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 business.

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 city.

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!

Master Fisherman
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.

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.

Recycled Fisherman
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 beach.

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 him.

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 time.

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 publicly.

3) The man who had been so boastful, so sure of himself, so confident of his own courage, was now thoroughly humbled.

I want to offer seven reasons why I cannot accept this interpretation:

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 earlier.

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 spoke.

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 about that.

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 flock!"

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 country.

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!