Note – This message was delivered at the Calvary Chapel – Leesville, SC drive-in service Sunday April 26, 2020. You can watch the Facebook live video of that service on the church’s Facebook page – here.
This audio pre-recording was made in my home studio as a “time check” a few days before the message was taught a the church service.
So guess what happened to me this morning? I woke up again, and I was still living in a place where I have the freedom to worship the LORD Jesus openly. I can still come boldly to God’s throne of grace, because Jesus’ sacrifice for me on the cross purchased my access to it. Jesus’ blood washes me clean from my sins, so I can enter into the presence of the Holy One. Amen!?
Last time we looked at John 21:1-14 where we saw that the risen LORD Jesus had appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to seven of his disciples and had shared breakfast with them. We saw in that study that the disciples – who had been out all night fishing but not catching – didn’t recognized Him at first, but had their eyes opened when He advised them to cast their nets again and they hauled up a large catch.
But Jesus didn’t appear to them just to share a meal. This was a “working breakfast” meeting. Jesus would soon give these disciples a new assignment before returning to glory at the right hand of His Father…
18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.Matthew 28:18-20 – NKJV
But first, Jesus had some unfinished business He needed to clear up.
John 21:15-19 – Do You Love Me?
In order to understand the conversation between Jesus and Peter here in John 21:15-19, we need a little background from Peter’s life, starting with his name. Recall that Peter, his brother Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee – James and John – had all been partners in the fishing business around the Galilean village of Capernaum when Jesus called them to leave their fishing behind saying – “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
Peter’s shining moment as a follower of Jesus came a short while later at Caesarea Philippi.
13When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.Matthew 16:13-18 – NKJV
Aside – Because of Jesus’ play on words here having first said that He would start calling Simon by the name Peter (meaning stone), over the centuries, this statement of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 – “…on this rock I will build my church…,” has been taken by some to refer to Peter himself. Thus, church tradition holds that Peter was the first “pope.” But I believe Jesus was referring there not to Peter as a person, but to the God-given revelation that Peter received regarding who Jesus is. You can find a thorough treatment of this topic by Pastor Dave Rolph of Calvary Chapel – Pacific Hills at https://www.ccpacifichills.org/messages/?sermon_id=1387
BTW – When Peter says, “You are the Christ…” in this passage, he uses the Greek word Χριστός Christos meaning Anointed (chosen) One. The corresponding Hebrew word in the Old Testament is מָשִׁיחַ mashiyach – transliterated in English translations of God’s Word as “Messiah.” In English translations of the New Testament we also find two instances of “Messiah.” In those cases we are looking at an English transliteration of a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word – Μεσσίας Messias which means… You guessed it – Anointed One. Interestingly, one of those two instances is found in John’s story of the calling of Peter.
But meanwhile – back to the study at hand…
Recall that last week’s lesson was all about “Recognizing Jesus” – as God in the flesh, come to Earth for the specific purpose of dying on the cross to take God’s death sentence for the sin of all mankind upon Himself, raised again on the third day, now returned to eternal glory at the right hand of God-the-Father, and soon to come again in judgement upon all the living and the dead – just as Peter recognized Him at Caesarea Philippi. Furthermore, having recognized Jesus in truth, we are each faced with a decision whether to humble ourselves to Jesus’ lordship over our entire lives, or continue to try to forge our own way.
Peter eventually made the correct choice to serve Jesus wholeheartedly, and consequently wound up sacrificing his own life. But before he finally got fully aboard, he had to jump a few hurdles as we shall soon see. Just a few verses later after Peter’s declaration of the faith which Jesus praised so highly, in Matthew 16:23 Jesus actually called Peter by the name of satan, because Peter had refused to accept that Jesus had come to be crucified. In fact, Peter didn’t truly recognize the full scope of Jesus’ Gospel until after Jesus had ascended to His Father.
But if Peter’s finest hour during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry came at Caesarea Philippi with the divine revelation that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, Peter’s worst moments came on the night Jesus was betrayed and carried away to trial. Recall that Peter had sworn at the last supper early that evening to defend Jesus with his life, and remember Jesus’ stunning rebuke.
31Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ [Zechariah 13:7] 32But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” 34Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 35Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.Matthew 26:31-35 – NKJV
Of course, we know that when Judas and the temple guard came to arrest Jesus, all of the disciples did scatter in fear of their own lives. In fact, by the next day only John had summoned the courage to stand with Jesus’ mother Mary at the foot of the cross as Jesus was dying. Peter’s denial of Jesus is particularly poignant, playing out exactly as Jesus had foretold in the upper room. As Jesus was being led to trial before the Jew’s council of elders – The Sanhedrin – just before dawn the next morning, Peter was loitering stealthily in the courtyard. Over the course of the night, two people had already pointed Peter out as one of Jesus’ followers, but Peter had denied it. Then a third man recognized Peter…
60But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 62So Peter went out and wept bitterly.Luke 22:60-62 – NKJV
We can all empathize with the utter devastation Peter must have felt in that moment and for weeks afterward. Probably every person who has ever committed to following Jesus has at one time or another thought that we have let Jesus down in some way. Of course, the fact of the matter is that Jesus already knows everything that will ever happen. So, our failures in His service could never come as any surprise to Him. The proof of that is found right here in these passages. Nevertheless, we are easily led into the satanic lie that because of our shortcomings we are unworthy to serve the LORD.
For me, this happened one year in California at our church’s men’s retreat. Our pastor gave the last message on that Saturday evening, and something he said struck me to the very core. He said that Christian men who fail to raise up their children properly in the ways and teachings of the LORD bear a portion of the responsibility for their children being unbelievers. I came to the LORD very late in life. This coming Memorial Day will mark my twentieth rebirthday. I did not raise my sons in a godly home, being an ungodly man myself. Nevertheless, I was absolutely crestfallen by our pastor’s message that evening. I struggled all night long alone in my car, trying to sleep but instead desperately crying out to the LORD for a scripture that would offer comfort. Instead of a beautiful psalm, God led me to Mark 16. When I started reading this familiar passage about the women who had come to the empty tomb on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, I was mumbling under my breath that this was not the comfort I had sought. And then I reached the verse that God had intended to remind me of when the angel said to the women…
But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”Mark 16:7 – NKJV
Why did the angel single Peter out? Because Jesus knew He would need to offer a special reassurance to Peter after his dismal failure on the night of Jesus’ trial. God brought me to this verse that horrible evening in my car because I needed similar reassurance.
15So 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.” 16He 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.” 17He 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.John 21:15-17 – NKJV
For us to fully grasp the beauty of this encounter by the Sea of Galilee between the risen Jesus and the downcast Peter, we really need to understand the original Greek text. I’m no Greek scholar – far from it. When It comes to Greek, I don’t know my λόγος logos from a hole in the ground. When I really need insight into the Greek text, my go to guy is Pastor Dave Rolph of Calvary Chapel Pacific Hills. Pastor Dave’s teachings have clarified quite a few issues for me in my studies, and he has even been gracious enough to answer theological questions I’ve sent him via e-mail. His teaching on this passage was incredibly helpful to me in understanding the Greek grammar, and therefore the meaning of the passage.
First, notice that throughout these three verses, Jesus calls Peter by his original name – Simon – not the name Peter that Jesus had given him at Caesarea Philippi on the day Peter recognized who Jesus is. This must have pierced to the center of Peter’s already broken heart.
Then Jesus asked Simon, “Do you love me more than these?” In English, this question is ambiguous. Was Jesus asking whether Simon loved Him more than the fish they’d just eaten, whether Simon loved Jesus more than he loved his fellow fishermen, or whether Simon loved Jesus more than the other disciples present with them loved Jesus? While the English translation is open to question as to exactly what Jesus was asking, in the Greek the grammatical construction makes it clear that Jesus was asking Simon whether he loved Jesus more than the other disciples present loved Jesus. This is a pretty intimidating question given that some or all of the others must have overheard the question, and were curious to hear Peter’s answer.
To fully understand why Jesus asked what appears in English to be the same question three times in a row, we also need to understand the Greek words that are translated as “love” in these verses. The ancient Greek language had a number of words that get translated into English as “love,” but in Greek they have slightly different nuances.
Here in John 21:15 &16, Jesus uses the Greek word ἀγαπάω agapaō – a verb form of ἀγάπη agape – an unconditional, total, self-sacrificing love. This is the same word that Jesus used when He said…
John 15:13 – NKJV
“Greater love [ἀγάπη agape] has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
It is also the same word that the apostle Paul used throughout his great treatise on love – 1 Corinthians 13.
God clearly demonstrates this ἀγάπη agape toward mankind throughout all of history. We know from John 1 that all things were created by Jesus – the Word of God. It is humbling to remember that in the instant Jesus said, “Let there be light,” He did so in full knowledge that by so doing He was setting into motion the sequence of events that would eventually lead Him to the cross where He would lay down His life for sinful man and be isolated from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit for the first and only time in all eternity. Yet even knowing all that, Jesus demonstrated His ἀγάπη agape toward us from the very beginning by His acts of creation.
Human beings very rarely show this type of self-sacrificial, total love toward one another or toward our Creator and Savior. On occasion, we do. Sometimes soldiers in combat sacrifice themselves for their comrades. Mothers give their own lives to save the lives of their children. Police and firefighters sacrifice their own lives to save the lives of others. But these are the exceptions among humans rather than the rule, and usually the circumstances when we do exhibit ἀγάπη agape toward someone are quite extraordinary.
By contrast, in his response to all three of Jesus’ questions, Peter uses the Greek word φιλέω phileō. This is the type of love humans ordinarily show for one another day-to-day. The Greek name for this ordinary, brotherly type of affection is the same root from which we get the name Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love.
Then in verse 17, Jesus changes up the question by using the word φιλέω phileō. So we can see why that would have touched Simon so deeply. In effect, the exchange goes something like…
Jesus – “Simon, do you love me completely, even more than these other men?”
Simon – “Lord, you know that I Iove you as a brother.”
Jesus – “Simon do you love me completely, even more than your own life?”
Simon – “Lord you know that I love you as a brother.”
Jesus – “Simon, do you at least love me as a brother?”
Simon – “Yes, Lord. You know I do.”
In all three instances, Jesus directs Simon that out of his love for Jesus, he must serve Jesus’ lambs and sheep – Simon’s brothers and sisters in Christ, new believers and seasoned fellow Christians alike. Jesus is telling Peter in effect to get back in the game, showing the same love and service for his fellow believers as Jesus has shown to all of us. It was critical that Peter understand this mission and have confidence that he could carry it out by Jesus’ power, because Jesus knew that this commitment would eventually cost Peter his own life.
18Most 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.” 19This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”John 21:18-19 – NKJV
There’s no biblical record of Peter’s death. The last mention of Peter is at the Jerusalem council sometime about the middle of the first century AD. Church tradition holds that Peter was martyred by being crucified upside down about 64 AD. Whether John understood the implication of Jesus’ prophecy here in John 21:18-19 when Jesus said it, or simply reported it later in hindsight as he was writing his gospel account we have no real way to determine.
John 21:20-23 – Wait. What About This Other Guy?
20Then 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?” 21Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” 23Then 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?”John 21:20-23 – NKJV
This little vignette near the end of John’s gospel is a little humorous, but also a cautionary note for us about the dangers of our pride. Peter and John had a little rivalry going on throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. Remember from John 20 that the apostle pointed out that he had outrun Peter to the empty tomb (John 20:4). No doubt the athletic specialty of Peter the burly fisherman who hauled up the large catch of 153 fish single-handed wasn’t track and field. But while we can snicker at this, there’s a warning here too.
Remember from Matthew 20, when James and John sent their mother to Jesus asking that they sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom, that Peter and the other disciples were greatly displeased at their arrogance. Jesus Himself on that occasion made the famous statement about humble service we looked at when we were discussing Nathanael – the unsung, faithful disciple. This admonition bears a closer look.
25But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”Matthew 20:25-28 – NKJV
Solomon puts pride at the top of his list of the six things that the LORD hates in Proverbs 6:17, and rightfully so. Pride is the root cause of all sin. Pride caused Lucifer’s fall.
12“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! 13For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; 14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’Isaiah 14:12-14 – NKJV
Then, in the Garden of Eden the pride of satan infected Adam and Eve causing them to fall as well.
[The serpent speaking to Eve] “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”Genesis 3:5 – NKJV
In fact, it was pride that eventually led Jesus to the cross. Small wonder that God hates pride so much!
So now here in John 21, after having just been restored to the service of the Gospel by the risen LORD Jesus Himself, Peter’s pride once more raised its ugly head. People – men in particular – tend to turn all of our activities into competitions. When we fish, not only do we hope to provide food for ourselves and our families, we hope for the bragging rights of having pulled more fish out of the water (and hopefully thrown them all back after they were weighed and counted) than the fellow in the next boat.
Sadly, we even turn evangelism into a contest. The modern western trend toward “mega-churches” and the whole growth-focused model for churches in the USA are deeply disturbing. One of the things that troubles me most about Christian denominational organizations is their emphasis on the numbers – How many dollars did each member congregation take in this week? How many people attended service this week? How many were baptized this year? etc.
The business experts whose philosophies and methodologies underpin the modern church-growth models encourage preachers to emphasize a feel-good message of God’s unconditional love for all. Even better yet, give people the false belief that God will give them anything their hearts desire – wealth, health, business success, physical healing – if only they have enough faith to “name it and claim it” (or blab it and grab it – as a dear pastor brother of mine used to say). You can even mine a little coin for yourself by suggesting that they might demonstrate their faith in God’s provision by “sewing” into your own organization financially and sacrificially. Minimize talk about the wretched sin that drove God in His infinite love to go to the cross for us, and above all, don’t mention the prophecies that foretell the imminent coming of the Day of God’s judgement. That kind of talk may not be good for putting more butts into the pews, or filling up the offering plate, but it is most certainly the sort of straightforward sharing of God’s Word that people need to hear for them to be convicted of sin, and repent unto eternal salvation.
Here in John 21:20-22, Jesus warns Peter about such pride and competition in evangelism, saying in effect – Never mind what others may or may not be doing, or what I have called them to do and how well they are obeying or disobeying. Focus instead on the mission I have called you to. That will be more than plenty to keep you occupied, and will be rightful obedience and service to My will for you.
Just briefly in closing, John mentions his notorious longevity. By the time he wrote this gospel near the end of the 1st century AD, John may well have been ninety years old or even more assuming he was in his early twenties when Jesus called him sometime in the late 20s AD. Church tradition holds that John was boiled in oil, but did not die before being exiled to the island of Patmos where he received the vision of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. No wonder the rum0r had spread that John could not die. Nevertheless, of course John did eventually die as he said he would.
27And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.Hebrews 9:27-28 – NKJV
John 21:24-25 – Let Us Hear Then the Conclusion to the Matter
24This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 25And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.John 21:24-25 – NKJV
When someone wants to emphasize that they are not lying, they might say “That’s the Gospel truth.” In a nutshell, that is what John is telling us here at the conclusion of his gospel account. So with him, we say Amen!