John dedicates the last chapter of his gospel to his friend, Peter. These two, along with John’s brother, James, made up Jesus’ inner circle. They were privileged to hear and see things the other disciples missed, and as a result, were given great responsibilities. James would become the first disciple martyred, a catalyst of the beginning persecution of the church (Acts 12:1-3). Peter would grow into a mighty evangelist focused on the Jewish nation, and John would become a beloved pastor, destined to proclaim the secrets of the end of the age (Revelation).
Built on spiritual intimacy and a love for Jesus, Peter and John had to be close friends – brothers, indeed, in the faith. John must have known the great depths of Peter’s despair when he denied knowing Jesus in His moment of trial. He takes a whole chapter to describe how Jesus restored him to the kingdom work to which he had been called.
It begins with a fishing trip. Peter is at loose ends, having seen the Risen Jesus but unsure now of what his life is to be. Jesus isn’t walking with them daily anymore but making occasional appearances during the forty days after His resurrection. On the spur of the moment, Peter declares, “I am going fishing,” and six of the others join him for a night on the sea.
Unfortunately, Peter seems to have lost his skills as a fisherman. They work hard all night; by dawn, they have nothing to show for their efforts. As the sky lightens, they have given up, pulled in their nets, and are drifting toward the shore. Suddenly, Jesus is standing on the beach; they see Him but do not realize yet it is the Savior. His initial words sum up their night of fruitless efforts: Children, you do not have any fish, to you? (John 21:5). As they affirm His observation, He tells them to cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and promises a catch. As they obey, their nets are immediately filled with a great haul – 153 fish in all, so heavy they cannot lift it into the boat, but have to pull it behind them to shore.
As the nets fill miraculously, Peter immediately recognizes Jesus. He jumps into the sea to help pull the nets to shore. As always, he wants to be the first to greet Jesus.
Jesus sits with them, serving breakfast on the beach. It is here that he brings Peter back into the fold fully, giving him three opportunities to declare his love for Jesus, just as he denied three times. Each time, Jesus gently reminds Peter what the focus of his life is to be. He will tend and shepherd the sheep of the Good Shepherd.
The setting isn’t random or coincidental. Jesus called Peter from his fishing boat as He invited him and Andrew to “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). When Jesus calls you and invites you to join His kingdom, it’s forever (Romans 11:29). When things get difficult, or hard to understand, we don’t go back to our old lives. What once fulfilled us will be empty, fruitless, and will only be done in vain. Whatever our work, once you meet Jesus, it only has meaning if it’s done for Christ.
Peter had a special call to full-time evangelism, to literally “fish for men,” but as Jesus reminds us, we are all called to deny ourselves and lay down our lives for the gospel (Luke 9:23; Matthew 28:19-20). Peter’s mission would conclude as a martyr, crucified upside down by his persecutors. In the same way, we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice and use our daily work as a platform to tell the same story Peter and John were called to tell the world (Romans 12:1-2).
Today is Friday. Take a look back at your week. Are you like Peter, tired from vain efforts with no impact? Do you hear Jesus’ gentle words, “You don’t have any fish, do you?”
Do your work with a greater purpose in mind – kingdom work that produces supernatural results. Try as you might, your old life will never satisfy once you’ve met the Savior. Have you failed? Be restored. Have you forgotten? Remember why He called you. The time is short. Don’t waste another day on things that don’t matter or have earthy meaning only. Spend your life for Him. You will produce fruit that has eternal consequences, and you will find your real purpose as a disciple.