3rd Sunday of Easter April 23, 2023


The Risen Lord Fills Us Up

John 21:1-14

Scripture Readings

Acts 2:14a, 32-41
1 Peter 1:17-21


192:1-5, 342, 201, 192:6-8

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail

+ Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! +

Prayer of the Day: O God, through the humiliation of Your Son You raised up the fallen world. Grant to Your faithful people, rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Amen! (1 Pt 1:3)

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 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 will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (ESV)

Dear fellow redeemed in the risen Lord,

Empty nets. What a frustrating night that must have been for these seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee—especially for three of these disciples in particular. Peter, James and John used to work these very waters professionally, in their families’ fishing businesses. They knew where to find fish on the Sea of Galilee and how to fish at night for the greatest success. But not on the night of our text. This night was a night of fishing futility. No matter where they cast their nets, the result was the same—nothing. Their nets were empty.

When is the last time you felt empty? We’re not just talking about an empty gas tank or an empty cupboard, but a deeper emptiness. Maybe your life feels empty. Maybe you feel like you have been working hard at your job, but no one seems to notice or appreciate the work you do. Maybe your heart or your marriage feels empty right now. Maybe your soul feels empty. And like those disciples, you’ve spent all night wrestling with this emptiness, only to draw in your net of hope to find it empty once again.

When did this fishing trip change for these seven disciples? It changed at dawn when Jesus arrived. The risen Lord filled those empty nets. This was the third appearance of the risen Lord to a gathering of His disciples. As He appears to them and we hear of this miraculous catch of fish, let us remind ourselves of how the risen Lord fills us up as He serves us providing for our bodies and our souls. May Jesus feed us with His Word today, just as He fed His disciples a shore breakfast on the Sea of Galilee.

At some point after Jesus appeared to the disciples Jerusalem and showed Himself to unbelieving Thomas that He had truly risen, the disciples made their way to their home country of Galilee. Lutheran commentator Paul Kretzmann talks about what a confusing time this must have been for the disciples. They knew Jesus really had risen from the dead, but now what?

Waiting in Galilee, Peter—that man of action—decides to do the one thing he knew how to do: he’s going fishing. And so the six other disciples decide to join him. That is when they had the failed fishing trip.

After their night of empty nets, Jesus appears on the shore—though they did not know it was Jesus at first. Children, the risen Lord calls out to those disciples whom He loved, Have you caught any fish? Jesus isn’t asking because He doesn’t know. After all, this is the risen Lord who appears and disappears in locked rooms! This is the Lord of earth, sea, and sky knows those nets have been empty all night! But as Jesus so often does, He asks questions because He wants them to think about something—here He wants them to really realize just how empty their nets are.

What an important reminder for each of us as our own nets are empty. Maybe we feel empty emotionally or in a relationship. No matter what we try, we can’t seem to resolve the issue. And indeed, without Jesus we are empty. We are but dust and ashes, without hope in this world. And the Lord may even point out to you how empty you are without Him, not because He doesn’t know—but because He wants you to know and realize your emptiness before He fills you up.

Think of how Jesus shows us our emptiness with His Law. Jesus calls out,

We draw in the nets of our own righteousness and find them empty, covered only in the slimy seaweed of our sin.

But the risen Lord comes and fills us up. By His miraculous power, the risen Lord caused a school of 153 fish to swim into the net of the disciples, filling it to such a point that these seven grown men couldn’t pull the net back on the boat.

The risen Lord fills us up with full and complete forgiveness. His death on the cross was so precious to God, that the all-knowing God said, I remember your sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:34) In your baptism, Jesus washes away your sins and sanctifies us, He makes you holy. Through faith, God doesn’t just credit your account with a little bit of Jesus’ righteousness, but completely credits you with His perfection. When we try to fill up our nets ourselves, they come back empty. When Jesus fills up our nets, they are so full of forgiveness and righteousness, that they almost break.

Notice the reaction of Peter in our text. Three years earlier, when Jesus caused that miraculous catch of fish on this same lake, Peter told Jesus to get away from him for he was a sinner. Now, after Peter’s denial of Jesus, after Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, after the risen Lord appearing to Peter, what is Peter’s reaction? He can’t wait to get to Jesus and jumps into the water!

And when the disciples reach the risen Lord at the shore, what do they find? Jesus already had food ready for them and the risen Lord Himself serves them. Come and have some breakfast, He says. After a hard night of laboring, the risen Lord cares for His disciples and Himself feeds them.

The risen Lord does this for you too. To those laboring spiritually, emotionally, or mentally, Jesus calls to you from His Word, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29) After toiling all night on our own, Jesus gives rest. He gives rest for guilty consciences in the forgiveness of sins. To those who toil with empty nets as they pass through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus fills us up, saying, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25-26) And because I live you too shall live. (John 14:19) Our souls find rest in Jesus knowing that through His death and resurrection, that God is at peace with you. We find rest knowing that heaven is your home.

As we think about that breakfast on the beach that Jesus prepared and personally served to His laboring disciples, remember that Jesus has prepared a feast for you too. He feeds you with His Word to strengthen your faith. As communicants come to the Lord’s Table, Jesus is inviting repentant sinners to come and eat, come and drink, as He Himself serves us, feeding us with His body and His blood.

When your nets are empty, remember Jesus who emptied Himself on the cross to fill you up and be your Savior. Listen to Him call to you from His Word. Rather than trying to fill our lives with the empty philosophies and foolishness of this world, we can say with Paul, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) When we feel like our relationships and callings are empty and pointless, remember what Paul told the Philippians, I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13) It is Christ who fills us with the strength to do things He has called you to do: to care for your spouse, your parents, your children, your co-workers, and your neighbor. Filled with the forgiveness and righteousness of the risen Lord, we live through Him and we live for Him. Because Christ is risen from the dead, we can conclude with Paul, Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

A night of empty nets must have been pretty frustrating for those disciples, but all that was forgotten once Jesus filled their nets and served them breakfast on the beach. As you struggle with your empty nets, listen to the voice of your risen Lord Jesus and rejoice as He fills you up. Christ is risen indeed, hallelujah! Amen.

—Pastor Nathan Pfeiffer

Berea Ev. Lutheran Church
Inver Grove Heights, MN

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