Summary: John's gospel ends, leaving us reassured in our faith, so we can pray for leaders at all levels in church – that they humbly serve their flocks, and we can all re-fix our eyes on Jesus in love, and follow him, relieved of distracting comparisons.
Sermon by Rev Ruth Newmarch
You know how in some movies, the music tells you the end has come, but sometimes the ending has been so dramatic, that you are still taking it in...the implications and emotions are swirling around the audience. Then credits start to roll, but the director has added in some extra footage, and the familiar characters appear again. And you see them relating in new ways. And then the camera pans out and the figures begin to get smaller, as the landscape opens out, creating some distance...but this extra footage has given some clarity, some perspective and the audience can begin to settle.
Ch 21 is an epilogue, to tie off important loose ends, but it is surprisingly pastoral. It helps settle us in at least three ways: first, it gives us extra assurance for when we are unsettled in our faith, second, it tells us that we need leaders, even if they are not perfect, and third, it tells us to follow the path God has set for us and not be too nosey about other people.
This final chapter may have been added when John the beloved disciple, the probable author, was getting quite old. But there is no evidence that the gospel was ever circulated without it.
The chapter falls into three sections, vs 1-14 is a final sign to assure the wobbly disciples, vs 15-19, re-instates Peter as a leader of the church, and vs 20-25 concern John.
In the 1st section, seven of the eleven disciples have returned to the Sea of Tiberius, the Roman name for Galilee. John names 5 of them, like an eyewitness might do. Peter, decides to go fishing one night, and they all go too. Perhaps they needed income, but perhaps they were still unsettled with all that had happened. Did you pick up that despite Peter's denials, he was still the leader!
As the light of a new day dawns however, they have caught nothing – a frustrating waste of a night by any standards. But in John... remember the gospel started with the light coming into the world and the darkness not over-coming it. We saw that God was bringing in a new created order with the coming of the Word made flesh.
So on this last morning in John's gospel, as the dawn breaks, and light overcomes the darkness, Jesus is there! v1 He appears to his disciples a third time. Notice it is an act of self-revelation. After he rose, Jesus was never found by a Roman search party, or by the Jews, or even the disciples, or by the ingenuity of the crowds, for that matter. As the second person of the godhead, Jesus takes the initiative as God has always done, at creation and now at new creation, to make himself known.
But the disciples don't recognise him initially v 4. The first to figure it out is the beloved disciple, by the unlikely, but spectacular catch they make when they drop the net on the right-hand side – he reads this final sign! Peter believes him, and immediately swims ashore. John includes the exact number of fish caught, and he tells us another eye-witness detail about Peter tying his outer garment back on. But perhaps most noteworthy as an eyewitness detail, is the awkwardness towards Jesus, that he reports, when they all come ashore. They recognise it's Jesus, see in v 12, but they don't dare ask if it's really him! They know it is, but they want to make sure! They're struggling to take it in, that he's there! And to know how to relate to Him.
For the first 15 years of our marriage Andrew had a beard. I had never seen him with out it. But one day when we were staying with another family, he shaved it off, without warning, when some of us were out. When I walked in and first saw him, I couldn't work out what I was seeing. It was quite a shock! I recognised him, but he was altered in a way I'd never seen before. He looked strange, even though he was not a stranger. It was rather unsettling to say the least! I realised I'd never actually touched his face before, and now I could see a whole bunch of new facial expressions I didn't recognise! His lips and chin looked different, and the shape of his face had changed! I felt like I needed time to take it all in. I was even a little shy, staring at him in curiosity at times! It was all a bit much! He grew the beard straight back that time, and it was only about 5 years ago for Movember, that he shaved it off again...this time with my knowledge!