John 21:1–23 (NKJV)
1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”
They answered Him, “No.”
6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.
7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. 9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”
11 Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.
14 This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
This account of the disciples’ attempt to resume some type of normalcy after the death and resurrection of Jesus’ implies how very different their lives have become in the three years since the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Yet in this story, we see their experience with Christ come full circle. Peter decided fishing would be the best way to reclaim a bit of the tether to everyday life, and he and six of his friends head to Galilee to take Peter’s boat out on the water. They fish all night and catch nothing. This is wildly reminiscent of the scene when Peter first met Jesus. He happened upon them as they had fished all night and caught nothing. In that instance, He gave them instruction on where to drop their nets, and they hauled in a huge catch of fish. This time was just the same: new spot, huge catch!
It was at that moment that John understood and identified that this was Jesus. When Peter heard that declaration, he put on his outer garment and swam to the shore, while the rest set anchor and brought the fish in the smaller boat. When they got to shore, Jesus encouraged them to bring some of their fish, although He already had a fire and fish cooking over it. He invited them to come and eat, which they did.
Jesus’ action are interpreted many ways. Some see this as an opportunity for Jesus to quiz them about their ministries (Have you any food?). Some see this as Jesus reminding them of their calling by replicating the fishing miracle from three years earlier (cast you net on the other side). I believe an equally valid interpretation, though, is that Jesus will provide, feed, and encourage those who do the work of the ministry, and help them realize that while they are fishing for men, Jesus is providing for their every need, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. So, when you are worried or down about how things are going, look for Jesus on your shore, hear His voice, follow His instructions, and sometimes just come to shore and eat. You need to receive from Him before you can give to others.
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. 18 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.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
20 Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”
22 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”
After the came to shore and ate, Jesus addressed two issues relating to Peter. Peter had denied Christ at the mockery of a trial Jesus faced. He–no doubt–still felt the sting of guilt from that betrayal of Christ, and was perhaps reeling from the experience. Jesus puts Peter on the spot, asking him three times if he loved Him, with Peter responding in the affirmative each time. After each of those responses, Jesus commissioned Peter anew to feed His lambs, to tend His sheep, and to feed His sheep. While there are varied responses to what these distinctions mean, even to the words used in the Greek for “love,” the bottom line is that Jesus made sure that Peter knew he was still called, he was still valued by Christ. This truth would carry Peter through the persecution and eventual death that would follow him in the days to come. Jesus then told Peter, “Follow me.” The restoration, it would appear, was complete.
Then Peter, prone to outbursts of indiscretion, asked about John. He did not ask a specific question, but simply asked “What about this man?” Jesus scolded Peter, reaffirming Christ’s ultimate authority, and said that if He wanted to keep him alive until He came back it was really no one else’s business. The lessons of this story are many. However, the short version is this: eat when Jesus offers you food, love Jesus and accept His forgiveness, and worry about your own ministry. You do not have time to inspect everyone else’s fruit. Thus are the lessons of the resurrected Lord teaching by the Sea of Galilee.