Following Christ

(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)

Sermon Study Sheets

 Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

August 19, 2001

Following Christ

John 21:20-25


This morning we come to the end of our study of the Gospel account by John. Throughout the book John has been true to his purpose of writing down the actions and teachings of Jesus so that you “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

John did not purpose to write a full account of Jesus’ life. As stated at the end of this chapter, he supposes that the whole world would not be able to contain the books that would have to be written if all that Jesus did was written in detail. What John does do is give us some of the material the other gospel writers did not include while telling about the life of Jesus in both His public ministry and private ministry to the disciples.

John has presented Jesus as the eternal Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us (1). Many of the miracles of John recounts demonstrate the deity of Jesus by showing that He has authority over nature, disease, demons and death (2-11). John also emphasized the antagonism that existed between Jesus and the religious leaders because of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God and the “I Am” who existed before Abraham. Because thy would not believe Jesus’ claims to deity, they considered Him to be a blasphemer and plotted to murder Him (8, 10). John also records Jesus’ many appeals to people to turn from their sins and believe in Him. Some of these were private, such as His meeting with Nicodemus (3), and some were public, such as Jesus’ teaching and making proclamations in the Temple over the three years of His public ministry (5-10).

John also brought us into the intimate fellowship of the disciples by recounting the events of Last Supper and Jesus’ discourse to them following Judas’ departure. John’s account of Jesus’ trial carefully brings out the spiritual nature of Jesus’ kingdom, and John’s presentation of Jesus’ crucifixion carefully notes several of the prophecies fulfilled by specific events that occurred while Jesus was suffering as the sacrifice for our sins on the cross. This detail lets us know that God was still in control even in the midst of the most horrible event of history. John’s detail of Jesus’ death and burial proclaim not only that Jesus did truly did die, but that He died because He willingly gave up His life, not because it was taken from Him.

John’s account of the resurrection includes not only Jesus’ appearance to Mary and the two appearances to the disciples gathered together in Jerusalem, but also his own personal story of running to the tomb and seeing the linen wrappings lying there with the face cloth lying rolled up separately which caused him to first believe that Jesus was alive again.

John presented more than enough evidence to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Son of God, whom the Old Testament prophesied would come to redeem His people. Anyone seeking after God could believe this evidence and place their faith in Jesus and receive eternal life.

Perhaps the book could have ended with chapter 20, but there was more that John wanted us to understand, because gaining eternal life in Jesus is not the end of the story. Life in Christ is for a purpose. John uses chapter 21 to point out that purpose.


Recall from our previous studies of John 21 that at least seven of the disciples where back in Galilee, probably at Capernaum where Peter, Andrew, James and John had their homes. Jesus had told them to wait there for Him, but Peter decided to go fishing and the rest of them joined him. They should have been trying to catch men instead of fish for they had wonderful news to proclaim – Jesus was alive! Instead they returned to their previous business and went fishing. At least three of them had been professional fishermen. They put out in the boat and made a serious effort by fishing all night, but they caught nothing (3,4).

As it was dawning, Jesus called out and asked them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” but they did not know at the time it was Jesus. The question expected a negative answer and it drove in the reality of their failure at fishing. They answered, “no,” and then the stranger directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, which for whatever reason they did, and they caught a very large catch they could not haul in (7).

This was nearly identical to the miracle that Jesus had performed when He first called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be His disciples (Lk 5). John realizes that this stranger was Jesus and he tells Peter, who, being a man of action, jumps into the sea and swims to shore to meet 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 a breakfast of fish and bread on a charcoal fire. I previously pointed out that 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.

That same principle applies to us too. In Matthew 6 Jesus tells us not to be anxious about what we should eat, or drink or wear. He wants our minds to be on Him and not these mundane matters of life. That is why He commanded 33“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” Let the unrighteous be worried and anxious about such things. Christians have more important things to think about and live for.

There was still the matter of restoring Peter to ministry and leadership. Peter had led the others into fishing and he was caught in the failure. Sometimes we might feel that we are not much use to the Lord, so why try? But that is not how Jesus dealt with Peter then or with us now. He restores those who are humble to useful service.

Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions to bring out what was in his heart. As I pointed out last week there is a word play that occurs here that does not translate well into English because we translate two different Greek words, agapaw / agapao and filew /phileo, in the text as the same English word, “love.” Let me paraphrase verse 15-17 to bring this out.

15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John do you (agapaw / agapao) have a committed, selfless, sacrificial love for me that is greater than these?” The “these” refers to all the fishing stuff that spoke of his life prior to following Jesus. Peter answered, “Yes, Lord; You know that I (filew /phileo) have a deep personal affection for you as a close friend.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Jesus said to Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you (agapaw / agapao) have a committed, selfless, sacrificial love for me?” Peter said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I (filew /phileo) have a deep personal affection for you as a close friend.” Jesus said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”

17 Jesus said to Peter the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you (filew /phileo) have a deep personal affection for me as a close friend?” Peter was grieved because Jesus said to him the third time, “Do you (filew /phileo) have a deep personal affection for me as a close friend?” And Peter said to Him, “Lord, You know (oida /oida) all things; You know (ginowskw /ginosko) by your personal experience with me that I (filew /phileo) have a deep personal affection for you as a close friend?” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

Peter could not honestly claim to have agaph /agape, the deep, committed, selfless, sacrificial type of love Jesus was asking about. Peter’s denial of Jesus only a couple of weeks earlier had humbled him. He had learned his lesson. He was not going to boast again about how he was better than anyone else in his love for Jesus. He now only claims filew /phileo for Jesus, the deep personal affection of friendship. God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble, and Jesus uses this as the occasion to restore Peter to useful service. He entrusted to Peter a ministry of teaching and leading Jesus’ sheep. Peter was restored into being a leader among Jesus’ followers.

The same is true for us. It is not so much a matter of sin itself that blocks us from serving God, but our response to it. Everyone, including Christians, sin, but as we confess our sins, we find Jesus’ forgiveness and cleansing so that we can again be useful to Him. (1 John 1:8,9). As we continue to grow and mature in Christ, so does our love for Jesus. Peter did develop this agaph /agape love of selfless, sacrificial commitment for Jesus. We are also to develop this love for Jesus as a response to His great sacrificial love for us. As we do, our ability to serve Him also increases.

The prophecy that Jesus gives in verse 18 that Peter would be crucified would be a confirmation to him that he would change and remain faithful to Christ to the end. Admittedly, to die a cruel death is not a pleasant thought, 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 should 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 and to serve Him is so great that we welcome the fire that burns away the dross of sin and worldliness.

Keeping the Proper Focus (20-22)

Peter was being changed into a man whose actions proved his love for Jesus, but at this point in the narrative, Peter still had lessons to learn. 20 Peter, turning around, ^saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following [them;] the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus ^said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”

It appears that after Jesus commanded Peter to “Follow Me” He began to walk away with Peter following. We know from Matthew 28 that Jesus met with the eleven disciples in Galilee on a mountain and from 1 Corinthians 15:6 that he appeared to more than 500 of the brethren at one time. Perhaps Jesus was going to one of these other gatherings with His disciples walking with Him as they had during times past. Whatever the particulars of the situation, Jesus and Peter are now walking together and at least John, who is the one who had leaned back on Jesus breast at the last supper and asked who was betraying him (13:23-25), is following them. Peter takes notice and now wants to know what would happen to John. Jesus rebukes Peter and essentially tells him that what happens to John is not Peter’s business. Jesus commands Peter again, “You follow Me,” with an emphasis on the “you.”

How easy it is to get our eyes on other people and start comparing ourselves to them. How often do we fall into this same trap? Instead of looking ahead at the Master and following Him, we start looking around us to see what other people are doing. Notice that our text is unclear as to the motive of Peter’s interest in John’s future because it does not matter if the motive is good or bad. As soon as you put your eyes on others, then you are following them and not Jesus. Being concerned about what God will to do in the life of someone else is at best a distraction to what He is doing in your own life, and at worst, it is a complete disruption.

Please understand from the start what it means to follow Jesus, for then the foolishness of looking at other people is made even more apparent. To follow someone is to walk behind them in the same path. It is to imitate their example and become like them. Jesus had spoken of this concept many times before, so Peter would have understood what Jesus meant. In John 12:26, Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” To follow Jesus is to place yourself in the position of being His servant. Servants do not exist to do what they want, but to do what their master wants. To follow Jesus requires submitting your will to His. In Luke 9:23, 24 Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” To follow Jesus would require daily sacrifice of your own desires in order to fulfill God’s will, but that level of identification with Jesus would bring about suffering because of the hatred the world has for those who walk in righteousness. Jesus had made this clear to Peter personally in John 13:36, Simon Peter ^said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you shall follow later.” Peter would later follow Jesus example in death, but in this there was also hope, for Jesus had also taught His disciples in Matthew 19:28, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Peter’s hope was beyond the present life to what would be in eternity. Our own hope is similar. While we are not looking to become judges of the tribes of Israel, we are looking forward to being with Jesus in heaven forever.

It is foolish to try to follow Jesus while comparing yourself to others. To the degree that you do that you are not being careful to follow Jesus. Like a runner in a race who takes his eyes off the finish line and looks at the other runners, comparing yourself to other people is at best a distraction to what God is doing in your own life, and at worst, it is a complete disruption. As Hebrews 12:1,2 describes it, we are to “lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and . . . run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. . .”.

Consider what happens when we compare ourselves with others. If someone has a more pleasant life than you, then jealousy can rear its ugly head and soon you become upset with God for being unfair in your eyes. Then all the “why”questions begin. “Why have you given them more than me?” “Why do I have to suffer and they live so comfortably?”

Asaph confronted this problem in Psalm 73 as he compared his life with the wicked. He felt stricken and chastened while seeing the wicked at ease and increasing in wealth. He began to wonder if his striving to live a holy life was worth the effort and even admits that he almost stumbled in this. It was not until he remembered their end that his envy was broken and gave thanks to God for His grace to him. So it must be with us that regardless of what turmoil we may have, including our health failing, we keep our eyes to the future and remember that this life is fleeting, and that it is eternity which counts.

But what about jealousy of other Christians? They receive some blessing that you do not have and envy rises and God’s fairness is questioned. We all know these questions because we have all been like Peter and had our eyes on others, and in the comparison found ourselves on the short end of the stick. We may even make it sound spiritual like, “Lord, why don’t you give me a ministry like theirs?” “Why won’t you give me the spiritual gifts and ministries that I want to serve you with?” That may fool us and others with sounding like we just want to be better and more useful Christians, but we do not fool God, for all such challenges are born out of evil jealousy.

Our biggest problem in this is pride. We think we deserve as much as others have and conclude that it is not fair if we do not get it. We forget what we have been saved from and what we have been saved to. We also forget who it is that is decides what is best. Neither God nor life is fair. If it was, then we would all be in eternal hell right now. God is merciful and gracious and has saved us from sin and its consequences, both temporal and eternal, for the purpose of being holy and blameless before Him (Eph. 1:4). We are saved for the purpose of God’s glory, not our own pleasure. He knows what we need in our lives to bring us into holiness. Romans 5 and James 1 already make it clear that trials and tribulations are included in the process of becoming holy.

There is the other side of comparing yourself to others too. What if you compare yourself to someone who does not have the blessings that you do? What then? Is fair for you to have what they do not? Depending on your personality and understanding of God, you may become proud and arrogant thinking yourself to be better than they. Tragically, this is quite common in many Christian circles in which spiritual blessing is equated with wealth, health and ease of life. Or, perhaps your personality is such that you live in fear that God might take away your blessings and put you in their situation. Both views have a wrong view of God and His character. God is neither a doting grandfather or a cosmic killjoy. He is the sovereign creator who knows and does what is best for the good of His people because He loves them.

We need to remember that universe does not rotate around any of us. That goes against the grain of American independence which strives for individual autonomy, but it is reality. As Christians we are loved by God with an everlasting love, but we are only part of something much greater than ourselves.

1 Corinthians 12 makes it very plain that God gives spiritual gifts, the particular ministry, and the scope of that ministry as He wills. Each spiritual gift and ministry is given so that the whole body will be whole and will mature. Every gift and ministry is important just as every part of your body is important. One part might receive more attention, but another part which receives little attention may be more important to the vitality of the body. You pay more attention to your hair than your liver, but all of us would agree that it is a lot more important to have a healthy liver than a well-coiffed head of hair. So it also is in the body of Christ. Every part is needed and many of the parts that get little attention or acclaim are actually the parts that are most vital to the body. As Paul points out throughout the chapter, it is ridiculous to be jealous of any other part of the body. If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:26).

I have been asked at times, usually indirectly, if I am jealous of larger churches with more extensive ministries than this one. I admit that at times I cry out to God that He would bless us and enlarge our ministries, but it has been decades since I have been jealous of someone else’s ministry. We are on the same team. I rejoice in what God does through others. That is my mind set in the local church too. I praise the Lord when people can do things better than I can. They can then take over that ministry and I can do something else. What reason is their to be jealous? The goal is to see the whole body mature.

Who are you or I to question God’s wisdom in how He bestows spiritual gifts, abilities, ministries and blessings? How can you really know what is best for you? And even more to the point, how can you know what is best for God’s kingdom? I can not compare myself to those with greater blessings or with those who suffer greater hardships. Our loving Lord knows what is best for each of our individual lives and how we can best glorify him. I admit, my selfish desire is to be respected by king and country like the prophet Nathan or Joseph after he was put in charge of Egypt, but if God wants me to use me as a Jeremiah, a Job or the one of those unnamed at the end of Hebrews 11, is that not up to God? I do not want to be jealous, or proud, or fearful. I am to follow Jesus only. He is my Savior. He is my Lord. He knows what is best for me and for His kingdom.

Peter pointed to John and wanted to know about what would happen to him. Jesus rebuked him and said, “Follow Me.” What about you? Who are your eyes on? Whom do you follow? If you are looking at someone else, then accept Jesus’ rebuke here to be one for yourself and then heed the Savior’s command to “Follow Me.”

Rumor vs. Reality (23)

In verse 23 John clears up a rumor that was started because of what Jesus had said to Peter. “This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but [only,] “If I want him to remain until I come, what [is that] to you?” John lived to be a very old man. He was the last of the apostles to die and the only one of them that was not martyred, and John knew at the time of his writing this gospel account that he might die before Jesus’ return. We should always be careful of rumors, because reality may be far different.

Final Comments (24,25)

John makes some final comments in verses 24,25 concerning the veracity of the gospel account and how much more Jesus actually did and taught. 24 This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his witness is true.

25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they ^were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself ^would not contain the books which ^were written.

John is a first hand witness to what he wrote in this book. He makes the same claim in 1 John 1:1-4. He does not write based on oral traditions or on what others wrote. He has recounted a portion of what he knows to have happened because he was there.

The comment “and we know that his witness is true” is an attestation of John’s veracity thought to be given by either scribes that helped John by writing out what he said, or by the Elders in Ephesus who knew John very well and would have been the first to receive John’s gospel account. In either case, or if from another source, it serves as further proof that what has been written in this book is true.

The supposed “scholars” that attack the record of Jesus’ life only show themselves to be fools. Their conclusions are based on their own musings instead of the faithful witness of those who were there.

Verse 25 makes it clear that there is much more about Jesus that could have been written. In a sense the statement is hyperbole, a rhetorical overstatement given to emphasize the amount of material that could have been written about Jesus but has not been included. The gospel account is finished, but the story will never be complete for there it would be too much for everything that Jesus did and taught to be fully explained. In addition, Jesus’ work is still continuing in the present both in heaven and on earth through His people. So in a sense, it is a true statement. Could the finite world hold all that could be told about Jesus who is infinite?

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And the skies of parchment made;

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure

The saints’ and angels’ song

Frederick Lehman, “The Love of God”

The story of Peter came to a conclusion. He had failed, but because he humbled himself before God, he was corrected and restored to useful service. He was then faithful to the end. The ancient writers Eusebius and Tertullian report that Peter was crucified upside down by his own request in Rome by Emperor Nero.

The story of Jesus continues in the present because He continues to work both in heaven interceding on our behalf and preparing a place for us, and here on earth through His people. If you belong to Jesus, you are part of His continuing story. The only question will be what part will you play in it. What will be the conclusion of your own story? Do not despair if you have failed Him. He can restore you. Do not let your eyes wander to compare yourself with others either good or bad. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of your faith (Heb. 12:2). Follow Him and fulfill the purpose for which you were created and saved from sin.

Sermon Study Sheets


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) How many times is the word “follow” mentioned? 2) Talk with your parents what it means to “follow” Jesus and how you can do it better.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What is the purpose of John’s account of the Gospel? How did John strive to fulfill that purpose? What is the purpose of chapter 21? What is the background to chapter 21? What had occurred prior to Jesus’ questioning of Peter? What was the purpose of Jesus’ questioning of Peter (vs. 15-17)? What is the meaning of agapaw /agapao and filew /phileo? What did Jesus want Peter to do? Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means persecution and martyrdom? Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means serious sacrifice of your time and finances? What does it mean to “follow” Jesus? What had Jesus already taught Peter about this? Why is it foolish to compare your life to someone else? What kept Asaph from stumbling in Psalm 73? Do you every feel like he did? Are you ever jealous of the blessings other Christians receive? Is God fair? Would you want Him to be fair? What were you saved from? What were you saved to? How are you fulfilling your purpose as a Christian? Where do you fit within the body of Christ? Who knows what is best for you? For God’s kingdom? What will be the end of your story?

Sermon Notes – 8/19/2001 A.M.

Following Christ – John 21:20-25



Fishing for Fish instead of Men

Matthew 6:33

Do you love me?

Restored to Service

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.

Keeping the Proper Focus (20-22)

The Scene

Following Jesus

John 12:26; Luke 9:23,24; John 13:36; Matthew 19:28; Hebrews 12:1,2

Comparing yourself to others is at best a ___________ to what God is doing in your own life, and at worst, a ________________

Comparing to those with more

Psalm 73

Neither God nor life is _______. If it was, we would all be ________________.We are saved for the purpose of _____________.

Comparing to those with less

Your Place in the Universe

The Universe does not rotate around any of us. As Christians we are only part of something much greater than ourselves.

1 Corinthians 12

I am to follow _____________ only. He knows what is _________ for ____ and for His _____________.

Rumor vs. Reality (23)

Final Comments (24,25)

Could the finite world hold all that could be told about Jesus who is infinite?

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