(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
John 21:1-14 – Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
According to verse 14, this is the third time Jesus appeared to a group of the disciples after his resurrection. He has already appeared to these disciples on two other occasions. The first was on Easter Sunday evening. After appearing to those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he appeared to the disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. Jesus appeared in that room miraculously and calmed their fears. He encouraged them to take this message of the resurrection to the world. He said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). The disciples were going to be the messengers of the Gospel of Jesus.
The second appearance was to remove the doubts of Thomas. Thomas had not believed the resurrection. He wanted to see Jesus. Jesus lovingly granted this request of Thomas. When Thomas saw Jesus, his doubts were removed and he believed that Jesus had risen. Then Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). These disciples had seen the risen Savior. They were going to take this message to many people who had never seen Jesus. Many people were going to be blessed through the preaching of the disciples.
At this point, the disciples had not yet begun their ministries. They were not quite sure what to do. They had been instructed by Jesus for three years, but they still did not have the confidence and understanding to take this wonderful gospel to others. They had seen the resurrected Jesus and yet they were not out in the streets telling everyone about Jesus. Rather than seeking opportunities for ministry, they acted as though nothing had happened. They decided to go about their life as they normally would have. Perhaps they were just trying to relax but one would think that after seeing Jesus alive, they would want to spend all their time telling others. The disciples decided to go fishing.
Jesus came to them and reminded them of their mission. The disciples had been out all night fishing and had not caught anything. Jesus appeared on shore but the disciples did not realize that it was him. He revealed himself in a miracle that was similar to a miracle from the beginning of his ministry. He told the disciples to throw their nets on the right side of the boat. When they did, they caught such a large number of fish that they could not haul in the net. John recognized Jesus. John had been there for the first miraculous catch of fish. He leaned over to Peter and said, “It is the Lord” (John 21:7).
When Peter heard that it was Jesus, he was so excited that he jumped out of the boat and made his way to shore. He wanted to be near Jesus. Nothing was going to keep him away from his Lord and Savior. Peter was not the same man who Jesus had called into service three years ago. The last time Jesus had performed a miracle like this, Peter had said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Peter knew his own sinfulness and his unworthiness to stand before a righteous God. Now Peter knew the love of Jesus. He knew that Jesus had died and rose from the grave. Now Peter ran to Jesus.
This is the same Jesus who is praised forever in heaven as Revelation tells us. Thousands of angels and creatures sing his praises, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain”, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12, 13). Peter had this attitude when he saw Jesus standing on the shore. He had seen Jesus die and now he is alive. Jesus is worthy of praise. We have an incredible Savior.
Even though we have heard the incredible news of the resurrection, are there ever times that we act as though Easter Sunday wasn’t a big deal? Are we ever like the disciples who simply went fishing after seeing Jesus alive? This is a trap that we fall into. We have been blessed by God with a faith that knows the wonders of the cross and empty tomb and yet we sometimes go about our daily activity without giving it much thought. We go to work every day but fail to think about our God who has given us our abilities to make a living. We go about our hobbies and indulge in our entertainment and don’t take advantage of opportunities to talk with other people about our wonderful Lord. We have seen clearly how we have been saved from sin and yet it is so easy to remain quiet.
Look at Peter jumping out of the boat and going to Jesus. After the resurrection, Peter wanted to be in the presence of Jesus as much as possible. When Jesus wasn’t there with him his life did not have purpose and meaning. Think about how that is true for us. Without Jesus, this life is meaningless. With Jesus we know that we have heaven. We run to Jesus like Peter did by making God the top priority in our lives. We don’t let ourselves get distracted by the business of our day to day activities. Even when we do get distracted, Jesus brings us back to himself. Just like Jesus came to find the disciples, he comes to find us. He uses our fellow Christians to bring us back to him and his Word. He loves us and he doesn’t want us to fall away from him.
He points us back to the resurrection because it is central to our faith. It shows our forgiveness. Jesus builds us up in our faith because he wants us to share this wonderful message of his resurrection.
This event reminded the disciples of Jesus’ ministry. They were reminded that Jesus had called a few of them to be his disciples with a similar event. They were reminded of times that he had provided for the physical needs of others through bread and fish – such as the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus had spent time training them so that they could tell others about him. In our text, he doesn’t give them a specific command to spread the message. He first provides for the disciples. He provided for them by giving them the catch of fish and he provided for them with the bread and fish to eat. Throughout his ministry he had been providing them with the spiritual food that they needed for in their faith. In the near future, on Pentecost, it would be their turn to share their faith with others.
After they ate their food, starting in verse 15, Jesus gives Peter encouragement. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you truly love me?” Each time Peter answered, “You know that I love you.” Then Jesus encouraged him, “Feed my sheep.” This event had two purposes. The first was to reinstate Peter after Peter’s denial on Maundy Thursday. The second purpose was to remind Peter that he was to teach others. He was to be a shepherd who would take care of Jesus’ sheep. On Pentecost we see Peter stand up and boldly proclaim the message of Jesus. He fed many sheep on that day with God’s Word.
There are similarities between these events and the conversion of Paul. In John 20 we see Jesus preparing the disciples to be sent out but not actually sending them yet. In the conversion of Paul, Jesus came to him and miraculously brought him to faith on the road to Damascus. Jesus planned on using Paul for great things but he didn’t reveal that to him yet. First, Paul had to go into the city so that a man of God could restore his sight. Paul who had been an enemy of God was about to become the greatest missionary.
We know from scripture that Paul later became the most famous missionary. He was taught personally by Jesus and he wrote thirteen inspired books of the New Testament. He was strengthened in his faith so much that he was able to speak boldly and confidently about his faith. Just like Peter, he proclaimed the message. Both Paul and Peter were persecuted because of their faith. In spite of that, they continued to preach because they knew how important it was to tell people about the resurrection.
We too can share our faith just like Peter and Paul. We might think to ourselves that we don’t have the abilities of Peter or Paul but that really is not true. We have knowledge about our Savior. We have faith in his cross and his resurrection. We can come to worship and Bible Study to be strengthened in our faith. We can look to the inspired words of Peter and Paul. These men as well as the rest of the disciples were sinners just like us. God spent time preparing them for service and he spends time preparing us. We have many resources that we can use. God gives us the Bible and he brings many people into our lives who have shared the Word with us.
Not all of us are preachers or missionaries. But that doesn’t mean that we do not share the message. We have people who share the message in a variety of ways – teaching Sunday School, instructing inmates in the jail, talking with friends and in many other ways. It doesn’t even have to be in a formal setting like a class room. We can talk with our children about our faith. As we’re driving in the car we can talk about our incredible God who created the wonderful landscapes we can see out the windows. We can talk about how sin has damaged this creation and we are saved through Jesus. Let’s take advantage of all opportunities to share our faith. Let’s share this important part of our life.