John 21:1-14 (GW)
Later, by the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples. This is what happened. Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples of Jesus were together. Simon Peter said to the others, “I am going fishing.”
They told him, “We are going with you.”
They went out in a boat but did not catch a thing that night. As the sun was rising, Jesus stood on the shore. The disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus asked them, “Friends, have you not caught any fish?”
They answered Him, “No, we have not.”
He told them, “Throw the net out on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some.” So they threw the net out and were unable to pull it in because so many fish were in it.
The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put back on the clothes that he had taken off and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came with the boat and dragged the net full of fish. They were not far from the shore, only about 100 yards.
When they went ashore, they saw a fire with a fish lying on the coals, and they saw a loaf of bread.
Jesus told them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter got into the boat and pulled the net ashore. Though the net was filled with 153 large fish, it was not torn.
Jesus told them, “Come, have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared to ask Him who He was. They knew He was the Lord. Jesus took the bread, gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
This was the third time that Jesus showed Himself to the disciples after He had come back to life.
What numbers are important or memorable in your life? It may be our PIN or Social Security number. It could be your loved one’s phone number, your wedding date, or some special score you made in golf.
In the Gospel passage read today we hear John refer the number of fish that was caught that day. John did not simply say that the net was ‘full of fish’, or that they caught ‘over 150 fish’. He gave an exact number. Many have tried to figure that this was symbolic type of number, but that is missing the point. The number was memorable to John and the other disciples because those 153 large fish were real evidence of a miracle that Jesus used to inspire them as He was sending them out on their own to be His messengers. To many the fish in the net might not have seemed like anything special, but when you think about how and why the fish got there, you may realize that those were 153 life-changing fish.
What made those fish life-changing? In the first place because of Who put them there. Catching those fish was not dumb luck. It was not because Jesus just happened to know where the fish were that morning. This was a miracle from God, and it was Jesus the living Son of God, who caused these 153 fish to fill the disciples’ net. The first life-changing thing about this miracle was simply that Jesus was there.
Now, we tend to take that for granted that Jesus was there. But the reason the Holy Spirit has for telling us anything that happened after the resurrection of Jesus, before His ascension is to show us what Jesus was doing for His disciples, the people He was leaving in charge of His work and mission. So it is significant that Jesus came to these disciples that very normal morning as they did something that was very normal for them. They were fisherman. Jesus met them where they were as they were doing the ordinary things of their lives, and He gave them a rather ordinary breakfast. The point is that He is present at everything we do whether special or ordinary.
We have a tendency to forget, or we fail to appreciate, what Jesus meant when He promised to be with us always. We do not look to Him or for Him in the ordinary events of our lives. Instead, we often look for Jesus only when we are facing troubles, or undertaking some big change, reserving Him for when we think we really need the help. But even though the crises of our lives might be the things we remember most, it is in the common things that we most need to see Jesus.
I might compare it to the relationship between husband and wife. If you want to see evidence of a healthy marriage, do not look at the high and low points, but at the in-between times. It is important how they treat each other in moments of crisis, and the special things they do on special occasions. But are they are there for each other with love as much in the everyday details? Do they respect each other in the little decisions as well as the big ones? The true test of love and trust between husband and wife is in their day-to-day behavior and conversation.
In the same way, we have real proof of God’s love for us in Jesus’ everyday presence and involvement in our lives. Maybe He does not come to all of us while we are out fishing, but He is there for us everyday when we go to school or work. He is, and wants to be, involved in our lives – not just as an insurance policy or last resort, but as our constant companion as we sit down at meals, talk with family and friends, as we do our chores. Jesus’ disciples were not doing anything unusual that morning, but Jesus met them and blessed them where they were. Those 153 fish can remind us that He wants to do the same for us – to bless us extraordinarily in ordinary times and places.
We could also turn the lesson around about those fish and say that they lead us to expect the extraordinary from our Lord. If this miracle made anything clear to the disciples, it was that their loving and faithful God had both the power and the desire to take care of their every need.
We could call this appearance of Christ to His disciples Part Two of His preparing them for the work to which He had called them. Part One was when Jesus gave them what they needed spiritually. He gave them forgiveness of sins for their own comfort, and the Holy Spirit to strengthen their faith to guide them in spreading this message wherever He sent them.
In the Gospel passage, did you notice the first two disciples mentioned, Simon Peter who had denied knowing Him, and Thomas the doubter. Their presence reminds us how much the disciples, just like us, truly needed the love and forgiveness that the risen Lord and Savior offers. These were not perfect disciples whom Jesus was now rewarding. These were sinners like you and me, who had no way of making up for all the ways which they had offended, denied, or doubted God. Everything Jesus did for them and does for us comes entirely from God’s undeserved love. He came to bless them because He had paid for all sin on the Cross. Every wrong thing we have done and every right thing we have not done is forgiven through repentance and faith in Jesus. Everything needed for eternal life with God is provided through Jesus.
But He does not stop His giving there. He also promises to give us everything we need for our lives here on earth. That is what this miracle assured the disciples. Their Lord was not going to be the guy who came through for them only in an emergency. He was going to take care of their physical needs all the time. It will normally be by ordinary means, but also when necessary with extraordinary measures. In all of it, they could count on Him.
Many miss this part of the lesson. They look only for miracles, so they look for God’s blessings only when they need emergencies. They fail to understand that God will take care of all their needs all the time.
When I think of how this trust in God to take care of us in times of calm as well as in crisis can be seen, remember the many stories of families during the depression. Some pretty bad things happened to them. They were never rich, but there was always food on the table and clothes to wear.
Most of the time, God provided through ordinary means. But there were other times when God used the extraordinary – a gift from somewhere, something totally unforeseen, just at the moment it was needed. Maybe not quite as dramatic as 153 large fish in a net, but just as much a gift of God’s love and faithfulness. We can always count on the Lord.
Those 153 fish can really change your life. They mean God has given us a blank check. You can trust your Father in Heaven to give you daily bread. You can follow Jesus without fear or worry. Not only are our spiritual needs met perfectly in Jesus, but our physical needs as well.
You will still have food to eat if you give money to the church’s work. Your health will not collapse if you get up for an hour or two on Sunday morning. You will survive, if your employer looks wrong at what you are doing, if you do the right thing.
This is the same confidence that empowers Christians to still be Christians even in countries that do not have freedom of religion, even though they could lose their jobs, homes, and even their lives. This is the same confidence that can inspire Risen Christ to face financial problems no matter what happens. The Lord will take care of His church. He will take care of those who give of their time and money for God’s work.
There is one more thing in this lesson about those 153 fish. Christ repeats His miracles in our lives. One of the ways the disciples were able to figure out that it was Jesus standing on the shore was that the miracle was almost identical to the one Jesus performed right before He called them to be ‘fishers of men’. The repetition of this miracle strengthened them in both faith and determination as they got closer to the time when they would go out on their own into the world to catch others for Christ.
We can expect God to do similar things in our lives. He has not set any kind of one miracle per person help limit. So we will not hear Him say, “Sorry. I have already helped you out of a jam once.” No, if God blessed you once, He will bless you again. You can count on it. If you ever find yourself forgetting or doubting it, just remember those 153 life-changing fish in Jesus’ name. Amen.