The Unexpected Restoration of the Resurrected Christ
Text: John 21:1–19
Main Idea: A Christian’s sin and failure moves the heart of Christ to mercy and compassion not instant wrath and anger.
I. The Third Appearance of the Resurrected Christ (John 21:1–14)
II. The Threefold Restoration of the Fallen Disciple (John 21:15–17)
III. The Reassuring Commission of the Resurrected Christ (John 21:18–19)
Good morning church, I’m so glad that we can gather today and fully-celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because more than any other day in the Christian calendar, Resurrection Sunday reminds us (over and over again) that Christianity cannot be reduced to a new set of rules, historical facts, and religious services. And that is because the resurrection is God’s divine stamp of approval on Jesus’ entire ministry and his full payment for our sin on the cross. Resurrection Sunday reminds us that Jesus forever-satisfied God’s wrath on the cross for all who believe.
This is the good news of the gospel: Jesus lived died and rose again for sinners. And God will forgive you and forever-restore you to himself if you turn from your sin and self-reliance and trust in Jesus as your only hope of a right relationship with God. Please don’t miss this, God doesn’t require a person to bring anything to the table but their broken life of sin and failure.
In fact, if you are visiting with us today, I want you to hear in this that, as a church, we do not believe that we are better than everyone else or somehow more worthy of God’s love. No, we are a people who believe that we are desperately broken sinners who are in constant need of an infinitely gracious Savior. And one of the places we see this most clearly in God’s Word, is in our passage today because it points every believer (every true Christian) to the most encouraging truth that:
Main Idea: A Christian’s sin and failure moves the heart of Christ to mercy and compassion not instant wrath and anger.
The Third Appearance of the Resurrected Christ (John 21:1–14)
The Big Picture
As we begin, it’s important to remember that Peter is a desperately broken and ruined man at the beginning of chapter 21. If we turn back to chapter 13, just moments after Judas left to betray Jesus; Peter confidently declared that he would follow Jesus to the death before he abandoned or betrayed him. But, when the moment of Judas’ betrayal came. When the soldiers arrived in the dark of night, Peter didn’t uphold his oath, he didn’t stay with Jesus when he was arrested and tried. And to make matters even worse, he openly denied that he ever knew Jesus when a lowly servant girl merely questioned his discipleship.
In a matter of hours Peter had completely abandoned and disavowed Jesus. The self-confident man who pledged his unquestionable loyalty had proven himself to be nothing more than a faithless coward and worthless disciple. And no one knew this better than Peter himself. But to make matters even worse, Jesus’s unexpected and glorious resurrection presented the imminent threat of condemnation and rejection. After all, Peter didn’t just fail to support a close friend, he failed the Hope of Israel, the promised the Messiah, the Son of God.
Almost every one of us knows what this is like. We know what it’s like fail and to hold our breath every time our parent, spouse, adult child, close friend, pastor, or employer walk into the room. And we know that the waiting only makes worse…
Well, this is where Peter is at in John 21. Peter has seen Jesus two times and he is overjoyed that Jesus is alive. But up until this moment Jesus has not addressed Peter and his failure. By this time in the story, Peter has to be coming apart at the seams. In fact, this helps us understand why Peter abandons the miraculous catch and instantly swims to shore to be with Jesus. Yet, Jesus has not been ignoring his fallen disciple. He has been waiting until this third appearance to restore him by allowing him to relive what might be the two most formative events of Peter’s life up until this moment.
Two Important Days
On the one hand, while scholars have filled countless pages discussing whether the disciples should be fishing, why they haven’t caught any fish, why the disciples do not instantly recognize Jesus, or if there is a deeper meaning in the number 153; Jesus’ goal in this miraculous catch is incredibly clear. It’s to remind a very broken disciple about the day he was called.
Luke 5:3–8 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Luke 5:10b–11 And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Notice the similarity in these two accounts? No fish after fishing all night. An unexpected command to put down his nets. And a truly miraculous catch. Yet, even more, this account in Luke serves as a reminder that Peter was never “worthy” of his calling in the first place. Right? The miraculous catch compelled him to openly confess his sinfulness and in this confession, he expected Jesus to reject him. But, to his utter surprise what did Jesus do? He called him. And Peter responded by abandoning everything to follow Jesus. The miraculous catch led to a monumental calling. And Jesus is going to use this catch to fully reinstate Peter to that calling. (relive and be reminded)
But, on the other hand, there is another moment that Peter needs to both relive AND redeem— the night he openly denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.
The Threefold Affirmation of a Fallen Disciple (John 21:15–17)
A Public Interaction
Notice, as the scene shifts from verse 14 to verse 15 Jesus doesn’t dismiss the disciples nor does he retreat with Peter for a private conversation. No. Everyone is still there. And I think the reason is this: for the past three and a half years, Peter has consistently presented himself as the most committed disciple. On more than one occasion he has pridefully compared himself to his peers and arrogantly boasted about his unwavering dedication while the other disciples were present— including the night that Jesus was betrayed (13:8, 37–38; 18:10–11). Peter’s prideful arrogance and miserable failure were very public acts that could not be ignored, which is why his restoration and reinstatement had to be a public act as well.
Yet, the most surprising element of this interaction, is that, Jesus doesn’t focus on Peter’s failure. He doesn’t ask him why he denied him OR how he could have denied him after everything he had done for him. Nor does Jesus berate him with an endless litany of his failures as a disciple. Rather, he presents his fallen disciple with a question that will reveal his true heart-condition in front of the other disciples. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter, after everything that has happened, do you still think that you love me more than your fellow disciples love me?
Everyone knew what the old Peter would have said… But Peter is not the same man that he was a few days or weeks ago. Just like the day that he met Jesus on the lake, Peter was convinced that he was a great sinner in desperate need of divine mercy. We see this most clearly in his answer: he not only refuses to take up the comparative “more than,” he refuses to demean the other disciples, excuse his failure, OR qualify his love beyond a humble appeal to Jesus’ divine comprehension of his imperfect but persistent love.
A Significant Question
But this very affirmation (as repentant and right and good as it is) presses us into a significant question. And if you are familiar at all with this passage, you know what it is: Why does Jesus use one word for love and Peter respond with a completely different word for love in the original Greek? Why does Peter respond to Jesus with the Greek verb phileo when Jesus used the Greek verb agape? Even more, why is Peter grieved after Jesus switches to the verb phileo in verse 17.
I’m asking this, because it’s very common for pastors and church members alike to focus on the dictionary definitions of these two words (agape being a selfless, sacrificial love and phileo being something like brotherly love) to emphasize Peter’s true brokenness. And to be honest I could pull an old sermon from my files, in which, I spent much of my sermon doing the very same thing… But, over the years countless scholars and my own professors have helped me see that the Gospel of John never employs these terms as a matter of contrast. Rather, it consistently employs uses these two verbs as synonyms for stylistic variation. Let me show you two examples that declare the Father’s love for Jesus and his followers.
John 3:35 The Father loves (ἀγαπάω) the Son and has given all things into his hand.
John 5:20 For the Father loves (φιλέω) the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.
John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love (ἀγαπάω) him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
John 16:27 for the Father himself loves (φιλέω) you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
Please let me be clear, I’m not berating anyone who has taken this rout. I just do not think that it is the reason that John, the author, used these two words because Jesus’s answer in verse 15 —“feed my lambs”— demonstrates that he fully-accepts Peter’s first declaration of love and is publicly restoring him to active ministry!
But, this presents us with a second question. If Peter is fully restored to ministry after the first question, why does Jesus continue to openly probe Peter’s love for him? Well, the simple answer is that Jesus’s three-fold question provides Peter with three opportunities to publicly affirm what he had three-times denied the night Jesus was betrayed (three denials – three declarations of love). Yet even more and more importantly, it offered Jesus three opportunities to publicly reinstate his fallen disciple in a way that no one could miss. And just in case Peter or one of his disciples missed the solemn gravity of the moment Jesus discloses the most reassuring revelation about Peter’s future faithfulness.
The Reassuring Commission of the Resurrected Christ (John 21:18–19)
The Surprising Revelation of Peter’s Ultimate Faithfulness
Now you might be wondering why I believe these two verses are about assurance instead of a warning about the ultimate cost of following Jesus. After all, Jesus has just told Peter that he is going to be crucified for his faith. For countless people this would be their cue to say, “you know Jesus after second thought, I’m not sure I love you “that much.’”
But, for Peter this revelation is a reassuring note of restoration and his commission as a disciple because it is the very calling of true discipleship in the Gospels.
Mark 8:34–38 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
One: The fundamental essence of faithful discipleship is a self-denial that willingly embraces the possibility that one might die for their commitment to Jesus… don’t take it lightly. Following Jesus is not a part time affair, nor is it something to be taken lightly or pursued lackadaisically. And while this might seem like an insurmountable barrier to following Jesus, it is in fact the evidence that a person grasps the second half of the passage.
Two: The warning to every human being is that there is a paradoxical relationship between saving and losing. Saving and preserving our life in the context of this world is losing in the next. But losing in this life sets us up to be saved in the next IF our losing is the result of our unashamed commitment to Jesus Christ.
This helps us see that in these final verses, Jesus is saying: Yes Peter, I know you couldn’t stand for me in front of a simple servant girl. But, let me encourage you with this glimpse into your future. You are going to bring glory to me in a life of faithful service. You are not going to fall, you are not going to fail, you are not going to cave into shame, and you are certainly not going to deny me again. In fact, in your old age you will face the greatest temptation to save your life by denying me, BUT you won’t. You will stand firm to the very end by embracing the most shameful death for my sake, that a man can endure— death on a cross. Peter your past might be a mess, but this is your future. Follow me.
Two Implications: A Word to those who do not know Christ and those who do.
A Word for Those Who Do Not Yet Know Christ.
If you are with us today and you have not come to faith in Jesus yet, I want you to know that I’m glad you are here and that honest questions are always welcome. I also hope it’s clear from the message this morning that we are not looking to shove religion down anyone’s throat or declare our inherent goodness. No, we are a group of people who know that we constantly fall short of God’s law, persistently stumble and fail, and desperately need Jesus just like Peter.
But why? Why did Jesus restore Peter? Was it because he needed a strong leader? Was it because they were such close friends? Was it because Peter’s good deeds outweighed his failures? Was Jesus simply ignoring his failure? No. Jesus restored Peter because he paid for his sin on the cross AND Peter stood emptyhanded before Jesus with nothing but his sin and failure looking to Jesus for everything he needed.
Please do not miss this. The core belief of Christianity is NOT good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. NOR is it everyone gets to go to heaven because a truly loving God could never send someone to hell. Rather, the core belief of Christianity is that God’s love is for sinful humanity is revealed most clearly in the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that this love must be personally (individually) received through humble, empty-handed faith in Jesus as our only hope of forgiveness and restoration to God.
Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 3:21–24 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
This is the core of the Christian faith. It’s only when I admit I’m unworthy, when I see that I’m a sinner in need of undeserved mercy that I am ready to receive God’s free offer of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. Or to put another way, Jesus lived died and rose again for sinners and God will forgive you and forever restore you if you turn and trust in Jesus Christ. This is “how” someone becomes a Christian.
Jesus accomplishes his sovereign purposes in this world through the ministry of his ever-imperfect followers.
The Gospels are a constant reminder that Peter was a broken and messy person just like you and me. At times he was bold and brash, and at other times he caved into fear and doubt. He walked on water and then sunk like a rock. He stood tall and wielded a sword to protect Jesus, but then he crumbled under the simple question of a servant girl. And in all of this, the Gospels are clear, Peter’s ardent determination and physical prowess were not enough to keep him faithful to Christ. But in this, we are reminded that a Christian’s sin and failure moves the heart of Christ to mercy and compassion not instant wrath and anger.
Christian, your Savior knows your weakness, failures, and fears. He’s not surprised when you stumble and fall. Jesus knew Peter would deny him (before he ever chose him to be a disciple), he even told Peter that it was going to happen. But, the key is how does Jesus respond after it happens? He restores Peter, and reinstates him to ministry after Peter humbly acknowledges his sin and failure before Jesus. No excuses. No comparisons. Just a humble plea: you know that I love you…
I’m raising this because I think it’s easy for us to expect untarnished perfection and love from the members and leadership of our church, when the truth of the matter is that even after the gospel, we are sinners who are saved by grace and in constant need of grace. And this truth serves as an ever-present reminder that Jesus accomplishes his sovereign purposes in this world through the ministry of his ever-imperfect followers.
Olympic, if we realty grasp the account of Peter’s restoration and we really grasp the gospel of Jesus Christ we will grasp our calling to be a redemptive community. What I mean by this is that we will increasingly be a place: Where it’s ok not to be ok. Where it is normal, for broken hurting people walk with other normal, hurting people through life. Where we, as a church, extend the kind of restoring mercy and grace that we have received in Christ to fellow Christians who may need the very same thing from us.
 Notice also that Peter’s restoration occurs around a charcoal fire (John 18:18; 21:9), a term used only two times in the Gospel of John.
 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England : Grand Rapid: Inter-Varsity Press ; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 675–76.
 For an in depth discussion see, Carson, The Gospel According to John, 675–78; Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Eckhard J. Schnabel (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2017), 462.
 Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, 462–3.