Sunday Messages

John 21:3-19 by Pastor Dan Walker
Every person will face failure in their lives from time to time. In this message, we see how Jesus encourages His disciples to trust Him when they fail. Jesus offers hope to Peter, who denied Him three denies. Learn how to recover from failure or fear of failure in this insightful message.
Duration:28 mins 2 secs

Today, we’re beginning a new message series entitled “Jesus Offers Hope.” What is hope? A general definition of hope is an expectation of something good. Hope as defined in the Bible is a confident, sure expectation of divine saving actions.

One element of confusion regarding the word hope is that we often use it in a different way than the Bible does. We say “I hope that it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” First of all, that kind of hope is not a confident expectation, it is more like wishful thinking. Secondly, that kind of hope does not have God as the object of the hope. Hope without God as the one hoped in is meaningless. So, let’s look a little more closely at biblical hope. The word hope in the ESV occurs 84 times in the Old Testament and 81 times in the New Testament. So, it is used 165 times in the Bible, not as much as faith and love, but it is very common.

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

In this verse, we see that our hope for the future is a gift from God. That hope is based on God’s plans for us, which are good plans, plans for our welfare. We can have hope for the future because God has good plans for us. Why is hope so important?

Psalm 42:5 (ESV)  Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.

In this verse, the psalmist is depressed and anxious. The remedy is to choose to hope in God. The expectation of that hope is that in the future, he will praise God again. So, the opposite of having hope is being hopeless, being depressed and stressed. Let’s take a look at what Proverbs has to say about hope.

Proverbs 10:28 (ESV)  The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.

The hope of the believer in God brings joy as that hope is fulfilled. The expectation of the wicked, which is not rooted in God, will never come to pass, it will perish along with the wicked. In this new message series, we’re going to see how Jesus offers hope, both to unbelievers and to believers.

Today, my message is entitled “Facing Failure.” Everyone one of us faces failure in our lives at different times. Sin is by definition a failure to obey and follow God. God desires us to rebound from the guilt and shame of sin to serving Him once again. At other times, we may face seeming failure because of a hope that hasn’t materialized that way we expected. 

Today, we’re going to look at a passage from John 21 about a failure of the disciples in their occupation of fishing. Then we’ll look at how Jesus addresses a personal failure of Peter. Whether you’ve failed recently or you Fear failing, God wants to encourage each one of us this morning. The first principle that God desires to teach us is …

Without Jesus, you can do nothing

Let’s set the scene for John 21. Jesus has been crucified, buried and raised from the dead, just in the past week or so. He has appeared several times to his disciples, but they are having trouble processing everything and knowing what to do next.

John 21:3 (ESV)  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

The occupation of a number of the disciples was fishing. So, Peter gets a number of them to go fishing with him. This is not fishing just for fun, they still have to support themselves and family members. These are professional fishermen who are used to fishing at night, but they catch no fish at all. Looks like a failure and most likely felt like a failure to the disciples. What else can go wrong? Then they notice a person standing on the shore, but they don’t know who it is.

John 21:5 (ESV)  Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”

When you’ve just failed, you really don’t like someone drawing attention to it. So they glumly answered “No.” Interesting that Jesus addresses them as children. This is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus addresses the disciples as children. He is about to teach them something important.

John 21:6 (ESV)  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.

The disciples in their own efforts had caught nothing all night wrong. Now Jesus instructs them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Evidently, their nets were cast on the left side or they had given up casting nets. They followed Jesus’ command and amazingly they caught a huge number of fish. Without Jesus, working hard all night, they had failed, they accomplished nothing. With Jesus and following his instructions, they caught an enormous catch of fish in a few minutes. Recognizing a miracle, the disciples instinctively knew that the person on the shore was the Lord Jesus.

There are times in all of our lives when we work so hard at something and seem to come up empty. Nothing seems to work out, despite our best plans. We feel like we are failing. Just like the disciples after their long night of fishing and catching nothing. However, in those times, we need to recognize that Jesus is not far away. He is watching you and He has a plan. Ask for and listen to His instruction. As you follow Him, He will move you from failure in your own efforts to success with Jesus.

Oftentimes, God allows us to fail, to teach us not to trust in ourselves, which is pride. But God wants us to learn to humble ourselves and seek His wisdom. Jesus always has a plan that will bring hope, as you follow it. When you focus on Jesus, you can be assured that …

Jesus has everything you need

When the disciples recognize that it is Jesus on the shore, Peter dives in and swims to shore. The rest of the disciples bring the boat and the net full of fish to land.

John 21:9 (ESV)  When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.

Jesus has already prepared breakfast for them. He doesn’t need their fish, He already has fish and bread cooking. And Jesus is cooking over a charcoal fire. As Peter climbs ashore and sees the charcoal fire, undoubtedly he remembers another charcoal fire, just a few days ago. At that charcoal fire, he denied Jesus three times.

John 21:10-11 (ESV)  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus had directed the disciples where to fish and they had been successful. Now, he was commanding them to bring Him some of the fish they had caught. Whenever God blesses us, He commands us to bring to Him some of that blessing as an offering. The net full of fish was too heavy to be brought into the boat, so it was hauled to shore by Peter. The net had exactly 153 fish in it. People have speculated for centuries about the meaning of the number 153 and nobody has come up with a convincing answer. 153 is a lot of fish and it is an exact number. God knows exactly what you need for His plan and He will help you get it. Normally, with so many fish beyond the net capacity, it would have torn. But when God blessed, the net was not torn.

John 21:13 (ESV)  Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.

Jesus then fed the disciples the breakfast that He had prepared on the charcoal fire. The Scripture records that this was the third time that Jesus had revealed Himself to the disciples after His resurrection. Jesus was the risen Lord, master of the fish, feeder of the disciples, meeting every need. Without Jesus, you can do nothing. With Jesus, all things are possible.

Let’s look at the meaning of this part of the story in greater depth. In Matthew 4:19 Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Let’s watch a short video called “Fishers of Men.” The disciples would no longer just be fishermen, they would be fishers of men. This speaks of catching people and bringing them to Jesus. As believers tell people about Jesus, people put their faith in Jesus and are saved, caught in God’s net. This command of Jesus to follow Him and be a fisher of men applies to every believer. As we follow Him, He will provide for your every need. We, in return, bring to Him our blessing, which includes those we have been saved through our witness. Jesus has everything you need to carry out His plan.

Jesus forgives our failures

As Peter stared into that charcoal fire, he remembered his words of bravado and pride shortly before Jesus was crucified.

Mark 14:29 (ESV)  Peter said to him [Jesus], “Even though they all fall away, I will not.”

Jesus then told Peter that he would deny him three times. Yet Peter insisted that he would die for Jesus. But Jesus was right and Peter was wrong. Peter did deny Jesus three times. Now, those words and events were in both Peter’s and Jesus’ minds.

John 21:15 (ESV)  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

Peter had vowed that he was more loyal than the rest of the disciples, yet he had broken that vow. Now Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him more than the other disciples. Peter answered in the affirmative, that he loved Jesus. Much has been written about the Greek words for love in this exchange. Jesus used the word agape and Peter the word phileo in this verse. Agape refers to a purposeful decision of the will and phileo to an emotional, brotherly love. Both words for love are used in John for God’s love for us and our love toward God. So, there is nothing lacking in Peter’s response to Jesus, as some have suggested.

John 21:16 (ESV)  He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

Jesus now asks Peter the same question a second time, but leaves off the phrase more than these. Jesus is giving Peter an opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus once for each time that he denied him. 

John 21:17 (ESV)  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

In Jesus’ third question of Peter, he changes the Greek word for love to phileo. Peter is grieved, not because of Jesus’ choice of words, but because it is the third time. Peter again reaffirms his love for Jesus the third time, corresponding to his third denial. You notice that after each of Peter’s affirmations of his love, Jesus gives Peter a command. First was “feed my lambs,” second was “tend my sheep” and third was “feed my sheep.” Jesus is saying, Peter, you’re forgiven. You love me and I love you. I have a plan for your life. My plan for your life will be to shepherd the flock of God. You are to feed both the lambs, the new believers, and the sheep, the older believers. You are to tend or protect the sheep from danger.

In this short passage, we see metaphors of what God has for us as believer to do. We are to be fishers of men, seeking to catch the lost and see them saved. We are also to be shepherds of believers. For the caught fish become lambs to be tended by shepherds in the flock of God. Jesus was saying to Peter, Peter not only are you forgiven, but I believe in you. You will be the shepherd that God created you to be. You have a fresh start to follow me. Jesus was giving Peter purpose and new hope in His plan for Peter’s life.

Sometimes people think that their sin is too big for God to forgive. Yet, we see when even Peter, a disciple of Jesus for years, failed by denying Him, God forgave. Failures come on all kinds. Some due to known sin, others through seemingly no fault of our own. Sometimes we are troubled not by failure itself, but by fear of failure.

This morning, God wants to set each person here free from failure The simple answer is found in Jesus’ last two words to Peter in verse 19. Jesus simply said “Follow me.” So, whether you’ve failed in the past, present or you’re concerned about the future. Jesus simply says, Follow me. I’ve promised to never leave or forsake those who are following me. I will give you everything you need, just follow me.