Ministering to the Whole Person (John 21:8-14)
Good morning everybody; if we could take our Bibles and open them to John chapter 21, beginning at verse 8 and the title of our message this morning is Ministering to the Whole Person. And it’s here we’re going to learn the depth of concern that God has for us, not just at the soul/spiritual level, although that’s the most important thing, but also at the temporal/physical level as well. The concern that God has for us touches every area of need we could possibly consider or have, and is something that is vast and comprehensive.
We are continuing, moving into the final stretch here of our study through John’s Gospel, we find ourselves in that final part of the book which is what we would call the Passion Narratives, dealing with the death of Christ, chapters 18-19. John, of course, ends on a high note as do all the Gospel writers, not just by focusing on Christ’s death but also His resurrection. I remember in the Mel Gibson movie about Jesus, Passion of Christ, it was an interesting movie; one of the things that kind of bothered me though is so much of the movie is about Christ’s suffering, and they saved a very small snippet for His resurrection. And what you discover is that the Bible is balanced on this subject. Yes, the sufferings of Christ are catalogues and describe for us but an equal emphasis, perhaps if not more emphasis, is on the final victory of Christ as secured by His resurrection.
His resurrection is our future resurrection and so we need to look at ourselves as victors; we are winners in the end. Your life from the human point of view may not be going exactly as you want but you are a winner in the end because of the fact that you are connected by way of faith to the ultimate victor, or winner, or overcomer, Jesus Christ. The resurrection account begins with the empty tomb, chapter 20, verses 1-10, and then what follows are about five resurrection appearances and we find ourselves there in His fourth post-resurrection appearance to the seven disciples along the Sea of Galilee.
I hope you like the letter C, we have the characters, we saw those last time, verses 1-2, seven disciples are gathered there, John, the author of this book, one of the seven. And then the consternation there on the Sea of Galilee up in the north as they were out all night fishing and caught nothing. And then as the dawn begins to break we have a call, verses 4-5, where Jesus essentially, on the seashore, asks them how successful have you been? And of course the way that question is phrased in Greek it expects a negative answer. And Jesus is forcing them to articulate their humiliation—we’ve actually caught nothing. So Jesus gives a simple command. In fact, it’s a command that’s so easy it acts as an offense to pride and the pride of men, in this case fishermen, who understood the fishing business far better than a carpenter would understand it.
And He simply says cast your nets on the other side of the boat. And we talked last time about how there was a crisis, we believe, of will; would they submit to a command that is so simple? And yet they did, and they caught a miraculous catch of fish. And then it slowly begins to dawn on them, John first, apparently the comprehension where he says, “It is the Lord.” [John 21:7]
And so we have talked about seven signs that Jesus manifested in the book of John, all revealing His identity, but this I would take as an eighth sign: Jesus even knows where the fish are, even the animal kingdom itself is in submission to, and authority to, Him.
And we pick it up there in verses 8-9 with the coals. And notice, if you will, John 21:8, it says: “But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.” Apparently Peter, you remember from verse 7 last week, couldn’t wait for the boat to get into the land; it was about a hundred yards away and so he just dove into the water and wanted to get to the Lord as quickly as he possibly could. John, though, was with the rest of the disciples; they came to shore in the boat, not far away. We’re told here it was a little boat and this little boat was about a hundred yards or so away from the shore.
It’s interesting to look at these little details that John talks about. He talks here about a “little boat.” He talks here about it being “one hundred yards away.” What you have to understand about John’s Gospel, and he tells us this at the beginning of the book and he tells us this at the end of the book. John claims to be an eyewitness to these things. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw,” or beheld “His glory.” John, in the end of the book, chapter 21, verse 24 says, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”
John, in 1 John 1:1, writes this, “What was from the beginning, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life.” John claims to have seen; he claims to have heard, he actually claims to have touched Jesus Christ. And if this book came to us through eyewitness testimony and is not a fanciful rendition then we would expect details to occur in the text that an eyewitness was there to observe. In fact, back in verse 2 of chapter 21 John named the seven disciples that were there on the Sea of Galilee that evening and the following morning. [John 21:2, “Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.”] And then in verse 7 John tells us that one of those disciples, a man named Peter, dove into the Sea of Galilee to get to the shore fast. John even throws in this little detail about, “So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and he threw himself into the sea.” What a strange thing to bring up unless you were there to actually see it.
Eyewitness testimony—probably the most powerful evidence that you could introduce in a court of law is the testimony of eyewitnesses. That’s what we have through the Gospel record. We’re not reading fiction, we’re not reading myth, we’re not reading an invented scenario; we are reading the account of somebody who was there to see the details. And, beyond that we are reading the account of somebody who went to their grace acknowledging that these things that he said about Jesus are so. It’s one thing to lie; it’s another thing to die for a lie. What fool would die for something that he made up? And yet John went to his grave professing these things as true. I believe John, therefore, is a very credible eyewitness to the things that he saw.
You’ll notice also there, as we move into verse 9, it says this, “So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread.” Notice this other little interesting detail, “a charcoal fire.” The Greek word for “charcoal fire” is anthrokiav, and it is also used in John 18:18 regarding the denials of Christ by Peter. John 18:18 says this, “Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves, and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself.” And as we’ve studied John 18 you recall in that environment was have the threefold denial by Peter of Christ.
And what is about to take place in this chapter is the threefold restoration of Peter by Christ. We probably won’t get to those verses today but we will see them beginning next week in verses 15-17. Isn’t it interesting that Peter denied the Lord three times and then Jesus, in John 21 asks Peter if he loves Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times.
Isn’t it interesting that Peter denied Christ in the presence of witnesses and when Jesus reaffirms Peter and He asks Peter does he love Me, that whole event takes place in the presence of witnesses as well. In fact, one of those witnesses was John.
Isn’t it interesting that the denials in John 18 took place alongside a charcoal fire and the restoration of Peter is going to take place alongside a charcoal fire? See, we have a tendency to just jump over detail like this but you see, it’s very significant because what Jesus is doing along the Sea of Galilee is He’s putting the same scenario into motion, not in the exact same geographical location per se but the general scenario comes back into motion whereby Peter is going to be given an opportunity to acknowledge Christ three times in the basic general venue or arena where he denied Christ a few days ago in John 18.
And I love the fact that Peter, when he is restored he is not just restored back into fellowship with Christ, but he is actually restored into a place of leadership. You remember that it was Peter who was given by a promise of Christ, in Matthew 16:18, the keys to the kingdom. [Matthew 16:18, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will now overpower it.”] The keys open doors and the reason that Peter is given those keys is he is going to lead in the age of the church, the very first Jews to Christ, Acts 2; the very first Gentile to Christ, Acts 10, and Peter was a man of destiny; Peter had a calling of God on his life.
And we have a tendency to think that because he blew it God is finished with Peter. Not so! We think that way because we do not understand the grace of God. Grace simply means unmerited favor, favor which is coming your direction which you do not deserve. We, as fallen human beings, have a difficult time understanding this concept because we deal with people and others based on merit, earning your way, job performance, evaluations, appraisals, you get one chance to mess things up in the real world and then you’re done. And that’s not how God works; God does not deal with people on the basis of merit, He deals with people on the basis of grace; merit coming your direction, or favor coming your direction which you cannot earn.
Peter is not only going to be restored back into fellowship in this chapter, he is going to be restored back into leadership. And I bring that up because so many of us think that we have committed some sin in our past which disqualifies us ever from being used by God. And what you’ll discover is that such a concept is foreign to the Scriptures. God is in the business of not just forgiving but He is in the business of restoring. Now there are those involved in a sin and they get caught in another sin, they get caught in the same sin, I’m not talking about people like that. Those kinds of people are unrepentant, and typically they are upset that they got caught.
I’m talking about the person that genuinely is sorrowful for what he has done or not done; some big sin in the past that we think disqualifies us from the grace of God, disqualifies us from the fellowship of God, disqualifies us from ever being used by God. And I’m not trying to whitewash sin and make it less than it is: sin is sin! Sin brings consequences and yet the grace of God is so wide that even sins can be forgiven and that person can be restored to a place of usability. And that’s why there’s significance attached to this charcoal fire; Jesus is setting the stage for this awesome lesson that Peter is going to learn about the grace of God.
How can you be an effective minister of the grace of God, which is Peter’s calling, unless you have experienced the grace of God on your own? I mean, how can you tell people about the grace of God and the unmerited favor of God unless you have received that. And what I have discovered is that the people who have received the grace of God are typically the most effective advocates and spokespersons for God’s grace. Peter is going to have a tremendous ministry over the next 30 years and Jesus is setting the stage properly for that ministry by allowing this fisherman to bask in and receive the grace of God.
Where did this restoration of Peter take place? It took place, the traditional sight is believed at a place called, hopefully I’m pronouncing the title right, Tabgha which is on the Sea of Galilee, it’s a little area there on the shoreline in between Capernaum and Gennesaret. I had a chance to visit that area last summer when I was in the land of Israel, along the Sea of Galilee. And what a touching experience it is to walk on the very seashore where Jesus extended grace to this man, the Apostle Peter.
We go into verse 10 and we move away from the coals and now we move into the count. Notice, if you will, verse 10 of John chapter 21, it says this: “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have caught.’” So Peter dove into the water first and he, most likely arrived first, the rest of the disciples came along not much longer, a hundred yards away or so, on this little boat after this miraculous catch of fish, and Jesus says to the disciples I want you to go take “some of the fish which you have caught” through the miracle that I just performed and I want you to bring them to Me. And what Jesus is going to do is He’s going to use that miraculous catch of fish to meet a physical need, in this case breakfast, or hunger, in the lives of the disciples.
It’s very interesting to me that Jesus did not decide to meet their need by multiplying the bread and the fish as He had done in John 6. This time it’s a bit different; they are the ones that had to be involved in the labor. They received this miraculous catch of fish, the Bible tells us that the nets did not break, but they are the ones, in verse 6, who cast the net. Verse 6 says and they cast, Jesus didn’t do it for them, they had to do it on their own. And beyond that they were under duress or strain in the sense that “they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.”
And then as you go down to verse 8 it says, “But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away,” notice this verb, “dragging the net full of fish.” Jesus, of course, could have met their need by creating ex nihilo a miracle but He chose to work through the labor of the disciples. He involved them, not so much in the miraculous catch but in the process of casting the net, dragging the fish up in the net and bringing this boat to the shore, all things that they had to do.
In other words, Jesus decided in this instance to meet their need through a product of their own labor. And I bring this up because there are those today, and when I was in seminary I met an individual just like this, who sort of had this idea that God would provide, and he would say I need the provision of God. And I recall that one of the students went to the job board, where they advertise, employers advertise for potential employees to provide, and brought it to the attention of this student, hey, guess what, there’s a job available; this job can meet your need. And the student said well, you don’t understand, I want God to provide. And essentially what he was saying is God is going to somehow miraculously put money into my account, God is going to somehow miraculously cause the milkman, his truck to break down in front of my house and there’s going to be too much milk so he’s just going to give it to me.
And I’m not denying that God doesn’t work that way at times, but you see, that’s not the norm. The norm is this: God uses the product of our own labor to meet needs in our lives. This, of course, is something that Christ honored because it’s a principle that God set up after humanity fell in Genesis 3. Do you recall Genesis 3:19 remember what the Lord said there? “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, until you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return.” As the fall took place a new principle came into effect where man began to work for his survival by the sweat of his brow.
Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says this, “for even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” That’s a pretty straightforward statement, isn’t it? Do you like eating? Yeah, I do Paul, in fact, that’s one of the things in life I excel at is eating. He makes a simple statement; if you don’t work then you do not eat.
1 Timothy 5:8 says this, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Matthew 6:26 says this, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” He says look at the birds themselves that God provides for. One of the interesting things about birds is they are constantly active, they sow, they reap, they are involved in constructing nests, they are involved in protecting their baby birds, and yet despite their activity God is in the business of providing for them.
See, what is the Biblical teaching on this? The Biblical teaching on this is God uses the sweat of our brow through work product of our own labor to meet the needs in our life. Ultimately we can give glory to God because He has opened the door for economic productivity and given us the health to do it. But the provision of God in no way is some kind of circumvention around the idea that we must contribute, we must labor. And to get out of it would be to simply deny the curse.
What we have taking place today in the United States of America, what we have taking place all around the world is what I like to call the siren song of socialism. Socialism is such, and it’s kissing cousin, Marxism, they are so attractive to fallen people. That’s why these systems are embraced by a great many because what those systems do at the end of the day is they give man an out to the curse. You no longer have to work by the sweat of your brow to provide for yourself and for your own family, you can have somebody else do that for you. The doctrine of socialism simply says this: you work, I eat; not the biblical framework which is this idea that I eat if I work. And socialism is so appealing and it’s so attractive because it gives people an escape from what God articulated in Genesis 3:19, you will work by the sweat of your brow.
And this is why people embrace socialism, despite the fact that it fails almost everywhere it’s been tried. I cannot think of a successful socialistic or Marxist country; in fact, you look across the world today, you see places like Spain, you see places like the island of Cypress, you even see places like we saw this week and last week in Greece, that are in great economic upheaval. Why are they in upheaval? Because they went down this road of the siren song of socialism. They got the majority of people to sign on to this deal because of its appeal and because of its attractiveness and because of its false promise of escaping the curse.
And because socialism is contrary to the principles of God’s Word, everywhere it’s been tried it ultimately fails and ultimately collapses. And you say to yourself, well wait a minute, pastor, don’t you believe there should be a safety net. The problem is when the safety net turns into a hammock and it begins to give people an escape from reality. Of course everybody is in favor of a safety net, but you see the socialistic mindset is not a safety net; the socialistic mindset is an escape. And essentially what happens with socialism is you run out of what Margaret Thatcher called “OPM;” OPM simply stands for other people’s money. There are only so many rich people to demonize; there are only so many rich people to tax. And eventually the people receiving all of these benefits outnumber the productive members of society and that’s when the system starts to go belly-up.
And so it’s interesting to me, and I didn’t want to turn this into a political or economics lecture but it is interesting to me that Jesus honors this ancient principle, established in the Garden of Eden, that if a man will not work neither shall he eat. He doesn’t simply provide for them; He could have if He had chosen to do that, but He involves them in the process of labor.
You’ll notice, going down to verse 11, something very interesting is said there; “Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land,” see how Peter is involved in the activity, “full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.” So the net is pulled up and they count 153 fish. And over the last 2,000 years people have speculated, what is the true secret meaning of the 153 fish. I mean, there must be some sort of hidden riddle or some sort of code in this number, 153. Here are some suggestions that have been made over the last 2,000 years. There was a man named Rupert who said the 153 are different categories in the united faith, so he said typically in a congregation you’ve got a hundred married people, fifty widowed people, and three virgins, so it’s talking here about a church of some kind.
And then comes the suggestion by Grotius, who says, no, 153 represents proselytes, now a proselyte is a convert, a Gentile convert to Judaism, 153 represents the proselytes in the time of David and Solomon. The problem with that, of course is there were 600 proselytes in the time of David and Solomon. And then you have Cyril, who said no, the true meaning of this is 100 is Gentile converts. Now why 100? Because 10 times 10, (10 of course being the number of perfection), 10 times 10 equals 100 so 100 Gentile converts and in a typical church there are fewer Jewish converts to Christianity than Gentile converts so we’ll just add 50 to 100 and we’ll get 150 but wait, we’re one shy, we need153 and so Cyril said well, 3 is the different numbers of the Trinity, so just throw that in and you’ll come out to 153.
Jerome said there are 153 fish in the animal kingdom, and he got this from a historian of his time named Opium, and so what he is saying is this 153 fish, 153 fish different kinds of species in the fish kingdom or animal kingdom represents the calling of God on the church, after all, didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 4:19, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” So Jerome said this is the successful mission or ministry of the church during the church age. The problem is when you study the historian, Opium, very carefully there were not 153 fish; he said there are 157. And then you go over to a guy named Pliny and he said the number is more like 171, so that one doesn’t work either.
And then you have this solution by a gentleman by the name of Emerton and he said this relates to a prophecy about the Dead Sea given in the book of Ezekiel. So for example, in Ezekiel 47:9-10 it says this: “It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. And there will be very many fish, for these waters go there and the others become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.  And it will come about that fisherman will stand beside it; from Engedi to Eneglaim,” now Engedi there is on the Dead Sea, as is Eneglaim, and it says “there will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be according to their kinds, lie the fish of the Great Sea, very many.” So there is this prophecy given about the fact that the Dead Sea is going to come back to life and is going to team with fish, and Emerton essentially believed that that is what this is talking about.
Now where does the number 153 come from? You have to go into something called gematria. What is gematria? Gematria is the idea that every Hebrew letter has a number attached to it. And so you can take anybody’s name and convert it into Hebrew and attach the right number to the right letter, add up the sums and everybody’s name could be reduced to a single number. It’s an ancient practice that’s foreign to us but it was very common in the first century worlds and in the Old Testament times called gematria, and so Emerton basically said Eglam, you spell that out in Hebrew, one of the places mentioned in Ezekiel’s prophecy, adds up to 153. The problem is “Gedi,” remember this river is supposed to flow into the Dead Sea and people will pitch their tents as far Eglam and Engedi, Gedi only adds up to 17. But Emerton says this: If you add 1 + 1, + 2, + 3, + 4, + 5 right up to 17 it’ll add up to 153. So that’s he harmonized 17 and 153.
And after that came along this great allegorizer named Augustine and Augustine said that’s true, start with 1 and add 2, and add 3, then add 4 and keep adding up until 17 and you’ll get to 153. So 17 becomes the magic number. Well, then you have another problem, what do you do with the number 17? What’s the significance of 17? And Augustine said well, there’s 10 commandments, and in Revelation 1:4 it mentions the seven-fold ministry of the Spirit because after all, doesn’t
2 Corinthians 3:6 say, “for the letter kills and the Spirit gives life?” So therefore, 10 would be the Ten Commandments and 7 would be the Holy Spirit, 10+7=17, starting with one and adding 2 and then 3 right up to 17 will take you to the number 153. [Revelation 1:4, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”] I’m not even halfway through my list here.
Then came another individual who said no, 7 + 10 = 17, that’s true but 7 does not equal the Holy Spirit, 7 is 3 + 4. So let’s divide 7 into 3 and 4, 3 being the Trinity, well where does the 4 come from? 4 comes from the 4 walls that will be around the New Jerusalem.
And then came this other individual named Gregory and he used the same tactic, he said 1 +2 + 3 + 4 right up to 17 equals 154, but he said 17 times 3 for the Trinity equals 51; 51 takes you 1 year past 50, right? And didn’t the Old Testament talk about a year of Jubilee where we would get rest, or the Jews would get rest after 50 years. And then we have to take that number, 51 and multiply it by 3, which is the Trinity and we get to the magic number 153.
Other people said no, 17 is 5 + 12. So what’s the significance of 5 + 12? Well, you’ve got to go back to John 6 because Jesus fed the masses with how many loaves? 5, and how many baskets did they pick up after everybody was finished? 12 baskets. So this individual said this is actually talking about the miracle that He performed back in John 6.
Gematria, the way it functions is there’s not just a Hebrew correlation, there’s a Greek correlation. So you attach the right number to the right Greek letter, you add up the letters in a person’s name and everybody’s name could be reduced to a particular number. This, I believe, is how the world will identify the antichrist, through 666. Whoever the antichrist is, we don’t know who he is, you’ll be able to take his name, convert it into Greek, attach the right number to the right letter, add it all up and it will be 666. That’s why one night I woke up in the middle of the night very nervous and my wife said to me, “what’s wrong?” And I said to her, “how do I know I’m not the antichrist?” So I went downstairs and I got my numerical table out and I started to do… I converted my name into Greek, I added the right number to the right letter, added it up and I was so relieved that it did not yield 666. So then I went back to sleep. Then I woke up again and I say will, how do I know Bruce Munsterman is not the antichrist? [Laughter] Because Ephesians 2 tells us that Satan is the prince and power of the what? Of the air, [more laughter] but I added it all up and fortunately Bruce was not the antichrist so I went right back to sleep.
Bu you see, what they’re doing is they’re using Greek gematria to identify the church of love, that supposedly adds up to 153 in Greek; the children of God, Cana of Galilee, in the children of God, and then Christian symbols, meaning Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, supposedly when you convert all of these things into Greek and do gematria it adds up to 153. One more just for good measure was Bruno who said that 50 would represent the three continents where Christianity has grown, which would be Asia, Africa and Europe. Each of those represent 50, you multiply 50 times 3 we get 150, we add in 3 for the Trinity and we get to 153.
These are just some examples of speculations that have been made over 2,000 years, people trying to figure out what 153 means; is it different categories in the united faith, is it proselytes in the days of David and Solomon, is it Gentiles and Jewish converts in the church age, is it 153 species of fish, is it some sort of prophecy in Ezekiel 47 about the Dead Sea coming to life, is it the Ten Commandments and the Holy Spirit, is it the Trinity and Jerusalem’s four walls, is it the Jubilee, is it the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6, is it gematria for a Christian title of some kind, or does it represent the major continents where Christianity has grown.
And the reason I bring this up is all of these things represent what we would call allegorical interpretation. What is allegorical interpretation? You have to understand that prior to the Protestant Reformation and prior to the Reformers getting back to the centrality of the Word of God what dominated the Middle Ages was allegorical interpretation. Allegorical interpretation is the idea that you do not pay attention to what the text says, you use the language of the text to bring in some kind of special meaning or higher meaning that only the spiritual can understand, which is not self-evident in the text. So Philo, one of the great allegorists around the time of Christ said you know, Genesis 2:8-14 mentions four rivers coming out of Eden. There’s the Pishon, there’s the Gihon, there’s the Euphrates, and then there is the Tigris and he said those, what they represent are four parts of the soul.
And then one of my first sermons, I didn’t preach this fortunately, but I heard it as an early Christian is I heard a sermon on Nehemiah 2 and Nehemiah 2 records the walls around the city of Jerusalem and it records different gates and you’ll notice at the top there’s something called the Fish Gate, and the pastor said we’ve got to get out there and be fishers of men; we’ve got to get out there and evangelize. And then he came to the Sheep Gate and he said isn’t it great that Jesus is our Great Shepherd and we are the sheep. And then moving east there he got to the Water Gate and he said you know, Water is the Holy Spirit, John 7, and so what we’re being told to do here is to walk under the authority of the Holy Spirit. And then he got down here to the Water Gate which I just mentioned, the Fish Gate, the Sheep Gate, now you’ll notice at the bottom there’s something called the Dung Gate? And I notice he never commented on that gate.
But when you study Nehemiah 2 is this talking about evangelism? No! Is it talking about Jesus as our Great Shepherd? No! Is it talking about we need to be walking under the power of the Holy Spirit? No! Those are all ideas that are allegorical; these are ideas that come from the mind and are read into the text rather than being derived from the text. And this is a great problem. Now are we against Jesus as our Shepherd? Are we against evangelism? Are we against walking under the direction of the Holy Spirit? Of course not! There are many other passages that deal with those subjects; you don’t use Nehemiah 2 to teach that.
Then what is the Fish Gate? What is it in Nehemiah 2? What it simply means is there was a gate where they took fish in and out of the gate, that’s it. What’s the Sheep Gate? There was a gate where they took sheep in and out of the gate. Well, what’s the Water Gate? The Water Gate is where they took water in and out of the gate. The Dung Gate, which was never commented on, is where they took manure in and out of the gate. I mean, it was a very good sermon, it gave the liver quiver and it motivated you but at the end of the day you look at the text and you say where is he getting all of this stuff from? It’s all read into the text. That’s what I mean by allegorical interpretation.
And there are a great many dangers associated with allegorizing the Scripture. One of those dangers is number 1, out of 3, the text is not being interpreted; you are not interpreting the text, you are reading ideas into the text which do not belong. Another way of saying this is spiritualizing. A little saying that has always stuck with me is this: he who spiritualizes tells spiritual lies. And there are many sermons you hear and you say great sermon, wrong passage. And this is the price of allegorizing the Scripture.
Our goal in the Scripture is not to bring ideas to the text but to derive ideas from the text. It’s the difference between exegesis, drawing from the text what is there coming from that Greek preposition ek, which means out of, verses eisegesis, eis from the Greek preposition into, reading ideas into the passage that simply do not belong. Another danger with allegorical interpretation is there is no way to test the interpreter. I mean, how would I test whether the allegory is accurate or not? The allegorist assures us it’s accurate, but you see, another allegorist can come along and give you a totally different allegory from the same material. So there is no objective way to test the allegorist. In fact, if you are a spiritualizer and an allegorist you can never lose your job. Why is that? Because you’re the only one that knows what the allegory means.
And then a third danger with allegorical interpretation is it’s a transfer of authority; the authority transfers away from the Scripture to the mind of the interpreter and that becomes a pride problem. And this is why allegorization is so popular; it allows the interpreter to be in control.
So we, as Christians, are called not to allegorize. We at Sugar Land Bible Church seek not to allegorize the Scripture because he who spiritualizes at the end of the day tells spiritual lies. You say now wait a minute, aren’t there allegories in the Bible? Yes there are, but when a passage is meant to be understood allegorically it will tell you. For example, in Galatians 4:22 it says this: “This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.” A whole allegory is done with Sarah and Hagar; now I know it’s an allegory because the text says “This is allegorically speaking.” So I know that an allegory is in play here. It’s not denying that Sarah and Hagar were not literal people in history but Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, which he could do as an apostle, allegorized the passage.
But even when the allegory is given by Paul he tells us the interpretation of the allegory. So I am not free nilly-willy to go through the Bible and convert anything I want to into an allegory, unless the test tells me it’s an allegory and then the allegory will be interpreted for us.
Revelation 11:8 says this: “And their dead bodies will be in the street of the great city,” now this would be Jerusalem, “which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” Now I know that Jerusalem is a literal city but it’s being given a spiritual application here. How do I know that? Because the word “mystically” tells me that. And John says you also have to understand Jerusalem not just as a literal city but having the depravity of Sodom in the last days as well as the bondage of Egypt.
What, then, is the proper interpretation of the 153 fish, going back to John 21:11? Are you seated for this? This is going to be really heavy. When you see the number 153 fish it means 153 fish. It’s not talking about the Ten Commandments, it’s not talking about the fullness of the Spirit, it’s not talking about any such topic, it is simply talking about 153 fish. The reason the number is given is because John is an eyewitness and would remember the exact count, as he does all of the other specific details in this chapter.
And we move from the count, wrapping up, to the communion. Notice if you will verse 12, notice what it says, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples ventured to question Him, ‘Who are You?’ knowing that it was the Lord.” You’ll notice that Jesus is going to minister to the needs of Peter spiritually later on in the passage. We’ll look at those next week, verses 15-17. But even before ministering to Peter’s spiritual needs He ministers to his physical needs. And that’s why I entitled this message, Ministering to the Whole Person, because that’s what God does. God is in the business of not just meeting our spiritual needs, as important as they are, but he is also very active and involved in meeting the physical needs of His children.
In fact, Psalm 37:25, David says this: “I was young but now I am old,” in other words, I’ve lived a long time, and “I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor their seed,” which is their descendants, “begging for bread.” He says I’ve been at this walking with God for a long time and never in my field of observation have I ever seen, throughout my entire spiritual life, a child of God whose physical needs are not met nor their children whose physical needs are not met.
Jesus told us about this, didn’t He, in Matthew 6:25-33, a passage I alluded to a little earlier. Jesus says this: “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are?  And who of you by worrying can add a single hour” or cubit “to his lifespan?  And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,  yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  Do not worry then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ Or ‘What shall we drink’? Or ‘What will we wear.’  For the pagans eagerly seek after these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need these things.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
We’re entering a time in America where greater and greater economic stress is coming. We see it already and I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet but as far as I see it things are not going to get better any time soon. And we need to start learning to live according to the promises of God. Your job is not your provider; God is your provider. Now He chooses, many times, to provide for us through work or jobs or employment, but if you lose your job tomorrow that doesn’t stop the provision of God because the provision of God is not dependent upon an employment possibility. It’s part of God’s immutable character.
If He takes care of grass, if He takes care of animals and birds why wouldn’t He take care of you? You’re His child. You bear His image, unlike the grass and unlike the birds of the airs. And Jesus really gets to the whole point of the matter when He says, “O you or little faith.” The problem with us is many times we do not trust God with things of this nature. We trust Him for salvation but next month’s rent and filling up the car with gas, that’s different, we think. But if God already gave you the greatest gift, His Son, won’t He take care of these more minor economic issues in our lives. And we need to start appropriating these promises and if we don’t and we look at this the way the world does we are going to go into fear and distress and anxiety.
Philippians 4:19, Paul wrote this when he was in prison and he said, “My God will supply all of your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.” Isn’t it interesting that Paul didn’t say God will provide all our greeds? He did say though that He would provide all of our needs. And this is what Jesus is doing. In the restoration of Peter, even before Jesus deals with the spiritual issue in Peter’s life, he meets the man’s (and the rest of these disciple’s, the other six) their physical needs, having been out all night, not caught anything, no doubt in the state of hunger and in need of nourishment.
Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary puts it this way: “How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before he dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter an opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly the spiritual need is more important than the physical but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not emphasize the soul so much that He neglects the body. It’s ministry to the whole person.”
Many times you’ll hear people say well, should we preach the gospel or should we feed the masses? The answer to that is yes; we should do both, because we are in the business of ministering to the whole person. We should not meet their physical needs and never share the gospel with them; that’s what the social gospel concept does. But we should use the ministry of physical needs to people as a platform to show the love of Christ whereby they will be open to the gospel.
Jesus, as I am standing here this afternoon speaking to you is concerned, not just about your eternity with Him, but He has equal concern over your physical wellbeing. And His concern for you does not ebb or flow like the stock market does, and like the American economy does. He is concerned for you and His provision for you is something that will be met in His timing and in His providence as we learn to walk by faith and appropriate His resources moment by moment.
You’ll also notice in verse 12 he says, “None of the disciples ventured to question Him, ‘Who are You?’ knowing that it was the Lord.” And of course, this is the great purpose of the great purpose of the miracles in John’s Gospel; they uniquely identify Jesus as the unique Son of God so that we might believe and receive life. There are seven miracles total in John’s Gospel and we just learned of another miracle here which would bring the grand total up to eight.
Going down to verse 13 and verse 14, we’ll do these very quickly, it says this: “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise.” What we need to understand is that in the ancient world, in Greco-Roman times and in the Ancient Near East when these words were written, a meal with somebody was a sign of fellowship. We, in America, in the year 2015, have lost the concept because we’re in such a hurry all the time so we drive through an establishment and we eat on the road. Sometimes we don’t even sit down as a family to have family meals. But you see, the feeding and the meal was highly significant in the time of Jesus because it was a sign of fellowship.
The meal itself is the restoration of fellowship. Jesus is extending to Peter this olive branch and He’s saying to him through this meal, which met his physical needs, that although you have denied Me three times I want to forgive that sin and not only restore you to leadership but I want to bring you into fellowship with Myself. There’s no doubt that these disciples were already believers here. You remember what He said about them in John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” He’s not getting these people saved again. What he is doing is He’s bringing them back into fellowship with Himself.
Revelation 3:20, a commonly misunderstood passage, says this, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him, and will dine with Him, he with Me.” People will falsely use this as an invitation for the unbeliever to come to Christ. In fact, that’s not what the context is at all. Jesus is not knocking outside the door of the heart of the unbeliever; He is knocking on the door of His own church, the church at Laodicea. And I know He is speaking to believers here because in the prior verse, verse 19, He says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline,” who does God discipline? He disciplines His own. These are His own people that are out of fellowship with Him and Jesus here is outside the door saying I want to come back into fellowship with you; I don’t want to get you saved. What I want you to do is to come back into fellowship with Me and the analogy that He uses is dining. Did you catch that? “I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
Jesus is taking wayward Peter and restoring him into fellowship, which will become clearer next week in verses 15-17. And if you’ve been away from the Lord as one of His children how do you get back into fellowship with Him exactly? The answer is in John’s other book, 1 John, which says this, 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 just like Revelation 3:20, is not an evangelistic passage. How do I know that? Because 1 John is written to the believer. How do I know that? Because 1 John 2:1 says, “My little children,” just a few verses later, “I am writing these things to you….” Why, then, do you need 1 John 1:9 in your life as a Christian? Because, just like Peter and as God’s people, we sin. When we sin against God, even as a Christian, it does not change our status or our position before Him. What it alters is our enjoyment of God, our intimacy with God, fellowship with God.
You may have gotten into an argument with your spouse on the way to church today, I know that these kinds of things don’t happen in a holy group like this, but you might have said something unkind to your spouse. Now does that mean that the two of you aren’t married? No, you’re still positionally married. But what has happened because of that sin is there’s friction in your relationship. The channels of communication are cut off until you humble yourself and apologize. And the moment you apologize and in a state of repentance you don’t get married again, you’re still husband, you’re still wife, but the fellowship between the two of you which has been fractured because of sin is now restored. This is why 1 John 1:9 is such a big deal. And this is the scenario that is happening; fellowship is about to be restored, symbolized through this meal which was a real meal, meeting the physical needs of Peter but paving the way of restoration of fellowship which would take place in verses 15-17.
And finally we wrap up with verse 14, “This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after he was raised from the dead.” The first manifestation of Christ after His resurrection was to the disciples without Thomas present. The second manifestation as the resurrected Christ to the disciples was His manifestation to them with Thomas present. And now He has fully disclosed Himself through this eighth sign, a third time, where He manifests Himself in a very special way to seven of the disciples one morning along the Sea of Galilee.
What an awesome God we serve; who was concerned not with our salvation but even broken fellowship, who was concerned not just with our spiritual needs but our physical needs as well. It’s possible you could be here today and have no relationship to God at all. In fact, many of these ideas we have been talking about might seem foreign to you. Your problem is you need to come into a relationship with Christ for the very first time. He wants to have a personal relationship with you and there is only one way to come to Christ into that relationship, and it is by faith alone in Christ alone, period. And this is what we call the gospel; the gospel means good news. It’s good news in the sense that Jesus has done everything for us to usher us into right standing before God. We simply, not by way of works, but we simply receive what He has done as a free gift and there’s only one way to receive a free gift in the mind of God and that’s by faith. Faith is another way of saying reliance, dependence or confidence.
The moment you trust in Christ alone for your eternity and the safekeeping of your soul is the moment you become a Christian. It’s not a matter of walking an aisle, it’s not a matter of signing a card, it’s not a matter of vowing to try harder, it’s not a matter of joining a church, it’s a moment of privacy between you and the Lord where you essentially receive, by faith, or confidence, what Jesus has done. You don’t have to raise your hand to do it; you simply believe or trust the best you know how. And once that happens a person, in a nanosecond, becomes a child of God.
And no doubt as I am speaking the Holy Spirit is active convicting people of their need to do this because Jesus in the Upper Room told us that would happen. If the Spirit of God is convicting you, if he is agitating you of your need to enter into a relationship with Him, then our exhortation to you at Sugar Land Bible Church is to respond, do not let another day pass without responding to this. Respond to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, just in the privacy of your own mind, heart and thoughts, by way of faith. And if it’s something you have done or if it’s something you are doing as I now speak, then on the authority of the Word of God you’ve changed your eternal destiny. If it’s something that you need more information about and needs some questions answered, I’m available after the service to talk. Shall we pray.
Father, we’re grateful for what You did here to this man, Peter, how you extended him grace that he does not or did not deserve and You kept extending him grace throughout his life. Help us, Lord, to really understand Your post resurrection ministry to this flock so that we might grow in our understanding of Your grace and Your bountiful provision for us at the spiritual level and the physical level; we’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We lift these things up to you through Jesus Christ, and God’s people said….