January 1 (Downtown) – John 21:1-17

Happy New Year! As we take down our Christmas decorations and pick up our New Year’s resolutions, this is a great time to pause and remember how we have seen the goodness of God over the last year. Reflecting on Advent, we see how Jesus is greater, the focus of all of Scripture, and how he is worthy of our unreserved worship. 2022 was a year that we focused on the Kingdom of God and what it means to be citizens of that Kingdom while here on earth. But for 2023 our year-long theme is All of God for All of Us, and Downtown will begin by reading John 21:1-17 this week before all locations launch into the Trinity series next Sunday, January 8.

In John 21, the apostle records the third interaction between Jesus and his disciples after the resurrection. Since returning from the grave, Jesus has commissioned the disciples to share the gospel with the world and has corrected them for their lack of faith. Looking back a little, in John 20:24-29, Thomas doubts that Jesus was actually seen by the others, saying, “if I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands…I will never believe” (v25). Returning later, Jesus immediately tells Thomas to see and touch the marks on his hands, proving to him that he is the risen Jesus, not an imposter. Through this, Jesus restores Thomas from doubt to belief. Church tradition tells us that after Jesus commissioned the disciples, Thomas was especially active east of Syria. We’re told that he brought and preached the Gospel of Jesus as far as India, living by faith in the risen Christ.

Returning to chapter 21, we see a focus on Peter, where we read about seven disciples fishing (again) without any luck (cf. Luke 5:1-11). Early in the morning, after what must have been a discouraging night on the waters, they hear a stranger call to them from the beach, telling them to drop their nets one more time from the right side of their boat. They do as he says and now have so many fish in their net that they can’t even lift it into the boat. If we quickly jump to Luke 5, we see that this scene is almost identical to when Jesus originally called the disciples. They were fishing with nothing to show for it, and Jesus miraculously provided an abundance of fish. 

Likely remembering this, John tells the others that it’s Jesus on the shore, and Simon Peter jumps out of the boat to meet him. What’s next is important; inviting Peter to join him for breakfast, Jesus probes him, asking him if he loves him. He does this three times. It seems weird that the all-knowing Lord over all creation would ask someone three times for an answer he already knows. But if we turn back a few chapters, we’ll see that Jesus does this for Peter’s sake, not just to have his question answered.

Quickly turning back to John 18, we see in verses 15-18 and 25-27 that when Jesus is on trial to be crucified, Peter denies ever knowing or even being associated with Jesus. Peter does this three times after being pressured by a young woman once and then by others twice. Guilt can weigh on us and stick around for a while. Peter was likely covered in shame after Jesus’ death, having denied his relationship with him three times, just as Jesus told him he would in John 13:36-38. 

Coming back to the scene on the beach, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. After the third time, Scripture tells us that Peter was grieved by Jesus asking three times, almost certainly causing him to remember his triple denial of Jesus. Jesus aims to restore Peter, drawing him back to right relationship. He tells Peter that he will be someone who cares for the Lord’s dear sheep. He is calling Peter to a life of ministry and pastoral care. No matter what Peter may have been thinking, he is not disqualified from furthering the Gospel.

It is crucial for us to discuss sin and how we understand the way Jesus approaches it. This is an excellent example of the Lord not ignoring sin and carrying on with grace, but first convicting and then restoring individuals through repentance and forgiveness. The Lord desires for us to be healed and restored, but not without coming face to face with our sins and turning back toward him.

Questions for Discussion

• Could someone read John 21:1-17 for us?

• What stood out to you from the passage?

• Jesus asked Peter “do you love me?” What do you think Jesus was aiming for in Peter?

• Can someone read John 18:15-18 and 25-27?

• Based on this, how do you think Peter was feeling in John 21?

• How do you think this story can describe the way Jesus relates to you and your sin?

• How does this passage stir up your heart to follow Jesus?