“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” – John 21:7a
When we cast our nets or act on impulse and/or in our own strength, we’ll come up empty. We will never be as full as we could be if we cast without Jesus. We need to learn “It is the Lord!” who makes all the difference in every facet of life.
John is inspired to note there were exactly 153 fish caught that day (John 21:11). Why 153? There’s a lot of speculation involving mathematical machinations as well as allegorical explanations. Perhaps the Lord simply wants us to know that those caught in our nets at His instruction are valuable and worth counting and caring for individually. That is what He modeled for us when He sat down with Peter and had the following conversation.
“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15a). Jonah was a prophet who ran from the call of God. Did Jesus refer to Peter as “Simon, son of Jonah,” to allude to Peter’s backsliding to fish for fish instead of fishing for men? Possibly; Peter may have felt himself unworthy to fish for men given his thrice denial of Jesus. Maybe he was so discouraged he was on the verge of turning from Jesus to live for “these,” fish, friends or something else. Certainly we can be discouraged and downcast because of fleshly failures. Peter definitely had issues. But what we need to grasp hold of here is that Jesus was willing to work with Peter. Jesus wasn’t finished with Peter even if he was, “Simon, son of Jonah.” He’s not finished with us either.
What was the primary issue Peter was struggling with? What is the primary issue we struggle with? Love; we struggle with the kind of love we have for the Lord. Love is the main issue in our walk with the Lord. The Bible says whatever we do without love is worthless (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). Jesus said His disciples would be known and recognized by their love (John 13:35). Love is Jesus commandment (John 13:34; 1 John 2:8; 2 John 5). Love is the greatest! (1 Corinthians 13:13). Therefore Jesus got right down to business addressing Peter’s love.
The word “love” used by Jesus is important to note. In verses 15 and 16 when Jesus asks Peter about his love for Him the Greek term from which “love” is translated is agape. Agape is the supreme brand of love. Agape is selfless, sacrificial, servant hearted love. Agape is the kind of love God has for us. “For God so loved [agape] the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Agape love gives even if it is not reciprocated. This type of love is essential for relating to God as well as being used by Him in ministry. Those who represent Him need to represent Him in His kind of love. That’s why Paul was inspired to write, “For the love [agape] of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One did for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. . . . Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 20-21). “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If we want to know God and serve Him, we need to know His love.
How do we demonstrate or manifest such love? Jesus told Peter to, “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15c). Feed the children of God the word of God. Jesus loves the little children. Children’s ministry is of utmost importance to Him. And children have a way of being brutally honest with us older folk so that if we aren’t sincere, real, true, or effective, children will let us know about it.
Jesus said, “Tend My sheep” (John 21:16b). The word “tend,” means to care for, shepherd, pastor. It doesn’t mean we all have to go into full time ministry and become pastors. It does mean that whatever station Jesus has us serving Him in that we care for those He sends our way. Like a shepherd we guide, lead to good pasture in His word, protect, correct and care for His sheep.
Lastly Jesus said to Peter, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17b). Feed the followers of God the word of God. Don’t make the peripheral the central. Don’t settle for commentaries, human tradition, and worldly philosophy at the expense of God’s word. Bring God’s sheep to graze in His word. That’s where His fullness is found. That’s where people eat and grow.
But Peter had a problem with his love. Each time he responded to Jesus inquiry about love by saying, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You” (John 21:15b, 16b, 17b). The only problem with his response is the word he used. The word “love” used by Peter in his responses was a translation of the Greek word phileo. Phileo is a brotherly affection. It was as though Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and Peter responded, “You know that I like You.” Peter had an affection for Jesus, but not the love Jesus was asking of him.
I don’t think Peter responded this way because he didn’t want to agape love Jesus. I think it was that Peter realized the love that he did have was not enough. The love he had was able to assert his loyalty for Jesus, even unto death. But it wasn’t powerful enough to follow through to death; physical or death to the flesh. And therefore Peter cowered before Jesus acknowledging to His Savior, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” (John 21:17b). It was as though Peter was saying, “Lord, You know what kind of love I have for You. You looked right at me when I denied You” (cf. Luke 22:61-62). That look and Peter’s failure was indelibly marked in his heart and soul. Peter didn’t feel capable of presuming an agape love toward the Lord even if that was what Jesus was asking for.
In Jesus’ third and final question to Peter He said, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” but this time Jesus used the word phileo for Peter’s love. Jesus knew full well and acknowledged to Peter that, “Yes, you like Me.” Peter’s love was lacking. Jesus spoke the truth in love. And this even grieved Peter (John 21:17b). The way of Jesus is to speak the truth in love, even if it brings grief (cf. Ephesians 4:15). Healing and construction in the life of Peter could not take place without coming to terms with the truth about his love. But there was hope.
Even though Peter could only muster a phileo affectionate love for Jesus, Jesus told him, “Feed My sheep.” Jesus was willing to take Peter and work with him right where he was in his love. Jesus goes on to say to Peter, “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” John inserts a clarifying explanation here stating, “This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.” (John 21:19a). In other ways Jesus told Peter. “Peter, before you boasted of dying for Me. But you didn’t have what it took to do so. In the future I guarantee you will find the power to do for me and fulfill all My plans for you to glorify God.”
Then Jesus ended this part of the conversation with the words “Follow Me.” That must have been music to Peter’s ears. But don’t miss the point. Jesus said, “Follow Me.” Where was Jesus going to lead Peter? First, to Himself. He was going to teach Peter the significance of his previous heaven sent declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:18). Secondly, Jesus was going to lead Peter to a place where he would see “It is the Lord!” Where was this place? Jerusalem; the Upper Room. “Wait for the Promise of the Father” that will give you the power you need. “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. . . . But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:4-5, 8).
It was at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the 120 in the Upper Room that Peter rose up in the power of the Spirit to preach Christ and see 3,000 souls saved. “It is the Lord!” What was the nature of this compelling power of the Lord? It was and is the power of agape love. “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). It is the Lord! “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). It is the Lord! Are you tired of casting all night only to find an empty net? Jesus says, “Follow Me.” He knows where the fish are biting. He knows how to fill your net. It is the Lord! Follow Him. Trust Him. Wait for Him. Run to Him. Whatever your state of emptiness, jump in and swim to the Jesus. In every station of life the bottom line is, “It is the Lord!”
This teaching can also be read on Pastor Claude’s blog site at www.itisthelord.blogspot.com