Just a few moments tonight in the Word of God, turn in your Bible to John 21. As I was sitting there listening to the testimonies and anticipating what would be said, and indeed is usually said in testimonies like this, the thing that kept ringing over and over again was the desire of these folks to follow Christ, the desire of these people to commit their life to Him, to confess Him as Savior and Lord, to be obedient to Him. And it reminds me of this wonderful occasion of John 21 where the Lord Jesus comes to Peter and gets him back on course because what is singularly important in the Christian faith is your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Not your relationship to the church, not your relationship to some Sunday school group or some Bible study, not your relationship to some set of doctrines, not your relationship to your theology, not even your relationship to Christian friends, not even your relationship to the Bible as such, but what is your condition of your relationship to Jesus Christ?
And this kind of testimony time always brings that back into focus, doesn't it? You hear people say, "Well I knew about God, I believed in God, I prayed some kind of prayer as a young person and affirmed my trust in Christ, but I didn't have a relationship with Him." What is the nature of your relationship with Christ? How would you define it? Are you like the Apostle Paul praying with every part of your being that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings being made conformable unto His death? Or has your Christian life been reduced to activities and your spirituality to some little formulas? What is really the condition of your relationship to Christ?
No matter what kind of Christian activities you engage in, no matter what kind of quote/unquote "religious" things you do, no matter what kind of spiritual activities you're involved in, what is your personal relationship to Christ? Because that really is your Christian life. We may have varying degrees of theology that we understand. We may have varying degrees of experience in the church. We may have varying degrees of opportunity in terms of the years of serving the Lord and using spiritual gifts. We may have sat for briefer or longer times under sound Bible teaching. And all of those things certainly fit in to the picture somewhere. But the real issue is this matter of a relationship to Christ.
Here was Peter who had spent three years with the Lord Jesus, who had what you would probably want to call a rather intense relationship. He certainly wasn't at all put off by Christ. He understood Christ to be God in human flesh. He understood Christ to be none other than the Messiah. He knew that He was God. He understood His miraculous power. He understood that there was no one like Him. Even the pagans knew that no one ever spoke like He spoke or did what He did. Peter certainly understood Christ as much as any man could understand Him and was not at all intimidated by that at times, and felt even so bold as to occasionally rebuke Jesus, if that's not unimaginable, saying to Him silly things like, "Lord, let it not be so...You may think You're going to the cross, but I'm not going to allow it," brash on his part. Peter was not so intimidated even by his own weakness as to say to Christ, "If everybody else in the world forsakes you I never will." Over- confident about his spirituality.
And, of course, when the time of testing came, he collapsed in a heap...a heap of denials. And as you come to John 21 the Lord comes to restore him. Peter has been called to be an Apostle. Peter has been the leader of the Twelve, their spokesman. He was chosen by the Lord Jesus personally as part of the inner circle of three, including James and John. He is always listed at the head of every listing of the Apostles, all four of them. He stayed close enough to Jesus Christ to walk on water, to speak profound revelation, to be amazingly bold and forthright and grab a sword in the garden to try to defend Christ against the Roman soldiers. He also knew what it was to be the very model of weakness, denying Jesus with curses, losing his courage, acting in disobedience, fear, cowardice.
As we approach John 21 we might say that the condition of Peter's relationship to Christ isn't what it ought to be. Oh we would affirm that he is a believer. Yes, he believes. We saw that if no other way in his remorse and repentance, as soon as the cock crowed he went out and wept bitterly because he immediately was confronted with the reality of his human weakness and his heart was filled with repentance.
But as we come to John chapter 21, we're going to see again that the condition of Peter's relationship to Christ was not what it ought to be and we're going to see what was contained in the Lord's reconstruction of a proper relationship. Verse 1, "After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias; and manifested Himself in this way." Now it's post-resurrection. Jesus has already risen from the grave. He has already appeared on several occasions to the disciples. In fact, He told them to go to Galilee and wait for Him in a mountain and He said, "I'll come and appear to you again there." There were numerous appearances after the resurrection that He made to those who believed in Him, and only those. And so, they were to be waiting for Him in a mountain in the area of Galilee.
They were gathered together, verse 2 says, "Simon Peter and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee and the sons of Zebedee who would be James and John, and two other disciples...Philip and Andrew no doubt. Simon Peter said to them, "I'm going fishing. And they said to him, We will also come with you." Now don't ever question Peter's leadership. He was a leader. I mean, he could lead people to flatly blatantly without thinking outright disobey what the Lord had said. He was a very influential guy. the Lord said, "Go to Galilee, go in a mountain and wait till I come." Peter said, "I'm going fishing." And everybody said, "We're going to follow you."
You can surmise a lot about why Peter said this. What he was really saying, if you look at the Greek text, may indicate that he was saying, "I'm going back in a rather permanent way to do what I used to do." He always did struggle with his spiritual commitment and his faith. And he may well have been thinking, "You know, I have really been a bust as an Apostle, I mean, when it came down to the crisis, I bailed out, I denied Christ, I did it on three occasions, I did it with curses. I...I can't keep my foot out of my mouth. I've said so many foolish things, I almost drowned because of a lack of faith and maybe it's just better if I go back to doing what I used to do. I'm going fishing."
And all the other disciples who came from basically the same profession felt like a lot of failures themselves and becoming impatient and having somewhat weak faith, they said, "We'll go too." And of course, they went.
They got in the boat and that night they caught nothing. Of course, the Lord rerouted all the fish...no fish ever came near that boat. And, of course, you know what Peter was saying...I don't know how to be an Apostle, and I'm not sure I could make that well, but I know one thing, I can fish." And the Lord was saying, "Oh no you can't. You can only fish if there are fish." He went out and caught nothing. And that's difficult when you've fished all night.
"And when the day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach. The disciples didn't know it was Jesus. He arrived just as He said He would, only He had to go down to find them because of their disobedience. Jesus therefore said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" And they answered Him, "No." And they may have muttered a few other words under their breath that aren't recorded in the Scripture. "And He said to them, Cast the net on the right hand side of the boat and you'll find a catch." That would have distressed me a bit if He had said that and I was a fisherman. I think I would have said, "What does He mean by that? Does He think the boat sits in one spot or the fish know the difference or they're all on one side? Or we haven't tried that? What kind of a command is that?" But He was so powerful in His commands that they just did it. And in verse 6 they weren't even able to land all the fish, they couldn't haul them in there were so many. And the Lord just instantaneously called for all the fish in that section of the Sea of Galilee to go to the right side of the boat on command, which they all did. They showed up there waiting to be caught.
"That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved," John refers to himself that way, why call yourself John when you can call yourself the disciple whom Jesus loved? He said to Peter, "It is the Lord." Has to be. So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord...this is so typical...he didn't say, "We'll be there in a moment as soon as we rode ashore." He put on his outer garment for he was stripped for work and threw himself into the sea. He was so impulsive. He put his coat on and dove in the water. He didn't want to see the Lord unless he was properly dressed. I'm sure he didn't think that it's hard to swim in a dress...which was what their cloak was like. The other disciples being a bit more sane came in the boat...for they weren't far from the land, about 100 yards away and they were dragging a net full of fish.
Peter had problems sustaining a relationship with Christ but he really wanted it, didn't he? And he hated his own defections. So when they got on land they saw charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it and bread. Jesus had made breakfast. You know how Jesus makes breakfast? "Breakfast." Fire, fish, bread.
Jesus said, "Some of the fish which you have now caught, bring." He went up and drew the net to the land, full of large fish, 153, they counted them although there were so many the net was not torn. Jesus said, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him...who are You?...because it was obvious, they all knew He was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, gave them and the fish likewise. This is the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples as a group after He was raised from the dead.
Here then, Jesus arrives and He finds the disciples in basically a posture of disobedience. And it is essential that He restore the relationship, particularly with Peter because Peter is so crucial as the leader. Now that He's got them on the shore and they're having breakfast, Jesus says when they had finished in verse 15, "Simon Peter, Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?" Some think "these" means "these fish, nets, boats," this whole thing of fishing which you seem to be so in love with and have such an infinity for, do you love Me more than these? Others think He meant these other disciples, after all didn't Peter say with his own mouth, "Thou everybody else forsake you, I won't," He could well be saying to him...is it really true that you love Me more than these men love Me and you proved it because you didn't forsake Me? That's not so, that's not the case. In any case He is saying to him, "Do you love Me supremely?"
He said, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love You." He said, "If you do, tend My lambs." He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah...son of John, Jonas, all of those names are the same, do you love Me?" He said, "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You." He said to him, "Then shepherd My sheep." And He said to him the third time...why three times? Because Peter had denied Christ on three occasions, He was giving an opportunity for restoration at each point. "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"
Now the first two times I think Jesus used the loftiest word and Peter said, "I have a deep affection for You," using a little less lofty word. And this time the Lord came down to Peter's word and questioned even that.
I think it may be that Peter was saying, "I don't want to claim agapao, I don't want to claim the supreme love, but I can claim phileo." And the Lord questions him on whether he can even claim that. And he was so grieved because He asked the thing the third time, not because it was the third time but because the third time He used Peter's word and said, "I don't think you have a right to even claim that kind of love based on the way you've acted."
And so Peter said, "Don't look at the way I've acted, You know everything, You know that I love You. Look at my heart." And Jesus said to him, "Then tend My sheep."
Now this gives to us, I think, the first and foremost component of a right relationship to Christ and it is the component of loving Christ. When you ask yourself...what is the condition of my relationship to Jesus Christ, you have to ask yourself a very simple question...do I love Jesus Christ more than anything else? That's the simple substance that is foundational to the relationship. That's the question He was asking Peter. And Peter tried to claim that he did and Jesus questioned his claim legitimately because of his conduct. This is the bottom line characteristic of a relationship with Christ. Do you love Him more than anything else? Anyone else? More than father? More than mother?...as we heard tonight. More than family? More than education? More than fame and fortune? You see, 1 Peter 2:7 says, "To those who believe, Christ is precious." It's the kind of affection that has to be demonstrated, however, and it will show up in your obedience. That's where our relationship to Christ really begins.
Look at the second component of a proper relationship to Christ. Verse 18, Jesus then says to him having dealt with the issue of love to restore the relationship, He says there's another component in this relationship, "Truly, truly I say to you, when you were younger you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished." What He's saying...in...in your youth, Peter, you ruled your own life, you basically did what you wanted, you put on your own belt, strapped up your cloak and took off and went wherever you wanted to go...you were kind of controlling your life. "But when you grow old, you're going to stretch out your hands." Very interesting phrase used in extrabiblical literature to speak of someone who was nailed to a cross. "You're going to stretch out your hands and someone else is going to bind you and bring you where you do not wish to go."
Somebody is going to tie you up as a prisoner and haul you away. You're not going to have any control over it. In your youth you've had control, in your old age you're not. Verse 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."
The second component of a relationship to Christ is sacrifice for Christ. The first one is love for Christ, the second one is sacrifice. And that's essentially what he's telling Peter....Peter, it is absolutely inherent in our relationship if it's to be right that you be willing to give your life for Me...I'm tell you, He said, I'm telling you to follow Me but I'm also telling you that by following Me you're going to end up in a situation where somebody is going to bind you and take you where you don't want to go and it's going to result in your death. You're going to pay the supreme price...now are you willing to follow Me?
Any legitimate relationship with Jesus Christ if it is what it ought to be is going to involve love for Christ that affirms that He is the supreme one over everything else and that means that I will do what honors Him and glorifies Him, I will obey Him at all costs. And secondly, my sacrifice for Him is nothing short of a sacrifice even to death. That's what Jesus meant when He said, "If you're not willing to take up your cross and follow Me, you're not worthy to be My disciple." The cross is emblematic of death. Certainly the mark of love is sacrifice, "Greater love hath no man than this, then a man lay down his life for his friends." It measures the level of affection, doesn't it, when we're willing to die for Christ. If there's anything in your life that you sacrifice for Christ, that's evidence of your love. If there's anything in your life that you will not sacrifice for Christ, that's the evidence of the shallowness of your love.
Then thirdly, and this comes into play at the end of verse 19, the third component in a relationship with Christ that is a right relationship is following Christ...loving Christ, sacrificing for Christ and then following Christ. And this is so wonderful. Jesus says at the end of verse 19, "Follow Me." Now that is not a difficult command to comprehend. And Peter sometimes was so thick, as we are, He said, "Follow Me, just follow Me." And just to give a simple graphic demonstration of what He meant, apparently Jesus started to walk somewhere, started to move. And Peter, it says in verse 20, it doesn't say, "Peter followed Him," it says, "Peter did...what?...turned around."
Now why is he doing that? Well it didn't take long, I don't know whether the Lord took any real steps or whether He took a few steps or whether He started away from the shore or what happened, but it wasn't very long before Peter turned around and he saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, you know, the one who had leaned back on Jesus' breast at the supper. John is just milking this thing, isn't he? He just...he loves to think of himself as beloved. Why not? You know, I'm the one that Jesus loved, I'm the one that leaned on His chest at supper, you know. And he won't use his own name because it's a humble thing but he's overwhelmed by it.
So Peter turns around and sees John and then he asks the question, verse 21, "Lord, what about this man?" Now already Peter is no longer concerned about Peter, he is concerned about John. "Well what about him?" Now he doesn't know he's got enough to deal with just with himself. "I'm concerned, You just told me I'm going to die, well what about him? Is he going to have to die, too?" The truth of the matter was Peter was eventually crucified. Tradition tells us that he was...he didn't want to be crucified like his Lord and so he asked to be crucified upside down which is a far more excruciating death in some ways cause the blood rushes to the head in a horrible experience. But he's concerned about John.
I love Jesus' answer. Verse 22, He says, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." Which is another way of saying, "None of your business if he lives till the Second Coming, you follow Me, you stop being concerned about him." And that again is another very graphic demonstration of a component in following Christ, a component rather in a right relationship to Christ and that is following Christ no matter what and not evaluating and discerning your own worthiness or your own faithfulness or your own role by comparing yourself with somebody else.
By the way, people always get everything wrong, and so they got the statement of Jesus wrong in verse 23, "And the saying therefore went out among the brethren that the disciple wouldn't die." So the word went out, "Did you hear John's never going to die?" But Jesus didn't say that he isn't going to die, but only if I want him to remain till I come, what is that to you? And here the Holy Spirit has to inspire a correction because that's what happens with rumors. But Jesus is simply saying to Peter, "If you're going to be in right relationship to Me, Peter, you've got to stop being concerned about other people and follow Me. You follow Me." That's obedience, my friend, and obedience is central to a relationship to the Lord.
"You call Me the way and walk Me not?" Jeffrey O'Hara wrote. "You call me the life and live Me not, you call Me the truth and believe Me not. You call Me Lord and obey Me not." What do your words mean? From the start Jesus had said, "Follow Me," and He had to keep repeating it and repeating it and repeating it. The relationship that you and I want to have with Christ is really built on those simple truths.
The epistle ends, "This is the disciple who bears witness of these things and wrote these things and we know that his witness is true. 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."
That verse has always intrigued me. I wish there was more written, don't you? We have this one book, and you mean that if everything was written all the books in the world couldn't contain it? Boy, there's a lot left out, isn't there? Some day, however, we'll know as we are known.
So here is the Lord Jesus Christ restoring a relationship with Peter and reminding us that if your relationship as Peter's is right with Him, it will be characterized by loving Him more than you love anything else, sacrificing for Him anything and everything, including your life, and following Him at any cost no matter what He asks of you with no regard for what others are asked to give.
If you look at your own life now and you say to yourself, "I want to know what the condition of my relationship with Christ is," then these are the simple things that are necessary to consider. Do I love the Lord Jesus Christ? Do I love Him more than anything else? Is He the joy of my heart? Is He my constant delight? Do I find pleasure in His presence? Is that demonstrated by time in the Word and time communing with Him? Do I love Christ more than I love anything, be it my career, my profession, as in the case of nets and boats? Do I love Christ more than others love Him? Am I supremely a lover of Christ?
Secondly, am I willing to sacrifice for Him even if it means that some day somebody is going to tie me up and take my life? Do I love Him that much? Am I willing to take up my cross and die for Him? Or are there a myriad of things that are more precious in my life than Christ and none of them would I willingly sacrifice for Him?
Thirdly, will I follow Him? Will I follow Him no matter what it means? Will I follow Him no matter what He asks of me, no matter what He doesn't ask of someone else? All those questions will define for you your relationship to Christ.
When you hear people who are new Christians who come to be baptized like those folks tonight, you get the feeling that all of those things are in place, don't you? That they have a joyous fresh love for Christ, that they have a heart of sacrifice, willing to pay whatever price is asked and that they long and desire to follow and they're demonstrating that by the obedience that they've shown even in the matter of baptism. And it should be a fresh call to all of us who may along the line have sort of lived out the story of Peter again and allowed our relationship to grow cold and found ourselves having gone fishing. And maybe the Lord needs to show up on the shore of our life again and draw us back into the relationship the way He would want it to be.
Well, just a reminder.
Father, thank You for this wonderful day. Thank You that we could share tonight briefly in Your Word, a glimpse of Christ as He comes to pick up a disobedient and reluctant Apostle and shows us the path to a right relationship with You. Thank You that You demonstrated that You wanted to bless him, that You controlled everything in his life, that You controlled the fish. Thank You that You could make every provision, You could create a meal for him. Lord, You demonstrated Your power, You demonstrated Your sovereignty to Peter and then You asked him to trust You and love You and give his life for You and follow You. And You've done it for us. You have demonstrated Your power, You've demonstrated Your provision, Your providence, Your sovereignty and You ask of us the same thing that we would love You enough to tend Your sheep that we would be sacrificial enough to give all that we are, all that we have for You and that we want a relationship with You that's characterized by unending obedience no matter what You ask.
Father, we thank You for a picture of Peter and the testimony of all those who have come tonight to affirm these great components of a right relationship. May we have that daily with You so that we may know the joy that comes to those whose relationship with the living Son of God is what it should be. And, Lord, we thank You for the day, for all that it has contained for us, what a wonderful day. We give You praise in Christ's name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.