Some of you may be doubting the result of today's Wear Tyne derby. Not again some of you say! I was certainly doubting the referee and linesman after the match I went to see yesterday and still can't believe it! However far more importantly I wonder if anyone here is doubting or wondering about the truth of Jesus' bodily resurrection or perhaps will Jesus really forgive you for that really big mess up you made recently or how will he actually use you in the future, in spite of the promise of his word in 1 John that if you're trusting in Jesus, his blood shed on the cross purifies you from all sin. Note the ALL. Back in Matthew 28 we learn that even some of his now 11 disciples doubted.
Here in John 21 seven of his disciples are certainly waiting and wondering about all three matters with most having betrayed and deserted Jesus at his crucifixion, in spite of his words to them in John 20. Regarding the truth of Jesus' resurrection a former member of the US Supreme Court said there's more evidence for the resurrection than for most criminal convictions in the USA. And one major strand of evidence is the number of eye witnesses who saw Jesus alive, bodily resurrected from the dead. The Bible records 12 appearances of the risen Jesus – sometimes to individuals, sometimes to small and larger groups and once to 500 people at the same time, which means they can't have been hallucinating. Well we're looking at the third occasion (v14) of five that the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples as a group. And I want to begin with some words of:
Introduction – Being Prepared To Go Fishing With The Risen Jesus
John's Gospel has been compared to a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim. In other words it's both simple and profound, it's for the beginner in the Christian faith and for the mature. It's a simple Gospel which all can read and understand. But there are also unplumbed depths.
And that's true of these verses. On one level it's a detailed account of Jesus appearing to and providing for his waiting, apprehensive disciples and especially for prideful Peter and of them realising again that Jesus is alive. It's true, there is no doubt. He helps them land a miraculous catch of fish. They have breakfast with him. They knew it was the Lord (v12). It wasn't a ghost. No ghosts cook a real breakfast. They weren't seeing things. He said he would meet them in Galilee. He does keep his word. They and we can trust in and depend on him, the risen Lord.
But on another level it's about fishing with Jesus, or at least about being prepared to go fishing with the risen Jesus, about Jesus preparing his disciples for missionary service, for the mission he's just called them and now us to in the previous chapter: "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And this is very pertinent for us as we prepare to go multi-site as a church and begin reaching out from the St Joseph's site to West Tyneside as well as to the 16,000 students and many others who live on our doorstep from this site. So here we see Jesus purging his followers of pride, asking us to bring all we have and are to him – to consecrate ourselves totally to him so that we can be used by him and teaching us to receive what he has for us, to rely on him, to go fishing with Jesus and not on our own or for the sake of our egos. It's about Jesus making them and us fishers of men. The shore of the Sea of Galilee was where some of Jesus' disciples had first been called to follow Jesus and become fishers of men. Now they were back on the shore again about to begin the final stages of preparation before they did actually go out to follow and fish for him to the ends of the earth. And so it's also about the secret of effective mission and the scope of the mission that you and I too have been called to serve on.
Back in Matthew 28 the risen Jesus asks the women to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee. Here in John 21 we find seven of the eleven disciples by the Sea of Galilee or Tiberias waiting for something to happen, waiting for Jesus to appear. Verses 2 and 3 clearly indicate this 'waiting' atmosphere:
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.
They could well have been asking such questions as what does Jesus want to say to them? What's he going to do with them? What's going to happen next? What would Jesus want them to do after their denial and desertion? Despite the euphoria of seeing Jesus alive, Peter perhaps especially still felt a failure and therefore nervous about meeting his Master. The waiting was hard. Jesus had told him that upon him he was going to build his church. Would Jesus still want to and what did it mean anyway? He's embarrassed as well as nervous.
And of course no-one enjoys failure whether it's academic, sports, business, political or ministry. I remember organising a youth event here in the 1980s – I thought I knew how to do it - I'd lined up a drama group, a band and a speaker. Of course I wanted the world to know about it! I wanted hundreds of people to be there! So I advertised it in the Chronicle. As a result the next day a man from the Council came round and declared the church hall not fit for purpose! So the event had to be largely abandoned. And I was in trouble – could the hall be used again for a church event? I think David has forgiven me – at least he allowed me back! And I've failed in other ways. But all of us will have been touched by failure to some extent. It's not a good feeling to live with. It can lead to depression and discouragement. It can weaken our will to carry on and it can make us want to hide. But as Peter is about to learn there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ and it can open the door to a deeper reliance on the Lord, which is partly what's going on here. Jesus is teaching Peter and by extension you and me a lesson in humility and total dependence on him, which brings us to:
1. THE PURGING OF PETER'S PRIDE
Now it could've been because Peter's hungry or because he's fed up with waiting and typically wants action that he organises a fishing party (v3). But there's a deeper reason. "I'm going fishing", Peter tells the other disciples. He knew he could fish (or at least he could three years ago), he was a professional fisherman and he wants to restore some of his bruised ego. Yes I made a mess of my discipleship but I'm going fishing. I need a success and I'm going to plan this myself. We've probably thought or done something similar.
The others join him. They fish throughout the night but they catch precisely nothing, a big fat zero, not even a crab. Pride leads to disaster. 1 Peter 5:5: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
And Peter, the professional fisherman, and the rest of the crew are humbled. But at dawn they hear a voice calling out to them across the water, a voice they obey even though they don't recognise it at first. V4-6:
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.
It's John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the writer of this Gospel and an eye witness of this encounter, who first realises it's the risen Jesus and not Peter. Peter's still too caught up with himself to see Jesus and what he's doing for them. And isn't that true of us sometimes? And that can so easily make us blinkered and ineffective and prevent us living for Christ with a grateful heart. However John does realise who can do miracles. V7:
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.
Peter's pride is now purged further. The old Peter leaps before he looks. Yes he grabs his cloak as he wouldn't want to appear half naked before Jesus – that would be disrespectful and he's first to the shore. But he's all wet in every sense. Deep down he loves Jesus and he's so excited to see him. But he's also deeply ashamed. The last time he was sitting by a charcoal fire he denied even knowing Jesus. Is our pride being purged at the moment? Do we need to humble ourselves under God? It's uncomfortable and it can be painful but it's important if we're to be used by him.
2. BRING ALL THAT YOU HAVE AND ARE TO JESUS AND TAKE WHAT HE HAS FOR YOU
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.
Breakfast on the beach with Jesus. Toast and broiled fish. You probably hadn't thought that Jesus did beach barbeques! Well he knows the needs of his disciples both then and now on so many levels. These disciples have been up all night fishing – they were tired, wet and hungry. So Jesus has breakfast ready for them – "Come and have breakfast" he beckons and then he took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish. He knows what they need physically. He's also aware of what they need spiritually. Yes they're encouraged to be with the risen Lord in person. They know it's him – they don't have to ask and they dare not ask! But part of their spiritual need still concerns pride. Before Jesus invites the disciples to have breakfast he says to them in v10:"Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." But then Jesus doesn't use those fish – certainly not straight away.
So what is Jesus saying and doing? Well he's saying to them and to you and me today – bring all that you have and are to me but I may not use it and you immediately. You see if he uses it or us immediately and pride is still there then that would just feed our ego centric thinking. Jesus wants to squeeze that out of our system. Now of course that's a life long process and change. Our pride, our egos will need to be put to death over and over again. And that's a major theme we look at in Discipleship Explored which starts soon and which is open to anyone. We won't be perfect before Jesus can use us but he does want us to be focussed on the mission he's called us to, on which there's no room for pride. Instead he wants us to be fully consecrated to him. Are you? Am I?
So Jesus is saying to you as well as to the disciples, bring all that you have and are to me and consecrate yourself fully to me and you'll be used in due course. But he also says, take or receive what I have for you. And that's what the disciples did. Their pride was being purged. What about ours? You see although we like the idea of 'taking', often our pride can get in the way of receiving from Jesus. We think we can do it on our own and we forget about his resources. And we wonder why there's failure. You see we don't actually have a resources problem in terms of what's available to us in Christ for his work, but we do often have a Jesus problem in that we forget who he really is – the Lord whose resources are infinite. They knew it was the Lord (v12). And we need to remember that he's the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He's risen and reigning and interceding for us. He's with us by his Spirit. Let's humble ourselves under his lordship and receive from him for the work and mission he's called us to from this site or from St Josephs. So thirdly,
3. FISHING WITH JESUS
You see these verses also say something about the secret of effective mission. Without Jesus the disciples caught nothing. Without him we will catch no-one. For apart from him we can do nothing, as Jesus says back in John 15:5. We can do all the multi-site churches we want but apart from him we can do precisely nothing, nowt in my native Yorkshire and adopted Geordie, nil in Eurovision speak. Our faith has to be in Jesus Christ and not in ourselves or in our latest Christian hero. Our guide has to be the Lord, the Pilot of the Galilean Lake. We must be fishers of men with Jesus in the power of the Spirit. The key is faith in a great God. As Jesus' disciples we're to die to reliance on ourselves and our abilities if we're to discover resurrection life and the harvest of the kingdom. With Jesus and in humble obedience to him, to his words and to his direction is the only way to be fruitful in ministry. With Jesus' help, obedience to his words and his direction the seven disciples hauled in a massive catch of fish – 153 whoppers.
A number of these disciples were fishermen – they had the know-how and the experience and yet they themselves caught nothing. Only when they unknowingly obeyed Christ did they land their greatest catch.
And perhaps these verses also say something about the scope of the missionary work Jesus has for his disciples, including you and me. The catch here is vast. John makes a point of recording exactly how vast – 153. Now I don't want to go overboard on this (!) or push these verses too far but to some early church leaders this catch represented the universal appeal of the Gospel and signified that the Gospel must be taken to all nations, tribes and tongues. John chapters 20&21 are part of the Great Commission - Jesus' command to go and make disciples of all nations. To the ancients there were 153 varieties of fish and we are to be fishers of men of every tongue.
And since this catch of fish many nations, tribes and tongues have been reached with the Gospel. But there's still much to be done here in the North East and around the world. Are we willing to humbly follow Jesus, to consecrate our lives to him, to play our part in being fishers and disciplers of men, whatever the cost? None of us finds it easy but this passage reminds us that we're not to do it on our own or in our own strength but rather with Jesus – bringing all that we are and have to him and receiving from him. Jesus promises to be with us by his Spirit as we go multi-site and fishing with him. If we're faithful in casting the net as he directs then God does the rest. And as the catch for these disciples was vast so will the mission to which we're called involve a great harvest among the nations. The fields are white for harvest says Jesus earlier in John. Are we believing that and ready for it? Because of the power and mercy of the risen Lord the net will not break just as it didn't in v11 – it's a harvest that will never be too great to accommodate. So let's humbly go fishing with Jesus that others might see the risen Jesus standing on the shore as the darkness passes and the morning light appears and know he is the Lord.
Risen Lord, purge us of our pride and teach us to depend on you for the sake of the gospel, the extension of your kingdom and your glory. Amen.