed his sheep. And as we have just seen, the emphasis that Jesus puts is on love. Love is what he asks for three times.

Starting with hearts of love, we are to feed his sheep.

You need to discern Jesus standing on the shore of the lake. You need to respond to Jesus. You need to discern in your own life what is fishing and what is following.

Jesus came back from the dead and walked in a resurrection body to tell us this. It is that important. Let’s love his sheep and feed his sheep, shall we. All of us, together, cooperating.

Love each other and feed each other. This is how we make disciples.

Amen 아멘

About Pastor Simon

Pastor at Jinju International Christian Fellowship. Formerly of Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. I am Simon Warner of Jinju Church. We speak English at Jinju Church, South Korea.
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