The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 21:1 “After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will also come with you.’ They went out, and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Children, you do not have any fish, do you?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ 6 And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch.’ They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ And so when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish. 9 And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.’ 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples ventured to question Him, ‘Who are You?’ knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread, and gave them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead. 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.’” (NASB)
The situation was familiar to the disciples. They may have had that feeling of Deja Vu at the time. It was Peter’s idea to go fishing that morning. The other disciples had nothing better to do so they thought so they went along too. “They went out, and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.” They had been there and done that before. Some of them were professional fishermen after all. Sometimes they had good days and some days they came up empty. Nothing unusual in the story so far.
Enter Jesus who stands on the shore and shouts to them, ‘Children, you do not have any fish, do you?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch.’
That’s the part the should have invoked a memory of an event that happened about three years earlier. That event is recorded in Luke 5. It was another one of those lean nights. They had been fishing all night and had caught nothing.
In the Luke 5 encounter, Jesus had been teaching a great multitude when He commandeered Peter and his boat to put a little distance between the crowd and Himself. Jesus taught for a while from the boat, then told Peter to row back out into the deep water and drop his nets in again. Peter did so and ended up with a net so full of fish it was breaking.
Do you remember Peter’s reaction? “He fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’” At the realization that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, all he could feel at that moment was shame and guilt over his sins.
A lot had happened since their first fishing trip together, most notably Jesus’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. After those initial couple of Easter appearances and the appearance a week later, the disciples had been given a little time to themselves in Galilee back home before being sent out into the world as apostles. So in John 21 we find them in Galilee waiting for whatever is next.
On this particular morning and fishing trip as the sun rises the disciples hear someone call out to them. They see a figure standing on the shore, but they can’t tell who it is. Even if they were a little closer they might not have realized that it was Jesus. In the post-resurrection accounts the Bible says that Jesus has to “reveal” Himself to them. That we true on Easter morning. Jesus had to “show” or reveal Himself to the disciples.
When Jesus walked with two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus they didn’t realize they were walking with Jesus until Jesus revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread at dinner time.
So also here, we are told in verses 1 and 14 that Jesus “manifested” or “revealed” Himself to them. And how does Jesus “manifest” or “reveal” Himself to His disciples?
Jesus manifests Himself by speaking and doing. In this case Jesus speaks a familiar command to the disciples. 6 “‘Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch.’ They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’”
Jesus was revealed in the command and its fulfillment. St. John was the first to connect the dots. He would write some sixty years later; 14 “This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.”
In that first fishing trip, when Peter realized for the first time Who Jesus was Peter “fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’” This time, Peter’s reaction is the opposite. He doesn’t waste a moment. He can’t wait. He puts his street clothes back on and “and threw himself into the sea.” and wades back to the shore while the others collect the nets.
The two events are typical Peter. Peter often swung back and forth between extremes. “Depart from me! For I am a sinful man.” This time Peter is over joyed at the presence of Christ. This is the same guy who in one moment would say the most profound theological statements and in the next moment sin against the person and ministry of Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed.
Peter had given one of the best confessions of the nature of Jesus Christ in Matthew 16:16 “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To which Jesus replied, “17 “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
In the very next moment Peter told Jesus that he, Peter, would not allow Jesus to suffer and be killed by the chief priests and scribes, thus getting in the way of the very reason for the Messiah’s coming into the world in the first place. “‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ 23 But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” In one moment Peter is the man who gets it right and is an agent of God the Father. In the next moment, he is setting his mind on the things of man and not of God. It’s pretty much what we do every day in big and small ways.
Remember Peter’s promise of loyalty. Peter said, [Matthew 26:33-35] “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Then came the promise Peter said to Jesus, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” You know how that turned out. Peter denied Jesus three times to save his own skin.
Three years later, Peter had no reason to question his initial assessment of himself. He was still and perhaps even a greater “ sinful man.” Yet this time, Peter does not beg Jesus to move on and Peter runs to Jesus.
Now here is the more surprising thing. Despite all that Peter has said and done wrong, Jesus still wants Peter in His band of merry apostles. Jesus is still the forgiving One and Peter is still the one that Jesus has and continues calling into the Word and Sacrament ministry. In Luke 5 Jesus told Peter, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men” and Jesus hasn’t changed His mind on that despite all Peter did wrong. Jesus makes clear to Peter, what it is Jesus is directing and commissioning him to do for the rest of Peter’s life on earth.
Jesus takes Peter aside says, “‘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, ‘Feed My sheep.’”
Jesus not only wanted Peter in His family, He wanted Peter to care His flock. Tend, Shepherd, and Feed the sheep of Christ’s heavenly pasture. That is the work Peter is now being given to do.
This was the man who had promised that “even if all of the other disciples should leave you, I will never leave you,” then denied Jesus three times to save his own skin. As we were reminded during Lent, the Promised Seed came down through hundreds of generations, through one sinner after another, from one mess after another, from one failure after another. God used and redeemed some the worst kind of people to bring about the birth of the Messiah.
Now the Word of God, the Pastoral Office, the administration of the sacraments, and the Gospel itself would also be passed on through one after another; Sinners like Peter.
Enter Saul turned to St. Paul. Saul was on his way Damascus so that he could arrest Christians. Jesus came to him in a great light and voice on the road to Damacus. Jesus said, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”
After the scales fell from Saul’s eyes, Saul was baptized and become Paul. The grace of God in Christ was so great that even the man who once persecuted the church and had once held the coats of Jews so they could stone to death Stephen, the first Christian martyr eventually became Paul the Evangelist to the gentiles and author of almost half of the books of the New Testament.
Jesus employs the likes of men like these men and the man who stands before you in this pulpit, sinners all, to save sinner. (Peter 2:25) “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
Through the office of pastor, the office of ministry, Jesus comes to you and serves you with His Word. “Man does not live on bread alone, but from every word that comes from God.”
It is now the Seed of God’s spoken Word that is joined to the water in holy baptism. It is the Seed, God’s Word that is joined together with bread and wine. It is in the preaching and teaching office that Jesus make us His sheep. That is the reason for the ministry’s existence. Pastors are not spiritual coaches. Real pastors are not entertainers. They are undershepherds. Jesus created the office of holy ministry, undershepherds to tend, sherpherd, and feed the sheep of His pasture. Peter was told to tend Christ’s lambs, shepherd Christ’s flock, and feed the sheep, thus the title “pastor.”
The true Church of Jesus Christ possess two things that the rest of the world does not have and cannot give. The person and work of Jesus Christ and the Office of Ministry through which the flock of Christ is shepherded and fed.
Psalms 95:7 “For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” Psalms 100:3 “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” And so you are.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.