(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 12, 2001
Have you ever felt like you messed something up so badly that you could never get it straightened out? Or perhaps you did something so hurtful that you felt you could not be forgiven for your wrong? I think that is the way that Peter may have felt after denying Jesus three times the night our Lord was arrested and put on trial. Could Peter be forgiven? Could be Peter used again? Turn to John 21 and we will see the answer to these questions and learn several important lessons to apply to our own lives.
It has been two, perhaps three weeks since Peter had denied Jesus on that fateful night. Some wonderful things have happened since then, the most wonderful of course is that Jesus was alive again. He had conquered death. He had appeared to the disciples twice in Jerusalem and told them to meet Him in Galilee. Jesus was now with them the third time, but the circumstances were not exactly ideal.
As we learned last week as we began our study of this chapter, Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two other disciples were back in Galilee (2), probably at Capernaum where Peter, Andrew, James and John had their homes. They were supposed to wait there for Jesus, but Peter was the type of man who has to be doing something. He decided to go fishing and the rest of them joined in (3). This was not a recreational fishing trip, but serious business. They put out in the boat and fished all night but caught nothing (3,4).
As it was dawning, they heard a man on shore ask them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” It was Jesus that was asking them the question, but they did not know that (4,5). The question was phrased in a way that expected a negative answer. It was a question that drove in the reality of their failure to catch anything. They answered the stranger, “no,” then the stranger told them to throw their nets on the right side of the boat and they would find a catch (6). We do not know why they took this stranger’s advice, but they did so and caught a very large catch they could not haul in (7).
It is at this point that John realizes that this stranger was Jesus. This is nearly identical to the miracle that Jesus had performed when He first called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be His disciples (Lk 5). Peter, being a man of action, jumps into the sea and swims to shore. Peter is characterized by wanting to be with Jesus. The rest of the disciples brought in the boat hauling the catch of fish behind them (7,8).
When they had reached the shore, they found that Jesus was cooking them breakfast of fish and bread on a charcoal fire. I pointed out last week that it there was only one fish on the fire (9) and they all ate breakfast from that one fish (13). It is likely that there was a miracle of multiplication of food here similar to that which occurred when Jesus fed the 5,000 and the 4,000. This breakfast and the large catch of fish were the evidence that Jesus would provide for his disciples. They were not to worry about the cares of this world. They were to be Jesus’ servants and He would provide for them. The same is still true for us. Jesus wants us to seek first His kingdom and righteousness and His promise is that He will meet our needs. He wants our focus of attention to be on Him, not on the things of this world (Mt. 6).
What Depth of Love? (15-17)
In verse 15 we find that breakfast was now finished, but the Lord still had some business to finish with Peter. There is still the matter of his boasting and then denial on the night Jesus was arrested. Was Peter still qualified to be one of the leaders among Jesus’ followers? Jesus asks Peter a series of three questions to pull out what was in Peter’s heart, and then Jesus makes three statements about the responsibility that Jesus was entrusting to Peter.
15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus ^said to Simon Peter, “Simon, [son] of John, do you love Me more than these?” He ^said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He ^said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He ^said to him again a second time, “Simon, [son] of John, do you love Me?” He ^said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He ^said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He ^said to him the third time, “Simon, [son] of John, 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, “Tend My sheep.
This is one of those passages in which the English translation does not bring out the impact that is in the Greek because two different Greek words, agapaw /agapao and filew /phileo, in the text are generally translated as the same English word, “love”. The NASB footnotes this, and the translations by Weymouth, Darby and Young do make a distinction, but even they do not make a distinction between the two Greek words which are both translated as “know” (oida /oida and ginowskw /ginosko).
In each of these questions, Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon.” Some have suggested that Jesus used this specific name for him in order to call attention to his backsliding into his old way of life. Perhaps that could be true, for Jesus had just caught Simon fishing for fish instead of men. However, Jesus usually addressed him as “Simon” (Matthew 16:17; 17:25; Mark 14:37; Luke 7:40; 22:31; John 1:42; 21:15,16,17) instead of Peter (Luke 22:34; John 1:42), so simply the use of the name, “Simon,” can not bring that conclusion.
However, Jesus’ first question does question Peter’s loyalty. Back on the night of the last Supper, Peter had boasted how he was more committed to Jesus than all the others, for he would not fall away even if all the rest did (Mt. 26:33). Jesus’ question would expose what was in his heart. “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” The word “love” here is agapaw /agapao. The noun form of the word is agaph /agape. This is a very interesting and very important word group.
agapaw /agapao & agaph /agape : Leon Morris, in his book, Testaments of Love, does a thorough study of the various Hebrew and Greek words that we translate in English as love. In his section dealing with agaph / agape he carefully notes that the noun form of the word is very rare in Greek writing prior to the New Testament, but that it is used quite extensively in the New Testament. He believes the reason is that the coming of Jesus and His sacrifice of Himself on the cross on our behalf brought a new concept of love and this particular word was then used to express that concept. The other words for love were just not suitable.
storgh / Storge was the term for natural affection. The love that occurs within a family and binds them together in a natural group.
filia /Philia was the love of that extended outside the family or natural group. It is the love of friendship. It is the love a man for his fellow man and a woman for her friends.
epiqumia / Epithymia refers to strong desire or passion. It could be used positively, as when Jesus had a strong desire to eat the Passover with His disciples, or it could be used negatively in the sense of lust or coveting.
Finally there was eroV / eros which is basically romantic love. The basic idea of this was a love for what the beholder found beautiful along with the desire to possess the one found beautiful. However, the Greek idea of this went beyond just the physical attraction between a man and a woman and extended to the idea of being lost in passion. Eros is not evil itself and can be very good. The Song of Solomon extols the virtues of romantic love in marriage. Plato even used this word to indicate his love for what was good.
These words for love are good, but none of them could convey the love that Jesus brought to man and which He wants Christians to extend to one another. The agaph /agape word group was closer to this new concept of love being expressed by Jesus though one important element in it was changed by Christian usage.
The Greek usage of the verb form, agapaw /agapao, carried the idea of “a free and decisive act determined by its subject.” But in Greek thought this was with little emotion and seen more as “prefer.” Christian usage of the terms brought rich, positive meaning to them. Perhaps one of the best ways to describe the meaning of agaph /agape word group in Christian usage is to contrast it with eroV / eros. Whereas eroV / eros is a love by one person based on what he finds beautiful and desirable in another to gain for himself, agaph /agape is a love given irrespective to, and often in spite of, the merit of the one loved. Whereas eroV / eros is a love that desires to posses and gain for itself, agaph / agape is a love that seeks to give of itself.
This is a love of commitment and sacrifice. It is the love that would cause a man to lay down his life for a friend (Jn. 15:13). It is the love that God has for us that caused Him to send Jesus into the world to be our substitute sacrifice on the cross for our sins (Rom. 5:8). It is the love that we are to have for God and for others (Lk 10:27). It is the love that husbands are commanded to have for their wives so that they give of themselves for her benefit as a picture of Jesus love for the church rather than seeking what they can get from her (Eph. 5:25f). It is the love by which all men will know if we are Jesus’ disciples or note (John 13:35). This is the love Jesus spoke of when He said, “if anyone loves me, he will keep My word” (Jn. 14:23). Jesus is asking Peter what his level of love for Him is now.
Keep in mind the scene in which this is all happening. They are on the shore of the Sea of Tiberas (Galilee) and have just finished the breakfast Jesus has provided. These disciples have been trying to catch fish all night instead of waiting for Jesus. If they needed something to do, they should have been trying to catch men with the gospel – Jesus is alive!
There is some question about what the word, “these” (toutwn touton), in Jesus question refers too. The word could be either masculine or neuter. Many commentators argue that it is masculine and refers to the other disciples. The question would then be, “Simon, do you love me more than these other disciples?” Such a question would challenge his earlier boasting and force him to the humble position that he was no better than they were. However, this interpretation does not make sense in light of Peter’s answer which begins with, “Yes, Lord,” and the “yes” here ( nai / nai) is a strong affirmative, (i.e. yes, indeed”). Considering the rest of Peter’s answer, it is unlikely that he is still boasting to love Jesus more than the other disciples.
I take the word “these” in Jesus’ question to be neuter and to refer to all the fishing stuff that was there. The question would then be, “Simon, do you love this life of fishing more than me?” This interpretation fits the scene and explains Peter’s strong affirmation “Yes, Lord.” Peter did love Jesus more than those things.
filew /phileo: Peter’s humility also comes out in his answer. The present scene and his remembrance of his earlier denial of Jesus proved that his love was not to the level of agaph /agape love. Peter had not been completely obedient to Jesus. He bragged and denied Jesus prophecy concerning him so he had foolishly went to the courtyard while Jesus on trial. He should not have been there. Then in his denial of Jesus, Peter showed that he had a greater care for himself than for Jesus. He had not been as committed as he had claimed. He had not been willing to risk his life any further for Jesus. Peter could not in good conscience claim to love Jesus in the sense of agapaw /agapao, so he uses a different word for love, filew /phileo. Peter claims to have strong affection for Jesus in the sense of friendship. He had a deep appreciation for Jesus and had a sense of humility just being able to be with Jesus because of his high respect for Him. He believed Jesus regardless of all the accusations against Him by the religious leaders. I believe Peter wanted to be able to say that he had agaph /agape for Jesus, but his pride had finally been humbled and so he tones down his claim. Jesus asked if Peter had a committed and sacrificial love for Him. Peter responded that he was Jesus’ friend.
It should be noted that in even making this claim, Peter appealed to Jesus’ own knowledge to back up the claim. The word for “know” here is oida /oida which speaks of the knowledge of information and facts. Jesus was omniscient and so had the information and fact concerning Peter’s friendship.
Restoration: Jesus’ answer to Peter is one of restoration. “Tend My lambs.” Jesus often used the metaphor of sheep to describe those who belong to Him and He does so again in these verses. The lambs are the young sheep which are the most vulnerable and need to be tenderly cared for. The word “tend” here means to “feed.” Jesus is commanding Peter to take care of the most vulnerable sheep of His sheep. Peter is to teach new believers about how to be a follower of Jesus.
Jesus’ second question is direct without a comparison clause. “Simon, son of John do you love Me?” Jesus again uses agapaw / agapao for love. Peter gives Jesus the same exact answer as the first time. “Yes, Lord: You know that I love You.” He again uses filew /phileo for love and appeals to Jesus’ omniscience as confirmation. Jesus asks if Peter loves him, and Peter is humbled and can not in good conscience make such a bold claim, so he only affirms that he has strong affection for Jesus.
Jesus responds by commanding Peter to fulfill additional responsibilities. “Shepherd My sheep.” Shepherding takes into account the total care of the flock, not just the feeding. The sheep are the mature than the lambs. Jesus is entrusting to Peter the spiritual teaching and care of His followers including the mature ones. Peter could not do this unless he was at least as mature. Jesus is affirming Peter that he is still useful to Jesus despite past failures.
Jesus slightly, but significantly changes His third question. “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” But this time Jesus also uses filew /phileo for love as Peter had been doing. This cuts Peter to the heart, not so much that he has been asked three similar questions, but that the third question now even challenges the filew /phileo love that Peter claims to have. This time Peter leaves off his affirmation of, “Yes, ” and appeals to Jesus’ omniscience and personal knowledge of Peter. The first “know” (“You know all things” ) is oida /oida just as it was in the previous answers. The second “know” (You know that I love you” ) is ginowskw /ginosko which refers to the personal knowledge that comes from relationship. Peter’s appeal is that Jesus knows him both through His omniscience and His personal relationship with Peter to know that what he is now claiming is true.
Jesus’ responds with a third command that affirms Peter’s responsibilities for Jesus’ flock. “Tend My Sheep.” Peter had failed, but Jesus has restored him and will use him to teach and lead His people. All of this would have taken place within the hearing of the other disciples. This not only gave them an increased confidence in Peter, but could they would also understand that Jesus would use them too despite their past failures.
Like Peter, all of us have failed the Lord in our lives. There are those things which we should not have done that we have done – sins of commission, and those things we should have done that we did not – sins of omission. But all of us have sin problems. Jesus was able to restore Peter and use him and our Lord can do the same for us.
1 John 1:8,9 makes our sin problem clear, but it is not the sin that blocks us from serving God, but rather our response to it. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble and exalts them at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6). Peter was restored to service because he was humble and admitted his failings. The aspirations of self glory had been crushed and now he was ready to be a servant of the Lord, whatever that would entail.
Future Gory (18,19)
Jesus goes on in verse 18 to further assure Peter that in the future, Peter would not fail as in the past.
18 “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to [go.”] 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He ^said to him, “Follow Me!”
When Peter was young, he could go and do what he wanted. Jesus now prophesies that Peter will reach old age, but that when he does, he would be crucified. That is the meaning of him having his hands stretched out and girded by another and taken where he did not want to go. John makes clear that this is the meaning by his comment in verse 19. The phrase “to stretch out the hands” was often used by Greek authors and the early church fathers to indicate crucifixion. Peter had at one time boasted that he would lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37). That boast would come true in the future.
The early church historian Eusebius and the church father Tertullian both report that Peter was indeed crucified. Tertullian states that it was in Rome by Emperor Nero. Eusebius states that he was crucified upside down by his own request.
This prediction would probably be most unwelcome news for most of us. I don’t think there is anyone here with a death wish, especially to die in such a cruel manner. Yet, this was good news to Peter. He did not have a death wish, but the prophecy encouraged him that he would be faithful to Jesus to the end. He could and would change from his past failures.
It gives us quite a bit to think about concerning ourselves. What is the level of our love for Jesus? What is the level of your commitment to Him? What is the nature of your claim to be a Christian? It is easy to be a Christian in a society that still gives respect to those making that claim. What reasonable person would not want to be a Christian if that means living a nice long life and getting to go to heaven too? But what about being a Christian when the society despises you, considers you a traitor, persecutes you, steals from you, harms those you love and eventually murders you? I wonder how many of us here would still be Christians if that meant living as our brothers and sisters do in places like China, Sudan and Iran? How many of us would still follow Jesus if we knew that at the end of our lives we would be cruelly murdered?
Yet, the essence of true Christianity is bound up in a love for Jesus so great that following Him is the only thing that is important. The gratitude of having our sins forgiven through Him and the promise of heaven as our hope would make us gladly suffer whatever might come for His namesake. The true Christian learns to rejoice even in the midst of tribulations (Romans 5) and trials (James 1) because our desire to be like Jesus is so great that we welcome the fire that burns away the dross of sin and worldliness.
If Jesus were to ask you the same questions He asked Peter what would you answer? Do you love me more than the things of this world and the life you lived before you met me? Do you love me? Do you really have strong affection for me?
If your true answer is not what you wish it would be, then don’t despair. Peter failed and in the failure came the needed humility for change to occur. Jesus restored Peter and commanded Him, “Follow Me, “ and as Peter did, he was changed. Peter had been humbled and would not claim to love Jesus in the sense of agaph /agape, but that is is the love he was commanded to have for God and others. As Peter continued to follow Jesus, he was changed and that is the love he demonstrated. The Lord can do the same in your life. Humble yourself before Him and then follow Him and He will change you.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) What are the two words used for “love”? How many times is “love” mentioned? 2) Talk with your parents about how you demonstrate your love for God. Talk with them about how to avoid jealousy.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the background to John 21:15-25? Who is present in verse 15? Is there any significance to Jesus addressing Peter as “Simon?” What kind of love is Jesus asking Peter about? What is the nature of this kind of love? Why doesn’t Peter claim to have this love? What kind of love does Peter say he has? What is the nature of this kind of love? What is the difference between the two? What are the “these” in Jesus’ first question to Peter? (vs. 15). What is the love that Jesus questions in His third question? What two things does Peter appeal to for confirmation of his love for Jesus? What does Jesus command Peter to do? Why is this significant? Can Jesus use you even after you fail Him? What is required from you in order to be used by Jesus? How would Peter have responded to Jesus prediction of his future death? What is your level of love for Jesus? How would you respond if you knew that being a Christian would result in being persecuted and eventually murdered? Why does Paul exult in tribulations (Rom. 5) and James consider trials joyful (James 1)? Can you do the same?
What Depth of Love? (15-17)
“love” agapaw / agapao
“love” filew /phileo
Confirmation in Jesus’ knowledge
Future Gory (18,19)
The essence of true Christianity is bound up in a love for Jesus so great that following Him is the only thing that is important
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