John 20:24-31, John 21:1-25.
CHAPTER 15 — THE LORD JESUS' FORTY DAYS.
RESURRECTION SCENES: THE APPEARINGS TO THOMAS AND THE SEVEN.
That which we have read tonight gives the account of the sixth and seventh appearings of the Lord to His disciples in resurrection, although you may have noticed, that with regard to the latter, it says in chapter 21, "This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead" (John 21:14). That clearly is the third time as recorded by John, for we have seen that He made Himself known on the day of resurrection to five different persons or companies.
The way in which John presents the Lord in resurrection is exceedingly interesting; and I have no doubt that in the three appearings which John alone records, the Spirit of God purposely brings before us three immense circles of truth. We saw last week, when speaking on this chapter, the Lord in the midst of His disciples. You have that which is a figure of the Assembly now, the present place of privilege which Christ gives us here upon earth. It is very striking to notice, that, while John gives you so much of what you might call heavenly truth and heavenly relationship, his great point is that it is to be now known on earth. Many a saint thinks he will get wonderful blessing by-and-by. But John's great point is this, it is all to be known and enjoyed now while on earth. It is the revelation of what God is as already made known while in this scene. That is, you have the unfolding of what God is, and the sense of being in the favour of God while here.
Paul's ministry is quite different. He presents us before God, as in Christ, where Christ now is. John brings God down here. Paul takes man up there. Both are true, and both are necessary. Therefore, I repeat, that what we have in the first scene is what we as Christians should know and enjoy now. If we really are in the mind of God we shall know what it is to be gathered together as His children, enjoying His favour, led by His Spirit, and with the Lord Himself in the midst.
Thomas was not present on the occasion we have already considered, when Jesus came first into the midst of His disciples. He missed a great deal, it seems to me, by not being there. To miss a meeting may be a small thing in our minds, but Thomas missed a great deal that night. God often gives us great instruction in the history of a man, and that of Thomas is no exception. Did you ever trace out Thomas's history? It strikes me as being downward in tone. The first time he is mentioned we only get the fact that he was called by the Lord to be an apostle (Matt. 10:3). John mentions him four times. First where we read, "Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus (he was a twin), unto his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). He was a devoted man there. Only a zealous man, whose heart is devoted, would say, "Let us go with the Lord though it cost us our lives."
Now come to chapter 14 "Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John 14: 5). He is ignorant Thomas there. He might have known. Had he had his ears wide open to all that he did hear, he would not have been so ignorant Well now, what is he here in this twentieth chapter? I do not know the reason why he was not at the first meeting; but God takes good care to tell us that he was absent Thomas on that occasion, and as a consequence, incredulous, unbelieving Thomas. I do not doubt that God has brought great good out of his unbelief to many souls, still, the picture is not what I call pretty. Unbelief never pays. When the disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord" he replied, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). I do not doubt that he is a figure of the Jews, who will not believe till they see the Lord by-and-by. When you come to the next chapter, he is among the seven, who go a-fishing when they certainly had no business to, and got nothing for their pains (John 21:2). I trust I shall not be giving him a hard name when I call him disobedient Thomas. Here is a man who begins devoted and ends disobedient, and, in between, is ignorant and unbelieving. That man had toned down. He is mentioned once more, however (Acts 1:13, 14), and then is seen to be at a ten-day prayer meeting, the very best place in the world to get right, if we have toned down. Ah, my friends, it is very easy to tone down if we are not watchful. "Watch and pray" are words we all need to remember.
Let us now seek to learn the lesson of the Lord's sixth appearing. "And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you" (John 20:26). First of all notice how the Lord puts His impress upon the first day of the week. There has been a little difficulty in the mind of some as to the particular place which the Lord's Day has in Scripture. I do not think that any person who reads Scripture carefully can fail to discover the place God gives it. It was on the first day of the week that Mary of Bethany anointed the Lord (John 12:3). The Lord appeared to His gathered disciples on two occasions, and each time it was on the first day of the week (John 20:19-26). It was on the first day of the week that the Holy Ghost descended at Pentecost, and formed the Church (Lev. 23:17; Acts 2:1-4). It was on the first day of the week "the disciples came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7). Again we read in Revelation that John says, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10), and this term — the Lord's Day — the Spirit of God fastens on the first day of the week.
I need scarcely remind you that many speak of the Lord's Day as the Sabbath. That is not the language of Scripture. We ought to be intelligent and scriptural in our use of words. When Scripture speaks of the Sabbath it refers to the last day of the week. The Jew gave the Lord the seventh, the last day. The Christian gives the first day of the week to the Lord. And I should certainly claim for the Lord's Day a higher sanctity than the Jew does for the Sabbath. There ought to be a dedication of that day to the Lord, and the Lord's interests only. Such, alas! is not always the case with the Lord's people now. Nor is the reason of this far to seek. If the saints habitually breathe a worldly atmosphere, it is not at all difficult for them to assimilate what is all round about, but I do not think it is to our credit or profit, beloved brethren. I say that little cautionary word in passing, because if the thin end of a wedge get into a log of wood, it may soon be riven asunder, and if our thought of the Lord's Day is borrowed from the world, certain loss ensues. It is the day we ought to devote to His interests in every possible way.
This was the day the Lord selected to meet His own, and we should thank God for such a privilege being accorded to us. It does not follow, of course, that the breaking of bread must precede everything else on that day, as some suppose. Clearly the breaking of bread was in the evening, in the Assembly at Ephesus (Acts 20:7). Whatever service to the Lord may have preceded that we are not told, but I do not surmise that the servants and saints of the Lord sat at home in idleness the previous part of the day. Not a bit of it. With us the gathering to break bread might be mid-day or early, but the point is this, the day is devoted to the Lord, and deeply thankful we ought to be to God for preserving to us, in the land in which we live, the Lord's Day in any measure of its scriptural character.
Let us now consider the interesting occasion when, for the second time, as He joins His own, the Lord says, "Peace be unto you." Mark what was to characterise the Assembly. It was peace. Again it is a meeting of the Assembly, and Thomas is with them. Again the first word is "Peace." He calls them into the blessed atmosphere of His own presence, and what does He breathe? Peace — that atmosphere of calm where God is known and enjoyed.
The Lord then addresses Thomas and says: "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God" (John 20:27, 28). He is bowed in worship. He really becomes a worshipper at this moment. He had said, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). This leads the Lord to add now, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29). These blessed ones I understand to mean the individuals who compose the Church of God at the present moment, while the Lord is absent.
Thomas is here the figure of the Jews who will not believe in the Lord until they see Him. Scripture manifestly states in many places that by-and-by He will be seen. For example, "They shall look on him whom they pierced" (Zech. 12:10; John 19:37). Again, "They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30). Again, "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him" (Rev. 1:7). We are among the blessed company who have received the testimony of God to Jesus, though we have not seen Him. But the Jew will not believe in Him until He come out by-and-by in manifest glory, and then Israel as a whole, wrought in by God undoubtedly, will bow down to Him. They will believe in Him, delight in Him, and confess Him as Thomas does here," My Lord and my God." Then will be fulfilled the scripture, — "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom. 11:26). Thomas, in this scene, is a figure unfolding to us the fact that those who have refused to believe, yea more, have rejected the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, will by-and-by be brought into His presence, and then they will own Him both Lord and God.
In connection with this second appearing recorded by John there is a little word added which is very interesting. "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:30 and 31). The person who now believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, has life through His name. The Spirit does not say here that you know you have life — that comes after; but it is interesting to observe that what has been written is put before us with this definite object, "That ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." And what then is the effect? A person who really believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son. of God, that person gets life through His name. There is a communication of life by the sovereign grace of God.
When you come to the Epistle of John the Spirit goes a little further. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). It is not there the fact that you get life by believing in Him, but that you are to know that you have it. It is the present blessed portion of every soul that believes in the Lord Jesus Christ to know they possess, as a present thing, eternal life. I do not say that all such are in the full enjoyment of it. But they are to know it. "He that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12). Whether we have entered fully into it is another question altogether. It is of the last importance, however, for the soul to have the sense, "I have got it." There is not a saint on earth today that is in the full enjoyment of eternal life, but we shall be when we reach the spot where Christ is. But life is a wonderful thing, and to have it really in the power of the Holy Ghost is to dwell in that blessed sphere of affection and knowledge of the Father, and relationship with the Father, which Christ as the risen Man is now in.
Let us now pass on to the third time the Lord was interviewed in resurrection, as recorded by our evangelist, the remarkable scene of John 21. In the first we have seen the Church of God instructed. In the second we get the Jew believing and worshipping. The third scene undoubtedly gives us the future blessing of the Gentiles. It has been often said that this is a mysterious chapter. The remark is just, what it contains being an appendix to the Gospel. Under a figure God puts before us another future sphere, and scene, where Christ will be the spring and source of all blessing. He has not only blessed the Church, and is going to bless the Jew; but by-and-by all the Gentiles too will trust in Him. Out of the heathen nations He will draw by His sovereign grace, those who are now in darkness. It is a figure of the reign of the Lord when there will be deep, rich, full blessing for those who have now no link with Him whatever. They come in under the figure of the fish. Observe, when they brought the fish to shore, the net did not break. By-and-by when things are administered by Christ there will be no failure. What we have therefore in these three appearings is very simple. The Church, the Jew, and the Gentile, each blessed by Christ. That, beloved friends, I think is the dispensational teaching of these three scenes. Now I pass to the practical way in which the truth here presented applies to our own souls.
"After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself" (ver. 1). The way in which the. Spirit of God lays emphasis on this appearing of the Lord is to be noticed. "There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee" (the guileless man of the first chapter of John), and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John), and two other of his disciples" (John 21:2). Now how came these disciples down by the Sea of Tiberias. You know very well that the Sea of Tiberias is where they were born and bred. There it was that Zebedee the father of James and John carried on a large fishing business. When the Lord first called Andrew and Simon, and then called James and John, it says, "They left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him" (Mark 1:20). How came these disciples back again on this historic ground?
You will remember that the Lord had said to the Galilean women, "Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me" (Matt. 28:10). I have no doubt it was this commission, coupled with the message which the angel sent them through the same women, that caused them to be in the place where Jesus met them. They went down to Galilee and waited for Him to appear. Evidently He kept them waiting a little. What position do you and I occupy today? "Waiting for the coming of the Lord," you reply. True, and what happens in the meantime? We are being tested, as these seven were. Arrived on the scene of old associations, with the sparkling blue waters of the Sea of Galilee, and the old boats and nets in full view, while waiting for their Lord's appearing, the temptation was presented to them to fill up the time by going a-fishing. That which dominated us in our unconverted days is very apt to re-assert its influence if we are not on our watch.
So was it with the seven disciples here. Had not the Lord called them from fishing? Had He not gathered them round Himself, and said, "I will make you to become fishers of men"? (Mark 1:17). Some of you will say, "It was very natural that they should go fishing." Ah, things that you and I dropped in the first blush of affection for Christ, habits, ways, things we were full of, till Christ met us, are dangers we cannot afford to under-estimate, and, unless we are watchful and careful, depend upon it the day will come when we shall find ourselves confronted by them once more, and they will carry us off.
The case before us is a striking illustration of this principle. "Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a-fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee" (John 21:3). Peter was the ringleader in this expedition, and all the rest follow. It will only take one wilful saint to send a whole company wrong. Let one prominent person go astray, and all the rest will follow. Hence, in a certain sense, the influence we have on each other is a very serious thing. Most certainly it is a solemn thing if it be not right. I do not speak so much of our words as our ways. Because "actions speak louder than words," and a man's spirit is of far more importance than his communications. His general habits will impress others a great deal more than his words, because words are easily forgotten; but the general habit, the life of the person, is more far-reaching in its effect.
I say this because I feel the importance of it, and with a desire that our hearts might, by grace, be kept near the Lord. The person that is going on with the Lord will affect others for good, and the man who is not walking with the Lord, but is walking afar off, will affect others prejudicially. The "I go a-fishing" of Peter influenced the rest, who thought, if they did not say outright, "It will not be wrong for us if he goes." The more important the person who takes the lead, the wider is the effect of his action. Peter had a remarkable place of prominence among the disciples, hence the weightier was the effect for good or for evil, of his lead, on those around him.
And now we read that, "They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing" (John 21:3). It was history repeating itself over again. In the days spoken of in the fifth of Luke, when the Lord preached from Peter's boat, He said: "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing" (Luke 5:4, 5). Here it is the same. They take nothing. And, beloved friends, if we are not near the Lord, nothing is really caught. If we get away from Him, if we get on our own line, the line that suits ourselves and our natural inclinations, there will be nothing that is really for the Lord. And then there is disappointment.
"But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus" (John 21:4). A little bit of self-will always blinds the eye. A little bit of taking our own way and of departure from the known will of the Lord will certainly bring spiritual blindness. Why did not they know Him now? There He stood. The fact was this, He had bidden them go and wait for Him but they took their own way, and went a-fishing instead, turning back to the old paths they had been called out of years before. They inclined to go on the road that presented itself as a temptation, instead of patiently waiting and watching for Him to appear to them, and consequently when He does appear, they do not know Him. There is a pregnant lesson for all saints in this.
"Then Jesus saith unto them, Children (or sirs), have ye any meat?" (John 21:5). Beautiful courtesy and deep interest in them are expressed in this question. I need not say that everything the Lord did and said was absolutely perfect, but the courteous way in which He spoke to them is flung into greater contrast by their reply. "They answered him, No" (ver. 5). A cold, bare "No." Could anything be coarser? "But," you say, "they did not know Him." That is the sorrowful consideration for us. When we are away from Christ the real state of our hearts comes out, and often by our lips. They do not say "No, Lord," nor even "No, sir," but a bare "No." God records this of purpose, depend upon it. A saint away from Christ, a saint at a distance from Christ, will indulge in a want of courtesy in his very language that will betray his real state. God has therefore recorded this for our learning, and our warning too, beloved friends.
But Jesus, blessed be His name, does not chide them. He says, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find." His only thought was their blessing. "They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes" (John 21:6). In a moment by these words a revelation is made to one soul of the seven. "Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord." It was John. That man, usually so quick to learn, had till this moment his eye blinded like the rest; because even a very spiritual saint, if he let himself be dragged into ways that are not in keeping with the mind of the Lord, will lose his spirituality, and his keen perception of the truth. John, however, it is who said: "It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him (for he was naked), and did cast himself into the sea" (John 21:7). What led Peter to do that? I have no doubt it was the affection that was in his heart and real desire to get near the Lord. There was undoubtedly in that man a very true and tender attachment to the Person of the blessed Lord.
You may tell me that Peter was impulsive, and self-confident, and therefore he fell. I know it. But who has not fallen? Have you never fallen? Who would dare say so? But there was in Peter a very real and true attachment to the Lord. There had been manifestly something else — self-confidence — but at the bottom of his heart there was deep affection for the Lord. The very fact of his flinging himself into the sea showed how completely, as far as the Lord was concerned, he was restored to Him. I do not believe that this chapter gives us Peter's restoration to the Lord. We saw on a previous occasion that when the two came back from Emmaus to the upper room, they were greeted by the words, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon." The Lord evidently had met Simon before that during the day. What took place between the blessed Lord and that dear man at that time, God has, however, flung a veil over, and therefore no one can describe it.
And yet, although I could not describe it, I am pretty certain of what did take place between a Master so perfect in grace, so full of deep, true love, and His erring servant, now a penitent, broken-down man, who had learned by terribly bitter experience where his own self-confidence could carry him. Peter, I am sure, got again in his soul the sense: "I am loved by Him. Spite of all my sin, spite of all the shame I have brought on His name, there is nothing in His heart but love." You know the Lord had warned him and said, "Simon, Simon, behold, 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). Notice, Satan sifted him just because he was wheat. Perhaps you have sometimes wondered whether there was any wheat there at all. If there were no wheat there would be no sifting. Satan never sifts mere chaff. It is because there was wheat, and that he was the subject of sovereign and divine grace, that the enemy sought to trip him up. And he will do the same with any of us, if there be not watchfulness and self-judgment.
Peter had said, "Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death" (Luke 22:33). All the rest of the disciples really said the same. We are told there what Peter said, as the words fell from his lips; but we read elsewhere, "Likewise also said they all" (Mark 14:31). Peter's fall was really at the moment when he boasted of what he would do. What followed was the legitimate outcome of his inward fall. Thereafter he denied the Lord, as you know, and then you remember "the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter" (Luke 22:61). What kind of a look was that? Not a look of scorn and reproach I am certain. It was a look that so broke Peter's heart, that "he went out and wept bitterly."
Who can tell all the agony of that man's soul, during the three days, till he met the Lord in resurrection? I am persuaded that what sustained him was his Lord's word, "I have prayed for thee," and the look that Jesus gave him in the high priest's palace. Otherwise he would have done what Judas did, gone and hanged himself. There was only remorse in Judas, so he hanged himself. There was real repentance in Peter, I have no doubt, so true restoration of soul was effected when the Lord met him alone. When He restores He does it Himself. Restoration is this, you get back to Jesus in the deep sense of absolute forgiveness on His side, and then bask afresh in the warm beams of His unchanging love; love that has missed you from His side; love that will not give you up; and love that, when you come back, makes you feel more fully than ever, how He delights to have you near Him. That is the love of Christ. It never changes and never varies. Well, therefore, may we sing as we often do
"O Lord, Thy love's unbounded —
So sweet, so full, so free —
My soul is all transported,
Whene'er I think on Thee!
Yet, Lord, alas! what weakness
Within myself I find,
No infant's changing pleasure
Is like my wandering mind.
And yet Thy love's unchanging,
And doth recall my heart
To joy in all its brightness,
The peace its beams impart.
Still sweet 'tis to discover,
If clouds have dimmed my sight,
When passed, Eternal Lover,
Towards me, as e'er, Thou'rt bright."
When John said, "It is the Lord," Peter is deeply moved, and seeks to get near to Him. He does not, as elsewhere, wait for the Lord to say, "Come." It is not like another time on the same lake, where he said, "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water" (Matt. 14:28). His action plainly says, "I know the Lord would like me to be near Him," and he gets near Him. The rest of the disciples come dragging the net of fishes. "As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread" (John 21:9). That must have touched Peter's conscience. He knew what had happened beside a fire of coals a few days before; how he had sat down beside the world's fire, got in beside the devil's servants, of course got soiled, and at last denied his Lord. Can I expect the Lord to support me if I am going on with the world's things? Clearly not. I think the old Scotch woman was right when she said regarding Peter, "He had nae business down among the devil's lackies." Of course he got tripped up and came down. Oh, young Christian, you and I will come down if we are not watchful. If we think we can traffic with the world, converse with the worldling, and sit scatheless by the world's fire, you may depend upon it we shall soon find out our mistake and come down also.
But perhaps you say, "I am afraid I shall fall." I will give you comfort. You will not fall today because you are afraid you will. It is the day you cease to fear, and the day you think you can walk, that is the day you will fall. Whoever says, "I have no fear of falling," has fallen already. What memories that fire woke up in Peter's heart, but it was the best "fire of coals" he ever saw, for by its warmth the Lord restored him publicly. This is where the Lord gives him a word before all his brethren, which reinstates him as a servant. He had had the Lord's prayer for Him, been melted by His look, and now he is to have the Lord's word. It is the Lord's word that puts that man right before everybody, because he had failed publicly, and now in the presence of the company he has to be restored.
We then read: "Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him. Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord" (ver. 12). I think they would have liked to ask. At the same time they did not care to do it. "Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead" (ver. 14). This was the third time according to John, but as we have before seen it was the seventh time in all; and if seven denote spiritual perfection, we have its full meaning here in the lovely way in which the blessed Lord deals with His dear servant and perfectly restores him.
"So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" (John 21:15). The moment the Lord seized for this question appears to carry a great lesson for us. Supposing a brother gets astray, and backslides a little, do you know the way to restore him? Would you go and tell him he has slipped away? That will not do him much good. Very likely if you were to say to him, "Brother, come and have a cup of tea with me," and then talk to him about the Lord, that would help him. What had the seven disciples been up till now? Cold and hungry; out all night they had caught nothing, and were disappointed. What does the Lord do? He says, "Come and dine." They get both warmth and food. Do you know a spiritually cold and, consequently, hungry brother? Feed him, warm him up. Give him food, spiritually I mean. The great thing for you and me to do is to warm him. He wants cherishing and nourishing, warmth and food. It is always thus put in Scripture. "For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church" (Eph. 5:29). What is the nourishing? Food. What is the cherishing? Warmth.
Beloved friends, I am quite sure if we took this way, the Lord's way, with a saint that has got a little aside, we should do real shepherd-work. You try and get such to your house, give them a nice cup of tea, and then speak about the Lord, and you will be able to help such, minister to their soul-need, recover, and restore them. It is a great thing to be able to restore a person, and the way in which Peter is here restored is very touching. I am fully persuaded that this story, as related by John, is given with deep design of God for our instruction, and the profit of others.
And now let us note the Lord's way of dealing with Peter. You will find there are three questions and three answers, and they each differ. First of all He says, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" That is, I apprehend, did he love Jesus more than all the rest of the disciples. Peter had once said, "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended" (Matt. 26:33). His answer here is, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." But the word Peter uses for love, in each of his replies, is a little different from the Lord's. It is, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I am attached to thee." To this the Lord rejoins, giving him a special commission, "Feed my lambs" (John 21:15).
"He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I am attached to thee. He saith unto him, Shepherd my sheep" (John 21:16). The meaning of this wider commission is surely, "Peter, I trust you to now care for those I love; I put confidence in you." "He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, art thou attached to me?" He does not use the same word for love the third time that He does the first and second. He adopts Peter's word, "I am attached." He does not say that he was not attached to Him, nor does He chide him. What He does do is this, He puts His finger upon the spring of self-confidence in his soul. "Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Art thou attached to me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I am attached to thee."
Peter, so to speak, now opens the doors of his heart to let his Lord look right in. It would indeed need special perception to see that there was love there. Others might have thought there was no love there at all. How could that man love the Saviour whom he denied thrice? Was he not a hypocrite? No, he was not. I tell you what he was. He was a man, who at the bottom of his heart loved the Lord; but then he got loose in his ways, and careless with his lips, as the fruit of self-confidence, and that was the secret of his tremendous downfall, and three-fold denial of his Master. The Lord's thrice-repeated query touched the springs of his soul absolutely, and grieved and utterly ploughed up, Peter is fain to say, "Lord, thou knowest all things." Thou canst read my heart, Thou knowest what all others might well doubt, and nobody else knows that, "I am attached to thee." What is the Lord's answer? "Feed my sheep" (John 21:17).
Here, in plain language, you have Peter restored in the most beautiful way publicly. Restoration of a brother publicly is, alas! a very rare thing in this day. How beautifully the Lord put this man right first with Himself, and then with his brethren. There is one thing the Lord greatly desires for each of us, that we should be right with Himself and also with our brethren. So in the presence of them all, He manifestly says, "I trust that man absolutely, for I put into his hands the objects of My tenderest love and solicitude — My lambs and My sheep to feed by his ministry." By the threefold commission here given to His servant the Lord shows how profoundly He can trust him. When Peter trusted himself he failed. When he had the springs of self-confidence broken, that was the moment Christ could trust him. And here in the presence of his brethren he is beautifully and publicly restored to the Lord's confidence.
I have little doubt that when Peter broke down and denied his Lord, there was a good bit of talk among the ten. "How we have been disgraced," very likely fell from their lips, as it falls from ours, if one of the company we are walking with dishonours the Lord's name. Perhaps Peter thought, and they too, that he would never get his head above water again. But now the Lord's rich grace gives him a place of perfect confidence as He puts His sheep into his care. And when you come to the second of the Acts, you will find the Lord giving him a wonderful place. Really the breaking of him was the making of him. If you carefully read his epistles you will find constant allusions, tacit and open, to his fall.
He manifestly desired that Christ's lambs and sheep should go on rightly, and ever have himself as a beacon. In one epistle he says, "Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" (1 Peter 1:5). In the next he urges the importance of adding to our faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Five times he alludes to these seven moral qualities, and says, If ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (2 Peter 1:5-15). He always had the remembrance of his fall in his soul. The man who has fallen and been put right by God, is just the very one that can help those who may be getting a little bit astray. Men say, "Never trust a horse that has been down and broken his knees." That is well enough for horses, but not for saints. The one who has fallen, and got thoroughly broken and been restored, is just the one the Lord will trust and use. We are very slow to trust such again. I daresay all the ten said, "We shall never be able to trust Brother Simon again." Christ says, "I will trust him with all that I have got on earth." Friends, that is Christ. That is the grace of Christ to a poor feeble saint such as Peter was in himself, and as you and I are in ourselves.
There is something exquisitely beautiful in what now follows these touching ministrations to Peter's soul. He had been afforded, when in the high priest's palace, a grand opportunity of being faithful to the Lord and had missed it. Here the Lord promises him another chance. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, 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" (John 21:18). I have little doubt that as Peter looked back on his bygone pathway his soul was consumed with agony, for he felt, "I missed the finest chance of being true to the Lord that ever was." And not unlikely he also said, "I shall never get another." His Lord, as it were, says to him: "Yes, you will, Peter. When that day comes I shall give you grace, Simon, to glorify Me in the very spot of your failure." This is, to me, one of the most touching passages in all Scripture. The Lord assures him he shall have an opportunity where he failed and broke down of being true to Himself. "This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God."
Why did Peter say to the enemies of his Lord, "I know not this man of whom ye speak"? (Mark 14:71). To save his life, He then felt, "If I own Him, I shall die." And so to save his life he denied Him. "Now," says Christ, "you shall get another opportunity of glorifying God." "And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me" (ver. 19). This was His final command.
"Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved, following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter, seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?" (John 21:20, 21). Observe that John is seen here doing what Peter was instructed to do, "Follow me." In the query, "Lord, and what shall this man do?" Peter's old nature asserts itself. The Lord's answer amounts to this: "You mind your own business, Peter." His actual words were: "if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me" (John 21:22). Similarly it is not a question with you what I shall do, nor is it my business what you shall do. What have I to do? Follow the Lord. The saint who has his eye upon the Lord, and is following the Lord, will be sustained by the Lord.
But the meaning of this scripture is important. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that this disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" The meaning of the Lord's words I understand to be as follows. As to his ministry John goes on to the return of the blessed Lord. This is what you get in his latest writings — the Book of Revelation. He carries you on to that epoch, and thus tarries till Jesus comes again. The Lord give us grace to follow Him more simply and more faithfully than ever till He come.