By the Sea Once More
[This chapter is based on John 21:1-22.]
Jesus had appointed to meet His disciples in Galilee; and soon after
the Passover week was ended, they bent their steps thither. Their
absence from Jerusalem during the feast would have been interpreted as
disaffection and heresy, therefore they remained till its close; but
this over, they gladly turned homeward to meet the Saviour as He had
Seven of the disciples were in company. They were clad in the humble
garb of fishermen; they were poor in worldly goods, but rich in the
knowledge and practice of the truth, which in the sight of Heaven gave
them the highest rank as teachers. They had not been students in the
schools of the prophets, but for three years they had been taught by the
greatest Educator the world has ever known. Under His instruction they
had become elevated, intelligent, and refined, agents through whom men
might be led to a knowledge of the truth.
Much of the time of Christ's ministry had been passed near the Sea of
Galilee. As the disciples gathered in a place where they were not likely
to be disturbed, they found themselves surrounded by reminders of Jesus
and His mighty works. On this sea, when their hearts were filled with
terror, and the fierce storm was hurrying them to destruction, Jesus had
walked upon the billows to their rescue. Here the tempest had been
hushed by His word. Within sight was the beach where above ten thousand
persons had been fed from a few small loaves and fishes. Not far distant
was Capernaum, the scene of so many miracles. As the disciples looked
upon the scene, their minds were full of the words and deeds of their
The evening was pleasant, and Peter, who still had much of his old
love for boats and fishing, proposed that they should go out upon the
sea and cast their nets. In this plan all were ready to join; they were
in need of food and clothing, which the proceeds of a successful night's
fishing would supply. So they went out in their boat, but they caught
nothing. All night they toiled, without success. Through the weary hours
they talked of their absent Lord, and recalled the wonderful events they
had witnessed in His ministry beside the sea. They questioned as to
their own future, and grew sad at the prospect before them.
All the while a lone watcher upon the shore followed them with His
eye, while He Himself was unseen. At length the morning dawned. The boat
was but a little way from the shore, and the disciples saw a stranger
standing upon the beach, who accosted them with the question,
"Children, have ye any meat?" When they answered,
"No," "He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side
of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were
not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes."
John recognized the stranger, and exclaimed to Peter, "It is the
Lord." Peter was so elated and so glad that in his eagerness he
cast himself into the water and was soon standing by the side of his
Master. The other disciples came in their boat, dragging the net with
fishes. "As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of
coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread."
They were too much amazed to question whence came the fire and the
food. "Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now
caught." Peter rushed for the net, which he had dropped, and helped
his brethren drag it to the shore. After the work was done, and the
preparation made, Jesus bade the disciples come and dine. He broke the
food, and divided it among them, and was known and acknowledged by all
the seven. The miracle of feeding the five thousand on the mountainside
was now brought to their minds; but a mysterious awe was upon them, and
in silence they gazed upon the risen Saviour.
Vividly they recalled the scene beside the sea when Jesus had bidden
them follow Him. They remembered how, at His command, they had launched
out into the deep, and had let down their net, and the catch had been so
abundant as to fill the net, even to breaking. Then Jesus had called
them to leave their fishing boats, and had promised to make them fishers
of men. It was to bring this scene to their minds, and to deepen its
impression, that He had again performed the miracle. His act was a
renewal of the commission to the disciples. It showed them that the
death of their Master had not lessened their obligation to do the work
He had assigned them. Though they were to be deprived of His personal
companionship, and of the means of support by their former employment,
the risen Saviour would still have a care for them. While they were
doing His work, He would provide for their needs. And Jesus had a
purpose in bidding them cast their net on the right side of the ship. On
that side He stood upon the shore. That was the side of faith. If they
labored in connection with Him,--His divine power combining with their
human effort,--they could not fail of success.
Another lesson Christ had to give, relating especially to Peter.
Peter's denial of his Lord had been in shameful contrast to his former
professions of loyalty. He had dishonored Christ, and had incurred the
distrust of his brethren. They thought he would not be allowed to take
his former position among them, and he himself felt that he had
forfeited his trust. Before being called to take up again his apostolic
work, he must before them all give evidence of his repentance. Without
this, his sin, though repented of, might have destroyed his influence as
a minister of Christ. The Saviour gave him opportunity to regain the
confidence of his brethren, and, so far as possible, to remove the
reproach he had brought upon the gospel.
Here is given a lesson for all Christ's followers. The gospel makes
no compromise with evil. It cannot excuse sin. Secret sins are to be
confessed in secret to God; but, for open sin, open confession is
required. The reproach of the disciple's sin is cast upon Christ. It
causes Satan to triumph, and wavering souls to stumble. By giving proof
of repentance, the disciple, so far as lies in his power, is to remove
While Christ and the disciples were eating together by the seaside,
the Saviour said to Peter, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me
more than these?" referring to his brethren. Peter had once
declared, "Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet
will I never be offended." Matt. 26:33. But he now put a truer
estimate upon himself. "Yea, Lord," he said, "Thou
knowest that I love Thee." There is no vehement assurance that his
love is greater than that of his brethren. He does not express his own
opinion of his devotion. To Him who can read all the motives of the
heart he appeals to judge as to his sincerity,--"Thou knowest that
I love Thee." And Jesus bids him, "Feed My lambs."
Again Jesus applied the test to Peter, repeating His former words:
"Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" This time He did not
ask Peter whether he loved Him better than did his brethren. The second
response was like the first, free from extravagant assurance: "Yea,
Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee." Jesus said to him, "Feed
My sheep." Once more the Saviour put the trying question:
"Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" Peter was grieved; he
thought that Jesus doubted his love. He knew that his Lord had cause to
distrust him, and with an aching heart he answered, "Lord, Thou
knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee." Again Jesus
said to him, "Feed My sheep."
Three times Peter had openly denied his Lord, and three times Jesus
drew from him the assurance of his love and loyalty, pressing home that
pointed question, like a barbed arrow to his wounded heart. Before the
assembled disciples Jesus revealed the depth of Peter's repentance, and
showed how thoroughly humbled was the once boasting disciple.
Peter was naturally forward and impulsive, and Satan had taken
advantage of these characteristics to overthrow him. Just before the
fall of Peter, Jesus had said to him, "Satan hath desired to have
you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy
faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy
brethren." Luke 22:31, 32. That time had now come, and the
transformation in Peter was evident. The close, testing questions of the
Lord had not called out one forward, self-sufficient reply; and because
of his humiliation and repentance, Peter was better prepared than ever
before to act as shepherd to the flock.
The first work that Christ entrusted to Peter on restoring him to the
ministry was to feed the lambs. This was a work in which Peter had
little experience. It would require great care and tenderness, much
patience and perseverance. It called him to minister to those who were
young in the faith, to teach the ignorant, to open the Scriptures to
them, and to educate them for usefulness in Christ's service. Heretofore
Peter had not been fitted to do this, or even to understand its
importance. But this was the work which Jesus now called upon him to do.
For this work his own experience of suffering and repentance had
Before his fall, Peter was always speaking unadvisedly, from the
impulse of the moment. He was always ready to correct others, and to
express his mind, before he had a clear comprehension of himself or of
what he had to say. But the converted Peter was very different. He
retained his former fervor, but the grace of Christ regulated his zeal.
He was no longer impetuous, self-confident, and self-exalted, but calm,
self-possessed, and teachable. He could then feed the lambs as well as
the sheep of Christ's flock.
The Saviour's manner of dealing with Peter had a lesson for him and
for his brethren. It taught them to meet the transgressor with patience,
sympathy, and forgiving love. Although Peter had denied his Lord, the
love which Jesus bore him never faltered. Just such love should the
undershepherd feel for the sheep and lambs committed to his care.
Remembering his own weakness and failure, Peter was to deal with his
flock as tenderly as Christ had dealt with him.
The question that Christ had put to Peter was significant. He
mentioned only one condition of discipleship and service. "Lovest
thou Me?" He said. This is the essential qualification. Though
Peter might possess every other, yet without the love of Christ he could
not be a faithful shepherd over the Lord's flock. Knowledge,
benevolence, eloquence, gratitude, and zeal are all aids in the good
work; but without the love of Jesus in the heart, the work of the
Christian minister is a failure.
Jesus walked alone with Peter, for there was something which He
wished to communicate to him only. Before His death, Jesus had said to
him, "Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt
follow Me afterwards." To this Peter had replied, "Lord, why
cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake."
John 13:36, 37. When he said this, he little knew to what heights and
depths Christ's feet would lead the way. Peter had failed when the test
came, but again he was to have opportunity to prove his love for Christ.
That he might be strengthened for the final test of his faith, the
Saviour opened to him his future. He told him that after living a life
of usefulness, when age was telling upon his strength, he would indeed
follow his Lord. Jesus said, "When thou wast young, thou girdedst
thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old,
thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and
carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake He, signifying by what
death he should glorify God."
Jesus thus made known to Peter the very manner of his death; He even
foretold the stretching forth of his hands upon the cross. Again He bade
His disciple, "Follow Me." Peter was not disheartened by the
revelation. He felt willing to suffer any death for his Lord.
Heretofore Peter had known Christ after the flesh, as many know Him
now; but he was no more to be thus limited. He knew Him no more as he
had known Him in his association with Him in humanity.
He had loved Him as a man, as a heaven-sent teacher; he now loved Him
as God. He had been learning the lesson that to him Christ was all in
all. Now he was prepared to share in his Lord's mission of sacrifice.
When at last brought to the cross, he was, at his own request, crucified
with his head downward. He thought it too great an honor to suffer in
the same way as his Master did.
To Peter the words "Follow Me" were full of instruction.
Not only for his death, but for every step of his life, was the lesson
given. Hitherto Peter had been inclined to act independently. He had
tried to plan for the work of God, instead of waiting to follow out
God's plan. But he could gain nothing by rushing on before the Lord.
Jesus bids him, "Follow Me." Do not run ahead of Me. Then you
will not have the hosts of Satan to meet alone. Let Me go before you,
and you will not be overcome by the enemy.
As Peter walked beside Jesus, he saw that John was following. A
desire came over him to know his future, and he "saith to
Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will
that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me."
Peter should have considered that his Lord would reveal to him all that
it was best for him to know. It is the duty of everyone to follow
Christ, without undue anxiety as to the work assigned to others. In
saying of John, "If I will that he tarry till I come," Jesus
gave no assurance that this disciple should live until the Lord's second
coming. He merely asserted His own supreme power, and that even if He
should will this to be so, it would in no way affect Peter's work. The
future of both John and Peter was in the hands of their Lord. Obedience
in following Him was the duty required of each.
How many today are like Peter! They are interested in the affairs of
others, and anxious to know their duty, while they are in danger of
neglecting their own. It is our work to look to Christ and follow Him.
We shall see mistakes in the lives of others, and defects in their
character. Humanity is encompassed with infirmity. But in Christ we
shall find perfection. Beholding Him, we shall become transformed.
John lived to be very aged. He witnessed the destruction of
Jerusalem, and the ruin of the stately temple,--a symbol of the final
ruin of the world. To his latest days John closely followed his Lord.
The burden of his testimony to the churches was, "Beloved, let us
love one another;" "he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God,
and God in him." 1 John 4:7, 16.
Peter had been restored to his apostleship, but the honor and
authority he received from Christ had not given him supremacy over his
brethren. This Christ had made plain when in answer to Peter's question,
"What shall this man do?" He had said, "What is that to
thee? follow thou Me." Peter was not honored as the head of the
church. The favor which Christ had shown him in forgiving his apostasy,
and entrusting him with the feeding of the flock, and Peter's own
faithfulness in following Christ, won for him the confidence of his
brethren. He had much influence in the church. But the lesson which
Christ had taught him by the Sea of Galilee Peter carried with him
throughout his life. Writing by the Holy Spirit to the churches, he
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder,
and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the
glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you,
taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for
filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's
heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd
shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not
away." 1 Peter 5:1-4.
[ Back ] [ Up ] [ Next ]