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As we prepare to look in the word of God, there is a principle of Bible study that is absolutely indispensable and that is total reliance on God’s Holy Spirit. Only God can reveal God and He’s promised that if we would come as little children He would reveal Himself to us. He has hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and has revealed them unto babes. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ Jesus. If God hides something, you’ll never find it. But if He tells you the hiding place, then you can find it. These things are hidden in Christ Jesus. We know the hiding place. There’s no excuse for not knowing the Lord.
I want to share the great foundation which we call the “Great Commission”. Our Lord Jesus has a worldwide heart. He longs that people know Him. John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” As you go on in the Lord you are going to learn that there is only one soul winner. His name is Jesus. There is only one evangelist. His name is the Lord Jesus. There is only one missionary. His name is Jesus. You might be a missionary channel, but you are not the missionary. You might be a soul winning channel, but you are not a soul winner.
Our Father, we thank You for every part of Your word. We thank You especially for John 21 and we pray that you will work that in our hearts. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen
I wanted to deal with this at the end because I think it’s a very vital truth on the heart of Jesus. I think that almost all Christians are familiar with the expression “The Great Commission”. I misunderstood it for many years. I knew it had two parts; go preach the gospel to the world and then train them to be disciples.
The Spirit of God has been very patient with Ed Miller. I thought He sent me into the world to witness for Christ. He taught me that He put me in Christ to witness to the world. That’s not the same thing. I’m not in the world to testify for Christ. I’m in Christ so that He can manifest Himself.
This is very important in understanding the Great Commission. I think for most believers they believe that the Great Commission is recorded four times. It’s in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and in Acts 1. Most commentators will tell you that the gospel of John does not contain the Great Commission. I think the exact opposite is true. John not only gives the Great Commission but he gives it in its most complete form.
Why do I need to study the Great Commission in John? It’s because it answers the question, “How can I fulfill the Great Commission?” Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts tell me the Great Commission but they don’t tell me how to do it. It can be terribly frustrating if you don’t know how. “Abide in Jesus.” How? “Worship the Lord.” How? “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” How? My heart wants to know how to do it.
I suffered under this because I was taught that I was responsible for every sinner that I ever met. I made a vow to the Lord that I would not go to bed until I led somebody to Jesus. I stayed up late very many nights looking for some drunkard who would listen to me. I had a big box called my “Hallelujah Box” and in it I put the names of those who confessed to come to Christ. If I didn’t lead someone to Christ I felt so guilty. I was taught that their blood was on my hands. I was the biggest legalist that you could ever meet.
If someone was painting a house, I would climb up the ladder to tell them about Jesus. I used to get on a bus and ride all day long just to hand out tracks and talk to people. I wanted to fulfill the Great Commission. When I first came to the Lord I didn’t even know there were two testaments in my Bible. I read, “Preach the gospel to every creature.” I went home and I preached to my dog. He’s a creature. I told my little beagle how Jesus loved Him. I was very confused about the Great Commission. God has begun to open my eyes.
John 21 is the “how” of the Great Commission. It’s told in terms of Peter’s restoration; coming back to the Lord. If you have that chapter before you I want you to glance at verses 1-14. Don’t read it. Just glance at it. Just scan it and run your eyes through the text. You will notice that it’s about fishing. The Bible tells us that seven disciples gathered at the Sea of Tiberius. The Lord filled their nets with one hundred fifty three fish.
Alright, set that aside. Now look at the second half of the chapter, 15-23. Verses 15, 16 and 17 say, “Feed my sheep, feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” The second half of the chapter is about shepherding. In John 21 you have a story; fishing and shepherding. That’s the Great Commission. Fishing is winning souls to Jesus. Shepherding is training people in the Lord. That’s not my idea. In Matthew when Jesus called Peter, He said, “I’ll make you fishers of men.”
Let me tell the story in my own words. Seven disciples gathered together in Galilee. We have the names of five of them; Peter, Nathanael, Thomas, James and John. There are two that are not named. I know who they are. That’s you and me. So, they gathered at Galilee.
When they arrived they were waiting for Jesus to show up. Matthew 26:32, “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Matthew 28:7, “And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” Matthew 28:10, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.’” Mark 16:7, “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.’”
They had a clear word from heaven. “After I arise again, I’ll meet you in Galilee.” The angels told them to go to Galilee. Jesus told them to go to Galilee. So, these seven disciples go to Galilee. Why did they go to Galilee? They went to see the risen Savior. He invited them to go see Him alive. That was in their hearts; to go meet the risen Savior. But at this time He didn’t give them an address. He didn’t say, “Go to 35 Jerusalem Avenue.” He just said, “Go to Galilee.”
The prophet Amos in chapter 3 says, “Can two men walk together if they haven’t agreed?” So, they are going to Galilee. Galilee is a big place. He didn’t say where to go. He just said, “Go to Galilee.” Galilee is a region. There’s an upper Galilee and a lower Galilee. He didn’t tell them what city. He didn’t say, “Meet me by the sea.” He didn’t say, “I’ll meet you at the base of the mountain.” Where were they going to go?
I can picture these disciples discussing it. “Maybe we should go to Cana in Galilee. That’s where he did His first miracle.” Someone else might have said, “No, no. Maybe it’s Nazareth. That’s in Galilee. That was his boyhood town.” Someone else might have said, “Let’s go to Capernaum. That’s where He did so many miracles. That’s in Galilee.” Another might have said, “I think we should go to Mount Carmel.” Do you see how vague that command was? He puts it in your heart, “Go see the risen Savior,” but you don’t know where to go.
They finally came to a decision, “Let’s go to the Sea of Galilee. That’s where He walked on water and that’s where He multiplied the fish. It was on the shores of Galilee that He fed the multitude. That’s where Peter caught the fish with the coin lodged in the gill. That’s where Peter lent Jesus his boat and Jesus preached from the boat.” So, they went to Galilee.
John 21:3, “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will also come with you.’ They went out, and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.” When they go to Galilee they aren’t sure that is the right place. How long would you wait if Jesus didn’t show up? Would you wait a week? Would you wait a month? Would you think you were in the wrong place? They waited and waited and waited and finally Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
Many commentators think that when Peter said, “I’m going fishing,” that he was quitting his life as a Christian. When he first met Jesus he left his boats and his nets. Some think, “Now he’s going back to the old vocation.” But we know why he was there. He came to see the risen Christ. If Matthew was the spokesman and said, “I’m going back to tax gathering,” I would think that maybe he was giving up on being a Christian. If the apostle Paul was there and said, “I’m going back to persecuting Christians,” I would understand that he was giving up.
I think when Peter said, “I’m going fishing,” it was different. I think Peter was saying, “That’s all I know. I’m a fisherman. That’s what I do. That’s my life. That’s my trade. From a little child I was brought up as a fisherman.” Peter might have said, “I don’t know if this is the right place. I don’t know if this is the right day. I don’t know if this is the right time. I have no idea when He is going to show up. So, I’m going fishing.”
I think what he had in his mind is that he was going to be who he was. He wasn’t giving up on the Lord and he wasn’t going back on the Lord. He knew he was forgiven but I think in his heart he felt disqualified to ever be used by the Lord again. He had denied the Lord. Jesus told him that someday he would be a fisher of men. I think he gave up on that. But in his heart he had come to see the risen Savior. He loved the Lord Jesus. So, he says, “Until He shows up, I will just do what I do.”
Brothers and sisters, what are we supposed to do until Jesus shows up? Let me give you the first answer to the Great Commission; go fishing. In other words, just live. Be yourselves. Fishing represents Peter. Until the Lord shows Himself to you, be who you are. God has ever only wanted two things. He wants you to be you and He wants Himself to be God. Stay out of the Godhead! Don’t try to be God! Don’t try to do what only God can do! Be yourself, with your gifts, your vocation, your calling, and your interests.
When you go fishing it might be sales or it might be teaching or it might be farming or it might be inventing or it might be a machinist or a doctor or a lawyer or a housewife. Just be who you are and wait for Jesus to show up. It doesn’t matter if you are selling pencils or shining shoes or going to school or if you are retired. Until Jesus shows up, just live. If you are going to understand the Great Commission, it begins there. Just live and wait for Jesus.
When he went fishing God began to lay down principles of the Great Commission. Let me show you at least three things that Peter learned. The first thing he learned in the Great Commission is what I’ve already mentioned; that is that I’m not a fisherman. I’m not a soul winner. I’m not a missionary. I’m not an evangelist. For Peter, this was a refresher course. Three years before, he had a similar experience. On the level of earth, he fished all night. He fished in the shallows. He was an expert with the nets. He wasn’t lazy. He fished all night. Some fishermen have a bad day. He had more than a bad day. When you have a bad day you catch a few fish. He worked all night and he caught nothing.
The first thing God teaches us in the Great Commission is that we don’t know how to fish. John 21:5, “Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, ‘No.’” “Have you caught any fish,” and they had to say, “No.” If you want to fulfill the Great Commission you’ve got to see that you can’t do it. You can’t do it, God can do it but He won’t. He says, “I won’t do it by myself and you can’t do it but I will do it in union with you.
Peter learned, “I can’t do it. I’m not sufficient.” Here is the second lesson, John 21:6, “And he said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch.’ They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.” I can’t do it but He can. He is adequate. The second lesson is that Jesus will tell me where to fish. Jesus will tell me how to fish. Jesus will bring fish into the net. The whole thing is a miracle. The Lord does not make us adequate. He shows us that He is adequate. They had a great catch of fish!
I once went fishing with my son Daniel. We did not do very well. He caught a very small fish. The first thing he said was, “Take my picture.” He held a little fish and I had to take his picture with the fish. When Jesus filled the net with fish, they didn’t say, “Take my picture.” John 21:7 says, “It is the Lord.” When I let Jesus fish, He gets all the glory.
Look what Peter does in John 21:7, “That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ And so when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on,” for he was stripped for work, “and threw himself into the sea.” He was on the boat fishing and he had his shirt off. Perhaps it was a warm day. When John said, “It’s the Lord,” Peter put his shirt on and jumped in the water. Wouldn’t you think you would take your shirt off to jump into the water?
This part is not in the Bible. My mind is crazy; it’s just what I think. I think he tried to walk on water. He failed the first time and he said, “I won’t take my eyes off Jesus this time.” So, he got dressed and stepped off the boat and he had to swim to shore. I can imagine Jesus laughing on the shore.
I have to learn that I can’t do it. I have to learn that He can do it. Then I have to learn that He does not need me but He wants to use me. Look at John 21:9, “And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish placed on it, and bread.” When he got to shore, Jesus was already cooking fish. He didn’t need Peter’s fish. He had fish already. Where did He get it? Did He create it? I won’t go into all of that. What I want you to see is that Jesus doesn’t need Ed Miller and He doesn’t need you. He didn’t need Peter or his fish.
Watch what the Lord does in John 21:10, “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” How precious is this; “Bring some of your fish and put it with My fish!” He doesn’t need us but He wants to use us. What can I bring Jesus? The only thing I can bring Him is what He puts in the net. He gives it to me so that I can give it back to Him.
In this miracle after the resurrection, notice that the net did not break. When Jesus does the fishing, none of the fish are lost. I remember when I was beginning to know the Lord and I was fishing the wrong way, I spent most of my time repairing the nets. The nets kept breaking. This program didn’t work. I had to try a different program. They weren’t coming to hear me. I had to set up some kind of a gimmick. Before the resurrection the nets broke but after the resurrection they did not break.
These are the three wonderful truths about the Great Commission; I can’t do it; He can do it; He doesn’t need me but He wants to use me. The principle of fishing is, “Just live.” That’s the Great Commission. You be you and let Jesus do the fishing. I have an idea that if we went around the room we would have many testimonies. You would say, “I didn’t plan it but God brought that person into my life and I got to share Jesus.” That’s Jesus putting the fish into the net. I don’t have to work at it. I just have to live. I just have to be who I am and let God be who He is. That’s the first part; fishing.
Let me say a couple of words about the second part; shepherding. I want to give a principle that I call the key to shepherding. If I’m going to be used by the Lord in the Great Commission, I need to be free in my heart. God tells this story in terms of Peter because Peter was feeling guilty. If I’m going to be used by the Lord, I can’t be living under condemnation. That’s why the Lord tells us this story in terms of Peter’s restoration.
I’m certain that in Peter’s heart he felt disqualified and said, “I will never be a fisher of men. I’ll still love the Lord and I know I’m going to heaven but as far as service, I’ve disqualified myself.” I want you to notice how the Lord Jesus deals with Peter as he swims to shore. At first, I thought it looked a little cruel, what Jesus did. He begins to bring up things that Peter didn’t want to think about. I already told you that the whole miracle with the fish was a refresher course. The first time is in Luke 5:8, “But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’” The first time God did that miracle, Peter said, “Depart; I’m a sinful man.”
Listen to John 21:9, “And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish placed on it, and bread.” When Peter got to shore, the first thing he saw was a charcoal fire. I can’t prove it but I think his heart sunk when he saw a charcoal fire. John 18:18, “Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.”
There’s only two times in your New Testament that you read about a charcoal fire. The last time Peter saw a charcoal fire he was denying the Lord. Now he swims to shore and that memory comes back of the charcoal fire. Jesus did that on purpose. I say, “Lord, why are you doing that to that poor man?”
John 21:15, “So, 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, ‘Tend My lambs.’” Don’t read that “la, la, la”. Peter was already suffering when he saw the charcoal fire and now Jesus speaks to him for the first time and he calls him, “Simon”. That was his name before he got saved. Jesus isn’t calling him “Peter”. He’s calling him “Simon”. I think that was painful.
Remember the verse that we began with, John 1:42, “He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas. (Which translated means Peter).” Jesus is stirring up Peter’s heart; the memory of the miracle of the fish and the memory of the charcoal fire. Peter thought, “I don’t want to see that. Jesus lost confidence in me and now He is calling me by my old name.” That was very uncomfortable for Peter.
Then Jesus asked him the same question three times. He had denied the Lord three times. John 21:15, “So, 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, ‘Tend My lambs.’” John 21:16, “He said to 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.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’” John 21:17, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, 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.’”
These are painful memories for Peter. Then Jesus says the most wonderful thing that Peter could hear. John 21:12, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples ventured to question Him, ‘Who are You?’ knowing that it was the Lord.” He invites Peter to come and dine at the charcoal fire. It’s as if the Lord was saying, “Peter, I know all about your past and I know all about your failures and I know all about your denials and I choose you anyway. Before the foundations of the world I chose you. I knew what you would do.” I think when He said, “Come and dine,” He wants fellowship with Peter. I think what He was saying is, “I’m comfortable with your past. You should be comfortable with your past.”
Now I want to come to the main point. Many who have studied this have called attention to three different Greek words for the word “love”. There are also different words for the word “feed”. There are also different Greek words for the word “sheep”. People get lost in the Greek. That’s not the point. What Jesus asked Peter is, “Do you love Me? Do you love Me? Do you love Me?” And you know the record. Peter hesitated and he got caught in his throat. He couldn’t say it. “Do you love Me enough to die for Me?” Peter couldn’t say, “Yes.” So, Jesus said it for him.
John 21:18-19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” When Jesus predicted that Peter would have a violent death, was that good news or bad news? For Peter, that was the greatest news that Jesus could ever give because He asked Peter, “Do you love Me enough to die for Me?” Peter couldn’t answer. And when you can’t answer, Jesus answers for you. Jesus promised Peter that He would never deny Him again. That was the heart of our Lord Jesus.
How can I keep the Great Commission? Is this too simple; live and love Jesus? That’s the Great Commission. He gave us that chapter to show us the Great Commission. He didn’t say, “Do you have financial support.” He didn’t say, “Did you go to Bible School or to seminary?” He didn’t say, “Do you have a love for souls?” He didn’t ask, “Do you have the correct spiritual gifts?” He didn’t say, “Do you have a call to the ministry?” He didn’t say, “Do you have a board behind you to support you?” He didn’t say, “Do you have the commitment to be a missionary?” He just said, “Do you love Me?”
If you are ever going to fulfill the Great Commission, just live and love Jesus. As you live, God will bring the fish to you. As you love Jesus, you will support and help the people of God. Live and love Jesus…
Our heavenly Father, thank You for John 21. Oh, how we learn about how to fulfill the Great Commission! We know that we’re not adequate. We know that You are adequate. We know that You don’t need us but You want to use us. Teach us just to live as we wait to meet the risen Savior. Then, Lord, shed Your love abroad in our heart that we might evermore fall in love with Jesus. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen