“There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.” (John 21:2-3)
In the 21st chapter of John, we find the Chief Shepherd seeking out His wayward under-shepherd. It is an amazing passage, focusing primarily on the restoration of Peter to the ministry (see Luke 22:32).
Back in his old stomping grounds around the Sea of Galilee, Peter began to undo that which had begun in that same place 3 1/2 years before. It was there that he had been working with his brother Andrew as commercial fishermen when the Lord called them to become fishers of men (Mt. 4:18-19). For 3 1/2 years, he had forsaken his trade (and comfort zone), to follow Christ into His ministry. However, when he came back home, and saw the boat there where he had left it, and the nets hanging unused, he suddenly declared, “I go a fishing.” He was not talking about taking his cane pole down to the bank and “drowning a worm.” With six of the ten other apostles, he loaded up his old boat with the old nets and sailed out into the familiar waters of the Sea of Galilee.
It is fascinating to see how the events of John 21 mirror previous events in Peter’s life:
- John 21:3-6 mirrors the calling of Peter into the ministry as recorded in Luke 5:1-9. Peter had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus requested permission to preach to the great pressing crowd from Peter’s boat. Then, He told Peter to launch out into the deep. Peter partially obeyed, dropping one net, which broke under the strain of the miraculous catch of fishes. It was then that Peter, Andrew, James and John began to follow the Lord.
- The “fire of coals” in John 21:9 mirrors the “fire of coals” found in John 18:18. There, Peter warmed himself at the enemy’s fire while His Saviour stood alone before His accusers.
- The three questions asked by Christ in John 21 mirror the three questions asked to Peter in John 18, when he denied the Lord three times, and then cussed to prove it (everyone knows Christians don’t cuss). Near a similar fire, Peter was asked three times to affirm his love for the Christ he had denied.
Let us focus on the Lord’s first, piercing question: John 21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
To what was Jesus referring when He asked, “Lovest thou me more than these?” I believe that He was referring to the 153 great fishes in verse 11. It was as though the Lord was saying, “I called you from the fishing business. I called you to become a fisher of men. Now, you’ve gone back to fishing. It’s time to decide who or what you love most. Do you love Me more than the security of your old life? Do you love Me enough to follow My will for your life? Here is a great catch. You could sell these and have a good stake to start all over again in the fishing business. Here’s your opportunity. Here’s your quitting place. But, Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?”
When an elderly preacher with many decades of ministry behind him was asked the secret of his long and blessed ministry, he answered: “I kept going through all the quitting places along the way.”
Quitting places come in the ministry. Usually, they come during times of great discouragement, disillusionment, heartache, or frustration. Usually, they come after several years of ministry – after the newness has worn off and the pressures, disappointments, and problems have worn us down spiritually, mentally, and physically. A preacher friend told me once, “I am very discouraged. I feel like I am just spinning my wheels. I’m trying to look to Jesus, but I am frustrated.” If such feelings are not universal, they are surely more common than many preachers may believe. I told my friend, “I have said the same words more times than I can count.”
A quitting place does not have to mean a resignation from the ministry. It could come as a resignation from the ministry God in which God has placed you to serve. A friend of mine once confided, a long time back, that he was discouraged in his church (he gave me permission to share this story, in hopes that it would help someone). He’s a good and godly man, an excellent preacher, a loving and dedicated pastor, and has a wonderful family. But he was a little discouraged. I asked him, “Brother, do you think you would like to be somewhere else?” He answered, “If you had asked me that 2 years ago, I would have said ‘no.’ Now, I think I might go if I had an opportunity.”
The next day, my friend called me back. He said, “You won’t believe what happened. Last night a church from my home State called. They are looking for a pastor and want me to come preach. They know what I believe and just need to meet me in person, and the deacon felt confident that they would call me if I could come.
“But, Bro. Raz, while he was talking the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. It was though God said to me, ‘Okay, you’ve been complaining about it, so here’s your opportunity. If you want to do things your way, go ahead. If you think that you know best, go ahead. Here’s your open door – but you will be going without Me. You will be leaving my will for your life.’
“I told that deacon chairman that I appreciated his offer, but that I believed I was right where God wanted me. I called my wife and she agreed 100%. I feel like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders.” And God has blessed his ministry and I expect that He will continue to do so.
With 153 fish waiting to go to market, the Lord asked Peter, “Simon, lovest thou me more than these?” Here’s your opportunity. Go ahead. But make up your mind NOW. And Peter did. The Bible never records another day’s fishing in the life of Peter – but it does record a long and amazing ministry, fishing for men.
Thank you for reading. God bless.