A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., on April 18, 2010.
Psalm 30:-12; John 21:1-19
The twenty-first chapter of John. It is the final chapter in John’s gospel, and as you know by now it is from this final portion of the gospel that we have read our lesson for this morning. The twenty-first chapter of John.
But let’s go back to the final verse in chapter twenty. I’ll read it for you so you don’t have to look it up.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
What a great way to end the gospel. Don’t you agree? Listen again...
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name
That would have been a great ending to John’s gospel. But it isn’t. There’s another whole chapter that follows. If the final verse of chapter twenty provides such a great ending, then why is there another chapter that follows it? Does John’s gospel need a twenty-first chapter?
That’s a good question, don’t you think? It’s almost like John’s gospel has two endings, that the author wrote two, couldn’t figure out which one he liked better, and finally just decided to include them both. To be honest, if we didn’t have this twenty-first chapter, we wouldn’t miss it all that much. Not really. Chapter twenty would serve the purpose just fine. After all the author sums it up beautifully, doesn’t he? “...and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Amen, Amen. Why not end the gospel with these words? Why add another chapter to it?
Well, let’s bring in the biblical scholars. After all, there’s a slew of them out there, just chomping at the bit to deal with issues just like this. And as you might imagine, there are about as many theories as there are biblical scholars. One of those theories is that the author of John’s gospel did end it after chapter twenty, and that someone else later added this final chapter for... well, for whatever reason. Biblical scholars have to justify their keep some way, I suppose, and this is one of the ways they do it... coming up with theories and sometimes rather arcane ideas. So, some believe John’s gospel has been added to after the fact.
If I’m not making this very clear to you somehow, I would encourage you to go back on your own time, read the final chapters of John’s gospel and decide for yourself. Does it appear to you that someone has added to it? Does it seem to you that John’s gospel has two final chapters? And if so, why? Those would be good questions for you to ask yourself.
Now, I’m not saying that someone did add this final chapter later on. After all, I don’t qualify as a biblical scholar. I’m just saying, if it’s possible that it happened that way, I think we need to ask why. In asking why, I’ve come up with a theory of my own, though, as I just said, I’m no biblical scholar. Here’s my theory: whether that final chapter was added later, or not, I think we do have two “final” chapters in John’s gospel.
My theory begs the question... why? Even if chapter twenty-one is original to the gospel, why would there be two final chapters? My theory involves an answer to that question. Do you want to hear it? It is because of Simon Peter.
If John’s gospel ended at chapter twenty, there’s no redemption for Simon, there’s no forgiveness. He’s just left there hanging out to dry with only a scant bit of history given to us to tell his final story. And John – or whoever – just can’t let that happen because he knows there’s a bit of Simon Peter in all of us. And because of that, Peter’s story – his final story – needs to be told. And for that story to be told, there has to be an additional final chapter to John’s gospel.
You see, Simon Peter is the central figure in chapter twenty-one of the fourth gospel. Notice I did not say he was the “star.” Hardly. We all know what he’s done. He denied Jesus right after denying that he would do so. But Jesus knew he would do it, and then Simon went right out and did what Jesus said he would do and what he, Simon, said he would never do. When the going got rough, Simon Peter wilted like a piece of week-old lettuce.
But, despite the emotional trauma of all that transpired, Simon never was much of one to sit around licking his wounds. You can’t get anything done when you feel sorry for yourself, and if there is one thing Simon doesn’t do, it is feel sorry for himself. Simon gets things done. So there’s only one thing left for him to do, and that’s to get busy. For Simon, to be busy is to be fishing. Fishing was what he knew, fishing was something he had done all his life, learning at his daddy’s knee. Fishing brought some meaning to his life and some coin to his pocket. Simon was a fisherman, so he went back to his boat and to the sea. Fishing was simply in Simon’s DNA.
But it wasn’t the same. The sound of the water lapping against the side of his boat no longer brought the pleasure it once did. The familiar smell of the fish did not give him joy as it once did. Sweating in the sun, toiling for a living, getting his hands dirty... none of that brought any satisfaction to his soul as it once did. Why? The answer is simple: the whole time – the whole time – all he could think about was Jesus and all the promises he, Simon, had made to his friend and Master. He had forsaken all – or he thought he had forsaken all – to follow the Nazarene. He had believed – or at least he thought he had believed – that Jesus was his Lord, his Christ, the Messiah. And now, despite Jesus’ appearances to the disciples, Simon can’t lose the thought that all this is gone.
Simon had viewed himself as a leader of men. When the disciples of Jesus needed a spokesman, hadn’t Simon stepped in? Hadn’t he been the one to encourage them when they needed it most? Wasn’t he the one who resisted efforts on the part of the authorities to arrest Jesus and take him into custody?
And now, back doing what he once had loved to do – fishing in the familiar waters of the Tiberian sea – he can’t get the sound of that cock crowing out of his ears. He can’t even go to bed at night without hearing that terrible noise, that constant reminder of how he had betrayed Jesus. His life is without redemption for the terrible things he did to Jesus. And if we didn’t have the twenty-first chapter of John’s gospel that’s where Simon’s story would have ended, and quite possibly yours and mine as well.
Wait a minute. What does this have to do with us? Well, you see, there’s a bit of Simon Peter in all of us... that side of us that is filled with denial, if not betrayal, that urge in us to live life on our own terms and not be concerned with the needs of others around us. There’s a bit of Simon Peter in all of us.
But it is in this final – and possibly the second final – chapter of the gospel that Simon Peter finds redemption. And it is because of this chapter that you and I can find redemption as well.
They were sitting around licking their wounds, and true to his nature Simon Peter took it about as long as he could. Thomas, the Twin, but perhaps best known to us as the doubter, was with him, as was Nathanael, the brothers James and John the sons of Zebedee, and two others. Did you do the math? Add it up... seven of the remaining eleven disciples. “I’m going fishing,” Simon declares. “We’ll go with you,” the others said, so they got into the boat and pushed out to sea, fishing all night long.
Nothing. They caught nothing. Nada. But you know what, it may not have mattered all that much. Truth be told, they weren’t fishing because they wanted, nor expected, a great haul. Proceeds from their business are, quite frankly, the last thing on their minds right now. They went fishing because it filled the time and gave them something to do. It was an opportunity to get their minds off the things that had been relentlessly filling their minds. There were no answers in what was on their collective minds, only questions. And when they can’t take it anymore, they go fishing.
That they caught nothing... well, I’m not sure they were all that much bothered by it. They just wanted something to do.
All night long they’ve been fishing, and just as the sun was flirting with the possibility of coming up at least one more time, a man comes to them and from the seashore calls out to them: “Children,” he says (hands cupped around his mouth so they can hear). A rather funny thing to call these grown men, don’t you think? “Children, you have no fish, have you?” The answer is no. Pure and simple. Anybody could see the nets are empty, just like their hearts, just like their souls. “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”
Some?! Some?! There were so many fish they couldn’t haul them in, the nets became so heavy.
“It is the Lord!” says the beloved disciple, whoever that was, and when Simon hears this he puts on his clothes because he’s been working naked. Think there’s a parable in that? Don’t know about you, but it doesn’t add much to the story for me to think of Simon as fishing without any clothes. Except, remember Adam and Eve and what they did when God first came to them after they had eaten of the forbidden fruit? They covered up a bit too, didn’t they? I think there’s a lesson in that. In the presence of the Almighty our sin is exposed, and the first thing we want to do, when that happens, is to cover up. Simon Peter is no exception. Why? Because there’s a bit of Simon Peter in all of us.
This was not the first time Jesus had appeared to them after his resurrection. In fact, John points out that it is the third time. But that doesn’t mean the disciples are necessarily catching on, that they really and truly believe Jesus was alive... alive to them or alive to anyone. Given the mind-set of that day, who’s to say they didn’t think they were with a ghost?
You’re familiar, I’m sure with the conversation between Jesus and Simon that ensues while they’re eating breakfast. Jesus says to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” This happens three times, you will recall. Three times. The same number of times Jesus has appeared to his disciples. Will three times be charm? “Feed my sheep,” Jesus says to him each time, which means – or at least I think it means – that fishing isn’t in Simon’s future. From now on, he’s going to be taking care of Jesus’ flock. It was the closest thing to ordination that Simon Peter ever got.
And it just smelled of forgiveness and redemption. Jesus had not given up on Simon. Simon’s failure would not be the last word. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only difference between Simon Peter and Judas is that Judas took matters into his own hands and Simon stuck around for redemption.
If you and I will do the same, we will find forgiveness too. Were it not for Jesus coming to us on the seashore of our lives, as he did for Simon, we would know no redemption. After all, let us remember: there is a bit of Simon Peter in all of us. And if it takes a second final chapter for us to get the message, so be it. So be it.
Lord, even if it requires a second final chapter, come to us and offer us redemption, just as you did Simon. Maybe this time we will really and truly listen and then respond to your grace as never before. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.