John 21:1–25: The Shepherds of Jesus
As we come to John 21, the last chapter of this Gospel, the Evangelist has now written twenty chapters of signs so that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name” (John 20:31). John’s testimony to the person and work of Jesus is complete, demonstrating thoroughly that Jesus is the Anointed One of God and the Son sent from the Father to accomplish redemption for all those whom the Father is giving to the Son. Along with the other three Synoptic Gospels, we have a sufficient, multifaceted depiction of Jesus. So, while we do not have all the details we may care to have, we have everything we need to come to faith in Jesus for salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the last chapter of the Gospel, John does not need to add one single word to the testimony concerning Jesus himself.
Instead, John clarifies the nature of the commission that Jesus gave his disciples on the day of his resurrection: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). On that day, Jesus also breathed on them so that they received the Holy Spirit for carrying out that work (John 20:22). Even so, we still have many questions. What exactly is Jesus asking his disciples to do? Will the disciples of Jesus actually be able to accomplish that work? What about their weaknesses, limitations, and failures? Peter denied knowing Jesus on the night of the crucifixion, but why should we think that he will be the only disciple who will ever fall into temptation? Who among us has ever been sufficient to the task that Jesus has entrusted to us (cf. 2 Cor. 2:16)? In this final chapter, John acknowledges and answers our concerns about a humbling reality: Jesus entrusts his flock to faltering shepherds.
1. What are your day-to-day vocations? That is, how has God called you to serve your family, church, work, and/or neighborhood? Do you ever feel that you are not doing “enough” for the kingdom of God, given the constraints of these other vocations? What do we learn from the example of apostles who fish and make tents about what God expects from us?
2. Like the disciples fishing without success all night, where does your life feel most fruitless right now? Deep down, how much do you believe that your efforts should unfailingly produce results, as though your strength were in itself sufficient to the task? Do you find yourself taking God’s kindness for granted—at least, until he does not grant you the results that you want? How might you remind yourself practically that everything comes to us by grace (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7)?
3. To what extent do you struggle with shame from past failures in your life? Have you dealt with those failures sufficiently, seeking appropriate forgiveness from God and from those you have hurt? Have you done all that you need to do in order to avoid failing in the same ways in the future, including ongoing dependence on God’s grace through prayer? How does Jesus’ conversation with Peter address your own doubts, fears, and concerns?
4. What does it mean to “feed” and to “tend/shepherd” Jesus’ flock? What role does God’s word play in the way that we feed others spiritually? How might you feed those under your care or in your spheres of influence? What might you do practically to avoid being distracted from that task by the pain, pressure, and temptations of life?