(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Long Shot
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Much of John’s gospel happened in or near Jerusalem. Chapter 21, however, told of Peter and several other disciples back at the Sea of Galilee. (People have made various guesses, but John did not explain what their reasons were for going fishing.) The story made clear, however, that despite their past experience they did not fish successfully on their own. When Jesus guided them, they hauled in a huge catch.
Jesus was no ghost, but truly, physically alive. He built a fire and cooked breakfast! John, a master of images and echoes, must also have recalled that Peter’s faith “crashed” around a fire in Caiaphas’ court (cf. John 18:15-18, 25-27). He probably meant the unbroken net full of fish (153—fishermen would count!) to point to the wide reach of Christ’s gospel, and the fact that there would always be room for all the people for whom God’s messengers “fished.”
Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus. As his dive into the water and swim to shore seemed to show (cf. John 21:7), Peter was aching, eager to reconnect with Jesus. Jesus didn’t want that failure to haunt the rest of Peter’s life, either. Three times, he allowed Peter to affirm his love, deeper and more solid now because he knew he Jesus could forgive him even when he failed.
When Peter first chose to follow Jesus, he couldn’t possibly have realized all that Jesus’ call meant. Now he’d seen Jesus go to the cross. And now Jesus told him that he would yet have the chance to live up to his words in John 13:37 (“I’ll give up my life for you”). Now, with the cost of following him clearly in view, Jesus repeated the same simple, sweeping call: “Follow me.”
In John 17:18 Jesus prayed, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent [my disciples] into the world.” In John 20:21 he told them, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Peter had personally accepted Jesus’ call anew, and he would follow, even at great cost—but he wondered what might await the other disciple. Jesus said our call is to follow him, not to compare our path with anyone else’s.
In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, scholar Richard Bauckham documented that first century readers considered history nearly worthless unless an eyewitness wrote it. The writer of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, he said. He could have written much more about Jesus, but his testimony was trustworthy and powerful. “I saw it—you can believe it!” he seemed to say at the end, probably echoing Jesus’ words to Thomas (“Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe”—John 20:29).
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, thank you for calling us to serve you. Help us to trust in you, without comparing ourselves or our service to others. Do with us what you will; may your will become our will. Strengthen our love and commitment to you and forgive us when we fail you. Feed our bodies, our minds and our souls, and recreate us to be the kind of people you would have us be. In your name, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
We’re often horrified as the news media report the terrible events that seem to occur almost daily in our country. In light of history’s many recorded human conflicts, is America today more violent than a few decades ago, or do we just hear about it more?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read John 21:1-6. After Christ’s death, these disciples had returned to the activity they’d earned a living at. They might not have even been thinking about Jesus. Why not? They couldn’t catch fish without Jesus. What does this say to you as you go through your everyday life? Would we be more effective if we “take Jesus along with us” every day? Why didn’t the disciples recognize the resurrected Jesus on the shore? What do you do to be able to recognize Jesus when he makes his presence known to you in the ordinary course of your life?
Read John 21:7-14. Was Jesus a ghost or spirit, or was he physically alive? How do we know this? What was the significance of the big catch the fishermen made? Was Jesus sending a message by filling the net with fish, but not with so many that the net would break? Didn’t Christ tell them earlier that he would make them fishers of men? Why did Jesus ask them to bring some fish to the fire when some were already prepared? Does God require some effort on our part in completing our lives? What effect does the requirement to do our part have on our development as God’s people?
Read John 21:15-17. Why did Jesus ask Simon Peter the same question three times? How would Peter probably have felt about his triple denial of Jesus? Could Jesus have been helping Peter get over his guilt by asking the question three times? Had Jesus already forgiven Peter? Have mistakes you’ve made in the past haunted you and made you question your relationship with God? What can we do to accept God’s forgiveness and move on?
Read John 21:18-19. At this time, could Peter have possibly realized what his life would be like and all that he would do to further God’s plan on Earth? Jesus was essentially telling Peter that he would have to suffer for Christ. Did this seem to deter Peter in any way? What changed Peter from the man who denied Christ three times? Did Peter “glorify God” through his own death? What does “glorify God” mean to you? How can and do we glorify God with our own lives?
Read John 21:20-23. After finding out he would suffer death for Christ, Peter asked what would happen to the “disciple Jesus loved.” One church tradition said John may have been the only disciple who died a natural death, rather than being martyred. If one disciple had an easier time than another, does that mean God was unfair? Are we to compare our Christian life with the lives of other Christians? What’s the risk in doing so? Does God call all of us to live the same lives, with the same purposes? Does God call all of us to have the same degree of impact on the world as do others?
Read John 21:24-25. Why did John make such a point of being an eye witness to all that he reported? Re-read verse 25. What do you make of this verse? Did Jesus simply stop doing things after his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven? What kinds of things is he doing yet today? Is there any imaginable way that all Jesus’ work could be written down? Could you, for example, write down every single thing Christ has done for you and through you?
From last week: Did you continue reading the gospel of John, slowly reading the final chapter, 21? As you read, did you ask yourself what message the apostle was trying to deliver with his choice of words and his selection of stories? Did you pray for a deeper insight into these verses? Share with the group how these practices affected your week and your faith.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Ann Williams’ sermon, March 31, 2013:
Peter very easily could have gone down in history as the guy who denied Christ in the critical moment. But because of Christ’s resurrection, the worst thing is never the last thing. Which means Jesus didn’t let the story end there. Because Christ put fear and weakness, and all our mistakes and failures to death on the cross, there’s a second chapter to Peter’s story, and to our story.
We’ve been asking you, as you have read through the Gospel of John to keep in mind three questions: What is said in any given passage about Jesus? How does Jesus bring life to me? What response is required of me? So I want to use these three questions to think about what this passage has to say to us today:
First, what does this passage say about Jesus? This passage says Christ has the power to restore. That God through Christ gets to decide how the story ends. And God decides to come back from the grave so that we might have another chance. God says our life is not going to be defined by failure.
And the second question: How does Jesus bring life to me? When Jesus is raised from the grave on the third day, he doesn’t just rise for himself. He rises from the grave to bring new life to others. He appears to Peter among the disciples and they have the conversation that changes the course of his life forever. In fact, we might say he is given new life in Christ. Three times Jesus asks Peter to reaffirm his faith because it was three times that Peter denied Christ. In this way we are to understand that Jesus fully and completely reinstates, redeems, and restores Peter. He restores their relationship. He forgives his mistakes, and redeems him. Those three denials are erased. We can hear Peter gaining confidence and his voice getting a little stronger each time he responds to Jesus’ question, “Peter, do you love me?”, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you!” “Peter, do you love me?”, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you!” “Peter, do you love me?”, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you!”
And along with each affirmation of faith comes a call to ministry, a call to action. This answers our third question: what response is required of me? Each time Peter says “You know I love you”, Jesus asks him to respond by taking care of his people—“feed my lambs”, “take care of my sheep”, “feed my sheep.” Jesus reiterates his call to Peter, “The Rock,” and reminds him of his mission: that Jesus will build the church upon that rock. This conversation tells Peter, in essence, you are still called. I know you messed up but I have restored you and you are still the one I choose to do my work. Isn’t this what we all want? We all want that opportunity to have a second chance. For God to see the good within us, rather than the mistakes we’ve made….
Peter represents each of us with all our highs and lows. Scholars have asked why all four gospels include the terribly embarrassing story of when Peter denied Jesus. I think it is because Peter freely shared the story, and it was one people could relate to. We all have moments of greatness. And we all stumble and fall. We know the person we want to be—with Peter we say, “Lord, though all the others deny you, I will never deny you!” We have moments where we have acted courageously to serve the Lord, yet we’ve also turned away from him in thought, word and deed.
But just as God used all of Peter’s unique experiences to serve the church, God does the same for each one of us. Here’s what I want you to get: Whatever your past may be, whatever mistakes you’ve made, God offers you new life. God still has a purpose for you. You are not too far gone!
So I wonder, what if the events of your life (both peaks and valleys) have prepared you for something? Do you believe the world needs something from you? Something only you are uniquely qualified to do?
Peter would go on to be martyred, put to death on a cross, just as Christ predicted. He was crucified but he asked to be placed upside down, feeling unworthy of dying the same way as his Savior. Early Christian history writes that Peter was crucified at Rome under Nero Augustus Caesar in year 64. He was put to death on the cross because of his devotion and commitment to Christ’s church – persecuted for his faith. But none of this ministry, none of this incredible impact would have been possible if Christ had not graciously and generously offered Peter new life.
What does it mean to be “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17)?
What does it mean to follow Jesus? Mark’s record employs this concept a number of times. Sometimes “following” refers simply to the act of physically pursuing Him, as often occurred during His ministry. On numerous occasions, groups of people journeyed to see and hear this unique man from Galilee. But in a different sense following Jesus signifies a commitment to His cause, total allegiance to Him, whatever the cost. For instance, Jesus told a rich man: “sell all you possess, and give to the poor . . . and come follow me” (10:21). Peter bluntly stated: “we have left everything and followed you” (10:28). And the pivotal passage involves that sequence of events after Peter’s confession near Caesarea Philippi. Here Jesus sets the terms of discipleship. The one who wishes to “come after Me,” He says, “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (8:34).
To follow Jesus, then, is to enlist in His kingdom and bow to His rule. “The idea is that of responding to a summons, attachment to a person, acceptance of authority, and imitation of example.”
This is what Jesus demanded of Peter and Andrew, and the same holds true today. The call of the Son of God is to a life of consecration and total dependence upon His grace, strength and guidance. We, like those disciples of old, must embark on a spiritual journey through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Passive Element: What Christ Does
Spiritual growth is ultimately a divine accomplishment. As we do our part, God—often through our efforts—intervenes on our behalf. Notice in the text before us that Jesus assures His disciples of the outcome of following Him. A promise is made that His disciples will be transformed into true heralds of the kingdom. There does not appear to be any doubt as to the certainty of this fact. These men will indeed become fishermen in the kingdom of God; Jesus guarantees it.
The passage here does not elaborate, but there are plainly a number of key ideas tied to the concept of becoming fishers of men. Certainly the invisible hand of God is in view. He intervenes in the lives of His children, and equips them for evangelism. We may surmise that this involves a deepening of their love for God, a realization of the plight of lost men and women, and the courage to proclaim the much needed gospel message. Also, it must include a deeper knowledge of the things of God, a greater ability to communicate truth, and the wisdom needed for the variety of challenges we encounter. The Christian evangelist has many needs; these are divinely supplied, according to Jesus, for all who make following Him their highest ambition….
There are no short-cuts to becoming successful messengers of the truth. It is not so easy as plugging in a formula or memorizing a few trite phrases. Rather, evangelism seems to be integrally tied to the workings of God on behalf of (and within) His people. Furthermore, His dealings with us are related to our cooperation with Him. We are all evangelists “in the making.”
All of this, of course, is closely tied to the means of grace, the influences by which God effects sanctifying change in His people. These include prayer, fellowship, meditation, and, especially, the preached and studied Scriptures.
Jesus said “follow me,” and that means, in part at least, coming in contact with the God-given aids to spiritual growth. Evangelists are those who take their Christian lives seriously, and determine to utilize every opportunity for progress in grace. As a result, they become better witnesses for Him.
Do not fret, therefore, as you contemplate your own inadequacies when it comes to evangelism. The very best thing you can do is to realize that God is the One who directs our efforts (even over-rules them at times!) and shapes us into more suitable messengers of Christ. The fundamental principal of evangelistic success is the cultivation of a deeper and more consistent walk with the Savior. Simply stated, we must follow Him. Those who do have this promise: They will become fishers of men.
This week, reflect on the fact that the Book of John is, for many, a favorite of the Gospels. How did our focus on this Gospel, your reading and study affect you in a personal, spiritual way? Did this study help you understand how you could be a better disciple and “fisher of men”? Next week, share with the group what you discovered.