John 21: Fish, Sheep & Laboring in Vain

Re-posted from Pr. Stout

(25 verses, 3:12 to read)


What I am about to READ 

  • Jesus appears to seven disciples, shows them that all work, especially the work of the church, is in vain without His command and promise, comforts them with a command and promise, and reinstates Peter into his place among the disciples.


  • There is a beautiful unity within this reading. This meditation assumes that this unity is found within Jesus’ command to Peter to feed His lambs.
  • 1-3: Without a command and promise from Jesus for his disciples to feed His lambs, all human efforts are vain.  Jesus teaches this by allowing the disciples to fish without a command or promise with the result of catching nothing. This was taught to them when Jesus first called them (Luke 5) and will now be taught again after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Indeed, “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain…” (Psalm 127).  This is true not only of the Lord’s word, the Church, and her pastors, but with everything in life.
  • 4-14: Here the resurrected and visible  Lord Jesus gives them the command and promise to cast the net on the right side of the boat and they will catch fish.  Here is another command with a promise attached: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).”
  • 15-19: Having now taught them that men’s efforts are in vain without the Lord’s promise, Peter is given the command to feed the Lord’s sheep.  Man is sinful. Yet, the Peter who denied Jesus three times is now given three commands with promises assumed (btw, think it odd that a charcoal fire is specifically mentioned? compare with John 18:18 where the denial and absolution are are connected).  With this command comes the Lord’s promise that through His apostles and pastors, His lambs are fed, His sheep are tended, and His sheep are fed.
  • 20-25: Pastors and hearers alike are to receive this care from the Lord from His Word.  That is how the Lord is revealed to us (compare with 21:1).  John’s testimony that bears witness to Jesus, along with all of the Scriptures, are true. This truth feeds, tends, and cares for us as His sheep.


  • Consider the great care that the Lord has for His sheep in giving His shepherds to His sheep to tend, feed, and care for them through His Word and promises.  You (pastors, too!) are cared for by Jesus through His Word.
  • The Lord works through you in your vocation. As we serve others, our labor is never in vain, because it is never we who are laboring alone.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Post below, or join the conversation in our Facebook group:

Pastor Christopher Stout


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