T HAD BEEN a long, exhausting night for Peter. He and six of his fellow disciples had fished all night, but hadn’t caught even one fish. As they steered their boat toward the shore, Jesus was watching. He directed them to throw their nets on the right side of the boat, where fish could be found.
Their obedience resulted in an excessive number of large fish—153, to be exact. Such a large catch should have torn their net. However, it remained strong, and all the fish were brought to shore. After Jesus served the disciples a morning meal of fish and bread, He turned His attention to Peter. Three times he questioned Peter’s commitment by asking, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17).* This might have been due to Peter’s considering the possibility of returning to the fishing business. (In verse 3, Peter had declared, “I am going fishing,” sounding like he intended more than a single overnight trip.)
In response to Jesus’ repeated question, three times Peter said, “You know that I love You.” Jesus then concluded the dialogue with a specific description of what would occur in Peter’s future. The prophetic words indicate that as a young man, Peter could tighten his own belt (dress himself) and go where he desired. However, a time would come when others would dress and lead him. “You will stretch out your hands” (v. 18) speaks of suffering crucifixion in the years ahead. This reminds us of Peter’s earlier claim that he would lay down his life for Jesus (13:37).
Note that Peter did not question or respond to what Jesus indicated to be his future, even though Jesus said he would face great difficulties. Seemingly unfazed by it, Peter concentrated on his fellow disciple, John, wanting to know what Jesus had in mind for him.
Jesus made no attempt to answer the question. He avoided any further dialogue by a direct answer. Basically, He stated it was none of Peter’s business. It reminds us Jesus isn’t under any obligation to answer our questions about others.
What Stimulated Peter’s Question?
Impetuousness? It might have been another one of those times Peter spoke without thinking. Like when Jesus was gloriously transfigured on the mountain, and Peter blurted out the idea of building three shelters there (Matthew 17:1-4).
Or when Jesus spoke of His coming death, and Peter rebuked Him, saying, “This shall not happen to You!” (16:22). Peter tended to “open mouth and insert foot.”
We’ve been there. Instead of thinking twice before speaking, there are situations in which we feel compelled to say something even when we have nothing meaningful to contribute.
Relationship? Peter and John had a number of things in common. They were fishermen by vocation, and they both were members of the 12 men chosen to be Jesus’ initial group of disciples. They were also members of Jesus’ smaller inner circle who had witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration and saw Him bring a girl back to life (Mark 9:2; 5:36-42). One may speculate that Peter’s question was a matter of concern since he and John had so many common experiences. That seems unlikely, but without knowing Peter’s thought process, it is possible.
Curiosity? Probably. But why didn’t Peter ask about his own brother, Andrew, or one of the other disciples? Why John? Well, John had a special relationship with Jesus. At the Last Supper, prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, John had leaned into Jesus and asked which of the Twelve would betray Him (John 13:25).
Comparison? Maybe. It seems logical for Peter to want to know what was in the future for his fellow disciples. What would be their path in life? This was not necessarily wrong, if spoken with the right spirit and intentions. If we are perfectly honest, many of us have asked the same basic question at various points in our lives with Christ:
• Why is that person enjoying such good health?
• Why does she seem to get the best opportunities?
• Why is that family so financially stable?
• Why does he seem to be exempt from severe trials?
•Why does ministry seem so easy for them?
Yet, we tend to avoid asking hard questions concerning our personal lives. It is much easier to ask about other people’s lives. We neglect those questions that disturb our complacency while concentrating on others near us.
Reviewing the whole encounter narrated in John 21, Peter quickly moved from the previous “Do you love Me?” questions Jesus asked him.
It seems he would have wanted to know more about what Jesus had in mind for him in feeding and caring for “lambs” and “sheep” (vv. 15-17). But, no, that did not happen.
No wonder Jesus moved him back to reality. He told Peter to keep his attention on his designated path instead of looking at others and the Lord’s intention for them.
What Did My Dad Mean?
At age 52, my dad had a devastating stroke that paralyzed his left arm and impacted his left leg, causing him to walk with a kick-out gait. Prior to this life-changing event, he had pastored small churches, necessitating his being a tentmaker to support our family and minister in rural Dakota towns while at the same time renovating church buildings and parsonages. He learned to plaster, lay bricks/blocks, finish sheetrock, build furnaces, and do many other tasks. With his farm-family background, he also worked in the fields. Sometimes when I took lunch out to him, his face was dusty with evidence of tears having flowed down his cheeks as he prayed and wept over his people.
Dad loved to read and desired to spend time in his little office studying. Instead, his office and prayer closet were usually the platform of a Minneapolis Moline tractor, from which he also cultivated soil, planted seeds, and harvested crops.
After Dad’s stroke, our family was in dire financial straits. There was no income. Yet, he never verbally questioned why he had a stroke that shortened his ministry. He never asked why it had not happened to someone else. What about him? was never in his thinking. His faith was unwavering.
My dad used to say to me, “Son, you are standing on my shoulders.” I didn’t understand it at first. I’m taller, have more education, and my feet are bigger than his size-7 shoes. Later I understood it. I can’t fill his shoes. His faith and sacrifices far exceeded mine to lay a foundation for my ministry.
Thanks, Dad, for setting the example of dedication to serving the Lord and not worrying about others.
Jerald Daffe, D.Min., is professor of pastoral studies at Lee University. His new book, Spiritual Revitalization, is available from pathwaybookstore.com.