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Apr 20, 2014

On the Other Side of the Cross

Passage: John 21:1-25

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Road to the Cross

Keywords: restoration, resurrection, power, renovation, renewal, failure


The last in this series of messages, this message from John 21 looks at the importance of the resurrection of Jesus to the restoration of failed people. What did the resurrected Christ do to restore, refire and revive his disciples that made them world-changers?


On the Other Side of the Cross

John 21

April 20, 2014

 HE IS RISEN! What a glorious reality in a world so plagued with failure and death instead of resurrection life.

 No show of hands on this right now but…

  • Those of you who are kids or young adults, when anyone asks you, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” have any of you ever said, “Oh, I think I want to be a failure when I grow up”???
  • Anybody here just love the feeling of failure?
  • Anybody here working hard in school so you can flunk out…or knocking yourself out at your job so you can be demoted and fired? J
  • Anybody here in a romantic relationship hoping it will all melt down so you can have your heart broken?
  • Anybody joined a sports team lately hoping they will lose every game that season?

            No, there’s something inside of us that just isn’t built for failure. Nobody sets out in life to fail. But along the way, I haven’t met a person in life who hasn’t failed, most spectacularly at times. In fact, some people start making failure almost a habit. I’ve known people who, for whatever reasons, when given the opportunity to succeed, they actually self-sabotage so that they don’t succeed.

 There’s another reality about failure that we tend to forget. Not everything that initially looks like failure actually is.

Certainly the death of Jesus Christ falls into that category. Those who murdered Jesus thought he was a failure. They even taunted him during his last agonizingly painful hours of life with insults about what a failure he was hanging there on the cross.

But as we saw at the Good Friday service this week, how utterly wrong they were. They thought Jesus was like they were—all about their own power, prestige and position. Reality was that He was all about saving people, and the only way to eternally save them was to lay down his life for them. So at the moment they thought Jesus was the biggest failure, He was actually securing human history’s biggest success.

APP: That is something we should keep in mind the next time we are tempted to judge what is going on in our own lives as abject failure. As people who can’t see the end of things until we get there, even what looks in the present like failure (and might be) can actually and often be just what is needed to make us successful.

ILL: Though not a Christ-follower to my knowledge, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer and Pixar Studios, shared some really timely wisdom about his experience of getting sacked by the board of Apple back in the mid-80s. In a speech Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005, he said being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him; "The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." And he added, "I'm pretty sure none of this (Pixar, IPod, IPhones, etc.) would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it."

When it comes to our experience with God, thankfully, our failures are never final. Had Jesus never resurrected from the dead, salvation and redemption from our sins would still have been ours. But I doubt that the Apostles would have been half the men they became. I doubt the early church would have exploded into the greatest force for good in world history. I doubt that millions of Christ-followers would have grown through their own failures without seeing what God did with failures of Christ’s closest friends and family.

            The resurrection isn’t just about God’s power over physical death, as amazing as that is; it’s also His ability to bring powerful, new life out of the ashes of our own failures even after we have become followers of Jesus.

The Gospels contain a number of encounters Jesus had with people “on the other side of the cross”…in resurrection territory. One of my favorites is found in John 21:1ff.

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing,”

This isn’t the first time Jesus had appeared to some of the disciples. In fact, he had appeared to numerous people on different occasions in Jerusalem prior to this (Jn. 20—Mary M., disciples, Thomas) and an angel had told Mary Magdalene that they would see Jesus in Galilee. So here are seven of the 12 at the Sea of Galilee. I personally think Peter had seen Jesus prior to this and had talked privately with him about his own pretty stunning failure of denying Christ 3 times. So on a personal level, I don’t think Peter was feeling awkward about another encounter with Jesus. Nonetheless, this is the only real record of Jesus talking to Peter that we have post-resurrection.

John the writer here is giving a first-hand account. He’s one of the 7 guys fishing that night. Peter had instigated the fishing expedition. Contrary to what some people might believe, I don’t see this as a big statement from Peter that he’s going back to being a fisherman or about to abandon fishing for people. I think they had all gone to Galilee based on believing Mary Magdalene. Instead of sitting idly by, Peter probably figured they should do something productive while they waited. Since nobody was giving out free food to able-bodied men in those days, Peter’s suggestion made good sense to the rest of them too.

These men were probably well enough acquainted with Jesus to know also that He didn’t do the same thing twice exactly. Some might have thought that since Jesus just showed up while they were eating or walking along the road, they should either have been eating all day long or taking long walks just waiting for Jesus to “poof” appear. For these men to take responsibility for their own needs and pick up a skill they were well acquainted with was no step backwards. It was being responsible and being men.

As they stepped into those boats that evening and prepared to fish all night, I wonder what memories flooded their minds about times shared in those very boats on that very shore or stretch of water with Jesus before. Perhaps Jesus wanted them to reconnect with some of those places where they had experienced powerful encounters with Christ just to remind them of what he had already done with, in and around them.

Are there places your heart and mind goes back to when you think of fond memories of times with Christ in your past?

ILL: Being at Riverview Bible Camp several weeks ago for the Leader’s Retreat. Flooded me with memories of powerful times with Christ throughout the years. (Youth camps, first teaching and preaching, friends who have since died, conferences, prayer summits, family camps, my baptism with most of my family, etc.)

Sometimes God wants us to revisit the places where we know we encountered Christ powerfully so that we will retrace the reality that God is building on our past.


I wonder how many of those disciples were secretly hoping Jesus would come to them walking on the water like he had done that one stormy, dark night. Certainly that memory must have crossed Peter’s thoughts at some point that LONG, slow and unfruitful night. We’re told that they fished all night but (fisherman’s nightmare) “caught nothing.”

Do you ever have days in your struggle to make a living, to put food on the table, to get through school when your best efforts don’t seem to bear any fruit? In life there are lots of ordinary, hard-working days when you give it your best, maybe even working with the people closest to you, and you come up empty handed. We’re tempted to think, “What difference does it make? I’m not sure this even matters to God.”

Listen to what happened next (vs. 4).

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

The way the Greek is constructed here in the text, it is clear that Jesus knew his best fishermen friends had gotten skunked! It was like saying, “You haven’t caught anything, have you?” Jesus knew how fruitless and frustrating that night had been. And he wanted them to know it too.  

APP: Our Lord sees every fruitless day or night. Our labor and struggle does not go unnoticed in life. In fact, when we seem to be in some of the most fruitless and frustrating times in life, God may come to us and say the last thing we want to hear: “Not getting anywhere right now, are you?” “No success today?” “You haven’t seen any progress lately, have you?”

            I hate to hear those reaffirmations of my inability to make things happen.

            So WHY does God do that? To rub it in? J Thankfully not. Sometimes we need to publically acknowledge, at least to a small group of good friends, that we’re empty. Sometimes we need to get past just being sick and tired of something and move on to being sick and tired of being sick and tired. J Sometimes we’re not as ready for God’s solution as we would like to think we are. And He knows that we need to face reality just a little more so that we’ll be ready to do whatever He asks us to do when He provides the solution.

            Jesus’ solution to their empty nets was nothing spectacular, at least when it came to their obedience. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” “Stop throwing left? Throw right?” You can almost hear the disciples murmuring, “Really? It’s going to make that big of a difference?” Maybe they had been throwing to the right most of the night. Who knows? What we do know is that it was a very small, simple word of direction that completely changed the outcome of that night.

“When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”

If ever there was déjà-vu moment for Peter, this should have been it. Back in Luke 5 we learn that the very day Jesus called Peter to be a disciple, he was fresh off another fruitless night fishing. He had been “toiling,” says Luke, all night with much the same crew—at least James and John. After teaching from Peter’s boat that morning, Jesus had asked him to go out one more time and Peter had obliged just because it was Jesus doing the asking. The result had been roughly the same—an overwhelming catch that required another boat and even at that began to sink both boats.

            The interesting thing here is that it doesn’t seem to be Peter who connects the dots. John seems to be the first one to figure it out because vs. 7 tells us that he leaned over to Peter and said, “[Pete]” (my paraphrase), “It’s the Lord!”

APP: Here’s a simple reminder of how much we need each other. It’s amazing how things that should be so obvious to us are often hidden from us.

ILL: Me dating Sandy and wondering for nearly 4 years if we would make a good married couple. We worked on a large church staff in Portland, OR at the time. Virtually everyone else on that staff knew we would make a great couple. I’m sure they thought I was the densest rock on the block when I admitted I wasn’t too sure about this marriage thing. They would just role their eyes and shake their heads in disbelief. And Sandy was just oh, so patient. Yes, I don’t deserve her! J

            Even when it’s God himself, we don’t always recognize Him. That’s why we really DO need to be in close enough relationship with people with whom we have history to hear them say, “Hey Pete, heads up! It’s Jesus!”

While it’s possible that this was Peter’s first encounter with Jesus post-denial, I’m not sure he would have been quite so eager to get to Jesus if he hadn’t first gotten things ironed out privately with Him. Regardless, the lights go on for Peter. Something has truly changed in his heart. Fish aren’t that fascinating any more to him, not even a boatload of them. Making a bundle of money that day from those fish wasn’t even high on the desire list. Seeing Jesus one more time made everything else blow away like fall leaves on a windy autumn day.

APP: You see, when you really encounter the resurrected Lord Jesus, it will really mess with the priorities and values you once held. I watched it do that with my parents. Take just one of their values—education. Two people who had been raised to value Ivy League educations and had gotten a boatload of degrees of their own from those universities, not only stopped supporting those colleges with their secular humanistic, liberal biased philosophies; they spent 20 years of their lives, probably the 20 best years, going to work in a Bible College, trying to see as many young people trained in the Word of God as possible in their remaining years.

That doesn’t mean Jesus wants all or even most of us to quit our jobs and try to be traveling evangelists. I don’t think Jesus was trying to teach Peter and Co. that fishing was a waste of time now that they were Christ-followers. In fact, I think Jesus sanctified their fishing that day by only have one fish on the fire when they arrived and asking them to go get “some of the fish [they] had just caught” (vs. 10).

Follow the resurrected Jesus for most of us will not take us out of our chosen career or calling. But in that career or calling, if we are to find any real measure of fruitfulness and fulfillment, we will have to come up empty at times in our work so we’re open to fresh partnerships and words from our Lord about what we need to do next.

But when you really encounter the resurrected Lord Jesus, it will mess with the priorities and values you once held dear.

Now we come to this part of the story where Jesus puts the same question to Peter, not once, not twice, but 3 times! Much has been made by some commentators about the difference between the Greek words for love used here when Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” (Agapao vs. fileo). I question whether that is really where we should be putting our attention in this story. So let’s read it.

John 21:15ff—

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Notice what Jesus says the first time he asks Peter the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” That question can be taken in several ways.

  • Jesus could have been asking if Peter’s love for Him was more than his love for the big catch of fish. That seems to me to be pretty ridiculous, but I suppose it’s possible.
  • Jesus could have been asking if Peter’s love for Him was more than his love for the other disciples there. Again, I doubt Jesus was asking that since Peter never indicated that he was putting the other disciples before Christ.
  • Or Jesus could have been asking Peter if he loved the Lord in any greater measure than any of the other disciples. I think this one is probably what he was asking. It had been Peter who had argued with the Lord himself the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus had prophesied that “all” of his disciples would “fall away” on account of Him that night. But Peter insisted that he was different. He boldly asserted, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Mt. 26:33) WOW! Not only did he argue with Jesus about his prophecy; he saw himself as stronger, superior and more willing to sacrifice his life than any of the other disciples. No self-image problem here! J

Peter’s response still affirms his love for Jesus but it doesn’t go so far as to boast that his love is greater or deeper or stronger than the other disciple. In fact, it leans on the belief that Jesus’ really knew what was in his heart at the time while abandoning his former arrogance about his supposed superior commitment to Christ.

            These must have been humbling words for Peter to speak, especially within earshot of the rest of the disciples who had heard him just days before declare his superior love for Christ in front of them.

            I think the Jesus is performing a bit of divine healing at several levels with his questions to Peter.

On the one hand, they all needed to see that Peter’s public failure didn’t disqualify him from still leading and feeding the people of God. They had ALL failed spectacularly that night, some falling asleep when they needed to pray, all running away in the dark of night when the crowd came to arrest Jesus. One of them had even left his clothes behind and fled naked in order not to be detained with Jesus. Peter had been, perhaps, the most bold at the beginning. But as the night wore on, and the abuse of Christ became greater, Peter’s resolve evaporated and he ended up not only denying that he knew Jesus but calling down curses on himself in front of others to try and convince them he had no connection to Jesus.

So when Jesus asked Peter these questions in front of these other disciples who too had failed, He was really showing them all the road to restoration. If Peter, the biggest failure of the whole ugly drama, could still talk about his genuine love for Jesus and in turn be commissioned by Jesus to still feed and care for the souls of others then surely none of them were beyond salvaging.


There are so many lessons here for us.

  • I think we’re all tempted to think that we’re stronger than we really are...or at least stronger than most of the people around us. Truth is, we’re all an awful lot alike. Apart from humble dependence on God, we all fail under pressure. We all get ourselves in situations we shouldn’t and end up looking stupid. We must beware of the arrogance that sees ourselves as stronger than most other believers. We’re not, especially when we think we are.
  • Secondly, when we fail, we’re all tempted to believe that our failure has permanently disqualified us from meaningful service to Christ. We believe the lie that our sin has built a barrier to some forms or levels of future service and work in the Kingdom. We listen more loudly to our sense of shame than to the voice of our Savior who keeps saying over and over again, “Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep.”

There is nothing more precious to Jesus than His sheep…people who hear His voice and follow Him. That he would entrust failed people like Peter…and you…and me…with that which is supremely valuable to Him should be enough to silence the shame and even the criticism of some who will never understand true grace.

Don’t let past failures cripple present service. Don’t let it keep you from declaring your love for Christ. Don’t let it keep you from obeying His present call to care for others in his flock. Don’t believe the lie. Believe the Lord.

  • Third, the fact that God repeatedly restores and calls major mess-ups to care for the rest of the church should make it clear that everyone in God’s family has a place of significant ministry and service. Jesus’ command to Peter every time Peter reaffirmed his love for Jesus was the same—do something to take care of other followers of Jesus. “Feed them…take care of them…nurture people in their connection with Me” was Jesus command.

I don’t think for a moment that Peter’s failure made him feel more qualified to lead and feed other people. But Jesus made it very clear that if we want to claim a love for Christ, we need to walk a love for people that cares for their souls. Even when we feel the weakest and have just messed up, we need to get our eyes off ourselves and get busy helping others to grow.

Jesus’ restoration of Peter that morning certainly opened the door for pretty much anyone who has failed to be used of God in some of the most important work we’ll ever have—taking care of the souls of saints and sinners alike.

Ill:  Story of the failure and restoration of Dick, associate pastor of a church in Portland where Sandy and I worked fro several years.  God used this humbled man to go on and minister restoration to many others. 

Life on the other side of the cross can be SO different. It doesn’t mean we won’t have major failures after deciding to follow Jesus. It teaches us we WILL. And that is one of the beautiful realities about the resurrection.

            Hopefully WE are very different people on the other side of the cross—more humble, more humbly in love with Christ, more in touch with reality about our inabilities and weaknesses, more connected to our brothers and sisters around us, truly renewed and reshaped in terms of what is really important to us the rest of our lives.

            People on the other side of the cross, the resurrection side, find that Christ’s power to bring life out of death applies to those who are still alive, still stumbling and still longing to love God more.

It applies to those who have known Christ and have failed to live up to that knowledge.

The power of the resurrection and life on the backside of the cross is for all who know that without Christ, they will come up empty handed and empty-souled BUT that in Him, they can do ALL THINGS He calls them to through Jesus who strengthens them.

--Who is God nudging you to share with about your past failure yet current love for Christ so that you can get free of the shame? 

--Who is God asking you to shepherd?

--Where is He showing you that you need his intervention and direction if you are to turn emptiness into fullness?

--What values and priorities is God changing as you encounter the resurrected Lord Jesus and his call upon your life?