The Father's Business (Luke
2:40-52; John 21)
Ralph V Harvey - (Message delivered in Quinton, NJ,
the town of my birth on August 14, 2011)
I feel privileged to be preaching here this morning. My
grandfather and father were from Quinton and lived only
two blocks from here. I was born in Quinton and spent the
first 8 years of my life in this town. Six years ago, I
almost died on a "Quinton" treadmill! But
doctors gave me four bypasses and I am still here. I am
blessed! While I was growing up. people often asked if I
would be walking in the footsteps of my father and
grandfather, R. C. Harvey & Son, Contractors and
Builders. Being named after my grandfather contributed to
that speculation. Would I be about my father's business?
I did work in the family construction business after High
School, during my college years and until we took a ship
to Europe to begin our missionary career. Harvey Builders
specialized in church construction, and I helped to build
churches all over South Jersey, including this one.
All six of the Harvey boys learned the building trade,
but one after another, we all chose other professions. I
was the oldest and accepted employment in the heavenly
Father's business, building his churches in Europe. The
next son, David Jr., served as Chief Technical Officer of
Channel 10 in Philadelphia for over 30 years. John became
a skilled technician in electronic control mechanisms. He
was involved in correcting problems with the notorious
Denver Airport baggage system. The fourth son, Dan,
entered real estate. The fifth became one of the nations
best-known beekeepers with thousands of hives that
produce an average of a ton of honey per day. The
youngest son, Tim, went into full-time Christian
construction ministry. He built a mission station in
Nepal, a camp out west and another in New York. He also
taught carpentry in a Haitian mission school for a time.
It didn't look hopeful for the Harvey construction
business, but Dan and Tim later switched professions and
continued the family business.
In 2009, five of the six brothers and two grandsons spent
a week building "Pioneer Village" at Camp
Haluwasa (an acronym for "Hallelujah what a
Savior!"). We were about our Father's
The Carpenter's Son, Luke 2:40-52
At twelve, Jesus and his family traveled to Jerusalem for
the Passover feast. When they left to return home, Jesus
stayed behind without Joseph and Mary's knowledge. They
traveled a day's journey supposing him to be with
relatives or friends. This shows that they fully trusted
Jesus. When they couldn't find him, they retraced their
steps all the way to Jerusalem (another day) in search of
their son. They searched all or much of the following day
and finally found him in the temple, discussing biblical
matters with the Jewish leaders.
A day's journey was 20-25 miles, but they had
to walk that distance three times! They declared, "Thy
father and I have sought thee sorrowing." The
Greek word translated "sorrowing" is odunahoh,
which indicates extreme anxiety or torture. Jesus
replied, "How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not
that I must be about my Father's business?"
I was not such a very good boy at 12, but I never did
anything like that to my parents! Those who knew Jesus
and his family must have wondered about his sanity!
When Jesus spoke of his Father's business, it confused
people, even Joseph and Mary. Jesus was known as
"the carpenter's son," but only Matthew tells
us that Joseph was a carpenter: And when he was
come into his own country, he taught them in their
synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said,
Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called
Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and
Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence
then hath this man all these things? And they were
offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is
not without honour, save in his own country, and in his
own house. And he did not many mighty works there because
of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:55-58).
The Jewish theologians who had been discussing scriptures
with Jesus in the temple were probably not aware of
Joseph's occupation. Luke says, All that heard
him were astonished at his understanding and
answers. They may have assumed that his parents
were somehow associated with the temple and its many
facets of service. Most pilgrims had already left the
Except for this incident, the Bible remains silent about
the first three decades of Jesus' life. From Matthew's
text cited above, we know that there were at least eight
children ("all his sisters" would indicate
three or more). Scholars assume that Joseph passed away
around the time Jesus commenced his public ministry for
he is no longer mentioned. Being the eldest son, Jesus
would have been expected to take charge of his father's
business and provide for the family. Jesus was close to
thirty years old in Matthew 13 and his brothers and
sisters would likely have been in their twenties or late
teens. They too must have chosen occupations, but it
appears that only Jesus learned his father's trade, for
he was known as "the carpenter's son"
(singular). The Bible doesn't tell us if Jesus actually
built anything but we can safely assume that he did. One
of many ancient legends claims that he was employed by
his Uncle Joseph of Arimethea as ship's carpenter on one
of his ships. Since the Bible doesn't tell us, however,
it is not important!
After John the Baptist was imprisoned, Jesus moved from
Nazareth to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13-16), located on the
Sea of Galilee. I personally believe that at least one
and probably more of Jesus' younger brothers became
fishermen, and his sisters may have married fishermen.
Whatever the case may be, Jesus lived in a fishing
village and was familiar with that trade. We know that
Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. When Peter
decided to go fishing in John 21, six other disciples
joined him (Andrew was missing), so at least 8 of 12
disciples were fishermen.
In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus called his disciples to be
"fishers of men." He was teaching by Lake
Gennesaret (Galilee) and many people crowded around him.
He got into a boat belonging to Simon and Andrew, sat
down and taught the people from the boat. When he
finished speaking, he said to Simon, Put out
into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.
What Jesus said to Simon Peter then, was just as
confusing and illogical as what he said to his parents
when they found him in the temple. Jesus said to Simon
Peter, Launch out into the deep, and let down
your nets for a draught.
Peter replied, Master, we've worked hard all
night and haven't caught anything
It was the wrong place to fish - in deep water.
It was the wrong time to cast out nets - midday.
They had just finished cleaning their nets!
Are there any fishermen here? Supposing you go fishing
and don't catch anything. You give up in disgust or at
least disappointment. You load the boat on the trailer,
stash your rod, reel and tackle box. As you get into the
pickup to drive away, some preacher comes along and
suggests that you to go back out and do some more
fishing. How would you respond?
If you are a real fisherman, you wouldn't hesitate go
fishing again next week, but now?!!
Many Christians who are supposed to be "fishers of
men," witness once and get no bites, so they quit
fishing - forever!
Peter's response to Jesus is commendable, If you
say so, I will let down the nets.
They caught so many fish that their nets began to break.
They signaled to their partners, James and John, the sons
of Zebedee, to come and help them. There were so many
fish that both boats began to sink!
Simon Peter fell at Jesus' feet and said, Depart
from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! Peter first
called Jesus, "Master" (v.5) but now, he falls
at Jesus' feet and calls him "LORD" (v.8).
Jesus said to Simon, Fear not; from now on you
will catch men. So they (not just Peter) pulled
their boats up on shore, left everything and followed
Jesus, not Peter, was the expert fisherman! And Jesus
told Peter, From now on you will catch
men. The verb used here appears only two times
in the New Testament. The Greek zogreo means "to
capture alive." The word is used in the Septuagint
and in Greek literature in the vocabulary of war and
hunting. Peter had been catching fish to kill and sell,
but now he will be taking men alive to set them free!
Many churches today are simply aquariums. Fish are caught
but not released - not freed or sent into the world. Few
church members are about the Father's business. They are
neither church builders nor fishers of men.
In John 21, following the death and resurrection of
Christ, Peter and six other disciples go fishing. Once
again, they fish all night and catch nothing. As in Luke
5, Jesus appears and tells them to cast out their net one
more time, but this time, on the right side of the boat.
In 1969, we drove from Austria to Eyemouth, Scotland to
visit missionary friends who were serving there. They
told us that the area where they served had experienced a
great revival many years earlier. For centuries before
the revival meetings, fishermen had always lowered their
nets on the left side of their ships. After hearing the
Bible story in John 21, where Jesus told the disciples to
lower their net on the right side, they decided to do the
same. Few fishermen in Eyemouth darken the door of a
church today, but their boats have biblical names and
they still lower their nets on the right side!
I have been told that there was an ancient superstition
connected to the practice of lowering the net on the left
side. It must have been the practice on the Sea of
Galilee as well! Peter obeyed and lowered the net on the
right side. The net was immediately filled with large
fish! The disciples couldn't lift the net into the boat
and the boat was too large to come close to shore, so
they hung the net on a smaller boat and dragged it to the
In Luke 5, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus showed
himself to be a master fisherman. He called the disciples
to be fishers of men. They left their nets and followed
Once, Jesus sent Peter to the lake to catch a fish,
promising that it would have enough money in its mouth to
pay their taxes (Matthew 17:27)! Now I suppose all you
men will decide to go fishing before April 15th!
Now, at the end of the gospels, Jesus once more breaks
the rules and demonstrates to his disciples that he
understands fish and fishing. He even prepares breakfast
for them on the beach. They are experienced fisherman,
but must learn that Jesus is Master!
A Disputed Interpretation
I have heard and read many articles, sermons and Bible
studies on John 21, and most of them agree on the
interpretation of verse 15, but I must beg to disagree!
Even after reading what leading commentaries have to say,
I still disagree.
The common interpretation is that Jesus is asking Peter
if he loves Jesus more than the other disciples do. But
the text does not say that! The NIV, inserts the word
"others," but the original Greek says only
"lovest thou me more than these?" (KJV)
The question is, who or what is meant by
"these" in verse 15? Jesus questions Peter
three times, but only adds the word "these" the
First, I will give the common interpretation and then my
own. Readers may decide what they want to believe.
Expositors who claim that "these" refers to the
other disciples, rest their interpretation on what at
first appears to be three plausible arguments.
1) Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him because
Peter denied him three times.
2) Jesus asked him publicly because Peter denied him
3) The man who had been so boastful, so sure of himself,
so confident of his own courage, was now thoroughly
I want to offer seven reasons why I cannot accept this
1) Jesus reprimanded his disciples for comparing in Mark
9:33-34 and even here in John 21:20-22. The Apostle Paul
warned believers not to compare themselves with each
other in II Corinthians 10:12-15.
2) Peter had already repented of his sin. After Peter
denied the Lord three times, the cock crowed. When Jesus
was being led from the palace of Caiaphas, Luke 22:61
says that the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
Peter disintegrated. He went out and wept bitterly. The
sad look on Jesus face was deeply etched into Peter's
memory. Peter must have felt unworthy to ever look into
that face again.
3) Jesus sought out Peter and had a private one-on-one
counseling session with Peter shortly after the
resurrection. When the risen Lord appeared to the two
Marys in Mark 16:7, he told them, But go your
way, tell his disciples and Peter
that he goeth before you into Galilee. When the
Emmaus disciples returned to Jerusalem, the other
disciples told them, The Lord is risen indeed,
and hath appeared to Simon.
(Luke 24:34). And that he was seen of Cephas,
then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five
hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain
unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After
that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And
last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of
due time (I Cor. 15:5-8). Not even Peter shares what
was discussed in that meeting. Every pastor knows that
what is said in private counseling is not to be made
public. Christ sought and found Peter. Like the father of
the prodigal son, he didn't wait for the broken sinner to
come and fall at his feet.
4) Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who crucified
him, and I am certain that he also forgave Peter.
5) Jesus would most certainly not ask Peter to compare
his love for him with that of disciples who had also
forsaken him and fled before Peter's denial.
6) Peter's sense of worthlessness is another reason. I
think that Peter had given up all hope of being of any
use to God. We are not told where Peter was during the
next three days and nights. In such a state of mind, the
last thing people want is to be around people, especially
those who know their faults. They lock themselves into
self-imposed solitary confinement. Peter must have
agonized over the questions, "Why did I do it?"
"What made me think I was so much better than the
others? " "How could I have been so
stupid?" "What must Jesus think of me?"
"What can I do now?" He may have even
contemplated suicide. In this state of mind, he decided
to go fishing. Jesus doesn't kick a man when he is down.
7) Peter jumped off the boat and swam to shore to see
Jesus. That doesn't sound like someone who had not been
forgiven and who could expect to be humiliated for past
failures. After genuine repentance and forgiveness takes
place, God forgives and restores fellowship with the
believer. He doesn't publicly humiliate us, rubbing salt
into the wound. Satan does that, but not Jesus.
So what is meant by the word "these?" I think
the answer is quite obvious. It refers to the fish, and I
will also give seven more reasons for my interpretation.
1) Jesus watched Peter pull the nets ashore, carefully
count the fish (153) and weigh or measure them
("large fish") just before they ate.
2) There was only one net and it remained undamaged. Even
small fish of a pound each would normally have caused
tears in the net. Large fish would have been more like
3-5 pounds! No net of the times could have remained
intact dragging 500 pounds of live fish onto the beach!
3) I think Peter was asking deep questions about the
meaning of all this while he was eating. He must have
been reminded of that similar experience three years
4) Peter may have been mesmerized by all those big fish.
He might have been thinking, "With the Lord's help,
I can at least become a fisherman again."
5) He must have inwardly considered the work that the
huge catch would necessitate. He might have been
thinking, "It would be nice to just sit here and
fellowship with Jesus, but there is much work to be
done." The net was not torn, but it needed cleaning,
and so did the boat. The 152 large fish (they had already
eaten one) needed to be cleaned and prepared for market.
6) They had eaten breakfast when Jesus called Peter aside
and asked, "Do you love me more than these?"
My mind can picture the Lord pointing at the fish as he
7) The conversation between Jesus and Peter would also
support my interpretation. Jesus asked three times. The
fish were very much on Peter's mind, and Jesus' words, "Feed
my lambs," "Feed my sheep," and "shepherd
of my flock" could have been an attempt to get
Peter to think of something other than fish.
Jesus knew that there was a better way for Peter to spend
the rest of his life than catching fish. And Peter's
total lack of self-reliance was an ideal condition for
God to begin using him.
From Fisherman to Shepherd
Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. The first
two times, Jesus used a strong word for "love,"
agape, which indicates self-denial. Peter
answered, using the milder term, phileo
(friendship love). In the Upper Room, Peter had boasted
that he was prepared to die for Jesus, but after his
miserable failures, he couldn't bring himself to claim agape
love for Jesus.
When Jesus asked him the third time, he used the same
word that Peter used, phileo. Peter was grieved
When Peter answered Jesus the first time, Jesus said, "Feed
my lambs." The second and third time, he said, "Feed
my sheep." Finally, the last time, he said, "If
you are even just my friend, be a shepherd of my
The carpenter's son who was also a master fisherman was
now the good shepherd, who gave his life for the sheep.
According to tradition, Peter was also crucified, but he
requested to be crucified upside down, because he didn't
feel worthy to be crucified like his Lord.
A few days later, Peter preached at Pentecost and 3,000
new-born lambs were bathed and added to the flock. In the
following weeks, months and years, sheep were added and
then multiplied. Peter was a faithful shepherd of the
Lord's flock. He had no experience as a shepherd, but he
knew he didn't need it if he followed the Lord's
commands. He could even do things differently from what
most Jewish "shepherds" thought was proper,
like preaching the gospel to the Gentiles!
I don't think Peter was ever again tempted to go fishing.
The fisherman Peter had become a shepherd, and Jesus, the
carpenter's son, returned to his Father where he now
oversees two noteworthy construction projects.
One is temporal, here on earth. It is called the church.
Jesus told Peter, "I will build my church."
Jesus left no blueprints for the temporary structures
used to house the church here on earth. Steeples, stained
glass windows, pulpits and pews are not important or
necessary, but neither are they forbidden. It is
important to remember that all is temporary. His church
is not made of bricks and mortar, wood or steel, but
composed of people who believe on him and who do his
will. Jesus himself is the foundation, the cornerstone
and the head of his church.
The other construction project is eternal, in heaven.
Jesus told his disciples, "I go to prepare a
place for you." The two building sites are
closely related and will be completed simultaneously. We
provide labor and materials for building his church, and
our payment is the eternal home in heaven which Jesus is
preparing for us. We can be thankful that Jesus is not
building for us like we build for him.
The high points in our missionary career often followed
times of failure, depression or disappointment. We were
often overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness,
incompetence and futility. I could tell about being
thrown out of our apartment in a snowstorm on December
23. We had two small boys and my wife was pregnant. We
had no place to go, but another missionary family took us
in. God then gave us a great ministry resulting in the
conversion of scores of youth. We founded several
churches. We also founded a printing and publishing
ministry that provided tons of literature for ministries
in Austria and literature that was smuggled into
Communist countries of Eastern Europe.
In 1980, the Lord led us back to the very place that we
were thrown out of ten years earlier! The church grew and
became indigenous. We were able to lease property and
found the Austrian Bible Institute when most believers
thought it was impossible. Scores of graduates are now
serving the Lord in Europe and around the world.* I
worked with one of them to found a national youth
organization in 1987. That organization now reaches
thousands of kids in 17 European nations! We helped
another graduate from Albania build a church in his own
Like Peter, you may feel that God cannot use you due to
past failures. Throw out the net just one more time, but
do it on the right side! Let the Lord fill it!
Ralph V. Harvey
* That Bible Institute later joined with two other Bible
Schools to form Austria's first private Christian
university in 2018!