Feed, Tend, and Go
What a great day the first Easter Sunday was. At first it was sad as the images of Jesus’ death and burial were still in the minds of His followers as that day began, but later it was a joyful day as the tomb in which Jesus had been buried was found to be empty, as angels announced the tomb was empty because Jesus had come back to life, as Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and then two men on the way to the nearby town of Emmaus and then to most of the disciples.
What a great day the first Easter Sunday was. A day that expanded to more joyful days as Jesus continued to show Himself, thereby proving that what the disciples saw on Easter was not a series of hallucinations, but the fact that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.
It is two of Jesus’ appearances we will think about in this message, one on a seashore, the other on a mountain. The message will conclude with a review of how the disciples responded to Jesus after those appearances.
First for this message, John 21, beginning with verse 1.
Sometime after Jesus’ resurrection, seven of the disciples - Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others - were by the Sea of Tiberias, also called the Sea of Galilee.
It is not recorded what the seven were doing there, nor what their mood was that day. No doubt they were still sad, though that had to have been eased by having seen Jesus alive. But they had not seen Him every day, and they might have wondered what they were supposed to do. Jesus had told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came before they did anything of a spiritual nature, but how long was that going to take?
Plus, they needed to support themselves in some way. What better way to do that and fill in the time than to do what least some of them had done before they had joined Jesus, which was fishing?
So it was that Peter said, “I am going fishing.” The others answered, “We will go with you.” All seven got into a boat.
That happened late in the day. The seven fished all night. But alas, as day broke the next day, not one fish had been caught. At least some time had been filled, but with such a lack of luck, the seven disciples most certainly would not be supporting themselves. I imagine there was some discouragement among the disciples.
As day broke, the disciples noticed someone standing on the shore. We know it was Jesus. We know because the Bible tells us that is who it was. But the disciples did not recognize Him. Maybe they were too far out in the Sea to get a good look? Maybe the sun blurred His image? Maybe they were too tired to see clearly? Maybe God kept them from seeing it was Jesus.
The disciples noticed someone on the shore. Then they heard that someone say something. Still they did not recognize who it was. Maybe the wind was blowing? Maybe their ears were affected by their fatigue? Maybe God kept them from knowing.
However, they did hear what the one on the beach said. “Children, have you caught any fish?” Children. That was a strange thing to call them. They were grown men.
They answered, “No.”
The one on the beach then said, “Cast the net on the other side of the boat - the right side - and you will find some fish.”
That, too, was strange. Remember at least some of the seven on the boat had been experienced fishermen. That had earlier been their livelihood. Who was that on the shore, thinking he knew better than they knew?
However, the fishermen did as the one on the shore said. They cast their net on the right side of the boat. Lo and behold, within minutes there were so many fish, the men could not haul in the net.
John was so impressed by that, he apparently came to his senses. He said, “The man on the shore is the Lord!” He said that to Peter who, still very impulsive, just as he had been throughout his time with Jesus, said, “You are right!” He was so excited about that, he put his clothes on, jumped into the Sea, and swam and waded to where Jesus was.
That was a good thing for Peter, but it left the others to get the boat to shore, all the while dragging the net full of fish.
Eventually the others made it. When they arrived, they saw a charcoal fire, with fish lying on it, and bread. Jesus invited them to bring some of the fish they had just caught to add to what would be breakfast, which Peter did. Isn’t that nice? Peter had done nothing to help the others get the fish to shore, but now he was willing to walk a few steps to help out.
Peter went aboard the boat. He hauled the net up on the shore. Jesus then said to all the disciples in the group, “Come and have breakfast,” which they did. Jesus served them both bread and fish, which was again proof He was alive, and which again proved He cared about the needs of people. In this case, His disciples.
What an eventful breakfast that was. A breakfast enjoyed by all, though Peter’s enjoyment was dampened by what happened when Jesus called him aside for a special one-on-one conversation.
When breakfast was over, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, son of John.” That was a clue Jesus was about to ask Peter something very serious. You see, Simon was his given name. Peter is what Jesus had “nicknamed” him. Peter means Rock. It is what Jesus had called him for three years. But now Jesus began, “Simon.” By not using the name Peter, what a reminder of the time, shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter had denied the Lord.
Peter had certainly not been rock-like in that experience. So it was Jesus called him Simon. “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
Jesus might have been referring to whether Peter loved Jesus more than he loved his fellow fishermen, or maybe He asked if Peter loved Jesus more than the other disciples loved the Lord.
Either way, Peter answered, “Lord, You know that I love You.”
Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.”
A second time Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John.” There was that same reminder Peter had failed. “Do you love Me?”
Again Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Tend my sheep.”
Yet a third time, Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved because he was asked the same question a third time. What a reminder that Peter had denied the Lord, not once or twice, but three times. What shame Peter must have felt with that third time being asked the same question.
That time, Peter answered, “Lord, You know everything. You know that I love You.”
Did Jesus know that. I assume He did because, for the third time, He gave Peter a specific ministry. Earlier Jesus had assigned Peter the ministry of feeding the Lord’s lambs and the ministry of tending the Lord’s sheep. Now added to those two responsibilities was to feed the Lord’s sheep.
Here is what those three ministries would entail.
Lambs refers to Christians who are young, either in age or in their faith. Those who might be tender or weak.
Sheep are those who are older, in age or in Christian experience. Those who are at least on their way toward spiritual maturity.
To feed, in this context, refers to giving them the word of God.
Tend refers to everything a pastor does beyond teaching. Things like presiding over worship, and conducting the ordinances of communion, baptism, and foot washing, and living a life of example of knowing and obeying the word of God.
Three times Peter was given the task of ministering to those who did and would follow Jesus. Something that was to take his time and all his energy. A lifelong ministry, according to a dire prediction Jesus added to the conversation.
Jesus said, “When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”
That was a prediction that Peter, just like Jesus, would be put to death by crucifixion, which was certainly less than happy news. But what a joy it was for Peter to know that despite His earlier failure, he still had a ministry. A ministry given to Him by Jesus who, though He had died, was alive again. What a joy that was.
Another meeting with Jesus is recorded in Matthew 28, beginning with verse 16. This one occurred on a mountain. During it, Jesus gave all the disciples a ministry.
The 11 disciples - remember there had been 12 disciples, but Judas Iscariot, after having betrayed Jesus, had killed himself - so the 11 disciples went to Galilee, away fr0m the Sea of Galilee, to a mountain. A mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
As they were there, Jesus appeared. When they saw Him, the disciples worshiped Him.
However, some of them doubted. Isn’t that interesting? I mean, they had seen Jesus previously. Peter had seen Him Easter afternoon. All of them had seem Him Easter evening. He had appeared to them after a fishing trip. We just talked about that. He had appeared other times as well.
At least some of those times, Jesus had shown them the nail holes in His hands and where a spear had gone through His side, that done to prove He had died on the cross. At least some of the times, He had appeared, He had eaten, proving He was once again alive. Over and over again, Jesus had shown Himself, all of that after His tomb had been discovered to be empty.
Yet some of the disciples doubted. How, I do not know, except maybe it still seemed, to those who doubted, that Jesus having been resurrected was too good to be true.
Some doubted, but how important it is they still worshipped Him. I think there is a message there. I dare say none of us has total spiritual understanding. At least I do not understand everything about Jesus, including how He could and still can be so loving, even of those who reject Him. But I can still worship Him. Jesus allows it. And how about this? Do you suppose that as we worship the Lord, we will develop more and more understanding of Him?
On the mountain, the disciples worshiped Jesus. He then had some words of challenge for them, along with some words of encouragement.
The challenge was in the form of giving all the disciples - this time, not just Peter, but all of them - ministry to do. The ministry? They were to go to all nations - they were to go throughout the world - and make disciples.
Two things about that.
They were to convert people. To convert means to lead someone to a belief in Jesus. But making disciples goes beyond that. Making disciples means staying with the ones converted, doing what Jesus added - baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe - to know, follow, and obey - all that Jesus commanded.
As an aside, from what I know, that is what Billy Graham, who recently died, did in his ministry, doing so with his organization. Graham did marvelous work with his preaching. Most everywhere he preached, thousands of people accepted Jesus as Savior. After his preaching, Graham left the city, but his organization stayed, often for months, helping the new converts to become disciples. Helping them to find churches and teaching them how to study and pray and serve.
Conversion is critical. So, too, is helping converts become disciples. Both are what Jesus told His disciples to d0.
The second thing about that assignment is the definition of all nations. For that, I refer, for just a moment, to one verse in the first chapter of the Book of Acts. A verse that repeats the assignment to go to all nations.
In Acts 1:8 it is worded, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem,” which means all nations included their own city and our own cities and towns.
“And in all Judea.” That was the province that surrounded Jerusalem, so for us, all nations includes Nebraska.
“And Samaria,” which was the next province north, which for us, can refer to other states in our nation. And get this. Samaritans were looked down on as kind of second class citizens. There was an historical reason for that, but as that applies to us, “all nations” includes those who are disenfranchised socially or politically and maybe economically. They, too, are to be told about Jesus. They, too, are to be encouraged to accept Jesus and then be discipled.
“And to the end of the earth,” which refers to everywhere else in the world, which we do through Children of Promise and by supporting missionaries like Gary and Gwen Bistritan on the island of Yap and Tim and Josie Vickey in Malawi, Africa.
The disciples who met Jesus on the mountain were to make disciples. They were to do that as many places as possible. Which of course was and still is a daunting responsibility, both physically and spiritually. But listen to the encouraging words from Jesus. Words for the disciples then and for us now. “Lo, I am with you always.”
That reminds me of a story about a very bumpy, scary airline flight.
As the plane rocked and rolled, one of the passengers - a nun - seemed very nervous.
The passenger beside her said, “You of all people should not be afraid. You know Jesus’ words, ‘Lo, I am with you always.’”
Whereupon the nun responded, “That’s just it. Jesus said, ‘Lo, I am with you.’ He didn’t say anything about being with me up in the air!”
“Lo, I am with you always.” That of course means anywhere and everywhere, and at any time, “even to the close of the age.”
* * * * *
What a wonderful day the first Easter was. But that was not the end of the story. It went on through the ministries of the disciples. Ministries that did indeed extend over a wide, wide area.
Here is a list of the disciples of whom it is known what they did after meeting Jesus on the mountain. James the Elder and Simon the Zealot stayed in Jerusalem and Judea, making disciples there. Andrew and Peter went to Greece. Nathanael and Thomas went to India. Thaddeus went to Egypt, Matthew to Iran, Philip to Samaria and Turkey. John went to Asia Minor.
Concerning John, two things.
At one point of his ministry, John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Those of us who visited that area a few years ago saw that island. What we learned is that when John first arrived, he felt very alone because he was the only Christian there.
Guess what. By the time John was released, just about everyone on the island - fellow prisoners and guards alike - had been converted to faith in Christ. I am sure John worked at making those converts into disciples.
And this about John. He is the only one of the disciples who met Jesus on the shore and on the mountain who did not die a violent death. Some of the others were crucified, including Pete. Another was hanged. One was pierced with a spear, another by arrows, another by knives.
John died of natural causes. When we visited Patmos, I remember learning that John felt bad about that. That he felt the Lord did not consider him worthy of being martyred. But as it turned out, he had more years of ministry, which he put to good use.
Two points for us.
Do we love Jesus? If so - I pray we do - then we, too, have ministries. We, too, are to feed and tend fellow Christians. Let’s take that challenge seriously. And joyfully because we are and will be serving the risen Savior.
And our ministries are also to be many places, from here to the end of the earth. Let’s continue to look for opportunities to make disciples in our own families, neighborhoods, and cities. Let’s continue to help the cause of Christ, even around the world.
Serving here and everywhere will prove our love for the one who rose from the tomb on Easter Sunday.
The closing song for today is Christ For the World We Sing. To fit the meaning of “the world” as it was described, I have taken the liberty of changing the words a bit. We will sing two verses of the hymn.
Christ for our neighbors we sing;
Our city to Christ we bring
With loving zeal -
The poor and them that mourn,
The faint and overborne,
Sin-sick and sorrow-worn,
For Christ to heal.
Christ for our nation we sing;
The world to Christ we bring
With joyful song -
The new-born souls whose days,
Reclaimed from error’s ways,
Inspired with hope and praise,
To Christ belong.
Lord, thank You for being the risen Savior. Thank You for still caring for us enough to give us work to do. Work for You. Thank You that Your work can be done here, there, and everywhere. Thank You that You do not leave us alone, but are with us here, there, everywhere, and always and forever. Thank You. Amen.