Articles and Publications

Pilgrim's Guides

From Waiting Room to the Throne of God
'Do you love Me more than these?'
by Robert Weston

Meditations on John 21

Since Easter, the disciples have seen Jesus several times – even Peter and Thomas. This unique interim between the resurrection and the Spirit being poured out at Pentecost was still primarily a time of waiting, in between those glorious moments when Jesus unexpectedly turned up in their midst. I would like to begin this overview of John 21 by considering the significance of these waiting times.

Have you ever thought what a high percentage of your life is spent in waiting for things? For important letters and documents to arrive, for friends to appear and appointments to occur, to advance beyond the endless loops on the answer phone, for Jesus to finally return . . .


In extreme cases, it can feel as though our life enters a state of suspense – either eagerly expectant or apprehensively watchful. In one sense, we could go so far as to say that all of life is a preparation for the day we reach our eternal home.

It is easy to get frustrated and look on these waiting times as an interruption and a distraction from getting on with the real work. Or are we able to appreciate that they, too, have their role to play in God’s purposes for our life? After all, to Him the journey is every bit as important as the destination. God waited so many thousands of years before sending His Son to earth, just as He now awaits the right time for His Son to return.

Some years ago Canon Vanstone published a book called The Stature of Waiting (DLT), in which he showed Jesus actively at work in the course of His active ministry. Even the key verbs in these sections of the gospels are primarily in the active tense. Jesus toured the nation, He taught, He healed, He delivered the sick and demon possessed and so on. There came a moment, however, in which His active ministry came to an end – and working gives way to waiting.

Earlier, Jesus had declared that He had completed the work His Father had sent Him to do. (John 17:4, cf 19:28) Something more than work was required, therefore, to save mankind: namely, His own suffering and sacrifice. (John 10:17-18) From the moment He was betrayed, things were done to Jesus – a shift that is subtly illustrated by the key verbs in the text appearing in the “passive voice” – to illustrate the fact that Jesus had become ‘passive’. He was betrayed, was tried before a prejudiced jury, He was mocked, humiliated, flogged and finally crucified.

At the very end, God the Father shows that although Jesus was past all human help, He was still in control. He demonstrated this supremely by raising Him from the dead. These are incredibly sustaining thoughts for us to ponder when, for whatever reason, situations feel ‘out of control.’

For most of us, waiting focuses on specific end results. Students will soon be awaiting their exam marks and others of us are awaiting other things. Our daughter, Ruth, applied to do an MA in Social Work here in Canterbury at the end of last year. Weeks went by without hearing anything. It was not until the end of March that eighty people were invited to interview for thirty places – with only three day’s notice! Ruth has since been offered a place, but for several weeks it felt as though much of her life was on hold. Others again are waiting for something they are looking forward to less: like the results of medical tests or other forms of investigation.

  We too share in His passion on a minute scale when we go through testing times of waiting and delay. One thing we are likely to feel at such times is a sense of helplessness. This is not necessarily a negative thing, provided we ally our sense of helplessness to His great power. The Lord loves to meet us at our point of lack and loss. This it is which elevates our many times of waiting from being ‘a necessary evil’ into an authentic part of our pilgrimage.  

Currently, we are going through highly challenging times. While driving along a country road on my own the other day in France, the Lord sent a great encouragement. I was suddenly aware that I was not on my own. Someone unseen was in the back of the car, bringing with him the crystal clarity of the Lord’s presence. I believe it was an angel, sent to strengthen me at a vulnerable moment. ‘Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?’ as Hebrews 1:14 puts it. God sends His angels as and when we need them to help us complete the pilgrimage He has set us on.

In John 20:20 it says that the disciples were overjoyed to see the Lord again. I love that phrase. It means so much at the end of particularly severe testing times when the tension of months or even years of strain is lifted, and a deep sense of the Lord’s presence and peace returns. Are you in need of such a touch from the Lord again?

Jesus reaches us where we are
In the final chapter of John, we can see something of these principles happening in the disciples’ lives. In terms of dramatic tension, the first verse dispels the stress of the waiting, even as it spells out the fact that Jesus once again appeared to the disciples. The word ‘appeared’ means that Christ chose to reveal Himself. Such occasions do not happen by chance: they are carefully planned by the Father.

Meanwhile, now that Jesus was no longer there to lead them, Peter led the disciples back onto Lake Galilee to do what they were most familiar with: fishing. It would have been a relief to escape the prying eyes of the Jerusalem mob, whose blood was up. It is always sensible to use the ‘gap’ times in life to get on with something practical, rather than frittering time away. As American writer Annie Dillard put it, “These gaps are the spirit’s own home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time, like a once-blind man unbound.”

Given that the disciples had not yet received their commission to begin their public ministry, what they were doing made good sense. Nevertheless, I sense some degree of failure and defeatism gnawing away in Peter’s heart. Something, perhaps, along the lines of, ‘I haven’t made it as a follower of Jesus; I’d better get back to doing something I really do know something about’

In those days before echo sounders made locating shoals of fish easy, can you imagine how bleak they must have felt after a whole night without catching so much as a sardine? In different ways, many of us feel the same: ‘I hardly ever help people come to know the Lord; nothing much happens to me.’ Such thoughts bring bleakness to our soul.
  The Lord is a brilliant psychologist. If the disciples had landed a bumper catch straightaway, they might have been tempted to think, ‘Oh well, fishing isn’t such a bad way to earn a living. Let’s get back to it!’ Little did they know it, but God had amazing plans in mind that day to bring great blessings out of deep disappointment. He loves to do the same in our lives!  

Suddenly they heard someone calling them from the shore: ‘Children!’ (This is the expression the KJV uses; the NIV translates it, ‘Friends). Either way, it provides an important clue: Although the disciples would not have been that much younger than Jesus, they were His best friends and His spiritual children – just as we are.

Once, Jesus had come to His disciples walking on water; now He bids them come to Him. Sometimes we hope He will come to us and do it all for us when, instead, we must make the effort to go to Him. It is so important that we use the ‘waiting times’ to press in and seek God more.

Suppose you were to spend a long time in a waiting room before you finally get in to see the doctor. You close the door behind you, tell him (or her) all your troubles and then march out again, before they can get a word in edgeways. Because you didn’t wait to hear the doctor’s wisdom, you haven’t benefited from the waiting period in the slightest. We can be like that when we barge into the Lord’s presence, pour out our heart, and then rush out again. There is a place for lingering longer in His presence.
  I love the fact that the Lord Jesus chose to meet with people in their place of work. Knowing people in their place of employment opens up new dimensions of understanding them. Invite God into your place of work. He loves to meet with us there, and to use us. After all, for most of us, our place of work is our principal mission field.  

On this occasion, Jesus only reveals Himself gradually – just as we are often slow to
realise when the Lord really is involved in some situation or other. We bring as much of ourselves as we can to as much of God as we understand – and trust Him to make up the difference. What a lovely thought!
The Lord asked the disciples (literally), ‘Do you have anything to eat?’ He knew full well that they did not, but He wanted to hear it from their lips – not least because those who are most in need are often the most reluctant to mention the fact.
It is a question that we should also be willing to ask as we look around at people who may be in greater need. There may be more that we can to do to help than we are currently doing. Every meeting with people provides a chance to love and serve them.

At any moment the Spirit can move, and new opportunities open up. I was talking with a secular children’s worker in France last week, when suddenly the conversation steered around to spiritual things. Instead of brushing it off, I could see his spirit questing and thirsting. We went on to have a really meaningful conversation. Similar things happened on several other occasions during our time away. You never know when God is going to break through.

We must be alert, for these moments usually come out of the blue: unheralded and unannounced. Perhaps John was reminded of how Jesus had first called the fishermen to be His disciples in Luke 5:4, when, after another lean night of catching nothing, Jesus told them to put out into the deep – and they caught so many fish that their nets began to break. What God does for us today is often meant to remind us of what He has done before, and to inspire fresh faith. On this occasion 153 lively fish swam into the net – and the net did not break.

The disciples rowed toward land, itching to ask the man on the shore who He was, even whilst sensing instinctively that it must be Jesus. Why did it take them so long to recognise Him? The answer is simple. It says in Mark 16:12 that Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection ‘in a different form.’

The fact that the Lord deliberately disguised himself during this forty-day period before the Ascension is yet another reminder that we must be quick to notice when the hand of God is at work in situations. His working is rarely so crystal clear that we no longer need to respond by faith. That would be to live by sight, and that is not the way that God has ordained. May we not grieve the Father’s heart by our lack of faith and trust.

A fresh touch from God
It was John who discerned first that it was the Lord – but it was Peter who plunged into the water to get near Him, leaving the other disciples to follow him and tow the net ashore. (21:8) The Church needs both visionaries in the church and doers – but we also need people who are simply prepared to do the work that needs to be done. Not all of us can be up-front Peters; some are practical like Martha, or more deeply thoughtful like Martha’s sister, Mary, or John himself. Some of us are the church’s eyes (the prophets), and some are the church’s hands. We need all the giftings working together in the church.

Although the Lord had appeared on two previous occasions to Peter, it is highly likely that he was still feeling uncertain about his relationship with the Lord. After all, he had vowed that he would never deny Him, even if it meant going to prison and then immediately proceeded to do so, not once but three times.

Jesus went to considerable lengths to prepare for this encounter. He made an early start and was preparing breakfast on the beach for His disciples: roasting fish over a brazier of coals. The symbolism is profound. It was in the courtyard of the high priest, while the trial of Jesus was getting underway, that Peter had hunkered down with the guards, warming his hands over a charcoal fire.

So often, when we, too, fail the Lord in some way, He allows us a sort of rerun, to see how we will respond the next time around. Jesus had planned this present rendezvous with His disciples to restore and re-commission Peter for all He had in store for him. He did not want him to begin his apostleship with a heart weighed down by a sense of failure – let alone to miss out on his calling altogether.

It is a lovely touch that Jesus brought fish with Him to put on the brazier. We are so prone to thinking that everything depends on us. We are quite right to do our very best to earn our daily bread, but Jesus is already taking thought of this for us. Think about the two Mary's en route to the tomb, wondering who would move the stone – only to find when they got there that an angel had already done the job for them! (Mk 16:3-4)

When something is too difficult for us, God often intervenes to help us, even in the smallest things. Last week, Ruth was lugging a huge suitcase crammed with books and clothes across London. It was too heavy for her to carry, but every time she came to a set of steps, someone offered to help her, just as we had prayed they would.

For the disciples, there would soon be many other ‘waiting’ times, for instance, when they prayed and waited for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. If we are persistent in keeping going in what we have been called to do, and do not lose heart, God will always find ways to bless.

The re-commissioning of Peter
What happened next might best be called ‘The re-commissioning of Peter.’ When the Lord asked him if He loved him, He was really asking him if he wanted him to touch His life and realign his heart. And when Peter answered, ‘You know I do, Lord,’ that ‘you know I do’ isn’t the bolshy response it might at first appear. It is rather a profound recognition that Jesus really does know everything.

Neither does Jesus’ question, ‘Do you love me more than these?’ mean, ‘do you love Me more than John and the others do?’ God isn’t into those sorts of comparisons. It simply means that we cannot afford to put anyone ahead of the Lord Himself. Anything can become a rival – and God isn’t into rivals.

Jesus asked the question three times, as if to match Peter’s three, previous, emphatic denials. Peter’s first response sounded fine, but the Lord needed it to move from head to heart. Where our hearts have strayed towards something or someone that they should not have done – or when we have simply become accustomed to living in a lukewarm state – we, too, need to hear again the Lord's probing challenge. Of course this is painful. Peter was hurt because Jesus insisted on looking below the surface to probe the depths of his motivations.
The direction of our heart is all-important. All of us tend to move in the direction of our dominant thoughts. Are ours centred on the Lord?

Jesus knew that a great battle was being waged for Peter’s soul. It is rather like a New Testament equivalent of the beginning of the book of Job, where Satan asked to sift Job’s faith. ‘Simon, Simon,’ Jesus had previously warned Peter, ‘Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:31-32)

With the benefit of hindsight we can see just how serious the sifting was. Disappointment with himself could have caused Peter to spin right out of the Lord’s orbit. This was why Jesus was being rough about the restoration process.

Each time, the Lord’s response was slightly different. ‘Feed My lambs.’ This signified that Peter would be bringing many newborn souls into the kingdom, doing the work of an evangelist and caring for them. Then, since lambs grow up, the Lord tells him to ‘Take care of my sheep.’ As the one on whom Jesus’ mantle was being most directly placed, Peter must take responsibility for pastoring the church that God was about to birth. Finally, there came the call to ‘Feed My sheep.’ It is not enough to have an strong organisation in place; there must be real spiritual growth, making room for God’s people to flow and function in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Notice Jesus never asked him, ‘How much have you wept? I hope you feel thoroughly wretched about what you’ve done!’ He asked him, ’Do you love Me?’ Love covers a multitude of sins and failures.

Jesus then gave Peter a clear commission: ‘Follow me.’ Literally, in the Greek, this means ‘go on following Me.’ It is a continuing action. Although we may initiate many things for the kingdom, it is only because we are following the direction we have glimpsed. Like John, who first understood that it was the Lord on the beach, so we will glimpse His hand in certain ideas and projects – and then we will have to devote ourselves to bring those visions about. It is a vigorous call that will require every ounce of our strength.

From zero to 153 fish in the time it takes to cast and fill a net – and just as dramatically would the band of one hundred and twenty become a thriving church of over 3000 in a single day. (Acts 1:15; 2:41) Everything about the ministry of Jesus speaks of multiplication. When we think of the current growth rate of the church in parts of China, Africa and India, it is breathtaking. The spiritual ‘net’ that is gathering people into the kingdom of God around the world is huge – and there is always room for more!

With so much emphasis on the mega-macro-cosmic, however, it is still important to remember that God has time for the mini-micro-personal. I remember seeing a photo-graph on a T-shirt of a mother nursing her baby, and the slogan:
‘No prayer is too small for God.’

He is the Lord who says, ‘Do not despise the day of small beginnings.’ Jesus speaks of having faith as small as a mustard seed. Of those who are trustworthy in very small matters being entrusted with greater responsibilities, He notes the widow who offers her two small coins. He blesses and multiplies a boy’s small picnic to feed the multitudes. He also warns that ‘small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.’

How does the multiplication occur? By being good stewards, and using what He has given us – as well as by crying out for ‘more’ during the seasons of waiting. Jesus was already cooking fish for His disciples, but He also asked them to bring Him some of their catch to supplement the meal. What we offer Him, He multiplies.

Living with a shadow
No sooner had He re-commissioned Peter to care for His sheep, than the Lord warned Peter that this would be a costly matter. The old version begins ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you,’ as if to underscore how solemn what Jesus had to say really was. Gravely, yet lovingly, He described the martyr’s end that Peter would meet. The flesh shrinks from such things, just as it did for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. No wonder Peter writes about suffering with such insight and clarity in his epistles.
‘Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are going through, as though something strange were happening to you . . . these have come so that your faith, which is of greater worth than gold, may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’ (1 Pet. 5:12 1:7-9)

Peter exhorts and comforts us based on what he learned from Jesus, for the Saviour told him, in effect, that, like master like disciple, the same fate awaited him. It takes special grace to live with the knowledge that a prophecy of crucifixion is looming over you! It could drive a person mad if they took it the wrong way.

To his credit, Peter didn’t succumb to foreboding and spend the rest of his life worrying about whether ‘today was going to be the day that it happened.’ Peter’s secret was that he focused on the whole of what Jesus said: that this would be not a dismal end to a great ministry but rather a means of glorifying the Lord. He trusted God, therefore, to keep the rage and pressures of men and demons at bay until that time, just as He had done when He sent an angel to rescue him miraculously from prison. .

Those who follow where Christ leads will follow Him to glory. Don’t think of eternity as a passive state of being. If His presence invigorates us in this life, how much more will it do so in the next? It is in Heaven that we will be most fully alive.

‘What about him?’
It is at this point in our text that Peter looked over his shoulder, noticed John and couldn’t refrain from asking, ‘What about him, Lord?’ It may have been a genuine desire to see his friend honoured that prompted this remark – or was it that, having just been told that he was going to meet a martyr’s death himself, he was rather keen to find out whether John would get off scot free?

Jesus’ answer indicates that there was something not quite right about Peter’s question. ‘What is that to you?’ He replied. ‘You get on with doing what I have called you to do.’ As Aslan famously says to Lucy when she is starting to pry, ‘That is someone else’s story’!

In verse 22, Jesus speaks of something that all believers are meant to be waiting for with eager yearning – His return. I believe the Lord was speaking here of two things: both the moment of His literal return to Earth, (an event that is often signposted for us in Scripture), and, His coming at the end of His beloved disciple’s life to fetch him home to heaven. God has myriad ways of taking His people home, and plenty of practice in it. When He is ready, He will come us for us too. Meanwhile, it is good to seek Him as to how we can glorify Him from day to day.

The fact that verse 24 spells out the details of the author of this record is doubly precious to me as an author. This, too, is work that often depends on waiting as ideas gestate and ripen. So often, it is in these ‘gap times’ that the best insights emerge.

Praise God for the disciples who told and retold the stories. Praise Him for those who, in the days before computers and biros, laboured to record the word of God and make it available for us today. Wouldn’t it be amazing to know all the stages of copying that the Scriptures went through, during those long centuries before Gutenberg invented his printing press? How precious it is to feed and feast our souls on the writings of those who have gone before us and who waited on God themselves, and are therefore able to tell us more about who God really is, and what He is doing.

Between life’s proverbial waiting rooms and His dazzling throne, may we, like Peter, seek to master the art of waiting – which is also a work of love.

Copyright Robert Weston 2007 Canterbury.
All material may be freely used if properly attributed to:
Ruach (breath of life) Ministries

Back to top


Articles and Publications

Pilgrim's Guides