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Easter Reflections

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ben witherington teaching laity LodgeRecently Ben Witherington III spoke at a Laity Lodge retreat. Ben, as you may know, is a leading New Testament scholar with impressive credentials. (When I printed his list of publications from his website, it took ten pages!) Ben also has one of the most informative and delightful blogs in the blogosphere. You’ll never know whether he’ll put up a weighty piece of biblical scholarship or some silly pictures of animals. (Photo: Ben Witherington holding forth at Laity Lodge.)

Ben is also an engaging speakers. He’s one of those unusual scholars who is able to communicate warmly (and often hilariously) with a lay audience. At Laity Lodge he did a four-part series on the Johannine literature, focusing on some of the major themes found in the the Gospel of John and the Revelation of John.

One of Ben’s messages focused on the resurrection appearance of Jesus to Peter and the other disciples in John 21. In a nutshell, the disciples go fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee) after Jesus was raised. They fish all night, but catch nothing. In early morning, Jesus appears on shore and tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. Promptly they have so many fish in their net that they can’t even bring it into the boat. Realizing who’s on the beach, Peter swims to meet Jesus. There he and Jesus have a conversation as they are warmed by a “charcoal fire” (21:9). Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter professes his love for Jesus. By the third time he is grieved, no doubt because it seems as if Jesus hasn’t believed his earlier professions.

Ben Witherington pointed out a strong connection between this story and the one we find in 18:15-27. There, in fulfillment of Jesus’ earlier prophecy, Peter denied Jesus three times. These rejections of Jesus happened, according to John, as Peter warmed himself by a “charcoal fire” (18:18). The Greek word anthrakia, which means “charcoal fire,” appears only this verse and in John 21:9 in the whole New Testament. Thus, John clearly means to connect the dots between Peter’s denial of Jesus in John 18 and his encounter with Jesus in John 21. In both texts we have a conversation next to a “charcoal fire.” In one passage, Peter is asked three times about his relatioship to Jesus, and three times he denies a connection. In the other passage, Peter is asked three times about his relationship to Jesus, and three times he professes his love for Jesus.

Ben Witherington shows that John 21 is a story of Peter’s redemption. Jesus seeks out Pete, places him by a charcoal fire, and asks him three questions in order to redeem what was lost in Peter’s earlier denial. Implicit in this scene is the awesome mercy of Jesus, who offers forgiveness and restoration. Moreover, Jesus authorizes Peter to take care of his “sheep.” Not only is Peter restored in his relationship with Jesus, but also he is given authority in the soon-to-be-formed church.

This story of Peter speaks pointedly to any of us who have denied Jesus. And which of us has not denied Jesus in some way? Perhaps we’ve never been quite so blunt as Peter. But we have denied Jesus in a variety of ways. Maybe you’ve been in a conversation where people have been speaking poorly of him, but you chose to remain silent. Or maybe you’ve spoken clearly of your faith in him, but turned around to deny him by your actions. The good news for us in John 21 is that Jesus forgives, restores, and uses even people like Peter . . . and me . . . and you.

Topics: Easter |

6 Responses to “Easter Reflections”

  1. Thomas Buck Says:
    April 15th, 2009 at 2:11 am

    Thanks for the post, Rev. Roberts. The connection between the two incidents in John is one I’ve never made. Peter’s redemption is made obvious by the contrast, and also God’s unchanging character, in that He doesn’t change, even if we do.

  2. Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e63v3 Says:
    April 15th, 2009 at 5:01 am

    […] Some Easter reflections. […]

  3. Rodney Reeves Says:
    April 15th, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Ben is terrific. I often tell my students this is the best time to be an evangelical with leading lights like Witherington, N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, and Craig Evans setting the standard in biblical scholarship.

    One more note on John’s version of Peter’s betrayal. Notice there is no remorse after his betrayal of Jesus. In the synoptics, Peter weeps bitterly and leaves. Not so in John’s gospel. Peter is cold-hearted in his betrayal–no sign of repentance. That makes Jesus’ reclamation of Peter even more dramatic: there must be face to face confrontation with the one who SAID he would die for Jesus. “Do you love me, Peter” What can Peter do but once again RELY ON HIS WORDS? “Lord, you know I love you.” Peter must learn the lesson; love is shown by what we do: “feed my sheep.”

  4. Mark Roberts Says:
    April 15th, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Thanks for your comments. Once again, another fine insight from Rodney Reeves.

  5. Frank Baresel Says:
    April 15th, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Of equal interest is the question of why John included this in his gospel. This is part of a postscript of sorts to John’s gospel. Peter was already martyred at the time of this writing–what purpose did this inclusion serve?

    In one sense it brings closure to the narrative John presented. There was resolution to everyone’s story in John, except for Peter. When he and John arrived at the empty tomb, John “believes,” but Peter just goes home. Yet Peter is portrayed as the leader of the apostolic band in Luke’s account in Acts. Perhaps, in writing many years later, John puts to rest any lingering doubts about animosity between he and Peter in order to prevent schismatic preferences from developing later. Perhaps by recounting this event, John legitimizes Peter’s ministry and writing as he portrays Jesus reclaiming Peter for ministry. Or, perhaps John was reminding his readers through this account that our relationship with Jesus is based on what Jesus has done for us, rather than what we propose to or have done for Jesus. Whether one has tried and failed (like Peter), or one who fears failure (like many others), this was timely comfort for a fledgling church heading into another round of persecution. By the same token, as you point out, it reminds us that regardless of what we think we do for Christ, it is still Christ alone who claims (or reclaims) us, and not we ourselves.

  6. Easter Reflections | « Jason Smith Says:
    April 17th, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    […] Easter Reflections | Posted on April 17, 2009 by jasonsmith Easter Reflections | […]


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