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John 21:1-17 Study Guide: Restored to Christ

Community Group Study Guide — Restored to Christ
John 21:1-17

Study Information:
The gospel of John ends with three appearances of Jesus with his disciples after his resurrection. The first was with Mary and the disciples, followed by the second appearance seven days later with the disciples and Thomas and the final appearance is John 21:1-17 with the restoration of Peter. These appearances are meant to give the disciples assurance of Jesus’s ongoing presence with them, as they prepare to receive the Spirit and go out on mission. However, the elephant in the room was Peter’s previous denial of Jesus. Our text teaches us that failure does not need to be final and that there is a path for restoration and reconciliation with Christ after we’ve sinned. 

Assured of Ongoing Fellowship with the Risen Jesus
John 21:1-14
Some have read this text of scripture as a failure on the part of disciples. You may have heard this taught as the disciples went back to their old life because they were tired of waiting or became disillusioned with Jesus. However, that is hard to support from the text. Mark 16:7 recorded an angel telling Mary to tell the disciples to go wait for Jesus in Galilee, and Luke 24 has Jesus commanding them to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit. Finally, Acts 1:3 told us that Jesus spent 40 days teaching them after his resurrection. Putting all this together, likely the disciples were being faithful to the angels command to go wait in Galilee and later the Luke command which likely came at the end of those 40 days with Jesus. Since they were back in Galilee and waiting, the disciples decide to hit up their favorite fishing spot; which makes sense because they had to eat and it was not a sin to go out and fish (John 21:1-3). 

The disciples fished all night and caught nothing. As they were getting ready to call it quits a voice from the shore called out to them saying “drop the net on the other side of the boat.” They obeyed and found that their net immediately filled with fish. At that moment the beloved disciple recognized that it was the Lord and Peter put on his outer clothing and jumped in to swim ashore, leaving his buddies to pull the fish in. John did not record the earlier account of this miracle, but it is important to know that a similar event happened at the beginning of the disciples relationship with Jesus. Luke 5:1-11 gave almost the exact same turn of events and it ended with Jesus saying “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” In John 21, Jesus recreated that miracle and extended that same promise to them, specifically that they were still invited to follow him and Jesus will be with them on mission. 

When they got to the shore they found Jesus there with a charcoal fire prepared and fish on the grill cooking. They added some of their own catch to the fire and ate breakfast with Jesus. This was an assurance of on going fellowship with Jesus, a reminder of how the servant heart of Jesus and even though they would not physically see him, he would still be with them. Jesus also used this opportunity to address Peter’s past sin and to restore him. 

Assured of Restoration
John 21:15-17
The last time we read about people gathered around a charcoal fire it was in John 18 and Peter was denying that he knew Jesus. The only two times a charcoal fire was mentioned in the Bible are in these two stories from John. That provides a narrative link for us between these events, more than that, just as Peter denied knowing Jesus three times so Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Jesus. Each question takes a pattern of Jesus asking “do you love me” and Peter responding with Jesus knowing Peter’s love, followed by a call to action to serve the church as Peter was called to lead. Let’s explore two things we learn in this passage about God’s response towards Christians who’ve sinned.

First, it was loving for Jesus to bring up Peter’s past sin. Sometimes we think that it is unloving to cause someone else pain, but here Jesus brought up something that pained Peter and caused Peter to grieve (John 21:17). However, the unloving thing for Jesus to have done would have been to keep Peter wondering if Jesus still held that past sin over his head. We struggle when we do not know we’ve been reconciled and forgiven and without that closure we experience relational distance. Jesus desired for Peter to know that he was fully and wholeheartedly loved in Christ and that his sin had been forgiven on the cross. Even though it pained Peter, Jesus asked him the question “do you love me?” three times to erase his three denials. Likewise Jesus called Peter to care for the flock of God after each affirmation of Peter’s love. Being restored to Christ meant that he could lead he church with a clear conscience, knowing that he had been forgiven much by the Lord. Humble leaders, who understand their sin and need for God’s grace, make the best leaders because they are able to care for the flock of God in love. 

Second, failure does not need to be final. Christians today can experience restoration with Christ as the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin or we are held accountable by brothers and sisters in Christ. Those moments are opportunities for us to repent of our sin and to turn towards God because he loves us and has made reconciliation with Christ possible. The worst thing we can do in those moments is to harden our hearts or believe the lie that those sins are not forgivable. Our sin cannot out pace God’s grace. When we experience conviction of sin we should confess, repent and remember God’s love for us in Christ. Do you view any of your past sins as “final,” do you think that there is no hope for someone like you? If so, you are minimizing the grace of God and are struggling to apply the gospel to yourself. The good news is that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). This is a good moment to pray and ask God to grow your love for him and to help you know the depths of his love (Ephesians 3:14-17). 

Finally, Peter was not disqualified from leading. Even though Peter’s denials were a big failure, he was not permanently removed from leading. The process Jesus took him through humbled his heart and showed him the depths of his own need for Christ and enabled Peter to grow in selfless care for the people of God. A humbled Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write 1 Peter 5:1-5, which give us qualifications for elders in the church and among those qualifications were things like “not domineering or greedy and being clothed with humility.” Looking back on your past sins may fill you with a sense of shame, but instead of allowing your heart to go there, remind yourself of God’s grace and allow that to humble you. If you’re called to a place of leadership in the church, you will lead most effectively as you are able to know in the depths of your own life how you have received God’s mercy. 

Failure does not need to be final. Christ loves his church and provides opportunity for restoration. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read John 21:1-17

We are told in John 21:14 “this was the third time Jesus was revealed to the disciples.” What is the goal of these appearances and what do we learn from John 21:1-14 in particular? 

Why would Jesus address Peter’s denial in such a public way?

What grieved Peter about Jesus’s questions? Was it unloving for Jesus to ask Peter if he loved him three times?

How does humility impact the way we lead and serve others? Do you think it is essential that a Christian leader is humble? Why or why not?

The study guide made the point that failure does not need to be final? Have you been tempted to view your past sins as permanently separating you from Christ? How have you been able to remind yourself of forgiveness and restoration in Jesus?