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Feeding and following… John 21:1-17

April 17, 2011

Beach BBQI don’t know about you but to be honest I often find I’m less than energised for the Christian life. I know that as Christians we are called to go, whether that ‘going’ is to our next door neighbour, to those, in the next door village, the deep South, or even abroad, but to be honest I struggle sometimes just to keep going as a Christian, let alone doing something bold like actually telling anyone I’m a Christian! If I struggle just being a Christian what chance is there of me actually obeying Jesus’ commands to go? I think that the apostles must have felt something like that after the resurrection, they believed but they were scared, they’d been sent but they didn’t really feel up to the task.

If that’s how the apostles felt, and if that’s I how feel, I think it’s a safe bet to say that most of us feel like that at least some of the time. Hopefully as we look at John Chapter 21 together, we are going to see the way in which Jesus plans to give His people ‘energy’, how Jesus plans to equip us to continue His mission, just as He had equipped His apostles, the apostles which went from hiding behind locked doors, to spreading the message across the then known world.

Lets first just recap where we got to last week in John 20. If you remember, we found the disciples in disarray, after their Lord and Master, had been killed, crucified on a Roman cross. We found these disciples hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish authorities, wondering what they were to make of Jesus’ life, and death, wondering who Jesus really was,
when all of a sudden Jesus himself appears in front of them. After looking at the evidence we concluded, along with the disciples, that Jesus’ resurrection could only mean one thing, that Jesus was God, and therefore everything He had said and promised, must be true and we could trust His promises for the future and that any one who came to the same conclusion, would be sent out just as the disciples had been sent out.

Well all of this was pretty remarkable and as we come to Chapter 21 we find that we have now returned to something more like normal life. With the week-long festival of Unleavened Bread, which has been held in the capital Jerusalem, now completed,
the disciples like many other Jews have returned to their home towns

Reading: John 21:1-8

Matthew tells us in his gospel (26: v32) that Jesus had told the disciples that he would go ahead of them to Galilee, so when the festival is done, and I guess with a lot of people moving around and heading home, the disciples feel safe enough to head back to Galilee. Now I don’t know if you’ve seen ‘The Lord of the Rings’ but at the end of the third film, after the film has wound its way to a dramatic conclusion, with a fight for the Ring, after the terror of Mount Doom, and with the battle for Middle Earth which ended all of a sudden with the destruction of the ring, we suddenly see Frodo and Sam returning home to the Shire. What’s striking is everyone is going about their normal business, nothing has changed it seems for the Shire, but for Sam and Frodo and the rest everything has changed. That bit of the final film I think must have been a bit like what this experience is for the disciples. A dramatic few weeks, Jesus entering Jerusalem as a King, only to be arrested, tortured and crucified. After coming all that way, after victory seeming so close, and then defeat seemingly clutched from the jaws of victory with Jesus death on the cross. This was followed by shame, fear and hiding. Then Jesus is back, the resurrection is complete, and victory it seems has been claimed. Now as the disciples head into Galilee life there seems as if nothing has changed. Bills still need paying, families driving each other mad, everything as it was and yet the disciples know everything is different, as they wait for what is come next.

They’re hungry, or they have time to kill, so Peter, still the leader it seems, despite having had a really bad week, heads back out to do what he knows best and takes His mates fishing. Perhaps they’ve fallen into their old ways and seek to provide for themselves rather than asking God for help with their fishing, perhaps its just that they haven’t fished for three years, and they’re a bit out of practice, but it takes Jesus showing up, before they actually catch anything.

And perhaps this is the first thing to note, the first thing which will enable us to serve Jesus, and that is to trust Him in all things. The apostles are just going about their daily tasks, their jobs, they aren’t doing anything super spiritual, but they don’t get anywhere until they listen to Jesus. I think that so often, I pray and ask for help when I’m doing evangelism, or when a friend gets a life threatening illness, but when it comes to, so-called ‘everyday’ jobs, I think or at least I act like I can manage on my own thanks very much.

Our starting point for the entire of life has to be ,we need Jesus to help us through it. Not that we’re to sit back and wait for Jesus to show up as it were, the disciples aren’t doing that, they go about their daily tasks but as we go about these tasks, we need to be aware that we can only do things successfully with His help.

Reading: John 21:9-14

During His years before the crucifixion Jesus had been the provider for the disciples and now that He has been resurrected nothing has changed. Not only does Jesus help the disciples to catch a large haul of fish, but on arriving on the shore,
Jesus already has fish going on the fire! During His years before the crucifixion, Jesus had been the leader who had served His followers, and despite the fact the Jesus has risen, having defeated death and been glorified in the process, Jesus serves his disciples still. This model of leadership, this model for discipleship is one which the apostles are expected to learn.

Last week, in John 20, we saw that the apostles were to be sent out, and that like them we are to be sent out too; and Jesus here, in the last appearance which John records, is setting down the way the apostles and us as well, are to go about the mission which Jesus is sending us on. We too are to get busy in mission but not without asking Jesus to provide. We are to get busy spreading the word but we are to do this with the heart of a servant.

Reading: John 21:15-17

Peter has denied Christ three times and Jesus reinstates Him by asking him three times if he loves Him. And in reinstating Peter, we are giving a big insight into how the church is to be built and energised. I don’t know what you were like at science,
and particularly at biology at school, to be honest I wasn’t that great, but one of the things I remember is that food acts as fuel for our bodies. Our bodies are very clever and as the food travels through it the body extracts what it needs and turns this in to fuel, so that we can think, walk to the car, chase after the kids, and complete the 1001 jobs which we have to do everyday. If we don’t have food, we won’t have any energy and if we don’t have any energy, we won’t be able to do very much and if this continues for a long time, we eventually die.

And I think Jesus, is using this idea of food, and what our physical bodies need, as a picture of spiritual food, and what our spiritual bodies need in order to keep going and even to move forward. Notice in verse 17 the apostles are to provide the necessary food for Jesus’ people, they are to feed Jesus’ sheep. This is not a call to begin a food and welfare programme, but rather to provide the spiritual food which Jesus’ followers need, if they are to grow and mature in their love and knowledge of Him. This food is none other than the words and action of Jesus whilst He was on the earth. What Jesus is telling His apostles,
is that just like He has just fed and provided for their physical needs, in giving them BBQ fished so Jesus will need to feed and provide for all of His people’s spiritual needs as well.

How is He going to achieve this? By giving His apostles the duty of teaching His people about His life and works. Through this teaching God will work by His Spirit, to feed His people and build them up, energizing them if you like for the day-to-day life of a Christian, and helping them follow His commands. Which begs the question how can we hear the Apostles words today and so be fed by the Holy Spirit? Well the early church faced a similar question and no doubt prompted by the Holy Spirit again set about writing down the teaching of Jesus for subsequent generations. If last week we saw that John wrote His Gospel so that we might believe and have eternal life, this week we see that the same Gospel, along with the other scriptures, are written that we might be fed.

Just like if we plug-in our mobile phone, so it gets fed electricity and just like each day we sit down and eat so that we get food which helps us to keep going so it is spiritually too. The job of the apostles, in the sense of feeding God’s sheep has been passed to, Church leaders, which is why in other parts of the Scriptures, we find that preaching and teaching is the primary role of a church leader. However, this doesn’t let us off the hook, from ensuring we are fed day-to-day. There are too many of us for our ministers to come round each day and read the Bible to us and gathering us all together so as to give us a sermon each day would certainly mean Mark wouldn’t get anything else done and may well give him a heart attack in the process.

scriptureSo how can we be fed spiritually daily? Well we know the answer don’t we, no surprises here: Daily quiet time, sermons, Bible Study and biblical discussions with other Christians. If at times we feel it’s a struggle just to keep going as Christians, if we feel just believing and getting through the days is hard enough, let alone all of the other things which Jesus has told us to do, then perhaps the answer lies in the fact that we are spiritually starving. Perhaps we don’t have the energy to keep going, because our diet our spiritual diet has been so poor? So the first question I need to ask myself when I feel like this is how is my daily time with God have I been spending time with Him each and every day? Often I find when I think about this, even for a second, I usually find that my quiet times have not happened or at least not very regularly. If I think about it like food,
no surprises that I’m not in tip-top condition! I don’t know about you but there is no way that I’m going to miss a physical meal so why do I allow myself to miss a spiritual one? Here then is the secret to not only keeping going as a Christian, but also to becoming a stronger more able Christian, able to follow all of Jesus’ commands.

But secondly note, the apostles are shown the way in which they are to go about their task, the way they are to go about feeding Jesus’ people, something which was demonstrated by Jesus, as first He lit the fire, prepared the food and then served His apostles. Jesus lovingly feeds His apostles, and His apostles are to lovingly feed Jesus sheep. This is why Peter is asked if He loves Jesus, because love for God’s people flows out of love for God. Serving God’s people, flows out of a desire to serve God. And following Jesus’ example of serving equally applies to us…

After being fed ourselves, through our own quiet time, which as we’ve seen is necessary before we do anything else,
we are then to lovingly serve others. So coming on Sunday listening to the sermon, and asking questions, is in the first instance NOT for our own benefit; its for the benefit of others. Church is not about me as individual, I shouldn’t come for ME,
I should come for YOU! By listening and taking the sermon seriously, we encourage OTHERS to listen and take the sermon seriously. If your church has a Q&A session then by asking questions which we’d like to know, or which we think would be useful for the church to think about, this serves and benefits others.

What is true for Sunday, is also true for Bible Studies on Wednesday. Now I know some people don’t go to growth group,
and some have very good reasons why they can’t attend but can I encourage you to really think hard about coming. Again this isn’t primarily for your benefit, though hopefully you’ll benefit too, but rather for the benefit of others. If we go, it shows others how important it is to be fed by God’s Word, and it encourages others to attend, and so they get fed too. As we’ve seen it’s not just that the Bible is true, so is the phone book and we’re not suggesting you read that every day. No we read the Bible because it is the one way in which God guarantees to feed us by His Spirit. Whenever a believer picks up the Bible and reads the words, God the Holy Spirit speaks to us and feeds us. Whatever our daily quiet time DIET has been, we can top it up on Sundays and on Wednesdays. It’s not that Sundays and Wednesdays can replace daily quiet time, two meals a week isn’t enough for anyone, but it is a helpful top up, a slightly different meal if you like. The danger of not attending (and I understand there are good reasons why we can’t sometimes), the danger of not going is we implicitly tell others that we don’t really need to be fed; being fed spiritually isn’t all that important.

And so as we near the end of John’s Gospel, as we see the last appearing of Jesus to His apostles, and as we see the beginning of their responsibility to take the mission out, to go, to be sent, we can begin to glimpse the way in which Jesus will sustain, firstly His apostles, those same blokes who hid for fear of the Jews. We can begin to see how Jesus will equip and sustain them so they can face rulers, crowds, harsh environments, wild beasts, and martyrdom, but then also for the converts which will flock as a result of their teaching. God will sustain us by His powerful word, feed us, and enable us to persevere, to keep going as a Christian, thought the difficult times, through illness, through unpleasant comments of relatives and friends, and many other scenarios which will come in time. However, as well as helping us to stick at being Christians, God the Holy Spirit will use the word, to help us to follow Jesus into mission to speak to our neighbours to go to Chorley and even to the ends of the earth. Jesus calls His church to rise, He calls on each of us to stand up straight to live for God and to love and serve, like our lives depend on it. However, not before he has equipped us and not before He has promised to feed us, and sustain us every time we turn to Him in His word.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2011 6:14 pm

    I like how you relate the food analogy to quiet times – like you, I’d never miss a meal but think I’m pretty hungry when it comes to QT’s! Thanks for the challenge! X

    • April 17, 2011 8:15 pm

      Thanks Alice, it really challenged me as I was preparing for it, particularly as my quiet times are not happening as often as they should at the moment!

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