John 21: 1-14 (MsgB)
After this, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Tiberias Sea (the Sea of Galilee). This is how He did it: Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.” The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.” They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night. When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize Him. Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?” They answered, “No.” He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.” They did what He said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!” When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea. The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along the net full of fish. When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it. Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore—153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip. Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master. Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus had shown Himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead.
This ‘let’s go fishing’ story in John 21 just may be one of my favorite Jesus stories from God’s Word.
I think the reason this story is so appealing to me is because of its’ simple, down-home nature. No wait. I’ll go even further than that. This story is a ‘coming-home-where-we-all-belong’ reconciliation story, like none I’ve ever seen. In many ways, it’s the prodigal son story Jesus told in Luke’s Gospel, being lived out here, first hand, by His own dear friends.
Think of it this way. What other religious figure in history is portrayed like Jesus is here?
Here we have God, the Father’s resurrected Son, the Christ/Messiah, standing in front of His hand-chosen leadership team. A team of men who are being handed the greatest commission ever given to man, and here Jesus is, casually sitting on the shore, cooking up for these guys, some fresh fish and bread for breakfast. No hype. No heavy-duty teachings. No commandments. No rules, regiments and regulations. No classroom approach. No textbooks or program guides.
Just a casual conversation with a few old friends over a cup of coffee, a bite of fish and a hunk of bread.
Yet, while this serene picture looks much like a Norman Rockwell print, I’m guessing that it’s this very setting that will truly stick in these ‘once-proud-leaders-turned-humble-pastoral shepherds’ minds the rest of their days.
As I see it, it’s because this unique encounter was Jesus’ custom-designed approach for re-instating a bunch of men who, quite honestly, were truly disillusioned and dis-heartened by all that occurred over the last week or so of their personal lives.
Take Peter, for example.
Only a few weeks back, there is Peter, the solid rock-like leader of the Jesus’ discipleship team, proudly proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth to be God’s Messiah. What a proud moment for Pete. Mr. Rock even adds that he alone will be found faithful to Jesus, even when all the rest of the others will desert Him. He is, from his perspective, willing to face death squarely in the face, for the cause of Christ.
Cue the applause sign.
Now, take that boisterous confession and fast-forward to an early Friday morning, Passover 33 AD, just outside the High Priest’s office in Jerusalem. Now we find a much different Peter. One that hides behind the bushes, denying this same Christ He once proudly proclaimed. Not once, not twice, but three times, Peter retreats from his proud proclamations, all before the rooster crows out the Friday morning sunrise.
If we read the Gospels carefully, all twelve of these once-proud men deny the Christ, retreating from their self-appointed assignments as leader. Men who at one time were found regularly arguing over the highest chair, are now scattering to the wind like lowly cockroaches. Think of it. Not one of them stands strong as their rabbi is taken from them, stripped naked, beaten to a pulp, and crucified on a cross.
And to make matters worse, even after some of the women in their group come to them with the report that the Great Rabbi has been resurrected from the grave, none of these brave ‘leaders’ can believe it. Instead, they decide to hunker down inside an upper room, fearing for their very lives.
No wonder we find Peter here, the group’s once-proud leader, dejected and humbled, ready to throw away all of those silly Jesus’ promises of the past. As I see it, Pete is ready to go back to the life he once knew. The only certain thing he knew he could do without screwing things up. Fishing.
But wouldn’t you know it.
Here’s Pete and his buddies, looking to forget the last three years of failure, hoping instead to get back into the one profession they knew they could trust. And just as Murphy’s Law would have it: the first night back at fishing and nothing! Nada. Not a fish in sight. Not even a tiny minnow. Gosh, guys, even our attempt at fishing fails! Oy Vey!
And it’s into this sad fishing scene, the Great Rabbi appears.
‘Catch anything?’ Jesus calls out, tongue in cheek.
Keep in mind that Jesus knows full well that these losers are out there in their fishing boats catching absolutely nothing!
“Try the other side of the boat,” Jesus yells.
And just like it happened three years earlier, as the disciples act on the Great Rabbi’s heaven-sent suggestion, bingo, it’s fish heaven!
Just then, the aroma of fresh-cooked fish and hot bread floats across the water, hitting the nostrils of these hungry fishermen like nothing else could!
“It’s the Master,” John cries out.
Pete takes the bait, and lunges into the water, getting to shore faster than anyone else. (Once a leader, always a leader, I guess!)
In one fell swoop; the Master now has the undivided attention of these twelve once-proud-but now-truly-humbled ‘leaders’ once again.
And now, let the holy reinstatement begin.
My prayer: Lord, this story of how You reinstate Your dear friends when they are on the verge of quitting, touches me deeply. I see how their journey from being a high-and-mighty leader to a re-instated loser is the journey You desire for all of us. I receive this same call to die to my personal ambitions of becoming a dynamic leader so that I might become Your re-instated follower. For Your name’s sake.
My questions to ponder: So where are you in the ‘leadership’ journey Jesus has for you? Are you still working diligently at being the dynamic, self-appointed leader who loves to argue with others over the highest position next to Jesus? Or have you moved on to the valley of disappointments and failures? The humbling stage where Jesus shows us how un-faithful and un-worthy we really are when the chips are down? Regardless of the place you find yourself today, be encouraged that once you and I run out of our own strength, Jesus is there on the shore, cooking up some fresh fish and bread. Inviting us to sit with Him and re-learn the fine art of followership. Can you smell the rich aroma?
So what is God speaking to you today? Are you practicing the Kingdom presence of God?
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