In this Easter Season it’s helpful to reflect on the deeper significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, so life changing is it, that it’s also useful to be equipped with answers to questions about it.
Ken Handley, a retired Justice of the Court of Appeal in New South Wales, Australia, has commented: ‘Most people who reject the resurrection do so with a closed mind without looking at the evidence. This is irrational and foolish. Jesus, the Son of God, who died to make us right with God, is calling each of us into a relationship with him which will involve faith, repentance, forgiveness and obedience. The Christian answers to those nagging personal questions make sense of the Cosmos and our place and purpose in it…’
In the opening segment of John 21 we learn that seven of Jesus’ disciples, including Simon Peter, went fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) in the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection. However, as they were returning to shore a voice called out asking if they had caught anything. Receiving a negative answer, the voice encouraged them to cast their nets on the right-hand side of the boat. Even though they didn’t know who it was, they followed the advice and quickly found that the nets were overfull with fish. ‘It is the Lord!’ John quietly said to Peter (21:7). Keen to see Jesus once again, Peter threw himself into the water.
As an eyewitness John the Gospel writer provides precise details: the boat was in shallow water, being only 100 yards offshore, and the catch of large fish numbered 153 (21:11). Fabricated accounts don’t give such unexpected detail. They found Jesus by a charcoal fire with fish laid out, as well as some bread. ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’, Jesus said … ‘Come and have breakfast’ (21:12). Jesus not only turned out to be their provider that morning but cooked and served them breakfast – something apparitions cannot do (21:13).
John records: it was the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:14). And as we read on, we find that Jesus had a special word for Peter that day.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ When Peter had first encountered the power of Jesus’ words, he had said, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8). And on the night of the Last Supper Peter had said, ‘Lord I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death’ only then to deny Jesus three times, as Jesus had predicted (Luke 22:33f).
Like us, Peter was a sinner, in need of forgiveness. He sorely wanted Jesus’ assurance. He knew that without Jesus’ forgiveness their relationship would be broken; it would also mean that he could never be what Jesus had said he would be one day, ‘catching men and women’ – with God’s good news. (Luke 5:10).
‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Jesus asked him. Three times Jesus asked the question. Three times Peter had denied the Lord, and now, three times Peter responded, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you’. Humbled and grieved for his failures, Peter felt the force of Jesus’ questioning. So much so that his third response reveals the depth of his contrition, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’ (21:17). The thrice repeated questions and Peter’s answers, assure Peter, in front of the other disciples, that the Lord had fully and freely forgiven him. It was a special word for Peter and for us all.
Furthermore, Jesus now had work for him to do. For with his response to Jesus’ three questions, he is commissioned with, ‘Feed my lambs’, ‘feed my sheep’ – God’s people, the children and the adults, the young in the faith as well as those who are mature in their faith.
The imagery of shepherd and sheep bubbles throughout the Bible. In Psalm 23 David speaks of the Lord as his shepherd and John chapter 10 records Jesus’ words, ‘I am the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14). Psalm 100 says, Know the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Isaiah chapter 40, verse 11 tells us, He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Verse 6 of Isaiah chapter 53 begins with a sobering note about everyone of us, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to our own way; and then foreshadows what God will do, And the Lord has laid on him (the suffering servant – the Son of God) the iniquity of us all. It is a prophetic word about the significance of the death of Jesus: Christ died in our place (Romans 5:6, 8).
Jeremiah chapter 3, verse 15 sets out another facet of God’s plans for his people, ‘I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding’. These words stand behind Jesus’ charge to Peter as well as those of Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Ephesians when he speaks of God giving various ministries to his people – some as apostles (the foundational ministries), some as prophets, some as evangelists, and others as pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11f).
The ministry of God’s Word is the key to effective pastoral care and the growth of God’s people. Without announcing God’s good news, how will people be rescued? (Romans 10:14f) Unless God’s people are taught God’s truth, how will they grow in their love for the Lord? (Colossians 3:16f). How will we know that all men and women, created equal in God’s eyes, are designed to know and love him, and enjoy him forever? How will we know what true compassion and justice are? Without God’s external written revelation, how will understand that our reasoning and decisions are so often flawed? God alone can teach us the wisdom we need for life in a self-centered world until the day of the return of his King.
In his First Letter, Peter says, shepherd the flock of God among you … And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:2, 4).
Do you love me? the risen Jesus asks. Feed my sheep – children and teenagers, unmarried and married, and the elderly.
A prayer. Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly living; give us grace so that we may always thankfully receive the immeasurable benefit of his sacrifice, and also daily endeavor to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore. Amen.
You may like to listen to Facing the Task Unfinished from Keith and Kristyn Getty.