John’s Two Endings – John 20, 21

shepherd with crookIt would see as John 20:31 is the perfect ending of the book.  It summarizes John’s overall message very clearly:

“These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, And that by believing you might have life in his name.”

But the book has one more chapter.  Is it an appendix of some sort?

I think that Chapter 20 summarizes the response of faith to the Gospel.  We focus on John, Peter, Mary Magdalene and Thomas as they come to believe that Jesus did rise from the dead.  Each person responds differently, but each comes to faith.  Then in effect, John turns to the reader and says, “these (chapter 1-20) are written that YOU might believe…”

This explains why Mary Magdalene is singled out, when in the other gospels we find that other women were also at the tomb.  John is not telling all that happened, he is telling us how faith happened for these four people.

John 21 is about following the Lord.  If we ended with John 20 we might conclude that the faith is merely personal and that when I meet the Lord, I am done.  But the brief call to mission found in John 20:19-22 is expanded in Chapter 21.

There we find two images – fishing and shepherding.  Both of these are strongly tied in the Gospels to leadership.  Peter, Andrew, James and John were called to become fishers of people.

In chapter 21 we find three commands – all directed to Peter.

“Throw your net there…”  In a replay of events recorded in the synoptic gospels, Jesus suggests a fishing strategy to fishermen.  They had caught nothing until they followed his instruction.  We are to read this larger than the story.  In being “fishers of people” the apostles will only be effective when they follow the Lord’s command.

“Feed my sheep.”  Three times, because Peter had denied the Lord three times, he is asked if he Loves Jesus.  When Peter replies that he does, he is called to feed and tend the sheep.

Fishing is associated  in our minds with fishhooks, though these fishermen used nets.  Shepherding is associated with shepherd’s crooks.  So ministry is by tradition done “by hook or by crook.”

“Follow me.”  Peter’s initial call to follow is restated.  It is also made clear that Peter should follow the Lord and not worry about what the Beloved Disciple was doing.  The calling is individual and the Lord decides how to call each individually. It is not wise to envy or to compare.

John 20, in sum, is a call to faith in Jesus as the Savior.  John 21, in sum, is a call to follow him in service.


Seven Words for Pastors – #7 “Sheep”`

 sheep   How do we show truly our love for Jesus.  Is it in eloquent words of a sermon or poem or in prayer or worship?  Jesus defined it here as taking care of the needs of his sheep.  Sheep are exotic to us in the city, but to Peter there could have been nothing more ordinary.  Feed them, guide them, heal their wounds, defend them, know them by name, be with them constantly.  That is how you take care of sheep.

In the first part of chapter 21 Peter was frustrated with waiting, and so he and 6 others went fishing.  We see that they were just killing time, because when Jesus appeared, they forgot all about fishing.

After Jesus had cooked bread and fish for their breakfast, he turned to Peter and addressed him three times formally.

First he said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

Peter had once pledged to give his life up to death to serve Jesus.  So Jesus was asking if Peter truly loved him.  Did Peter love him more than the other disciples, because that is what Peter had implied.  Did Peter love Jesus more than his fishing boat, and nets, and the Sea of Galilee?

Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus replied, “Feed my lambs.”

Ministry is not about raising the sword in battle for the glory of Jesus, it is being a shepherd.  Peter would need to overcome his hero-complex.  He would need to quit thinking of himself in heroic terms, but to think in terms of a shepherd.

Second Jesus said, “Simon Son of John, do you truly love me?”

Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Third Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt this time wondering why Jesus keep asking him this question.  So he said, “Lord you know all things; You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, ”Feed my sheep.”

Three times Peter denied Jesus (ch 18).  Despite his vow of courage and loyalty, Peter denied Jesus before an unarmed servant girl and the other bystanders outside the house of the High Priest.  The rooster crowed and Peter went out weeping and defeated into the night.

Three times Jesus questioned Peter.  Peter’s denial was public.  It was the scandal of his life.  When he put his foot in his mouth by being too eager, that was not so bad.  But to deny and then run in the face of trouble.  Who could forgive Peter, and accept him as a leader? Could Peter even accept himself?  Maybe that is why he tried returning to fishing.

Three times Jesus said “Feed my sheep.”

Pastors are Shepherds.  Pastors are supposed to feed and care for the sheep.  The people of God are sheep.  We are in need of guidance.  We need to be led to the green pastures and to the clear waters.  We need to be protected from wild beasts.  When we stray, someone needs to leave the 99 and come and find us.  Moses was a shepherd of sheep before he shepherded Israel through the desert and to the Green Pastures of Israel.  David was a shepherd, before he was anointed as the future King and Shepherd of the Nation.

Jesus went on to tell Peter that he would die a death to glorify God. V. 18, 19.  This wasn’t to be the death of the sword wielding defender of Jesus, but the death of a shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.

After telling Peter the good news, that after a life of service to the sheep, he would be able to fulfill his boast and die for Christ, then Jesus re-issued the challenge that Peter had heard before, “Follow me.”

In chapter 1 of John, some of John the Baptist’s disciples left to follow Jesus.  One of these was Andrew, who went to get Peter, who also followed Jesus.  We see in this that the first quality of a disciple of Jesus, of a Christian, is to be a follower of Jesus.

In Luke 5, Peter and the others were out fishing and had caught nothing.  Jesus came and taught the crowd from Peter’s boat.  He then asked Peter to cast the net over the side.  Peter at first objected, but then complied.  They caught such a large catch that the nets burst with the weight.

Peter felt at Jesus feet and said, “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man.”  Peter knew he was in the presence of a Holy Man.

Jesus said….”Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”

As Moses the shepherd was called to shepherd Israel, so Peter the fisherman was called to fish for men.

In I Peter 5:1-4 we see the mature reflection of Peter upon his calling.  This book is written long after this account in John, when Peter was a leader of the Church.  The call to Peter to feed the sheep is gathered up here and passed on as instruction to other leaders.  Elders are to be good shepherds

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be Shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

The Seventh and final word to pastors is John 21:17:

 “Take care of my Sheep.”

 Feed my sheep…and die.

Follow me…not the other guy.

  John was following after Jesus and Peter during this conversation.  And Peter, having received his commission, was curious about John.  So he said to Jesus,

“Lord, what about him?”

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Maybe Peter wanted to have some comfort.  He wanted to know what Jesus call was to another servant.  Would John also have to die?  Would John also have to be a Shepherd.

Jesus answer really is this: ”Peter, this is none of your business.”

This word is the cure for three sins that besiege the church today.

The first is comparison.  It was not for Peter to compare his calling to John’s.  How we love to compare!

Pastors make comparisons.  We compare the size of our flock with the size of others.  And either we get proud or we are ashamed. We compare other things too.  We say, If only I had a style like Billy Graham or a mind like Walter Kaiser or a warm personality like Jill Briscoe or organizational ability like Bill Bright, ad infinitum.  This is a sin.

Churches make the same comparisons.  If only we were big like Church X or had a staff like Church Y or had powerful worship like Church Z, then we would really have something.  This is a sin.  If we don’t repent there we will fall into two other worse sins

Envy is next.  It has absolutely nothing to do with faith, hope or love.  If we envy what another servant of Christ has, then we have no faith in God’s provision for us.  If we envy, we show that our hope is not in the Lord, but in what we possess.  If we envy, we are not loving.  For the envious would love to take from the other whatever they have.

Judgment is third.  When we compare, we might rather decide that we are superior to Church X or Y or Z.  If I compare, I might decide that I am superior to Pastor A or B or C.  This also is sin.

Who am I to Judge the Lord’s servant?

If there is a fault, I should go to my brother in Christ, aware of my own tendency to sin, and point out the error.  I should pray, and seek the best of God’s blessing for him and his ministry

Seven Words to Pastors – #6 “Models”

washing feetJohn did not tell us the birth story of Jesus, but in two locations he affirmed the theology of the Incarnation.  The most well known is in John 1.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  1:14

We find it again as John mixes narrative and image in his account of the Upper Room.

“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world, and to go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”  13:1-5

Was it John mixing image and narrative, or was Jesus acting out a parable of his own ministry?

Jesus is close to his death, as we are reminded by the Passover reference and the reference to Judas’ impending betrayal.  Having loved these disciples, he now was to demonstrate to them his love.

Was foot washing the full extent of his love?  I think it was a sign.  Jesus left his exalted position as teacher to wash their feet, just as the Eternal Son of God had left eternity.  Jesus took off and laid aside his outer garment, just as Jesus had not grasped onto his equality with God.  He put on the garment of a servant.  The towel of the slave that washes feet is representative of Jesus servant-status.  He was not born as a King of the earthly type to rule by force.  He was born as a Servant.  He then went from disciple to disciple washing their feet.  Their feet were soiled from their walking on this earth.  Jesus washed away the soil and dried their feet with his own garment.  Just as he would about 24 hours later have washed their sins by his blood, and taken their sin onto himself.

 Should we have ritual foot washing in church as some say?  Is it another sacrament or ordinance?

It is a model of ministry.

For our sixth word for pastors is found after Jesus resumed his position of authority.  That resumption was also a sign of his exaltation that followed his humiliation on the Cross.  He took up his place of authority and spoke again to the disciples.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”    v. 14,15.

Models for ministry are big.  I explained to another pastor that Bethany was called to be a city church reflecting in it’s fellowship over time the same variety of people as are in our community.  His immediate reply was, “Do you have a model?”

In his way of thinking, it was a foolish thing to set out on a ministry that differed from the standard methods, unless we had a model of someone who had done it successfully.

The borough of Queens taught me at least one thing.  The models that I could find in books of what other churches have done did not fit.  The lesson has been reinforced by the experience in central Madison.

We have models for inner-city churches, but the neighbors are affluent here.  We have models for social action churches, but this city already has three social service agencies for every one social problem.  We have a few models for racially diverse churches, but I can’t find one that speaks of the interaction of Norwegian-American, Lao-American and Mexican-American cultures.

Queens and Madison have taught me of necessity the art of eclectic imitation.  We borrow from a variety of sources because no one source ever has ever fit what we wanted to be.

There is a source of Models that is much more fitting.  The Bible has models.  The art form needed for scripture models is not eclectic selection.  We are not free to pick and choose from scripture, for all of it is profitable that we might be fully trained.  Instead, the art form is patient, prayerful reflection.

The lure of book store models is that it provides quick answers.  We can avoid having to think deeply about the purpose of things.  We can avoid having to think theologically as well if we just take the pattern of another ministry and put it over ours.  Where our ministry does not fit the pattern, we take a pair of scissors and cut off the parts that stick out.  The places where our ministries do not fill out the pattern are hidden from view and we don’t have to think about them.

So we borrow a model that Evangelizes on Sunday and builds by teaching on Thursday.  So we cut away teaching on Sunday because it sticks out from the pattern.  However, we neglect the teaching on Thursday and are left with neither what we were doing, not with what the model was doing, but a half measure.

The sixth word is this:

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

There are several parts to this model.

Service.  The descent from Lord to Slave as Jesus set out to wash their feet was a descent from authority to service.  It was a descent from honor to almost indecent servitude.  Peter was so offended by this descent that he almost refused to be part of it.

Whom do we serve?

The answer is found in the old Sunday School acronym JOY.  “Serve Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last.   Jesus, Others and Yourself —  JOY.

Real Needs.  We hear that we should serve felt needs.  That is the motive for polling the audience.  But Jesus did not poll the apostles about their need.  He knew their need and how to serve it.  When Peter objected, voicing as usual the unstated thoughts of the others, he showed that Jesus would never had come to this ministry by polling the disciples.

Sheep might desire to wander in new paths or walk on the mountain trails.  But that is where sheep get into trouble.  Their felt need is freedom, but their real need is guidance and protection.

The felt need of the disciples was to be attached to Jesus greatness.  They debated about greatness from time to time.  Their real need was to be served by Jesus humility.

The felt need of our sheep might be entertainment or feel-good words or the appearance of success.  We know the real need.  We have to speak from the authority of the Word without compromise and at the same time serve them gently.

Purification.  The curious metaphor results from Peter’s objection.  He did not want to have his feet washed.  Jesus insisted that he have it done or Peter could not be part of him.  Peter offered his head and hands as well.  But Jesus said, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet..”

They had been bathed.  By Faith in Jesus, we must conclude, they had been justified of their sin.  The first need is to bring the soiled in body to the washing and regeneration of the Spirit through the Cross by Faith.  There can be no ministry if the people have not come to Christ.  The work of the Evangelist must precede the work of the Pastor.

They needed a foot wash.  As they walked on dirt paths with sandaled feet, they collected dust and dirt.  This is what Jesus washed off.

We are always needing to have the ministry of the word where the things we collect as we travel this world of sin can be removed from us.  This is not the once for all time salvation event.  It is the every day washing of confession and redirection.

This model of the Authoritative Servant is one all pastors can follow, in Queens or in Madison or wherever the Lord has placed us.


Variation in the Story of Easter

REDA lot of interesting effort can go into working out how the four Gospel accounts can be harmonized. I find that presupposition determines the outcomes. If you hold that they are traditions cobbled together, then there is no continuity.  If you hold that they are the world of God, you can work out a harmony. (“Opening the Gospel of John”, Comfort and Hawley, P. 311-312 is one example.)

My presupposition is that they each have something to say. What is included and excluded fits the purpose of the author, which is not a scientific chronology but a way to present the news.

John lines up, four stories of believing.

Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb but does not believe, yet.  Peter and John run to the tomb, but only John believes when he sees that the body is gone, and Peter does not yet.  Later Mary Magdalene meets the Lord in the garden and believes.  Jesus appears to the remaining disciples, including Peter but minus Thomas, and they believe and rejoice.  Thomas refuses to believe on their testimony, and then the Lord appears to him and Thomas believes.


  • John believes based on the grave-clothes in the empty tomb.
  • Mary Magdalene believes based on meeting the Lord.
  • The Disciples (including Peter) believe when they see the Lord and receive a renewal of their calling
  • Thomas believes when he sees and touches the Lord.

Then the question is put to the reader in verses 29-31.  Jesus said to Thomas that those who believe without seeing and touching will be blessed.  John tells us that much else could be written, but this Gospel was written so that the readers (and you the reader) might believe and receive eternal life.

John here is tying up his theme of belief in Christ which leads to eternal life.  This is, it seems to me, the main line of argument from chapter 1 to 20.  John focuses on just Mary at the Tomb (though the “we” of v. 2 suggests others were there.) He highlights John and Thomas as well.  His purpose is to present 4 individuals who believe: Mary, John, Peter (with the disciples) and Thomas.  Each has a unique story.  Then he turns to the reader or hearer of the Gospel and says, in effect,

“What about you?”

One at a time: Reading about Jesus, Judas and Peter in John

JohnThe temptation is to always read the gospels together.  There is nothing wrong with that, and much to be gained by seeing side by side how each Gospel tells a story. However, we can miss their distinct voices if we only read in parallel or harmony.

So while riding the bike that goes nowhere at the gym, I was looking again at the text.  This is by the way a good place to study because there are fewer interruptions at the gym than at the office.

What I saw was that there is in John 18 an interplay between Jesus, Judas and Peter.

In John 13, the foot washing passage  when Peter said, “wash all of me” Jesus said that had all been bathed (forgiven) except for one (Judas – John 13:11).Shortly thereafter Jesus predicts his betrayal, and Judas leaves (v. 18ff). Immediately after that there is a discussion between Jesus and Peter where Peter says, “I will lay down my life for you” and Jesus answered, “Will you really…?” and predicts Peter’s triple denial.

In John 17, Jesus was praying for the disciples and said, “None of them has been lost except the one doomed to destruction…” (17:12)

In John 18 there is a comparison set up.  In 18:1-12, Jesus seems to initiate his arrest. As the soldiers came with Judas to the garden, he went them.  At the same time he sought to defend his followers from trouble (v. 8)  This was so “the words he had spoken would be fulfilled, ‘I have not lost one of those you gave me.'” (v. 9)

Then Peter draws a sword – fulfilling his own imagined role as hero and defender.  Jesus rebuked him.  Then follows Jesus arrest.  Verses 15-17 alternate between Jesus defense before Annas and Caiaphas and Peter’s denials.

  • Jesus and Annas – v. 12-14
  • Peter and his first denial v. 15-18
  • Jesus at Caiaphas – v. 19-24
  • Peter and his second and third denials – v. 25-27

In the center of all of this – and while Jesus himself is under trial and death looms – he shows concern not to lose any of those who have been given to him.  Highlighting his own obedience vs the weakness of Peter and the lack of faith of Judas.

Peter appears again at Easter, at the report of the empty tomb, he and John race to the tomb.  In chapter 21 there is an encounter between the Lord and Peter where the three-fold denial is made a three-fold affirmation.

The question is not for us, “Am I to imitate Jesus?” because he stands when all fall away.  It is rather “Am I his or not?”  John’s gospel emphasizes that the connection to Christ must be by belief – and that alone explains the difference between Peter and Judas.

John Calls his Witnesses


There is a theme about witnesses in John.  And as I wandered through a rather dry space in an analytically commentary (check the link to Commentary Soup) I found this bit:  There are 10 Witnesses to Jesus in the Gospel (Talbert, Reading John, p. 217)

  1. John the Baptist – 1:7,8,15,19,32,34; 3:26; 5:33
  2. Jesus – 5:31; 18:13-14
  3. His Works – 5:36; 10:25
  4. The Scriptures – 5:39
  5. The Father – 5:37, 8:18
  6. The Samaritan Woman – 4:39
  7. The Crowd – 12:17
  8. The Paraclete (Holy Spirit) – 15:27
  9. The Beloved Disciple – 19:35; 21:24
  10. The Disciples- 15:26

John 8:12-18 – ESV –  12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

Commentary Soup

give it time

give it time

So it is a funny thing.

I like to find the academic commentaries  from the UW library, which slice, dice and analyze the biblical text.   I don’t agree with the frequent theorizing about editors, redactors, schools and emendations that they do suggest.   Also there is very little of pastoral value – that is, what can help the people keep the word.  But for analyzing the text itself, these kinds of books, typified by the Anchor Bible series are very helpful.  My motto: take what I can, leave the rest.  This is for me the soup stock.

In the case of John’s gospel, the Anchor volumes are very helpful for the ebb and flow of the book. Raymond Brown suggests that the first 12 chapters really have to do with Jesus interactions with the major festivals of the Jewish calendar.   I found that the book Reading John, by Charles Talbert does a nice job of literary analysis.  Neither of these books are that helpful on connection to life.

I like to peruse the classic evangelical commentaries, but until recently, most of these are weak in the area where the academic texts ares strong   For example, Young’s commentary on Isaiah (3 volumes) is a classic, but it is mostly a series of verse by verse comments with lots of word meanings.   I much prefer Motyer’s Isaiah commentary, thought shorter, it gives the shape and flow of the book, and there re little sermonic nuggets in the text.   In John, Leon Morris’ work is a lot like Young’s in Isaiah – words discussed by verse, but not a lot of literary structure.   F. F. Bruce is helpful at a less analytic level.  These books are the diced carrots and potatoes.

Sometimes a historic commentary such as Luther’s Works or the like adds a bit of flavor to the sermonic soup.   Consider this the herbs and spices for the soup.

I like to read someone who is or was a pastor and who gives the word a work over from a sermonic standpoint.  Lot’s of books by John Stott fit in this category, I still think his commentary on I John is the most helpful on that book.  I don’t have a good book in this category to name.  This is the meat for the soup.

Finally, what is needed is time for the soup to simmer lowly on the back of the stove.   Don’t start your reading on Saturday.  Start ahead and let it simmer and stew.

Links in John 11 and 12


John links his stories together in interesting ways.

 John 10

 “The thief comes in to steal, kill and destroy. 10:10

  • Compare with v. 31, 39; 11:8-9

“The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”  10:11(also 15, 17)

  • Compare with 11:50; 12:7-8; 12:23ff
  • “The sheep listen to his voice.” 10:3, 4, 8, 16.
  • Compare with 10:25-31; 11:43-44

 John 11

This Mary…was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair…”   11:2

  • Compare with 12:1-8

The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face…” 11:44

  • Compare with 19:38-20:9

“You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  11:50

  • Compare with John 3:16

Note: This is the John style.  The Letter of I John has a circular structure where several themes are stated, repeated and developed over the book, like a rope woven of strands.

An 8 Point Sermon – John 9

isaiah-3.jpgSo much for three points and two jokes.  I could find no other way to preach John 9 than to retell the story.  Squeezing a passage into a sermonic form seems to be more about the preacher than the text.  So I have sometimes followed the read and observe method.  I am not sure if this would get me out of homiletics class.