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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
John 21

 

 

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Verse 1

John 21:1

I. In the touching incident related in this chapter, the first thing which strikes us is the grace of the Lord Jesus. Penitent as Peter was, it was needful to set him right with his brother apostles, whom he had first of all wronged by his forwardness, and next scandalised by his fall; and how admirably this is accomplished by the question: "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?" a question to which Peter replied so humbly, as to show that he claimed no pre-eminence even in affection; but so earnestly, that fellow-servants could not refuse the avowal which sufficed for the Master. So, in correcting any fault, in pointing it out, in trying to cure it, nay, in forgiving it, there is need for holy skill and tenderness.

II. A second lesson is the Saviour's wisdom in the selection of His agency. In that same apostolic band there was another to whom we might have expected that the Lord would have said, rather than to Peter, "Feed My lambs, feed My sheep." Yet, although John is the disciple whom the brethren love and whom the Saviour loved, in the work of planting the Church, and first preaching the Gospel, he was not put forward like that other who made so many false steps, and who had been repeatedly rebuked for his rashness.

III. When their Master's need was at the sorest, none of the disciples acted out and out the part of the noblest and most self-devoting friendship; but there were two whose fall is most conspicious, the one having betrayed Him, the other having, with oaths and execrations, repudiated all connection with Him. Both fell, but the one fell to rise no more; the other was not only recovered, but fully reinstated in the confidence of his brethren and in the favour of his Lord. What made the difference? It arose from this: there never was a time when Judas really loved his Master; Peter did. The mere professor of religion may fall and never be recovered. But if you can answer to the demand of Christ, "Yea Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee," His longsuffering mercy will not only pardon, but cure you; your diseases will be healed, your soul will be restored in the paths of righteousness, and you will be upheld by the Lord whom you follow.

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 241.


References: John 21:1.—J. Vaughan, Sermons, 13th series, p. 149. John 21:1, John 21:2.—C. Stanford, From Calvary to Olivet, p. 235.


Verses 1-14

John 21:1-14

I. It had been by a miraculous draught of fishes, like the one now before us, that, at the outset of His ministry, Christ had drawn away three at least of the seven now around Him, from their old occupations, and taught them to understand that in following Him they were to become fishers of men. Why was that miracle repeated? Because the lesson which it enforced was needed to be again given and enforced. Now that, bereft of the companionship of Christ, deprived of the means of support, if not driven by necessity, yet tempted by opportunity, they resume their ancient calling, was it not needful and kind in Jesus to interfere, and by the repetition of that miracle, whose symbolic meaning they could not fail at once to recognise, to teach them that their first apostolic calling still held good, that still the command was upon them: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men?"

II. The two miracles were substantially the same. Yet there were differences between them, perhaps indicative that the one, the earlier miracle, was meant to shadow forth the first formation; the latter miracle, the future and final ingathering of the Church. In the first instance, Christ was Himself in the vessel; in the second, He stood upon the shore. In the first the nets began to break and the ship to sink; in the second, nothing of the kind occurred. It may be a fancy to see in these and other diversities, the distinction between the present and visible effects of the casting forth of the gospel net upon the sands of time, and that landing and ingathering of the redeemed upon the shores of eternity. Treat this idea as we may, the image is a scriptural one, that both individually with Christians, or collectively with the Church, the present scene of things is the night of toil, through whose watches, whether fruitful or not of immediate and apparent good, we have to labour on, in hope of a coming dawn, when upon the blessed shores we shall hail the sight of the risen Lord, and share with Him in partaking of the provisions of a glorious immortality.

W. Hanna, The Forty Days, p. 108.


References: John 21:1-3.—B. F. Westcott, Revelation of the Risen Lord, p. 111. John 21:1-14.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 144.


Verse 3

John 21:3

I. The lot of Christ's disciples is usually a life of toil. In this, there is little difference between the Christian and the worldling; if anything, the difference is in the worldling's favour. The Christian is constrained to keep the king's highway, the beaten path of industry and straightforward honesty, and cannot shorten the journey by leaping fences, or trying an occasional near-cut through his neighbour's property. An omnipotent Master might have emancipated His servants from drudgery, but His wisdom—or, what is the same thing—His kindness, has judged that it is not good for man to be idle.

II. The toil of the disciple is not always successful. If for probationary purposes Infinite Wisdom has refused to make the Church on earth a playground or pleasure-ground, for the same reason He has refused to make it the infallible avenue to worldly wealth, the sure and certain passport to earthly rank or renown. A ship manned by good Christians, a concern in which none are embarked but disciples, may toil all night and catch nothing.

III. Of this calamity the great Eye is witness, and with this bitter grief the great Heart sympathises. It is not willingly or wilfully that He sends such an affliction; and as this incident teaches, if we take the Master's bidding, we shall yet be gainers by this loss; for this delay or disappointment we shall at last be all the richer. Had that throw of the net brought nothing from the lake, the Master had a meal prepared already on the land. So take His bidding, ply your calling, and if that calling fails to yield you food and raiment, you may fearlessly cast yourself on that all-embracing care and kindness by which the ravens are fed and the lilies are clothed.

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 252.


References: John 21:3.—G. Dawson, Sermons on Disputed Points, p. 148; Parker, City Temple, 1871, p. 285; J. N. Norton, The King's Ferry Boat, p. 213. John 21:3-6.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 239. John 21:4.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 227; M. Dix, Sermons, Doctrinal and Practical, p. 108. John 21:5.—J. N. Norton, Old Paths, p. 267. John 21:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 443; T. Birkett Dover, The Ministry of Mercy, p. 214.


Verse 7

John 21:7

I. A weary night, but Christ came in the morning. So at first we are apt to say; but it would be putting it more correctly if we said that Christ, who had been present all the night, allowed Himself to be seen in the morning. He was now risen from the dead, and had put on that glorious body which evades our grosser sense, and needs an act of will to make it visible.

II. A Saviour habitually recollected and realised was the distinctive feature of apostolic piety; not to the eye-witnesses alone, but to all who believed their testimony, and to whom the Holy Ghost revealed the things of Jesus, Christ was ever present—the spectator of their conduct, the guardian of their path, the president of their home, the light of the dungeon, the solace of earth, the attraction to heaven. And we cannot read the writings or the record of their lives without feeling that of their Christianity the keynote was struck on occasions like this, perhaps this very morning; and whether feeding the sheep or following the Master, whether toiling for a maintenance or catching men, we cannot but admire the simplicity and grandeur, the seriousness and happiness, in their deportment so blended, as of those who had never quite forgotten the sweet surprise at the Lake of Galilee, and to whom it might any moment again be whispered: "It is the Lord."

III. We need not toil with dejected looks and drowsy eyes, for close at hand is One who can in a moment fill the net, and who, even if the net were continuing empty, can still feed the fishermen. As soon as the disciples were come to land, they saw that it was not for His own sake, but theirs, that Christ had asked: "Have ye any meat?" and although He allowed them to make their own addition to the banquet, they saw that, even if they had continued to catch nothing, their Master would not have suffered them to starve. Let us learn to trust in Him who can prepare a table in the wilderness, and who, when His people have been forced to acknowledge, "We have nothing of our own," loves to surprise them with the invitation, "Come and dine."

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 263.


I. They only see aright who see Christ in everything. This word of John's, "It is the Lord," ought (1) to be the conviction with the light of which we go out to the examination of all events, and to the consideration of all the circumstances of our earthly life. (2) It is the only conviction that is adequate either to explain or to make tolerable the circumstances of our earthly condition. (3) It should guide us in all our thoughts about the history and destinies of mankind and of Christ's Church.

II. Only they who love, see Christ. John, the apostle of love, knew Him first. There is no way of knowing a person except love. "He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love."

A. Maclaren, Sermons preached in Manchester, 2nd series, p. 183.


References: John 21:7.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 316; J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 68; J. Fraser, University Sermons, p. 123. John 21:10-25.—Parker, Christian Commonwealth, vol. vii., p. 143.


Verse 12

John 21:12

I. The Recognition. Three things contributed to it. (1) The love. Who, but One, so busies Himself about His redeemed? (2) The wisdom. Who, but One, could know or even dare to advise upon a matter to all appearance so casual and so fortuitous? (3) The strength. The fish were not there till Christ spoke. He, the Lord of creation, brought them to the net.

II. The entertainment. The recognition has brought together the Host and the guests. So at His table Christ Himself is spiritually present to receive, as well as to communicate, that highest joy, which is the interchange of conscious feeling and trusted love; to partake of us, as we of Him—He making us fit to give Him pleasure—He bringing the fish to our net—He preparing also the fire and the bread, which we are to find ready for us on the shore.

III. The feeling. "None of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord." Why should they ask, if they knew? Such questioning would have been intrusive, would have been familiar, would have been impertinent. They must wait for Him to speak now. So the feeling which reigns around Christ's table should be a feeling of predominant reverence.

IV. The conversation. Let us learn from Christ's example what to commune about with Jesus. (1) Who shall not begin with his sins? Who can doubt that Peter's three denials were uppermost in his heart at this meal? (2) Ask the Lord, in token of His forgiveness, to give you back your forfeited work for Him. Ask Him to let you be at least His hired servant. (3) At that table you cannot help forecasting your future. Shadows of the long hereafter, even of this life's hereafter, project themselves upon your path. They did so upon Peter's. Talk to Christ of your future, of your life, of your end. Tell that which you fear; let Him converse on it with you at His own table, and you shall find its worse sorrow healed, when He says to you in all, through all, notwithstanding all, "Follow Me." (4) Peter, finally, had a thought for others. He had a friend, a dear friend, dear also to Jesus Christ. Ask this night also concerning your friend. He may bid you not ask. He may bid you leave in His hands, your friend's future as your own, but He will not reprove you for asking. Such topics are suitable for the soul's communing with its beloved.

C. J. Vaughan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 33.


References: John 21:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 633; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 290; W. Morison, Ibid., vol. viii., p. 168; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xi., p. 365.


Verse 15

John 21:15

The last Scene with Peter

I. Every one has felt that the threefold question of Christ to Peter, alluded to the threefold betrayal. There lay in the question a mild rebuke, so exquisitely given that it would not sting, but soften the heart. It was a trial also; it was so spoken as to try whether the apostle had the same boastful spirit. Would he now exalt himself, put himself forward as the first? Was the element of self-conceit still mingled with his impulsive affection? We see in the reply how the apostle was changed. He accepted the reproof without a word of self-justification. He answered true to the testing power of the words on his heart. He did not even trust his own knowledge of his love, but appealed from himself to Christ. "Thou knowest, only Thou, Thou knowest that I love Thee."

II. "Follow Me." This links the first interview by the lake with the last. As it was said, Peter looked round, and there lay the lake, its waves dancing in the morning light. The nets were on the sand, the multitude of fishes were glittering in them; the boats were drawn up upon the shore; his partners were again by his side, and Jesus had come upon them. It was the same scene he had seen before when he said, in his impulse, that he was a sinful man. Nature was the same; she who is always the same in the midst of our stormiest change; but in all else she was different. Peter looked back, and an eternity seemed to roll between the first meeting and this last. The confession of sin he had then made was true, but it was that of an untried child; nor did he know how true it was. Since then he had known what it was to be tried, to fail, to touch the depths of miserable guilt and human weakness. He had passed through a tempest, and he was now a man. He had at the first meeting given up all, in quick impulse, and gone after Christ, in admiration and enthusiasm. But his love had no foundation on a rock, only on the shifting sands of human feeling; and when the wind and rain arose, the fair house fell. Now he knew that love meant, not the momentary rush of quick delight alone, but the steady direction of his whole being towards the will and wish of One who had redeemed him from an abyss of failure, who had forgiven him a base betrayal; not the passionate thought now and again of the person loved, in gusts of imagination, but that deep-rooted love which, having woven its fibres through every power of character, would never let him dream of following any other Master.

S. A. Brooke, The Spirit of the Christian Life, p. 15.


References: John 21:15.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1684; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 163; S. Greg, A Layman's Legacy, p. 129; A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 193.


Verses 15-17

John 21:15-17

Notice:—

I. The connection of two things: "Lovest thou Me," "Feed My sheep." It is love to the Saviour which has been the secret of each successful ministry. It is this which makes the patient and longsuffering Teacher put up with the waywardness, the selfishness, the ingratitude and inattention of His scholars; and it is this which made Peter himself and Paul so gentle and much-enduring among converts, very quarrelsome and carnal, very crude and un-Christlike; for even amongst these wild sheep might be lambs of Christ's fold.

II. Peter and his colleagues were evangelists. It was part of their vocation to bring into the fold the sheep not yet gathered—the wild and unreclaimed. But they were also pastors. That is to say, it was their business to provide for the flock food convenient—food for the sheep, food for the lambs. As tastes are so various, and as in the same audience there is great variety of capacity, and feeling, and circumstances, the wise steward, in dispensing the Word of Life, will seek to suit each want and emergency. Happy the minister who can say with the Apostle, "I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God."

III. The providing of food convenient is not, however, the whole of the pastoral office, whether that pastorate be parental, ministerial, or prophetic. One part of the shepherd's work was to go out and in before the flock. If he was a good shepherd, the sheep got fond of him, and came to know his very voice. They liked him and trusted him, and as they had no fear of his leading them to poisonous pastures or dangerous places; they went out and in, and followed him. Quite as important as instruction is example; and he alone is a good shepherd who, not content with telling the road to heaven, leads the way. He alone is a good shepherd who is full of sympathy and tenderness, binding up that which is broken, and strengthening that which was feeble. He alone is a good shepherd who feels as a personal sorrow the inconsistencies and declensions of believers; and who, if one were wandering, would leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost.

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 292.


References: John 21:15-17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 117; A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 519; G. Dawson, The Authentic Gospel, pp. 236, 252. John 21:15-18.—Homilist, vol. vi., p. 51. John 21:15-19.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 266; B. F. Westcott, The Revelation of the Risen Lord, p. 127; A. Mackennal, Christ's Healing Touch, p. 171.


Verses 15-22

John 21:15-22

Peter's Restoration

I. The question is about love. It carries in it a thorough assurance of the forgiveness of sin and the healing of backsliding; coming as it does from Him whom the sin has pierced, and the backsliding grieved afresh. It is the question of the injured Friend and the grieved Brother. It is He who still, in spite of all, Himself answering for all, puts the question, "Lovest thou Me."

II. The question is about the degree of Peter's love. Why should Peter be expected to love Jesus more than others? Why, but because he is forgiven more? So Peter feels now as he never felt it before.

III. The question is thrice repeated. How did Peter feel when subjected to this triple questioning? To a mind like his it must have been somewhat trying. Accordingly it is said that Peter was grieved.

IV. In all the three instances in which the question is put, the answer is followed up by the command, "Feed My lambs"; "Feed My sheep." Feed My sheep: There is an obvious propriety in this. On the one hand, the question is a fitting preliminary to the command; on the other hand, the command is a fitting sequel to the question.

V. How changed, as regards the whole matter of suffering with and for Jesus, is the high-minded and high-spirited apostle. He is high-minded and high-spirited still, in a right sense and on a right footing. But it is towards men, not towards the Lord. He loved Jesus before; warmly, strongly, boldly. Now he simply waits. He receives the command, "Feed My sheep," and the warning as to the death by which he is to glorify God, in meek and dumb acquiescence. It is the acquiescence of one who is now brought thoroughly to feel that he is nothing, and that Jesus is all in all.

VI. The Lord crowns the whole conversation with the call, Follow Me. Follow Me, in the following up and following out of that work with reference to which I said that thou couldst not follow Me once. Follow Me now, as loving Me and prepared to feed My sheep; and to die with Me now; nor consider thy lot hard if thou shouldst have to glorify God by a bloody death, and thy beloved friend should tarry, if I will, till I come. "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me."

R. S. Candlish, The Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 96.


References: John 21:16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1281; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 308; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 271; W. F. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. ii., p. 262; Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 257; J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 5th series, p. 127.


Verse 17

John 21:17

We have here three points; love's examination, love's answer, and love's evidence; and we purpose to look at these three points of love in their order.

I. Observe then, first, what Christ did not do with Peter. Christ did not examine Peter continually all his life, as to the state of his heart; but upon a distinct occasion, for a distinct object. There was nothing subtle, and metaphysical, and perplexing in our Saviour's mode of examining Peter's heart. He did not wind His probe about. He was simple, straightforward, and definite. He went to the point where pain began—He made Peter grieve, and then He pressed it no further. From His example we gather the occasions for examination to be: (1) When we have lapsed into any known sin. (2) In a time of affliction. (3) Before any great enterprise. (4) At sacred festivals. (5) At particular anniversaries.

II. Love's answer. "Peter was grieved." I do not suppose he knew that that very grief was the answer. Peter appealed to the omniscience of Christ. It is always best to find the harbingers of peace more in God's mind than in your own mind. And it is evident that this thought was the mainstay of Peter's assurance; for the more he seemed to be doubted, the greater stress he laid upon it. A wicked man does not dare to think of God's omniscience. He is always afraid of the thought; he cowers at it. But to the Christian, it is a thought with all strength and all peace—"God knows everything."

III. Love's evidence. "Feed My lambs," "Feed My sheep." Actions must always be the heart's language. Be suspicious of the reality of any feeling which has never gone out in an action. Painstaking, faithful, hard work is the bent of a full heart, without which the feelings will grow, first restless, then oppressed, and then dying. Love will work. It only wants opportunity, and opportunity is always given. For wherever God, by His Spirit, has given the desire to work in the heart, He always, by providence, opens the door. The branch that bears no fruit can never have been grafted. The love which does not act, cannot live.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 352.


I. Love to the Lord Jesus is the essence of religion. If you have it not—if the Lord Jesus is no friend of yours, we cannot promise you much happiness in the present life; for the best happiness is to be found in Him to whom you still are a stranger. And with yourself there must be something radically wrong. So excellent is the Lord Jesus and so suited to our need, that most reasonably and righteously God the Father employs Him as a test or touchstone of the sons of men.

II. It is love—it is the opening of the heart to God's good will, which draws back to Himself that heart in grateful devotion and tender affiance. The love of God you cannot overrate, nor from its infinite wellspring drink too largely. "God is love," and to believe that love, of which the sinless creation is the boundless sphere, and of which Calvary is the focus concentrated, the bright and burning expression—to believe that it is not a cold law, a dark fate, a sombre power, in which you live and move and have your being; but to believe that it is God's great life which now encircles and will eternally enclasp your little life—to believe that a Being most wise, most holy, hovers round your daily path—to get grace to believe this, is to learn the lesson which the Incarnate Word was constantly teaching, and the faith of which gave to John and his brethren their fulness of joy.

III. If you, too, would be happy, learn to love. View God as He reveals Himself. Believe Him to be what Jesus said; believe Him to be what Jesus was. When any mercy or any happy moment comes, remember the pleasant truth—God Himself is near. And just as your little child wakes up, and finds a present on his pillow and shouts forth his wonder and his thanks; so when, through no labour of your hands, through no procurement or desert of yours, there comes to you some good and perfect gift, you cry, "Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ. My heavenly Father has been here, for it is thus He giveth to His beloved in their sleep."

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 276.


We may Learn a Lesson—

I. From the words and demeanour of our Lord in this simple narrative. How tender and considerate He was in all He here said. We too have to do with Jesus, and we have no reason to fear that He will deal more harshly with us than He did with His penitent disciple. He is full of compassion. Man may reproach us, load us with bitter words, delight in our anguish; but Jesus never reproaches, or if He seems to do so, His words are full of love as well as of chastisement. Man may strike wantonly, and strike again when we are down, and follow it up to our ruin; but our Saviour does not so. He wounds only as the physician wounds, that He may heal. His wounds are to question our love, and not that He needs to enquire into it, but that we may enquire into it, and prove ourselves, and test the reality of our love for Him. Such remindings are but the crook of the chief Shepherd, bringing back His sheep that they go not astray.

II. And from the penitent apostle too, we may learn: First, his humility. He casts himself simply on his Lord. He knew what a broken reed self was to lean upon. He had once trusted to himself; he had sown in self-confidence, and had reaped tears and shame. And have we not too had some sad experience of the same kind? Have we never gone forth champions and returned traitors? Have we never spoken as if we would stand for Christ against an army, and then fled at the sight of a foe? Let us not be drawing highly-coloured pictures to ourselves of our devotedness, our faith, our love, exalting ourselves, to be abased; but rather simply renounce all self-esteem and boasting, and fly for our refuge to "Lord, thou knowest." Dismiss bye ends and double purposes; give up the fruitless and disappointing attempt to serve the world and God at the same time; though in weakness and fear, and in self-abasement, yet in singleness of purpose cleave to the blessed Jesus. Thus will His questionings and His chastisements not be in vain if they knit your hearts to Him.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i., p. 317.


References: John 21:17.—J. M. McCulloch, Sermons, p. 183; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 245. John 21:18.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 229; M. Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 120; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 134.


Verse 18-19

John 21:18-19

The warning of what awaited him, which the Lord here gave to Peter, was divinely adapted to his peculiar cast of mind, and in conjunction with the words, "Follow Me," was fitted at once to console and solemnise the apostle.

I. "When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself." Rapidity and self-reliance have always been your way. "But"—and there must have been something in the way in which this was spoken which conveyed a peculiar import, for it was at once understood as predicting to Peter a death like Christ's own—"But when thou shalt be old, another shall gird thee," etc. And whilst we can quite believe that to the eager disciple, so full of revenge at himself and of devotion to his Lord, there was at this fervid moment joy in the prospect of being conformed to Christ in His crucifixion, in conjunction with all that had occurred, it was a sobering consideration that the days of freedom and self-disposal were about to be succeeded by days of captivity and a death of violence.

II. But by that death he should glorify God. It is a singular history, older than the time of Peter, as old, we may say, as the death of Abel, and accounted for by man's mournful antipathy to God's holiness and God's truth; in this world of ours, when any stands out from his fellows severely loyal to his God, that constant tendency to exclaim: "Away with such a fellow from the earth"—that perpetual effort to extirpate unwelcome truth by slaying and burying out of sight the witness-bearer. Yet in all these martyrdoms God is glorified. We wonder how weak humanity survived such tragedies; and as we think of all whom the headsman's axe left widows, and all whom inquisitorial terrors hunted from their homes, and try to estimate that long agony by which a martyr Church has maintained its testimony, we begin to appreciate the awful privilege assigned to Peter and to the myriads who, like him, have trod in the Master's bleeding track since that morning when, stretching forth His own pierced hands, Jesus said to the apostle, "Follow Me."

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 304.


Reference: John 21:18, John 21:19.—E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 227. John 21:18-23.—Homilist, vol. v., p. 173.



Verse 19

John 21:19

Follow Christ

I. You shall never be far from the Father. That pleasant countenance with which the Father beheld the well-beloved Son extends to all His followers—to all who, in faith and affection, gather round Him or go after Him, like this little band beside the Lake of Galilee.

II. You will learn to do things as Christ did them. You will learn to feed the sheep or the lambs as He fed them; warning, reproving, exhorting, with a kindred longsuffering. You will learn to be calm amidst astounding insult; and what is harder still, you will learn to be kind to most unattractive misery. You will learn to meet temptation with "Thus it is written," and for trial you will learn to prepare by praying more earnestly.

III. Christ will conduct you where no other can take you. I do not mean merely in that better life to which He is the only entrance; but in this present world there are heights of attainment and regions of joy which are only reached in His company. As you follow on you will come to know Him better and to trust Him more, and you will at last find yourself looking down on earthly cares and solicitudes, on tumults of the people and national commotions, from heights such as the mere sage or statesman never scaled.

IV. Christ will take you up where all others leave you. One by one the companions of the pilgrimage drop off and disappear. And at last that mysterious summit will be reached where the rest can come no further; and as one by one the senses close, as in the thick fog dear faces fade away, and as far down the strand fond and familiar voices cease to overtake you, a countenance that you have never seen before, and which you yet know full well, will say, as plainly as the Supreme of Loveliness can say, "It is I, be not afraid"; and so with gladness and rejoicing shall you be brought into the palace of the King, and there you shall abide.

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 339.


The best token of attachment and loyalty to Christ is to follow Him fully. Try to give such a representation of His religion as will be true to Himself and appropriate to your own position, and then it cannot fail to be attractive and impressive to others.

I. Among those features of the great Example which all may study and seek to assimilate, let me mention first, His sublime veracity. He was Himself the Truth, the Amen, the great Reality, whom it was impossible to know too thoroughly, or trust too entirely; and whilst from His own mouth guile never proceeded, there never was a presence in which affectations and hypocrisies felt so uncomfortable—gasping and out of their element, and like to give up the ghost. In order to have the mind of Christ we must share His truthfulness.

II. Again, Jesus Christ hath left us a pattern in His kindness. Himself the Son of God incarnate, and crowning three years of the busiest beneficence by a deed of mercy, whose influence eternity cannot exhaust, and whose outgoings are felt in all worlds, one lesson of His life is the amount of consolation and encouragement and holy impulse which can be diffused from a single presence in its progress through one short day, when there are no conflicting elements—when the fountain never intermits, when the light is never veiled.

III. Follow Christ in that wonderful faculty which turned every opportunity to the best account. If there be a frightful contagion in evil, there is in faith and earnestness a Divine ascendancy. One serious thinker can do much to arrest frivolity, even as one cheerful countenance can go far to brighten a gloomy company—even as one high-toned spirit can go far to raise to his own level a large assembly.

IV. Follow Christ in His humility. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself and made Himself of no reputation." Whether it be in Christ or the Christian, there is in true humility nothing abject, nothing self-disparaging; on the other hand, there is affability, there is self-forgetfulness, there is contentment, there is submission to God's will, there is cheerful, unquestioning obedience. And this meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price.

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 346.


References: John 21:19-22.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 528. John 21:19-25.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 349.


Verse 20

John 21:20

I. As we apprehend the character of John, the first thing which strikes us is a peculiar intuition. That great sight, God dwelling in the midst of men, was early disclosed to this pure-hearted beholder, and through the rest of life he seems never to have lost the open vision. "With his loving gaze fixed upwards upon the Light of Life, his own eye has become light; the sun has made it sunlike."

II. Ingenuousness and intuition are near allied; the pure heart, the open eye. From the time that the Baptist exclaimed "Behold the Lamb of God," it would seem as if John had no longer toiled at the task which some of us find so troublesome— the task of taking away our own sins—but had rested in sweet security, satisfied with a Divine Redeemer and Reconciler, and at leisure to observe those gracious words and wonderful works which showed so plainly the Father.

III. Open, receptive, unpreoccupied, John's was that attitude of mind which, at the disclosure of Incarnate Deity rejoicing with exceeding joy, was prepared to sustain without stumbling the unveiling of an awful as well as glorious future. Of the two types of piety—the active and the contemplative—Peter and John may be taken as patterns; and as both conformations exist in society, it is a cause of rejoicing that there is room for both in the Church of Christ. The side of John is that on which few of us are likely to exceed. We are more ready to work than to worship—more anxious to hear some new thing than to realise the all-important things with which we are already familiar. In the dust of our own bustle we veil the heaven, and we run so fast that we cannot read. It is God's goodness, therefore, that He gives us leisure, and our seclusion will be a blessed banishment if we are led to a more intimate communion with that Saviour who, oft forgotten, is never far away.

J. Hamilton, Works, vol. i., p. 316.


References: John 21:20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1539; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 250; T. L. Cuyler, Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 91; vol. v., p. 433; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 347; Ibid., vol. v., p. 31. John 21:20-22.—R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters and Miscellanies, pp. 250, 264; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 4th series, p. 415. John 21:20-23.—B. F. Westcott, Revelation of the Risen Lord, p. 141.


Verse 21

John 21:21

It is the language of devout inquiry. A friend is inquiring into a friend's future. To this inquiry he sets no bounds but one, and this is implied rather than expressed. It is implied that the friend is to be a servant of Jesus Christ. Peter has just been shown, as in a mirror, the outline of his own future, and he puts the natural question touching a comrade, whom perhaps he feels to be greater than himself, "Lord, and what shall this man do?"

I. When you ask for your friend, "What shall this man do?" when your heart travels forth with him over the mountain-tops of fame, till you lose sight of him in the mist and the distance; when, in the fulness of a comrade's affection, you strive to help him with your prayers; then covet for him earnestly the better, the supernatural gifts. Pray that he may never lose his love for the poor and simple—never relax the fervency of his prayers—never dream, or, if he cannot wholly avoid the dream, at least never confound it with waking certainties—that either common sense, or moral philosophy, or metaphysics has spoken the last word on the mysteries of Calvary, or the power of the Resurrection.

II. "Lord, what shall this man do?" Take this thought with you till it becomes a rule, a standard, by which you gauge success. Apply it to others, apply it to yourselves. In choosing your life's career will you, even in your conceptions of good, be worldly? Will you weigh everything beforehand but God? Or will your vision of what a man, of what a friend, of what your own life shall do, include as a necessary ingredient the service of the Lord Jesus Christ? Will His mind be your mind, His causes your causes? We ask the question; the future hides the answer.

H. M. Butler, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Jan. 22nd, 1880.


Verse 21-22

John 21:21-22

The Individuality of Christian Life

I. God appoints a course of life for each individual Christian. "Lord, what shall this man do?" "What is that to thee?" No words could mark more emphatically the great difference which was henceforth to exist between the paths of those two men, who had hitherto followed Christ side by side. They seem to express a kind of impassable solitude, in which each man was to live. John could not lead the life of Peter; Peter could not fulfil the destiny of John. In different and lonely ways they were each to travel till the end should come. The life of Peter was to be action crowned by suffering; the life of John, a patient waiting for the manifestation of Christ,—there, in the difference between labouring and watching, lay the difference in their respective courses. Thus, to each class of men, to each infinitely varied soul, the path of life is divinely adapted.

II. Believing in a divinely ordered course, the question comes: By what rule is that course fulfilled? By what means are we to detect our path? The answer comes in Christ's own words: "Follow thou Me." That simple command guides us all. To follow Christ is, like Him, to obey whenever God's will is clear, to be patient like Him when it is dark. And this is a rule which applies to all circumstances, and one which can be obeyed in defiance of all results. Follow Christ in His perfect, unmurmuring obedience; and, as you follow, a fuller light will come. The command to Peter was a command to challenge all issues. Although "another shall gird thee, and carry thee where thou wouldst not—follow thou Me."

III. We find in Christ's words to Peter the strength which will help us to fulfil our course. "Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me." It is the will of Christ which gives us power, for it implies knowledge of and sympathy with us. In another part of the gospel Christ says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." There we have the picture of feeble human life, elevated, strengthened, shielded from danger, and guided into repose by the ever-watchful sympathy of the strong Son of God.

E. L. Hull, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 230.


We have here—

I. The revelation of the risen Christ as the Lord of life and death, in that majestic "If I will." In His charge to Peter, Christ had asserted His right absolutely to control His servant's conduct and fix his place in the world, and His power at least to foresee and forecast his destiny and his end. But in these words He goes a step further. "I will that he tarry." To communicate life and to sustain life is a Divine prerogative; to act by the bare utterance of His will upon physical nature is a Divine prerogative. And Jesus Christ here claims that His will goes out with sovereign power amongst the perplexities of human history, and into the depths of that mystery of life; and that He, the Son of Man, quickens whom He will, and has power to kill and to make alive. The words would be absurd, if not something worse, upon any but Divine lips, that opened with conscious authority, unless their utterer knew that His hand was laid upon the innermost springs of being.

II. The service of patient waiting. "If I will that he tarry, what is that to thee?" Christ's charge to John to tarry did not only, as his brethren misinterpreted it, mean that his life was to be continued, but it prescribed the manner of his life. It was to be patient contemplation—a dwelling in the house of the Lord; a keeping of his heart still, like some little tarn amongst the silent hills, for heaven with all its blue to mirror itself in. In all times of the world's history that form of Christian service needs to be pressed upon busy people. The men who are to keep the freshness of their Christian zeal, and of the consecration which they will ever feel is being worn away by the attrition even of faithful service, can only renew and refresh it by resorting again to the Master, and imitating Him who prepared Himself for a day of teaching in the Temple by a night of communion on the Mount of Olives.

III. The lesson of patient acquiescence in the Master's undisclosed will. The error into which the brethren of the apostle fell, as to the meaning of the Lord's words, was a very natural one, especially when taken with the commentary which his unusually protracted life seemed to append to it. John did not know exactly what his Master meant. He acquiesces quietly in the certainty that it shall be as his Master wills. The calm acceptance of His will, and patience with Christ's "If," is the reward of tarrying in silent communion with Him.

A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, April 23rd, 1885.

References: John 21:21, John 21:22.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 265; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 307; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xi., p. 365.


Verse 22

John 21:22

I. It is not to be supposed for a moment that our Lord meant in these words to pronounce any distinct intention concerning John. The very force of the sentence lies in its indistinctness. One of two meanings, however, He must have had: either that He might, if He chose, prolong St. John's life to the Second Advent; or that St. John should, as indeed he did, survive that event which, because it was both such a manifestation of Christ's power, and such an earnest and type of His last Advent, was often called Christ's coming—the taking of Jerusalem and the setting up of the Christian Church. But, under either aspect, the Lord's reproof will alike apply to those, whoever they be, who are drawn into speculative views of unfulfilled prophecy. The thought of our Lord's coming must always be the real horizon in every believer's prospect. Is it not the bright, the redeeming point, in all the future, for the sake of which we may begin to lift up our heads, "because we know that our redemption draweth nigh?"

II. On former occasions, when our Lord had said, "Follow Me," He had always prefixed the words, "Take up thy cross." It did not need it now. For Christ had taken up His cross before all men, and no one could think of following Him without taking up a cross. Indeed, the whole command was one that suited well to the time when it was spoken—when Jesus was just about to leave the earth. He could point back from where He stood to that whole life, and say of every step, what no one else could ever say of every step of any life—"Follow Me." We hear His words, like the last accent of a dying saint. We hear them, like the challenge of a departed conqueror. "Follow thou Me." Begin, begin at once. Lay some foundation deep. Live more in communion with God. Cast blessings as you go. Live dyingly, that you may die livingly. Keep the valley, that you may ascend the height. "Follow thou Me."

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 5th series, p. 182.


I. What is to be understood by following Christ? In this is manifestly summed up the whole character of a Christian; and perhaps it would be impossible to find any language so well fitted to convey a clear and practical impression of what a Christian ought to be as these words do. The follower of Christ must (1) be of one spirit with his Master; (2) he must make Christ's work his work; (3) he must habitually endeavour to imitate Him or to be like Him; (4) he must separate himself from the sinful pursuits of the world; (5) he must bear the cross.

II. What is the frame of spirit in which Christ is to be followed? (1) He must be followed with the most implicit faith; (2) with the most submissive humility.

A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 41.


Misplaced Anxiety

Look—

I. At the mysteries which lie outside of revelation altogether. We cannot unravel the perplexities of Providence, but we can see the way of life, which Christ has made so plain that no one can mistake it. Shall we, then, turn away from the pressing duty of the present state, and the open gate which Jesus has set before us, and give up our energies to such futile guests as Solomon has described in the Book of Ecclesiastes? Do not brood over mysteries. Follow rather in the footsteps of Him who came to earth, not to make all perplexities plain, but to mitigate the miseries, and soothe the sorrows, and remove the sin of men.

II. The mysteries which spring out of revelation. Mystery is inseparable from a revelation given by a higher to a lower intelligence. It is not required of us to understand the infinite. Only God can comprehend God. What we are commanded to do is to follow Christ. That is within our power; that is on the plane of our daily finite existence. That, therefore, we ought to do at once, and with all our hearts. Leave off questioning about these matters which are too high for you, these things which God has kept in His own power. They are of no practical importance to you. Follow Christ, and very soon to you also will come that repose of spirit which lies upon the height of faith.

III. The contingencies of the future. We are all prone to pry into the years that are to come, and many are the misplaced anxieties we cherish regarding them. Sometimes we are solicitous about ourselves. We cannot see what is to become of us amid the losses and crosses that have come upon us. And if we have no such cause for apprehension, we torment ourselves about others; or we fear for the future of the Church or of the nation. Now, to all these misgivings about the future, we have but one answer, and that is furnished by the principle of my text. The future is not ours; the present is. We are responsible for the present, and not for the future, except only as it shall be affected by the present. Nay, we shall best serve the future, and secure it from those evils which we fear, by doing with our might the work of the present, and leaving the issue with our God. Your individual duty is to follow Christ in every matter that comes before you, and let no carking care for what is merely problematical unfit you for going whole-heartedly into that which is clearly the work of the hour.

W. M. Taylor, Limitations of Life, p. 63.


References: John 21:22.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. x., p. 365; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 271; J. Vaughan, Three Hundred Outlines from the New Testament, p. 105; Ibid., Sermons, 1869, p. 220; Tyng, American Pulpit of the Day, vol. i., p. 448. John 21:25.—Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 241; G. Dawson, The Authentic Gospel, p. 1.

John 21

We Learn from this Chapter—

I. The wide range of the pastoral office. Whenever the minister is exclusively a fisherman and neglects the labour of the shepherd, he is only doing half his work. He is like a man in a boat who seeks to propel it with one oar, and who succeeds only in making it spin round in a ceaseless circle. He will make no progress, and his people will lack intelligence.

II. The true motive for Christian work, "Lovest thou Me?" The most potent principle in the Christian heart is love to Christ.

III. Difficulties about those things with which we have nothing to do ought not to keep us from performing the plain duty of following Christ. The practical, which lies before us, and for the accomplishment of which we shall be held responsible—that is for us the important thing.

W. M. Taylor, Peter the Apostle, p. 153.


 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on John 21:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/john-21.html.

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