Resurrection Evidence: Feed My Sheep
Matthew Lesson #201
May 20, 2018
Father, we are indeed so very grateful for all that You’ve provided for us, what You have revealed to us in Your Word, for it is in the light of Your Word, as the Psalmist says, that we see light. It is Your light that illuminates our understanding, our thinking, so that we can make wise decisions, so that we can come to understand the real issues in life, and we can think about what we face in life in terms of what You have revealed to us.
“And as we learn the episodes and circumstances and situations of those revealed in the Scripture, they help us to think through the problems, the challenges they faced and what principles are being illuminated for our application.
“Father, we pray as we study today You’d help us to understand this important passage and its implication for our thinking, our understanding, and our priorities.
“And we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
We’re in John 21 today, and in this passage we’re going to see the third appearance, the third post-resurrection appearance of our Lord to His disciples. The first time He appeared to the disciples there were only ten of them. Thomas was absent. That was on the day of the resurrection itself.
Then He appeared later to the disciples, one week later, so seven days have gone by.
One week later He appears to the Eleven. Now Thomas is present. We studied that last time. The scene where Thomas had said after hearing the other disciples had seen the resurrection Lord that he said, “I’m not going to believe it until I can put My fingers into the nail prints and into His side, and, of course, the Lord appeared and said, “Okay, put your fingers into the wounds. You can test it out for yourself. I am raised.” And he said, “My Lord and My God!”
The resurrection was the eighth sign. And so those are the two appearances.
Then, maybe, another week or so goes by before this event occurs, which is the third appearance. We don’t know exactly how long it went, but it seems that it would’ve taken the disciples three days at least to have made it up north to Galilee, so that would put it in the middle of the week, Tuesday at the earliest, Wednesday, Thursday, and it almost seems as if they’re getting a little bored waiting for the Lord, and when Peter says that he wants to go fishing, maybe it’s motivated by the need to get back into business, get some operating capital. We don’t really know. The text doesn’t bring out those things because it’s not important.
What is important is the lesson that is being taught here. Jesus is going to appear on the scene after the disciples have had a frustrating night of not catching anything.
I can relate to that. You go fishing with me, you will not catch anything, or maybe you will, but I won’t. I have a consistent record. When I go fishing, I don’t catch anything.
I have a friend of mine I’ve known since college. He has a bass boat, he goes fishing all the time. He knows where to fish. When we go together, he might catch one, which is really embarrassing for him. I will not catch anything. I figure, “Okay, I’m going to go with somebody who is really good.”
So maybe that’s a prerequisite for being a disciple, you can’t catch fish, because the only time the disciples caught fish in their whole career was when Jesus showed up. It sort of makes you wonder how successful they were before the Lord showed up.
Anyway, the point in all of this is that Jesus is going to be on the shore, and He will tell them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. That’s because people are truly fed by the right. I just had to make that implication there, even though the left wants to give it all away, that doesn’t truly feed people. Anyway, I couldn’t avoid that. So he had to cast the net on to the right side of the ship, and they brought in just an incredible load of fish. But that’s not the point.
The point is when they come to shore, Jesus is going to have a fire going. There’s already fish there. It’s not ones that they caught, because then He tells them to bring the load of fish onto the shore. And then Jesus feeds them. That’s the point. Jesus feeds them.
And that transitions into this conversation that Jesus has with Peter, “Do you love Me? Feed My sheep.” Jesus had just shown that He is the One who will feed them and is sufficient to provide their physical needs, as well as their spiritual needs. Now He uses that to teach that that is their priority, is going to be to feed the sheep. That’s the connection.
What’s interesting is, as I’ve studied, this is one of my favorite passages to both study and teach because the first and primary reason, it really shows the priority for the ministry of the apostles, and by extension, the ministry of the pastor-teacher to feed the sheep, but second because it’s one of those passages where very few commentators, I’ve heard a lot of preachers get it right, but in the commentaries I see very few that really make these kinds of connections. They treat the first 14 verses as one episode, and then the next one as a separate, and that they botch that because of the way it’s set up, but we will get to that.
So Jesus is teaching in this that the priority for the church, the priority for the leaders in the church, the pastor, the priority for the apostles was to “feed My sheep.”
Now as we saw last time, John is organized, the Gospel’s organized around eight different signs. Signs that demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah: He changes the water into wine. He heals the nobleman’s son from a distance. There’s the healing at Bethsaida. There’s feeding of the 5,000. There’s the walking on the water. The healing of the man born blind. The raising of Lazarus. And then the eighth and final sign is His own resurrection.
Those signs then, as I pointed out last time, formed the structure and the argument that John is laying out here.
Then we’re told at the end of John 20 in a summary statement, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book.”
So there are signs that were done prior to the crucifixion, during the period of His ministry, but also signs that are done after the events of John 21. Because remember what we’re told by John, is that the appearance of Jesus to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee is His third post-resurrection appearance.
So the first one we know about, that’s when He appeared in the room and there were only 10 of them. Then He appeared one week later. So no more appearances during that that one week. That’s the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He showed up the next Sunday. That’s when He confronted Thomas. And then they finally left and did what He had originally told them to do, and that is to go to Galilee where He said He would meet them.
I believe He did other things after that, as well, and this is John’s summary: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book, but these—and that word “these” refers to the signs. See it’s—truly Jesus did many other signs, but these are written—that is, these eight that he’s drawn from of all the many that Jesus did—are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ—that is, He is the Messiah.” He fulfills those signs.
These miracles that Jesus performed, healing a leper, healing certain diseases, giving sight to the blind, and raising someone from the dead were signs that the rabbis during the period of the Second Temple stated would be the indisputable evidences of the presence of the Messiah. And yet when He showed up and did these things, they rejected them. The point is that no matter how many miracles Jesus could perform, if you’re not interested in learning about God or learning about salvation, you will reject them as the truth, because the issue isn’t miracles.
One reason I point that out is you often hear people make statements along the lines that if Jesus would just appear and do X, Y, or Z, then my friends, my family, my whoever would finally believe. What the Scriptures articulate so clearly is the statement of Abraham in Luke 16 to the rich man who is in Torments, “If they don’t believe Moses and the prophets, they’re not going to believe someone who rose from the dead.”
The signs will convince those who are positive, but not those who are negative. But they demonstrate, they’re not proofs. They demonstrate that Jesus is who He claimed to be, the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. It’s not by believing plus anything. That’s the simplicity of the gospel.
I believe it is so simple because sin is so complex and the consequences of sin are so complex that for human beings to think that there’s anything they can do to contribute to the process of their salvation is indeed arrogance. It minimizes what sin is and what it has done, and it maximizes in many ways human ability and human goodness.
So we’re then told that after these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. Tiberias was a Roman city that is located south of where these events took place. It was not a place where Jesus went during His incarnation, and Jews did not frequent it, but because of its presence, the Sea of Galilee was often called the Sea of Tiberias. Actually, it’s not a sea, it’s a lake.
The Greek word THALASSA can refer to either a freshwater lake or a saltwater sea, and so it was mistranslated by the early King James translators in earlier English Bibles as a sea, but it is called Lake Chinnereth in Hebrew today or Gennesaret.
If you look here on the picture that I have, it is up in this area right here, which is where there is a kibbutz called Ginosar, which is one place we stay on our Israel trip.
So He’s going to show that, and this is how it happens when it says, “and in this way He showed himself,” that is a translation, the same word that we have in John 3:16.
John 3:16 says, “For God—it’s translated for God so loved the world, but the word that is translated “so” is the same word here that is translated “in this way.” That’s what it means, that “God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son.” So that word is translated correctly here, and it introduces what will take place.
So we read in verse 2, “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee …” Nathanael hasn’t been on the scene since John 1, when Jesus talked to him—the sons of Zebedee—that’s James and John—and two others—who are unnamed. That’s typical of John not to name all the disciples who were present.
Then “Peter says to them, ‘I’m going fishing.’ ”
Now remember, this is a commercial enterprise, and they had a large enough vessel to where they could at least get as many as this text indicates, 153 fish. That is a large supply of fish, and so that was their commercial business.
So they say, “We will come with you.” Remember, James and John were also in business with Peter and Andrew, his brother, and so they got in the boat and they went out at night.
It’s better to fish at night. The fish are feeding, especially if there is a full moon or a waning moon, and also then in the morning you have fresh fish that you can take to market and sell. But they didn’t catch anything.
As the dawn came, the day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach, and they did not know that it was Jesus.
Now, I use this picture, it’s a little dark, but on the boat here, when I took the picture, I was about hundred yards off the shore. So if somebody is standing there, you really don’t see them very well. You cannot make out features enough to necessarily identify someone.
But it’s also interesting that in Jesus’ resurrection body, every time He shows up He’s not immediately recognized, so a number of people have observed that it appears there may be something about the resurrection body that is enough different to where it may not be immediately recognizable, but there is enough similarity to where it is. It can also be that the identity is being cloaked, and this happened earlier, that Jesus’ identity is being cloaked by God, so they don’t see Him. But the text doesn’t make an issue out of any of those things. It just says they didn’t realize who it was. I think that it’s easier just to take the simplest explanation that Jesus is 100 yards away and they just see a man there. They’re not sure who it is at that point.
Jesus said to them, begins to question them, “Do you have any fish” and they said, “No.”
Now what they would do, they had a couple of different ways. They had smaller nets, but they also had these larger nets.
Slides 8 and 9
I got a series of shots here out on one of the boats that they have for tourists on the Sea of Galilee. And what they do is they take these nets and they’re weighted at the bottom, and they fold them a particular way, and then as he puts it over his arm, he throws it out like you’d be throwing a Frisbee.
As he throws it out, you can see just the vague outline. See how it opens up. All the way around here is the shadow of the white net that goes out. So as he throws it like a Frisbee, it just spreads out into a huge circle, and then it’s weighted so it drops down, and then it will capture any fish that are under it, and then he pulls it back into the vessel. This would be the kind of net they were using in this scene.
They used another net that they would drag behind the vessel, but the language here doesn’t support that because they’d been fishing on one side of the boat, and Jesus is going to say cast it on the right side of the boat in verse 6.
He says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
Some people say that because of the light refraction where Jesus was standing, He could see what they could not see, that there were fish on that side. I think that minimizes the supernatural reality that’s going on here: a) Jesus is omniscient, b) Jesus is the sustainer, c) Jesus is the Creator and He is omniscient and He knows where the fish are, and He had those 153 fish there for a reason. He’s in control of the situation because He has an important lesson to teach the disciples at this point.
So at that point they cast and they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish, so it’s at capacity. We’re told later it doesn’t tear the net, but, it’s at capacity.
So once this happens—I think there are some little differences that are brought out between John and Peter. We see the disciple whom Jesus loved, that’s a reference to John, and he says to Peter “It’s the Lord!”
John has a little more spiritual discernment. He’s a little quicker on it than Peter is and then we’re going to see Peter’s response.
But I want to stop a second. When you read through John, one of the things that always has impressed me and it does in this whole episode, all the way down to the end of the Gospel, is that John is writing this when he’s around 85 or 90 years of age. He’s writing this somewhere near the end of the century. Some people say he wrote it before he wrote Revelation. Some people say afterword. We’re not sure, but we are sure of is that this is his mature reflection on Jesus’ ministry and teaching.
He’s had about 60 years to think about what Jesus taught, and he’s been teaching this as part of his ministry as an apostle and remembering what Jesus taught, and so when he writes this down, it’s interesting to think about his thoughts some 60 years later, as Jesus is teaching them to feed the sheep.
His 60 years of ministry as an apostle feeding the sheep and seeing what has happened during that period of time because not only was there the enormous expansion of the church in response to the gospel on the Day of Pentecost in the immediate weeks after that that are described in the first of five or six chapters of Acts, but also the expansion of the church because in his later ministry, John is in Ephesus.
He’s the pastor of one of the congregations in Ephesus, just as Paul and been there before, as Timothy was there, and others had pastored, and he could have written this one when he was on the Isle of Patmos along with Revelation. He could’ve written it afterword or before, but he knows what to focus on. First of all because He is under guidance by God the Holy Spirit, but also because of how he has thought this through and seen it work itself out. So he understands in a richer way the implications of what Jesus is saying than He did when Jesus said it.
So he understands who Jesus is, identifies Him, and when Peter hears, he’s always the impetuous one, the man of action, and says that “he put on his outer garment.” So he would have stripped down, not naked, but he would’ve stripped down to just his basic undergarments to have freedom of movement as he is throwing out the nets and fishing.
Then it says he “put on his outer garment.” Literally the word means to tuck it in. So he takes the outer garment and he girds himself. The King James translates it that way. Some of the older versions do as well, which means he’s gathering it up and he’s tying it together and tucking it in so it doesn’t get in the way or get weighted down and hinder his swimming in to the shore.
So he’s got about 100 yards to go, and I’m not exactly sure where they were or what the depth was, but I know when we go to Nof Ginosar they have a beach there, and that’s not very far from this area, that it’s shallow for a long ways out.
We’ve gotten to the point where when we go to Israel, we do our baptisms there. They have a touristy place for baptisms down on the south end of the Sea of Galilee, and I just don’t like going there and taking people there, and some of you been there with me and been baptized there, but a couple years ago when we started staying, or a couple trips back when we started staying at Nof Ginosar, they have a nice beach. The trouble is it’s shallow. You have to walk out about 50 yards before you have enough depth to be able to baptize people. So it’s a great place for swimming, but not necessarily for baptizing because it’s hard to preach the gospel. I preach the gospel at the beach, and then take people out, but it’s hard to be heard when you’re that far out.
Anyway, so I think that what we see here, and also it is pictured in this picture, which is taken in the area. It’s now called Tabgha, which is based on an Arab word for these hot springs, there’s some warm water that comes out from springs in that area. It’s a very popular place to go fishing because as the warm water comes out because of the underwater vegetation that grows there, it is not hot water, but it’s warmer water, that this is a place where the fish will come to feed, and so this is a place where the fishermen will come to fish.
So at this location, it would’ve been shallow, so I imagine that Peter didn’t have far to swim before he could stand up and start running in to shore.
“The other disciples came in the little boat and dragging the net behind them.”
So this would have been quite heavy. I don’t know how large these fish were, but it was enough to strain the capacity of the net.
Then we’re told that “as soon they had come to land, they saw fire of coals there and fish laid on it, and bread.”
So Jesus has already made breakfast for everybody. Where the fish came from we don’t know, but I’m sure that He could make that appear miraculously. Who knows how He did all of that, but the meal is already prepared for them.
I think the implication as a lesson is that God has already prepared for us all that we need for our spiritual nourishment. Jesus has provided that for them. And He is going to use this to teach them about how they are to feed the sheep, just as He is providing for them and feeding them.
Then He tells them to “bring some of the fish that they have just caught.”
Now I cannot help but read this and think about what’s recorded in Matthew and Luke, that when Jesus called His disciples at the beginning, He said, “I will make you fishers of men.”
So there are many times in the Gospels where there are things that are said in relation to the role of a disciple, making a disciple, and its relationship to fishing.
In John 21:11 Peter goes up, not necessarily alone, but the other disciples are struggling with it. You get the idea that Peter is strong and he goes, and with his help, now they’re able to more efficiently, more easily, drag the net to the land.
It is filled with large fish, 153. It’s interesting whenever you have a number like that, that there’s going to be many, many people come along and try to find some spiritual significance of the number of 153. And I’ve had a break through and I will tell you the significance of 153. It means there were 153 fish. That’s it. It’s a huge number and that is, I think, the significance there, is that the Lord has supplied them to the max.
Anymore and the net probably would not have been able to hold them, and again we see an underlying theme in this of the provision of God for the nourishment of the disciples, that it is sufficient, it is abundant, it speaks of His grace.
The same is true for us as believers. God has given us that which we need to sustain us spiritually, and that is the role of the apostle in carrying out the great commission. We don’t have that stated in that way at the end here as in Matthew, which we’ll get to next week, but when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time, He told them that He was going to send them out.
This was probably a constant theme during His post-resurrection appearances, that this is the mission that you have, as Luke puts it in Acts, to take the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and then to the uttermost part of the world.
So there is a sufficient provision and that is what we should trust in. When we come to whatever situation we have in life where we wonder about what we need to sustain our lives, remember God is always going to give us what we need to carry out His mission for our lives.
The problem that we may be experiencing is because maybe we don’t have His mission as our priority. And so what God is not providing for us is to get our attention, so that we will focus on His mission for our life and not our mission. His mission for our life has nothing to do with your education, that is your formal education, doesn’t have anything to do with your career, it has to do with how God uses those things in order to give you and me opportunities to fulfill the real purpose that we are here, and that is to give people the gospel, to witness, and to be a testimony to God’s grace, not only in salvation but also in the spiritual life.
We’re told, “Jesus tells them to ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are you?’—knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.”
This is the point of this episode, is that Jesus is feeding the disciples. That then sets the framework for the conversation that is going to come up in verses 15 down through 17. Let’s look at the main teaching that comes out of this.
In John 21:15 this is a situation where Jesus is going to have a repetitive conversation with Peter. If you read it in the English, you’re going to miss a lot. When Jesus is talking here He uses four pairs of synonyms. To me the sad thing that I see in trends of exegesis today and in interpretation of the passage, is very few people think that these synonyms are significant.
In English, one of the characteristics of good writing is that you don’t repeat certain words within the context. You have to vary your vocabulary. If you don’t vary your vocabulary, then you’re considered to be not a very good writer.
But in the Bible a lot of times the Holy Spirit uses the same word over and over and over again. What you’ll find is that exegetes will say, “Well, you know when they translate it into English, they will translate the same word four or five different ways.
You get the reverse problem here. They can’t quite grasp what is going on here with these different sets of synonyms, and so now they will say this is just stylistic variation.
Well, when I come to the Bible and I’m doing my Bible study and I start seeing something like this going on, the first thing that comes to my mind is why is the Holy Spirit doing this? What’s significant about these word changes? How are we to understand the shift in these synonyms? They seem like they’re very close together in their meaning, but maybe the Holy Spirit is leading the writers to use these synonyms to bring out different significant points.
And I believe that if we believe that every word of Scripture is inspired by God, every jot and tittle which affects the forms of the words, of verb forms, whether it’s a past tense or future tense, whether it’s passive or active or middle voice, that even if it’s the same word, these variations become important. And then when we look at a passage like this where there are these different synonyms that are there, that we have to understand what that means.
So when we when we read the passage, when Jesus begins with this first question, “Simon, son of John—or Simon bar Jonah—do you love Me more than these,” He uses the word AGAPE. We will get into the details a little bit more, but when Peter responds and says, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You,” He uses a different word; He uses PHILEO.
He doesn’t respond, “Lord you asked me if I AGAPE You,” and He responds by saying, “I PHILEO You.” Why doesn’t Peter respond with the same verb?
Jesus doesn’t correct him right away, but He makes a point. He says, “Tend My lambs.”
The word “tend” here is a different word than the one you will find in the next statements where Jesus gives the command to “feed My sheep.” Tending and feeding are synonyms in English, and the words that are used in the Greek are synonyms. They are not the same. Then you have the word for lambs versus sheep. Young lambs versus more mature animals. So what is going on in this passage?
In the second exchange Jesus says, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?”—Asking the same question, “Do you AGAPE Me?” And Peter says, “Yes, Lord; You know that I PHILEO You.”
Now Jesus gives a different statement. He says, “Shepherd My sheep.”
So He shifts from “tend” to “shepherd” and from “lambs” to “sheep”.
Then in the third exchange, now Jesus changes His verb and He says, “Simon. son of John, do you for PHILEO Me?’ Peter’s grieved because He said to him the third time—Lord, I’ve answered this. You just keep asking me the same question. What do You really want here?— “And he says to Him, ‘Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You’—and he uses two different words for “know” here. See how fun this is?
It’s not just that there’s one set of synonyms because that’s what you’ll get from a lot of people, and that’s what I’ve heard before and I’ve heard this taught that emphasized the difference the two words for love, but there are four different sets of synonyms. This ought to wake people up. I don’t know any other passage in Scripture that has this kind of use of synonyms, where there are four different ones used so close together back and forth. So obviously something’s going on here.
So what we’ve learned in our study together over the years is that there are two key elements for interpretation—one is context and the other is words. Words have meaning and when you change from one word to another. There’s always some little shift of difference. but we have to come to understand something about the context. We can’t really understand all that is going on in a passage if we don’t really have a grasp of the context.
In this you have to have the broad context of the message of John’s Gospel, as well as a slightly narrow context, which has been going on since John 13, and the even narrower context of what we seen already in the first 14 verses of the passage. We have to look at keywords, and in this passage the keywords all relate to synonyms.
As I just pointed out, we’ve got the overall context, the immediate context, and then the third context is the context of a dispensational shift. We’re moving from the era of the focus on Israel and the role of the priests and the Torah to the Church Age and the leadership of the apostles and the message of the gospel to all people, Jew and Gentile, that is emphasized in the epistles of the New Testament.
When we look at John as the Gospel, there are two major things that we have to take into account when we look at the Gospel of John. The first is the message of life.
We look at this word “life” all the way through John, and it’s used again and again and again, and, for example, in John 20:30–31 we see that if we believe Jesus is the Christ, then we have life in in His name. Okay, we have life. This is eternal life. This is talking about unending life. This is when we die physically we’re absent from the body, we’re face-to-face with the with the Lord, and we have life eternal.
But then there is a second emphasis on life in John and that is on what we called the abundant life, life abundant, the Christian life, the post-salvation life of the believer as we grow to spiritual maturity.
In John 10:10 Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life—that’s Phase 1 justification by faith alone—and that they may have it more abundantly—that is Phase 2. That is sanctification.”
So John’s Gospel focuses on both of these aspects: How you know that you have eternal life, so that when you die you go to Heaven, and how you can sustain and mature and nourish that new life that you have in Christ.
So that that becomes the focus, and this will become the focus in this episode because the feeding here, the sustenance of the disciples, is used to teach the importance of feeding the sheep and tending the sheep.
We see from the surrounding context of John that the believer must be consistently and frequently fed to be properly nourished and to grow spiritually. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter what house you live in. It doesn’t matter. The status symbols that you have. Think about eternity. How long does eternity last?
Compared to eternity this life is less than a drop in all of the oceans, yet we spend so much of our time focused on taking care of ourselves and creating the kind of environment around us that we want to provide for our comfort and our security, that we are not nourishing ourselves for the long game, and the long game is really, really long.
We spend all of our time on the short game.
Now it’s important, especially if you’re going hungry or you can’t pay your bills and things of that nature, to have the immediate needs taken care of, but we get so wrapped up in taking care of the immediate needs and solving the immediate problems that we’re not spending time on the long game and providing for our long-term needs.
So that’s what is being emphasized here, is the role of the apostle to those he will disciple. And the role of the pastors that subsequently follow through the centuries is to nourish the sheep, so that they can grow spiritually.
Second, it is the growing and maturing believer that is going to be characterized by love for other believers. You see the keyword that we find in John 13 through 21 in this context comes out of Jesus’ new commandment that we’ve been studying on Thursday night is love. “A new commandment,” Jesus says, “I give to you that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Notice He doesn’t say, “Everybody’s going to know you’re My disciple because of your control of theology.” He doesn’t say, “Everybody’s going to know that you’re My disciple because you can unscrew the inscrutable.” Nobody’s going to know you’re a disciple because you memorize so much Scripture and you can read it off off the top of your head.
All of those may be important, but the bottom line—and this is what we were covering this last Thursday night—Paul’s saying that if I have all these gifts and all knowledge and all prophecy, and if I have enough faith to move mountains, but I don’t have love, I’m nothing.
Love is the central foundational virtue that is developed in us as a fruit of the Spirit that is foundational, and if we’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter what else we do in life. It’s not going to count in terms of our spiritual growth and eternity. Remember, love is the first virtue mentioned in the fruit of the Spirit. So there’s this emphasis here.
We see in John 13:1, “Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus because He knew that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
Twice we have forms of AGAPAO here. This sets this stage of what will be the undergirding doctrine that is emphasized in the subsequent chapters.
As we go through this, we see this emphasis on love in that basic commandment in John 13:34 and 35. Let me give you an idea of the proportion and emphasis that we have on love in John.
The verb AGAPAO is used in John only seven times before John 13. But from John 13 to 16 it’s used 20 times. If you analyze the differences, its usage before is not always in relation to the spiritual life or God’s love. It mostly is, but there’s other examples of people loving different things. So we see that there’s an emphasis from John 13 to 16 on AGAPAO.
We see that there is the relationship also on not only the verb, but also we have it on the noun. The noun is used seven times in this section, but it’s only used once before John 13.
Love is a major theme, but it’s not used at all in John 17 to 20. Now I wonder why that could be? Think about it. John 17 is called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. He is exemplifying love for the believer as He is praying for the believer to the Father in John 17. In John 18 and 19 what is Jesus doing? What is the command? That you are to “love one another as I have loved you”.
John 18 and 19 are focusing on Christ’s love for us, going through His arrest and crucifixion. So the reason you don’t see the word used after John 16 is because John 17, 18, and 19 are depicting what that love is, that it is to be the basis for our love for one another.
Then when we get to John 21, of course, we have it in this section.
PHILEO is used 13 times, only four times before John 13, so that means eight times after John 13, and the noun is use six times total, two times before John 13, four times after.
So that tells us that the emphasis that we have here in this latter part is on love, and so Jesus says certain things about love.
In John 15:9 He says, “As the Father loved Me, I also love you; abide in My love.”
That’s fellowship. That is the basis for developing our impersonal love for others, our unconditional love for others, is that we are abiding in the Father’s love. That’s what comes first. That’s why when we organize the spiritual skills, it’s that personal love for God the Father that precedes impersonal or unconditional love for others.
The reason we use that word “impersonal” is because it doesn’t necessitate a personal relationship. It’s not that it’s cold or unfeeling or anything like that. It’s that when that person cut you off on the freeway, you don’t know who he is, you don’t know if it’s male or female, you don’t know what race they are, you just have to respond to them in love.
The person at the other end of the line in a customer service call when you’re frustrated about your computer not working. You don’t know who they are. It’s impersonal. You don’t know the person. That’s why that word is used. It’s unconditional in that it is based not on how they respond or react to us, but it’s based upon God’s character.
John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The pattern is Christ’s love for us, and this is exemplified in His substitutionary death on the Cross.
John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends.”
But what’s the criteria for this? How do we know if we have love for God? It is obedience to the Word.
John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is He who loves Me. And he who loves me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
You can’t love God if you don’t know His Word, because you have to know His Word and the commandments, the mandates, the prohibitions. We’re not talking about the Torah, we’re talking about the commandments in the New Testament. If you don’t know them, you can’t obey them. If you’re not obeying them, you’re not loving God. That’s the measure of our love for God.
John 14:23, “Jesus said, ‘If anyone loves Me, He will keep My Word.’ ”
If you don’t know His Word, you can’t keep it. If you don’t keep it, you’re not loving God. So that is why there’s such a priority in the Scripture in knowing the Word of God.
John 14:24, “He who does not love Me does not keep My Words.”
So if you’re not keeping God’s Words, you’re not loving God. That doesn’t mean you’re not saved. It just means you’re not going anywhere in your spiritual life.
John 14:31, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do.”
Jesus exhibited His love for the Father by keeping God’s command for Him.
John 15:10, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.”
That’s fellowship, ongoing rapport with God. When we disobey the Word or break the commandments, then we’re out of fellowship. We’re not abiding in Christ anymore.
Then Jesus gets to the real significant part of the statement, as we look at this statement here. He says that “if you love Me, then feed My lambs.”
So the command to Peter is to love Jesus. When we love Jesus, what are we going to do? We’re going to obey the command. What is the command that is emphasized in these verses? “Feed My lambs.”
What we’ll see here in the synonyms is that the lamb is a baby believer. So we have to nourish and feed the babies. We have to feed the sheep; that is the maturing believers, the older believers. Too many churches aim everything at the baby believer, and they don’t provide anything for the older believer.
I learned a long time ago when I went through education, if the professor was teaching a little over my head, then I would reach up to be able to understand it. But if a professor is teaching at a really simplified level, then, I don’t know about you, but I get pretty bored. I want something that challenges my thinking and my understanding.
So if you target your teaching so that you are nourishing the maturing believers in the congregation, there’s a lot of food there for the babies. They’ll get a lot. Some of it they don’t get. That’s okay. They set that aside and move forward.
What Jesus says here is that the role of the apostle, the role of the pastor, is to feed the sheep.
Well, wait a minute. That’s not what’s going on in a lot of churches today. In a lot of churches what we have today is the idea that it’s the role of the pastor to build a large congregation and an enormous ministry, have multiple congregations around the city, that it is the pastor’s job and he’s treated as the CEO, and he is the one who is to build the church. But that’s not what Jesus said.
In Matthew 16:18 we have this interchange between again between Jesus and Peter. He says to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.”
Now I don’t want to get into the other details of the interpretation here. I just want to focus on the one phrase who builds the church. It’s not the pastor. It’s not the evangelist. It is Jesus who builds the church. It is the pastor who is to feed the sheep.
But what we have today are pastors usurping Jesus’ role in trying to build the church and delegating the feeding of the sheep to untrained amateurs in Sunday school, and so the sheep aren’t getting fed and the church is growing superficially in numbers, but not spiritually in reality.
The focus is on the Word. Jeremiah 15:16 says, “Your words were found, and I ate them—that means to take it in and internalize it—and Your word was to me joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”
Old Testament, New Testament, it’s the Word of God that nourishes and feeds the believer.
Peter got the point. Peter got the point in 1 Peter 2:2, He says, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.”
We have to grow by the Word. We don’t grow by what we sing, we don’t grow by being involved in programs, we grow by internalizing the Word.
2 Peter 3:18, he closes out his second epistle and he says, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s how you grow. You don’t grow any other way. And trust me, if you think that you can get nourishment by having a spiritual meal one hour a week, you’re fooling yourself and you’re playing games with God, because you’re in the world all the rest of the time being bombarded by the brainwashing methods of Satan over and over and over again. And if you think you can resist that by spending 30 minutes or 45 minutes a week at church, you’re just playing games. It’s not going to happen. We need to absolutely overwhelm our thinking with the Word of God.
Now we have jobs to do, we have all these other things that we have to do, but we have to carve out time every single day to be washed by the water of the Word. That’s the only way we’re ultimately going to grow and mature.
Now as we look at this passage, we have these four pairs of synonyms. We have “love,” AGAPAO and PHILEO, we have “know” OIDA and GINOSKO, we have “feed” or “tend,” POIMAINO and BOSKO, and “sheep” or “lambs,” ARNION and PROBATON.
Love, we’ll look at these terms. See, when you talk about synonyms, you have one word as this field of meaning [yellow circle]. The other word has this field of meaning [green circle]. They overlap. But just because there’s a lot of overlap between two words, it’s the area where they don’t overlap that is being emphasized.
So that one word, for example, in the yellow circle—if it’s in the yellow that’s not being touched by the green, then that’s a different meaning. You can have a word on the far end of the green circle that has a totally different sense than the far end of the yellow circle, but at some point the words overlap. And that’s part of what we get with some of these words.
With AGAPAO there’s this kind of overlap with PHILEO, but PHILEO in many cases has a more intense passion of personal love for someone. But AGAPE may include that, but it also focuses on where there’s not that intense personal relationship.
Sometimes you have other words like POIMAINO, which has everything to do with what you’re doing to take care of sheep, and BOSKO is like the green circle. It’s just focusing on feeding the sheep, which is one aspect of what a shepherd does in leading and providing for the sheep.
And then sometimes there’s just very little in common, but that’s maybe what’s being emphasized. So let’s quickly go through this.
“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, 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.’ ”
So if we expand this out to get the sense of it “ ‘Simon, do you love Me more than these others?’ ” In other words, “Do you love Me more than these others?” Because earlier, remember Simon is the one who says, “I’ll never desert You.” There is an implication here where Jesus is checking his arrogance factor. Are you still claiming you’re better than all of the others? Remember, it was Peter, James, and John that are vying to see who’s going to sit closest to the Lord in the kingdom.
So, “Simon, do you love Me more than these?” In other words, have you learned the lesson of humility yet?
He said to Him, “Yes Lord you know from Your omniscience—see, here is that word OIDA. OIDA has to do with that knowledge that would be intuitive or the knowledge that Jesus has in His deity as omniscience—You know—that is from Your omniscience—that I now have an intimate, intense love for You.” Remember, he’s been forgiven at this point. So he’s going a step further and he’s saying, “I have this intimate, intense love for You now that I’ve been forgiven and understand what grace is all about.”
And so Jesus says, “Feed My little lambs.” That’s the idea here, is it’s BOSKO, it’s feeding. It’s not POIMAINO yet, just feeding, just nourish the little lambs, the babes, the spiritual infants.
John 21:16, “He said him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’—And now Jesus says—‘Shepherd My sheep.’ ”
So, first you feed the babies. Now you’re going to lead and direct the more mature. John 21:16, “He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me—do you have AGAPE love for Me?—Peter said to Jesus; ‘Yes, Lord You know from Your omniscience that I have an intense, intimate love for You.”—He is really emphasizing his intense intimate love for the Lord, and so—Jesus said him, ‘Lead My sheep through the teaching of doctrine—through the teaching of My Word.’”
Peter learns his lesson. In 1 Peter 5:2–3 as He is talking to the leaders of the church that he’s addressing, he says, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you.” This is POIMAINO. It has to do with leading through the teaching of the Word.
So then “He says a 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 all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’ ”
But this time when Jesus spoke to him, now Jesus uses PHILEO. “He says, ‘Simon, son of John, do you really have this intimate, intense love for Me?’ And Peter is grieved because He said this third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ ”
“And then Peter replies and said, ‘Lord, You know all things—and he uses the word OIDA, which indicates omniscience—You know all of this in Your omniscience—and then he says not only that—You know’ ”—and he shifts to GINOSKO, which means something you learn from experience. You’ve learned from experience because You’ve seen with Your own eyes my response to Your forgiveness and the change in me because of the resurrection. So now when he shifts he says, “Not only do You know everything, but You’ve seen it, You’ve seen My change since You forgave me.”
And then Jesus says, “Peter—He goes back to BOSKO—Feed all My sheep.” That is a word that entails all of the sheep, the mature ones to the babies.
This is the responsibility of the church.
So Peter learns this, 2 Peter 3:18, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.”
We grow by the basis of knowledge. That’s how you’re fed.
This comes to pastors and teachers. Paul says in Ephesians 4:11 that we’re given the gift of pastors and teachers.
What are they to do? They’re to equip the saints for the work of the service of the ministry.
Evangelists are not given to go evangelize, although that may be a secondary aspect of their gift. Their primary purpose of their gift is to equip other believers to go witness.
We saw that with Gene Brown many times and learning from him and having some workshops on evangelism. That’s the biblical way of using an evangelist.
Acts 2:42. What happens in the early church? “They continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.”
The importance of teaching, are you devoted to the teaching of God’s Word? Is that a priority in your life? If I look at how you spend your time, are you spending your time making a priority of the study of the Word and internalizing it?
The result of this is wisdom. You’re not “tossed to and fro by waves of doctrine or the trickery of men.”
So the action items in ministry, we teach so that the result is evangelism, prayer, service, giving, encouragement, and teaching. That is all part of ministry.
But the foundation is being nourished on the word, without which there is no growth, without which, and you don’t just nibble, you have to sit down and eat solid nourishing meals where you really learn the word of God. This has to be the priority. If it’s a priority for the pastor, for the apostle, then the priority for those who he’s teaching is to spend time eating the food.
My priority is to feed the sheep. Your job is to eat the meal and apply it.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things, to be reminded of the priority of Your Word, and to focus on Your Word, and that it is through Your Word that that we grow and mature, we come to understand who You are and who we are. We come to understand our mission in life, and we get the tools, equipping that we need, so that we are able then to fulfill the mission that You’ve given to every believer in terms of witnessing and encouraging others to grow and mature in the body of Christ.
“Father, we pray that those who are here, those who are listening, either live or later, that that if there’s anyone who’s unsure of their salvation or uncertain of their eternal destiny that they would take this opportunity to make it both sure and certain.
“There’s only one condition and that is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The instant we believe as Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” The instant we believe we’re given eternal life, we’re given Christ’s righteousness, and we are brought into the eternal family of God, and we can never lose that salvation.
“So, Father, we pray that those listening, those who want to know You, those who want to live eternally will respond by faith in Jesus Christ.
“And for the rest of us, that we would come to understand that our mission is to grow and mature, and we do that through the study of Your Word, and that we need to make that a priority. We need to rethink how we spend our time and our talent and our treasure, so that the focal point will be on our spiritual growth.
“And we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”