The Third Sunday after Easter April 26, 2015
339, 361, 391, 36
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.”And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior, fellow-redeemed:
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days. During that time, according to Acts 1:3, He showed Himself alive by many “infallible proofs.” The Greek word translated as “infallible proofs” has the sense of “unmistakable evidence.” Jesus gave His disciples unmistakable evidence that He was indeed alive.
Jesus showed His disciples the wounds in His hands, feet, and side—the unmistakable evidence that He was the same Jesus who had died on the cross. Jesus ate food in the presence of His disciples—the unmistakable evidence that He was not a ghost or hallucination or wishful thinking brought about by grief.
Jesus allowed His disciples to touch him—the unmistakable evidence of a real human body. Mary Magdalene clasped his feet. The apostle John would write in his first epistle: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…” (1 John 1:1 NIV).
As the risen Jesus appeared to His disciples and taught them about the kingdom of God, they increasingly understood the implications of the resurrection. The living Savior meant “living hope” (cf. 1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection meant that Jesus Christ was exactly whom He claimed to be: “the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4). Remember how Jesus said before His crucifixion, “Destroy this temple,” referring to His body, and “I will raise it up in three days” (John 2:19). He did raise it up in three days, and His resurrection proved the truthfulness of His identity and the truthfulness of His words.
In fact, the resurrection proved that all of God’s words and promises in Scripture were true and reliable and that death was a defeated enemy, that God the Father had fully accepted the Son’s sacrifice for sins, and that nothing done in the name and power of the risen Lord would ever be done in vain.
So Paul wrote at the conclusion of 1 Corinthians 15, that majestic chapter on the resurrection of Christ and its realities for our lives and deaths: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Why not in vain? Because the Lord Jesus is alive.
The question may be asked: “Why did Jesus appear to His disciples over a period of forty days when one day, the first Easter Day, was proof enough of his resurrection?” Such is our living, eternally loving Lord. Jesus wanted His disciples to be absolutely certain of His resurrection. He wanted to teach them and enable them to understand that his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of the Scriptures—as we read in Luke 24: “And he opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem…” (Luke 24:45-47 NIV).
During those forty days, Jesus prepared His disciples for their ministry to the world. He prepared them for His ascension when they would no longer see him by sight but by faith—knowing nevertheless, that He was still with them. In the forty days Jesus prepared the disciples for the persecutions that were certain to come. On Easter, Jesus gave His disciples unmistakable evidence that He was alive, and during the thirty-nine days that followed, Jesus showed His disciples what His resurrection meant for their lives—all aspects of their lives from preparing for death to preparing for ministry to preparing breakfast by the Sea of Galilee, which is what happened in today’s text. Breakfast by the sea—sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
Scripture does not record all the resurrection appearances of Jesus from Easter Day to Ascension Day. It does record that He appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the women who hastened to the tomb, to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, to ten disciples in the locked room, and a week later, to the eleven disciples including Thomas. According to 1 Corinthians 15:6, Jesus appeared to more than five hundred believers at one time. When Paul wrote First Corinthians in 51 or 52 A.D., many of those witnesses were still alive.
Yet, regardless of the number of resurrection appearances, do not view any of these appearances as unplanned or coincidental or haphazard. They were not. Jesus chose the various times and places to show himself alive and present and involved. Each appearance had a specific lesson and a specific application.
Such is the case with today’s text, John 21:1-14, in which Jesus appeared to seven of his disciples—Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others not named—as they were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias, another name for the Sea of Galilee.
I said, “as they were fishing.” In that simple, everyday, too-familiar setting of GONE FISHING, the risen Jesus appeared to His disciples. In fact, this everyday, too-familiar setting of today’s text is really its first important lesson: The risen Jesus is always with us wherever we go and whatever we do. Let’s make this more personal. Say to yourself, “The risen Jesus is always with me wherever I go and whatever I do.” Do you believe that? Do you live that way?
We’re not told why the disciples went fishing that day. Perhaps they were bored. Perhaps they needed fresh air. Perhaps they were hungry. Perhaps they wanted to keep themselves occupied while waiting for Jesus to appear again. Peter said, “I am going fishing,” [v.3] The other disciples replied, “We are going with you also.” So off they went, perhaps never imagining that the risen Lord would appear to them as they did something as simple and commonplace as fishing. Certainly, the Savior had better things to do, better places to be.
Don’t you and I often think the same way? Yes, we joyfully celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Day. “Jesus Christ is risen today, hallelujah!” But what about the day after Easter and the day after that? In similar fashion we also too often restrict the power of Christ’s resurrection to the hereafter, but its power is also intended for the here-and-now. Isn’t that why Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection?” (NIV).
All of us in this church building are Christians. All of us know that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. All of us believe that Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave on Easter morning. All of us take great comfort in the resurrection of Jesus when facing our own deaths or dealing with the deaths of loved ones. This is as it should be.
But do we also see the risen Jesus as personally and powerfully present when we do ordinary, everyday things—go to work or school, sit at home, visit the doctor, buy groceries, take a walk, dine in a restaurant, attend worship services? How are these ordinary circumstances any different in importance from disciples sitting in a boat, fishing, making small-talk, wiggling toes in the blue water of Lake Galilee? They are not different. Through the resurrection appearance recorded in John 21, the disciples learned that the risen Jesus was involved in everything they did, even fishing on the Sea of Galilee. This is a lesson we need to learn too.
The second lesson the disciples learned that day while fishing was that they were fully dependent on the Lord for success. In this instance, yes, literally, for catching fish; but Jesus obviously intended His disciples to also apply the same principle to every other aspect and endeavor of their lives—not only as fishermen but also as fishers of men, not only as apostles of Christ, but also as husbands, fathers, and friends. Make this lesson more personal too. Say to yourself, “I am fully dependent on Jesus Christ for everything.” Did you say that? Do you believe that?
At times, we really don’t live that way. We’re willing to entrust Jesus with the major crises and problems and endeavors of our lives, but we think that we have the innate abilities, strength, and intelligence to manage everything else. “God doesn’t buy the groceries, I do. God doesn’t drive to the store, I do. God doesn’t sign my pay-check, the corporate comptroller does.” And so on. The fallacy with this type of human logic is that it doesn’t trace our abilities to their Source. Yes, I may have great abilities—great strength and great intelligence—and if so, I should use them to the fullest extent possible. But I should also remember who gave these gifts to me: God did. I did not create myself. No matter how gifted I am, my gifts still come from God. And this makes me fully and entirely dependent on Him.
The apostle James wrote: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that,’” (James 4:13-15).
In John 21, the disciples who went fishing were excellent fishermen and in some cases even professional fishermen. They knew the Sea of Galilee. They knew boats. They knew the local weather patterns. They knew the best places and best times to fish. They knew how to cast nets. Yet, when the risen Jesus stood on the shore and called out, “Children, have you any food?”, they answered him “No.” [v.5] See, you can have all the wisdom, strength, charm, personality, friends, possessions, connections, and experience in the world and still not “catch a thing.”
If that’s true of fishing, it is certainly true of salvation. In our first Scripture reading, we heard about the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus. At one time, Paul, whose original name was Saul, persecuted the Christian Church. He viewed Christianity as a serious threat to Judaism and the laws of Moses. Before coming to faith in Christ, Paul was a very religious man, who thought he could save himself by keeping the commandments and leading a good life—that is, until he encountered the risen Jesus and learned that salvation does not come and cannot come through human works, but only by divine grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
As a result, Paul never forgot what he was by nature and what Christ made him by grace. We can hear that humble wonder and gratitude in some of his writings, such as 1 Timothy 1:12-15: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (NIV).
“GONE FISHING” is obviously a phrase I’m using figuratively to mean anything we attempt to do in life. Are you trying to be successful at work? Are you trying to be a good employee or a good parent or a good spouse or a good influence? Are you trying to raise children to be God-fearing and respectful? Are you trying to cope with serious problems: debt, troubled marriage, poor health? Are you trying to strengthen your faith without a steady, healthy diet of the Word of God?
To use the analogy of today’s text, if you’ve GONE FISHING, whatever you are fishing for, how would you answer the question Jesus asked his disciples? “Children, have you any food?” Children, have you caught anything? Children, have all your efforts given you the results you want: happiness, peace, forgiveness, the certainty of salvation, and true success?”
If your answer is “No,” could the reason be that you are trying to do things on your own without the risen Christ. If God makes us go a long night or many days or even months without “catching anything” to teach us how fruitless this type of Christ-less fishing is, praise His holy name. All I know is what my Bible tells me. In John 15:5 Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” And in Philippians 4:13 Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The third lesson the disciples learned while GONE FISHING was that true happiness and true answers to life’s problems are always found in the Word of God. Say that to yourself. “I believe all the answers I need are found in the word of God.” Do you believe this? Do you live this?
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ And he said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.” [vv. 5-6 NIV] No one needs a theological diploma to understand the important lesson taught by these verses. When the disciples chose the fishing locations on their own, they caught nothing. When they fished where Jesus told them to fish, their nets were bulging with fish.
The same principle is true in life. Follow the Word of God and you’ll find happiness, success, and answers. Follow different advice and you won’t catch anything worth keeping. Throughout the entire Bible, in its thousands of verses and hundreds of familiar characters, there has never been a single exception to this principle. Not one.
Had Adam and Eve listened to God’s Word, the world today would be perfect. Instead, it is full of pain, sin, misery, and death. When Abraham followed God’s Word, the result was Isaac. When he listened to Sarah’s advice, the result was Ishmael, and the conflict between these two different sons of Abraham—Isaac, the ancestor of the Jews and Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabs—has been raging ever since. Whenever the Israelites followed God’s Word, their nation enjoyed peace and prosperity. Whenever the Israelites turned to false gods, they experienced tragedy, loss, and captivity.
There is an interesting parallel between today’s text and another miraculous catch of fish that occurred earlier in Christ’s ministry, as recorded in Luke 5. On the first occasion, Jesus was sitting in a boat, teaching the multitudes. When finished, he told Simon Peter, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Peter replied, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking” (Luke 5:4-6 NIV).
Are you searching for answers today? If so, where are you looking? Are you casting your net where God says to cast it—into the deep, refreshing waters of His Word? Or are you fishing some place else? At times, the Word of God may appear so small, so ineffective, when compared to the size of our problems. Advice like “Stay close to God’s Word” or “Turn to the Scriptures” may seem out-of-touch or even silly.
The disciples fished all night and caught nothing. How silly the advice of Jesus may have seemed to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat.” But when the disciples listened to His Word, they achieved what they set out to do. You see, wherever the Word of God directs us is always the right side of the boat.
GONE FISHING. What fishing tips have we learned today? Remember that the risen Jesus is always with us, wherever we go and whatever we do. Remember that we are fully and entirely dependent on the risen Christ for success. Remember that true happiness and true answers are always found in the risen Christ’s word.
In the meantime, I suggest we all make a large sign and hang it in a prominent place, where we will see it each time we face problems or undertake any endeavor. A sign that reads:
WITH THE RISEN CHRIST
WILL RETURN WHEN THE NET IS FULL.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.