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The Authentic Jesus | Life Changer

April 16, 2023
John 21:15-25

15When 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, “Feed my lambs.” 16He said to him 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, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” 

20Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 

24This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 

25Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

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To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst

To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships

To participate in God’s mission to the world 

Opening Prayer

Mighty God, pour out your Holy Spirit on all of us gathered here. Open our hearts, that we might be filled with your goodness and your love. Live in us, that we might bear the life of Christ for all to see. Overshadow us with your presence, that we might truly be blessed and offer your blessing for the sake of the world. Amen.

Responsive Prayer—Psalm 63:1-8

1O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; 

my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, 

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, 

beholding your power and glory.

3Because your steadfast love is better than life, 

my lips will praise you.

4So I will bless you as long as I live; 

in your name I will lift up my hands. 

5My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, 

and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 

6When I remember you upon my bed, 

and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 

7For you have been my help, 

and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. 

8My soul clings to you; 

your right hand upholds me.

Summary and Connection

For the past few weeks, we have been looking at the gospels to discover the authentic Jesus. This week we will discover Jesus as a “Life Changer” from John 21:15-25. In this passage we see Jesus reconcile, restore, and recommission Peter to ministry. We also read about the hallmark of the beloved disciple John’s ministry. This passage focuses on multiple themes such as reconciliation and recommission, leadership, discipleship, and ministry.

In John 21, we see Jesus revealing himself to his disciples for the third time since his bodily resurrection. This incident takes place by the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Tiberias). In verse 3 we see Peter declaring his intention to go fishing. Interestingly, the other disciples who were with Peter, decide to follow his lead. However, despite their vast expertise and best efforts, the disciples fail to catch any fish. Peter and the rest of the disciples learn a vital lesson from their unsuccessful expedition—apart from Jesus, even your expertise and best efforts amounts to nothing. Peter, who was already filled with shame as the disciple who failed Jesus, is now overwhelmed with disappointment as a failed leader and a fisherman. It is precisely at the moment when Peter is filled with shame and an overwhelming sense of failure, we see Jesus revealing himself to Peter and the other disciples.

The beach along the sea of Galilee sets the stage for one of the most moving scenes in the Bible. Jesus meets Peter by the sea of Galilee—the very place where he had commissioned Peter to follow him. Jesus, who is fully aware of the state of Peter’s heart, prepares him breakfast to eat. John specifically adds the detail about charcoal fire. If you remember, in John 18 we read about Peter denying Jesus as he warmed himself by the charcoal fire. Jesus masterfully uses charcoal fire—a symbol of Peter’s worst failure, to restore and reconcile Peter to himself. Jesus ministers to Peter at his point of need by redeeming the memory of Peter’s failure into forgiveness and reconciliation. The scene of Jesus and Peter by the charcoal fire provides a powerful image of what true and enduring forgiveness looks like.  

Jesus not only forgives and reconciles Peter, but also restores Peter’s dignity by recommissioning him to leadership and ministry. In verses 15-17 we read about one of the most poignant exchanges recorded in the Bible. Jesus, the sympathetic savior, restores Peter’s dignity and self-esteem by asking him three questions. Jesus’ three questions to recommission Peter corresponds to Peter’s three denials of Jesus. Notice, Jesus doesn’t ask Peter to provide compelling evidence for his changed behavior. Jesus is not so much concerned about the depth of Peter’s repentance, the intensity of Peter’s sorrow over his sin, or the seriousness of Peter’s prayer life. Jesus was aware that despite his terrible falling, Peter was a man of faith and commitment. Jesus asks three introspective questions to Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Notice Peter’s response to Jesus. Peter rightly acknowledges Jesus’ sovereignty and wisdom, and responds with, “Lord, you know everything, and you know that I love you.” Peter’s response to Jesus gives us an insight into his transformed heart. Old impulsive Peter would have responded to Jesus’ questions with unbridled self-confidence. Remember, just days before, Peter had insisted emphatically that he’d remain loyal to Jesus till the end. He had even claimed to lay down his life for Jesus. However, when it mattered the most, Peter turned out to be a disloyal follower who valued his own life more than his master’s. We see the extent of God’s restorative grace towards sinners gloriously displayed as Jesus entrusts Peter with his flock. Jesus charges Peter to faithfully minister his beloved people. Notice, Peter’s call to ministry was not limited to tending the flock of Jesus, but also to laying down his life as a sacrifice that glorifies God. 

Finally, the focus is shifted to John—the beloved disciple of Jesus. Throughout this gospel account, the beloved disciple is presented as an exemplar of faithfulness and commitment. He was the one who reclined at the table next to Jesus (21:20b). He was the one who stood by Jesus at the cross (19:26), and later he was the first to express faith at the empty tomb. Even in this passage when Jesus charges Peter to “follow” him, we see that John is already following Jesus (21:20). John fittingly ends his gospel with humility—the story of Jesus is larger than anything he can imagine. John’s work, as amazing as it is, yet pales in comparison to the glory of the person whom his story describes.

Discussion Questions

1. Looking at the Bible

What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage?

  • What is the significance of Jesus asking the same question to Peter three times? What do we learn about Peter from his responses to Jesus?
  • What do we learn about Peter’s death from Jesus’ prediction in verse 18?
  • In verse 22 we read about Jesus’ response to Peter’s probing question about John: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” How do you interpret Jesus’ statement here?

2. Looking at Jesus

At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.

  • What can we learn about the heart of Jesus in forgiving, reconciling, and restoring sinners from this passage?

3. Looking at Our Hearts

  • Because of our past or ongoing sins, we are often prone to think, “God could never forgive me,” or “God could never use me for his purposes.” How does this passage guide us in rightly understanding God’s love for us?
  • This passage helps us understand two important principles of Christian faith—what God wants you to be (being—healing and restoration of Peter), and what God wants you to do (doing—recommissioning of Peter). According to you, are these two principles related? If yes, how do you see it in your own life? If you think they are not related, why not?

4. Looking at Our World

  • How does this passage help you understand the role of pastors and leaders in church?
  • How does this passage encourage you to engage with and invite non-believers to church?  


God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.

  • View Study Guide Notes

    Question 1: As mentioned in the summary, Jesus’ three questions correspond to Peter’s three denials. Jesus asks Peter three introspective questions in order to restore his dignity, and to recommission him to ministry and leadership. Jesus’ focus is on Peter’s love for him. Despite Peter’s impulsive nature, outlandish claims, and terrible falling, Jesus was fully aware of Peter’s faith and commitment towards him. Jesus’ pointed questions elicits Peter’s love for him and faith in him. In other words, Jesus is not so much concerned about the depth of Peter’s repentance, nor does he look for Peter’s renewed energy and zeal towards him. Jesus, by asking three questions, invites Peter to thoughtfully consider the weightiness of his answers.  

    Peter’s response to Jesus’ questions gives us an insight into his transformed heart. The story of Peter’s reconciliation to Jesus is a story of Peter’s healing. We see a humble and sober-minded Peter who rightly acknowledges Jesus’ sovereignty. Peter’s response is not a self-confident assertion but a humble admission of Jesus’ knowledge of him. Peter’s heart is transformed from being a self-confident man prone to making outlandish claims to a humble man whose confidence is rooted in Jesus’ knowledge and approval.

    After commissioning Peter to ministry, Jesus describes the nature and end of Peter’s ministry. Jesus called and commissioned Peter to devote his life to serve his flock. In other words, Peter’s ministry was to be marked by servant leadership, suffering, and ultimately martyrdom. In verse 18b, Jesus predicts Peter’s death: “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” This language clearly points to crucifixion. According to Jesus, Peter, in his old age, will be bound or fastened with ropes to the cross. As a bound prisoner, Peter will be forced to go where he does not want to go. Remember in John 13:36-38, Peter makes a bold claim to lay down his life. Jesus responds to him by saying that Peter will indeed follow him later. Now Jesus predicts that Peter will lay down his life for Jesus—he will be crucified and his death will glorify God.

    John adds an important detail and clarification about Jesus’ apparently cryptic statement in verse 22. We learn that Jesus’ words about John were erroneously interpreted by John’s followers. Many believed that John would remain alive until Jesus’ second coming. Their hope in the second coming increased as John as John grew older. John squelches the rumor by warning his readers about the danger of putting their hopes of Jesus’ second coming on a misinterpreted text. It is vital for us to understand that no one knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return. In fact, in Matthew 24:36 Jesus says that even he doesn’t know the day or hour, but only his Father knows. We are not called to spend our life predicting the time of Jesus’ return but to faithfully order our lives in preparation for his return.

     So, what exactly did Jesus mean by his response? In simple words, Jesus chastises Peter to mind his own business. It is not Peter’s concern or privilege to know how or when John will die. Peter has one duty—to follow Jesus. Jesus’ rebuke to Peter teaches us a vital lesson about the diversity of calling, gifts, and function. Jesus calls us to follow him and equips us to fulfill our calling. Personal competition, comparison, and rivalry destroy the work of the church. Jesus’ flock has a need of many shepherds with a variety of gifts who fulfill their calling by working along with other shepherds.

    Question 2: We can learn about the heart of Jesus from the manner in which he reconciles, restores, and recommissions Peter. 

    Firstly, Jesus meets Peter at the same place where he first commissioned Peter to follow him. Jesus is compassionate towards Peter. He does not confront Peter in Jerusalem—the scene of failure. We see Jesus meeting Peter in Galilee where he had fonder memories of when Jesus first commissioned him as his disciple. Talking about the importance of Jesus meeting Peter in Galilee, one commentator writes: “The work of the church can only go forward when we are unburdened of our destructive memories through the gracious forgiveness of God. When this happens, we will be empowered and transformed and made ready to represent Jesus with a rejoicing heart.” 

    Secondly, Jesus reconciles Peter by asking him introspective questions. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than the rest of the disciples. Peter’s response to Jesus’ question is not prideful. Peter humbly affirms his love for Jesus—not based on self-confidence, but sureness of Jesus’ knowledge. We learn a vital lesson about how Jesus meets us at our point of need and how Jesus redeems the memory of our failure into forgiveness and reconciliation. The scene of Jesus and Peter by the charcoal fire provides us a powerful image of what true and enduring forgiveness looks like. 

    Finally, we see Jesus restoring Peter by giving him the task of ministry. Jesus not only forgives Peter, but he entrusts Peter with an important task of leading his flock. Peter’s restoration to ministry shows us how Jesus transforms our lives by allowing us to participate in his work by his grace. The restorative grace of God compels us to serve him out of joy and gratitude. Peter’s story is recorded in the pages of Scripture to help us understand that Jesus does not see us as failures who have squandered his plan for us. When it comes to God, there is only plan A. God knows how to take all things—good, bad, and even egregious sins and failures, and use them to accomplish his good purposes in and through us. The cross—a symbol of egregious evil and utter failure, serves as an ultimate evidence of God’s accomplishment of his redemptive purpose through his son Jesus.

    Question 3: The first question is a personal application question. Encourage your group to apply the story of Jesus reconciling and restoring Peter to their own lives to know God’s love for us.

    Allow the group a few minutes to think about this question. You could help the group understand the relation between what God wants you to be and what God wants you to do, using a simple analogy: Who you are (being) is like a freshwater spring and what you do (doing) is like a stream of water that flows from that spring. In other words, the two are inseparable—no spring means no stream; however, they are two distinct things. When we apply this analogy, we learn that our heart is like the spring of everything we do—your vocation, ministry, leading your family. 

    It is vital for us to understand the dangers of misunderstanding the relationship between who God wants you to be and what God wants you to do. According to Craig Hamilton, the author of Wisdom in Leadership, there are three dangers:

    • Danger #1: When you separate the two principles, you run the risk of believing what God wants you to be has no impact whatsoever on what God wants you to do. For example, when you begin to believe that your moral failings and secret sins have no impact on what God has called you to do—your job, your role in your family—you are in serious danger. Who God wants you to be will always have an impact on what God wants you to do. God calls us to be aware of our sins and to deal with them tirelessly and repent of them quickly
    • Danger #2: Trying to separate the two can also lead to thinking what God wants you to do is more important than who God wants you to be. You could justify your workaholism by claiming you are doing it for God’s glory and for your family’s well being while completely neglecting your personal relationship with God.
    • Danger #3: When you see who you are and what you do as completely overlapping, you run the risk of believing what God has called you to do is what God has called you to be. Needless to say, this misunderstanding will crush you as your joy and satisfaction as a person is directly proportional to the success or failure of what you do.

    Question 4: This passage sheds light on God’s heart in reconciling, restoring, and using broken and sinful men and women for his glory. Peter’s restoration to Jesus makes possible his service to the church. Jesus’ command to feed and tend his sheep becomes Peter’s mandate for life. In other words, from Peter’s story we learn that to be in relationship with Jesus and to love him truly means that we are to love his flock—the church as well. As Christians, all of us, irrespective of our backgrounds, are called to embrace the body of Christ—to love it, tend it, and to protect it.

    The story of Peter’s reconciliation and restoration compels us to engage with and invite our non-Christian friends to church. As Jason often mentions in his sermons, our church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners and broken people. In his commentary on John, Gary Burge makes an insightful observation: “The work of the church is not religious energy fueled by our sense of commission; (but) it is a call to work, wed to divine empowering; it is ministering knowing that Christ himself (through the Spirit) is ministering in and through our efforts. Ministry is thus the service of healed men and women who understand their personal histories and handicaps well, who have made their brokenness transparent before God and have been forgiven as well as transformed by the Spirit of God.” Peter’s mandate is our mandate as we serve the same God who restored Peter and who is still in the business of healing and restoring broken and sinful people.