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                        Where Are You Looking

John 20:28-31; 21:1-8

June 14, 2009

I’ve taken the title for today’s message from a devotional by Henry Blackaby based on John 21:20-21: “Where Are You Looking?” We’ve been looking together at the cross, and Jesus’ last words. Last week we examined His words: “I thirst”. Comparing them to all His other references to thirsting after living water. These words were followed by “it is finished. His last recorded words from the cross in the book of John (19:30) which specified not the end of His life, as some believe, but rather the completion of His task. “It is finished”: the purpose I came for is completed. The crucial truth is Jesus died as a substitute for our sin. It was accomplished on the cross. God gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life! (Jn 3:16)

Today we’re going to look at the risen Lord’s encounter with one disciple – Peter. Turn with me, if you like, to John chapter 21 and we’ll start by looking at what Blackaby has to say:

In John 21:20-21 we read,

So Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. [That disciple] was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is the one that’s going to betray You?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord—what about him?

The first thing you do after God speaks to you is critical. Jesus was telling Peter what type of ministry he would have and what type of death he would suffer (vv. 18–19). It was a sacred moment in Peter's life, as his Lord pulled back the curtain to his future. His was not to be an easy life but a life ordained and blessed by his Lord and Master.

Rather than responding to what Jesus told him, Peter looked around at his fellow disciples. His glance fell upon John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. “But Lord, what about this man?” Peter had just been given the somber news of his future death. How natural to compare his assignment with that of the others! This is the great temptation of God's servants: to compare our situation with that of others. Did God give my friend a larger house? Did God heal my friend's loved one and not mine? Did God allow my friend to receive appreciation and praise for his work while I remain anonymous? Did God allow another Christian to remain close to her family while I am far removed from mine?

Jesus assigned Peter and John to walk two different paths, but both Peter and John have enriched our lives. Jesus knew how dangerous it is when a servant takes his eyes off the master to focus on a fellow servant. Where is your focus? Have you become more concerned with how God is treating someone else than you are with how He is relating to you? Let’s look today at the last chapter in the book of John and see what we can learn from Jesus’ encounter with Peter. Let’s see where he was looking. 

The average reader may conclude that John should have completed his book with the dramatic testimony of Thomas found at the end of chapter twenty (John 20:28-31), and the reader would wonder why John added another chapter. The main reason is  Peter. John did not want to end his Gospel without telling his readers that Peter was restored to his apostleship. Peter’s restoration gives hope for all of us in need of restoration. I assure you, John’s gospel does not end on an anti-climactic note. On the contrary. But before we examine the Lord’s final encounter with brash Peter, let’s look at a couple of other reasons John may have had to add the twenty first chapter to his book. I think John had  further purposes in mind: he wanted to refute the foolish rumor that had spread among the believers that he would live until the return of the Lord. Look at John 21:23: “So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?". John made it clear that our Lord’s words had been greatly misunderstood. But, I think John may have had another, more important purpose in mind: he wanted to teach us how to relate to the risen Christ and where we should be looking. During the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, our Lord appeared and disappeared at will, visiting with the disciples and preparing them for the coming of the Spirit and their future ministries (Acts 1:1-9). They never knew when He would appear, so they had to stay alert! (The fact that He may return for His people today ought to keep us on our toes!) It was an important time for the disciples because they were about to take His place in the world and begin to carry the message to others. I see in this 21st chapter three pictures of the believer. The first picture is one of fishing. It’s found in chapter 21:1-6; After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.
Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together.
Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, "Children, do you have any fish?" They answered him, "No."
He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.  The Lord had instructed His disciples to meet Him in Galilee, which helps to explain why they were at the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias (Matt. 26:32; 28:7-10; Mark 16:7). But John did not explain why Peter decided to go fishing, and Bible students are not in agreement. Some claim that he was perfectly within his rights, that he needed to pay his bills and the best way to get money was to go fishing. Why sit around idle? Get busy! That’s what I would do! I would go back to something I was good at if for no other reason than as a distraction. Others believe that Peter had been called from that kind of life (Luke 5:1-11) and that it was wrong for him to return. Furthermore, when he went fishing, Peter took six other men with him! If he was wrong, they were wrong too; and it is a sad thing when a believer leads others astray. Whether Peter and his friends were right or wrong we do not know — but we do know this: their fishing efforts were in vain. Had they forgotten the Lord’s words, “For without Me, ye can do nothing”? (John 15:5). Certainly, Peter must have remembered what happened two years before, when Jesus called him into full-time discipleship (Luke 5:1-11). On that occasion, Peter had also fished all night and caught nothing, but Jesus had turned his failure into success. Luke 5:11 says Peter forsook everything and followed Jesus. So why was peter fishing? Perhaps Peter’s impulsiveness and self-confidence were revealing themselves again. He was sincere, and he worked hard, but there were no results. Where was he looking. How like some believers in the service of the Lord! They sincerely believe that they are doing God’s will, but their labors are in vain. They are serving without direction from the Lord, so they cannot expect blessing from the Lord. Where are you looking? After His resurrection, our Lord was sometimes not recognized (Luke 24:16; John 20:14); so it was here. His disciples did not recognize Him when, at dawn, He appeared on the shore asking . “You have not caught anything to eat, have you?” Their reply was a brief  “No.” It was time for Jesus to take over, just as He did when He called Peter into discipleship. He told them where to cast the net; they obeyed, and they caught 153 fish! The difference between success and failure was the width of the ship! The difference between success and failure is in where you’re looking, isn’t it. We are never far from success when we permit Jesus to give the orders, and we are usually closer to success than we realize. It was John who first realized that the stranger on the shore was their Lord and Master. It is love that recognizes the Lord and shares that good news with others: “It is the Lord!” And it is still love that recognizes what Jesus has done for us, so we want to share this good news with others.  With characteristic impulsiveness, Peter quickly stripped for work” and dove into the water! He wanted to get to Jesus! The other six men followed in the boat, bringing the net full of fish. In the fishing expedition recorded in Luke 5, the nets began to break; but this time, the net held fast. Perhaps we can see in these two “fishing miracles” an illustration of how the Lord helps His people fish for lost souls. All of our efforts are useless apart from Jesus’ direction and blessing. We may not know how many fish we have caught, and it may appear that our nets are breaking! But at the end of the age, when we see the Lord, not one fish will be lost and we will discover how many we have helped catch. Wher are you looking? At the fish or at the Master? Jesus called the disciples and us to be “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19) This phrase was not invented by Jesus; it had been used for years by Greek and Roman teachers. To be a “fisher of men” in that day meant to seek to persuade men and “catch” them with the truth. A fisherman catches living fish, but when he gets them, they die. A Christian witness seeks to catch “dead fish” (dead in their sins), and when he or she “catches” them, they are made alive in Christ! Now we can understand why Jesus had so many fishermen in the disciple band seven of the twelve disciples were fishermen. Fishermen know how to work. They have courage and faith to go out “into the deep.” They have much patience and persistence, and they will not quit. They know how to cooperate with one another, and they are skilled in using the equipment and the boat. What examples for us to follow as we seek to “catch fish” for Jesus Christ! We are indeed “fishers of men,” and there are “fish” all around us. If we obey His directions, we will catch fish. Here ends the first picture – the picture of fishing. Let’s look at the second picture for the believer: the picture of eating. Fishing and eating go well together! Jesus met His disciples on the beach where He had already prepared breakfast for them. This entire scene must have stirred Peter’s memory and touched his conscience. Surely he was recalling that first catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11) and perhaps even the feeding of the 5,000 with bread and fish (John 6). It was at the close of the latter event that Peter had given his clear-cut witness of faith in Jesus Christ (John 6:66-71). The “fire of coals” would certainly remind him of the fire at which he denied the Lord (John 18:18). It is good for us to remember the past; we may have something to confess. We all learn from our mistakes. Revelation 2:5 tells us to remember our first works, repent when we fall, and come back to the Lord. Here Peter is lured from his busyness of fishing by the lure of cooking food. Three “invitations” stand out in John’s Gospel: “Come and see” (John 1:39); “Come and drink” (John 7:37); and “Come and dine” (John 21:12). How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before He dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, and enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly the spiritual is more important than the physical, but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not so emphasize “the soul” that He neglects the body. The third picture is the picture of the commissioning ceremony. Are you commissioned? If you are His child, you are commissioned. Jesus commissions us to work for Him. He does this by sanctifying us (1 Thess 5:23) and purifying us (1Jn 1:9). He calls us to put our faith into action. James speaks  of being doers of the Word, not just hearers in chapter one, verse 22. Then at the end of chapter 2, James boldly states that faith without works is dead. We are all commissioned! Now, let’s look at Peter’s commissioning. Peter and his Lord had already met privately and no doubt taken care of Peter’s sins (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5), but since Peter had denied the Lord publicly, it was important that there be a public restoration. Private sins should be confessed in private, public sins in public. Since Peter had denied his Lord three times, Jesus asked him three personal questions. He also encouraged him by giving a threefold commission that restored Peter to his ministry. Let’s look at this commissioning now. Turn to John 21:15 and we’ll read from there through verse 17: 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, "Feed my lambs."
He said to him 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, "Tend my sheep."
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 everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
 The key issue in this commissioning is Peter’s love for the Lord Jesus, and that should be a key matter with us today. Where are we looking? Where you are looking is where you are loving.  What did the Lord mean by “more than these”? Was He asking, “Do you love Me more than you love these other men?” Perhaps Jesus meant, “Do you love Me more than you love these boats and nets and fish?”  Or did the question mean, “Do you love Me—as you previously claimed?” Peter had boasted of his love for Christ and had even contrasted it with the other disciples. “I will lay down my life for Thy sake!” (John 13:37) “Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended!” (Matt. 26:33) There is more than a hint in these boastful statements that Peter believed that he loved the Lord more than did the other disciples. Many commentaries point out that, in this conversation, two different words are used for “love.” In His questions in John 21:15-16, our Lord used agape, which is the Greek word for the highest kind of love, sacrificial love, divine love. Peter always used phileo, which is the love of friend for friend, fondness for another. In John 21:17, Jesus and Peter both used phileo. However, it is doubtful that we should make too much of an issue over this, because the two words are often used interchangeably in the Gospel of John. In John 3:16, God’s love for man is agape love; but in John 16:27, it is phileo love. The Father’s love for His Son is agape love in John 3:35 but phileo love in John 5:20. Christians are supposed to love one another. In John 13:34, this love is agape love; but in John 15:19, it is phileo love. It would appear that John used these two words as synonyms, whatever fine distinctions there might have been between them. Before we judge Peter too severely, two other matters should be considered. When answering the first two questions, Peter did affirm his agape love when he said, “Yes, Lord!” The fact that Peter himself used phileo did not negate his wholehearted assent to the Lord’s use of agape. Second, Peter and Jesus undoubtedly spoke in Aramaic, even though the Holy Spirit recorded the conversation in common Greek. It might be unwise for us to press the Greek too far in this case. In spite of his faults and failures, Peter did indeed love the Lord, and he was not ashamed to admit it. The other men were certainly listening “over Peter’s shoulder” and benefiting from the conversation, for they too had failed the Lord after boasting of their devotion. Peter had already confessed his sin and been forgiven. Now he was being restored to apostleship and leadership. The image, however, changes from that of the fisherman to that of the shepherd. Peter was to minister both as an evangelist (catching the fish) and a pastor (shepherding the flock). It is unfortunate when we divorce these two because they should go together. Pastors ought to evangelize (2 Tim. 4:5) and then shepherd the people they have won so that they mature in the Lord. Let’s look now at the picture of the Shepherd Jesus gave three admonitions to Peter: “Feed My lambs,” “Shepherd My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.” Both the lambs and the more mature sheep need feeding and leading, and that is the task of the spiritual shepherd. It is an awesome responsibility to be a shepherd of God’s flock! (1 Peter 5:2) There are enemies that want to destroy the flock, and the shepherd must be alert and courageous (Acts 20:28-35). By nature, sheep are ignorant and defenseless, and they need the protection and guidance of the shepherd. While it is true that the Holy Spirit equips people to serve as shepherds, and gives these people to churches (Eph. 4:11ff), it is also true that each individual Christian must help to care for the flock. Each of us has a gift or gifts from the Lord, and we should use what He has given us to help protect and perfect the flock. Sheep are prone to wander, and we must look after each other and encourage each other. This is one part of our commissioning: to look out for one another, restore one another (Gal 6:1) and bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2) Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20-21), and the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Pastors are “under-shepherds” who must obey Him as they minister to the flock.  Our Lord’s sheep are dear to Him and He wants His ministers to love them and care for them personally and lovingly.  Jesus had just spoken about Peter’s life and ministry, and now He talks about Peter’s death. This must have been a shock to Peter, to have the Lord discuss his death in such an open manner. No doubt Peter was rejoicing that he had been restored to fellowship and apostleship. Why bring up martyrdom? Turn to John chapter 21 and we’ll read verses 18 and 19: Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go."
(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me."
The first time Jesus spoke about His own death, Peter had opposed it (Matt. 16:21ff). Peter had even used his sword in the Garden in a futile attempt to protect his Lord. Yet Peter had boasted he would die for the Lord Jesus! But when the pressure was on, Peter failed miserably. (You and I probably would have done worse!) Anyone who yields himself to serve the Lord must honestly confront this matter of death. When a person has settled the matter of death, then he is ready to live and to serve! Our Lord’s own death is a repeated theme in John’s Gospel: He knew that His “hour” would come, and He was prepared to obey the Father’s will. We as His followers must yield ourselves—just as He yielded Himself for us—and be “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1-2) who are “ready to be offered” (2 Tim. 4:6-8) if it is the will of God. Earlier that morning, Peter had “girded himself” and hurried to shore to meet Jesus (John 21:7). The day would come when another would take charge of Peter—and kill him (see 2 Peter 1:13-14). Tradition tells us that Peter was indeed crucified, but that he asked to be crucified upside down, because he thought himself not worthy to die exactly as his Master had died. But Peter’s death would not be a tragedy; it would glorify God! This should be our desire as well, to glorify God in life or death. Our Lord’s words to Peter, “Follow Me!”. Literally, Jesus said, “Keep on following Me.” Jesus knew Peter’s tendency to take his eyes off His Lord, a mistake he had made at least two other times. After that first great catch of fish, Peter took his eyes off his Lord and looked at himself. “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8) When he was walking on the stormy sea with Jesus, Peter looked away from the Lord and began to look at the wind and waves; and immediately he began to sink (Matt. 14:30). It is dangerous to look at the circumstances instead of looking to the Lord. Where are you looking? Why did Peter look away from his Lord and start to look back? Let’s look at verses 20 through 23: Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?"
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?"
Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!"
So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?"
 He heard somebody walking behind him. It was the Apostle John who was also following Jesus Christ. Peter did a foolish thing and asked Jesus, “What shall this man do?” In other words, “Lord, you just told me what will happen to me; now, what will happen to John?” The Lord rebuked Peter and reminded him that his job was to follow, not to meddle into the lives of other believers. Beware when you get your eyes off the Lord and start to look at other Christians! “Looking unto Jesus” should be the aim and practice of every believer (Heb. 12:1-2). To be distracted by looking at ourselves, our circumstances, or by looking at other Christians, is to disobey the Lord and possibly get detoured out of the will of God. Keep your eyes of faith on Him and on Him alone. Where are you looking? This does not mean that we ignore others, because we do have the responsibility of caring for one another (Phil. 2:1-4). Rather, it means that we must not permit our curiosity about others to distract us from following the Lord. God has His plan for us; He also has plans for our Christian friends and associates. How He works in their lives is His business. Our business is to follow Him as He leads us (see Rom. 14:1-13). Henry Blackaby says, “I recall a critical time in my own ministry when I was disturbed because other ministers were apparently getting God’s “blessing” in abundance while I seemed to be reaping a meager harvest. I must confess that I envied them and wished that God had given their gifts to me. But the Lord tenderly rebuked me with, “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” It was just the message I needed, and I have tried to heed it ever since.” The book ends with Peter and John together following Jesus, and He led them right into the Book of Acts! What an exciting thing it was to receive the power of the Spirit and to bear witness of Jesus Christ! Had they not trusted Him, been transformed by Him, and followed Him, they would have remained successful fishermen on the Sea of Galilee; and the world would never have heard of them. Jesus Christ is transforming lives today. Wherever He finds a believer who is willing to yield to His will, listen to His Word, and follow His way, He begins to transform that believer and accomplish remarkable things in that life.  Peter and John have been off the scene (except for their books) for centuries, but you and I are still here. We are taking their place. What a responsibility! What a privilege! We can succeed only as we permit Him to transform us. So, the question is, what are you going to do about it?  That’s the ultimate test, isn’t it? You may read great books and hear wonderful messages and be a serious student of God’s Word, but what good is it if you don’t allow them to convict you of the need to change, and then allow the Holy Spirit to change you. So, I ask you again, where are you looking? What are you going to do about what you’ve just heard?

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