Imagine how Peter and the other disciples must have felt in the immediate aftermath of Easter. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ had changed human history, but they were fearful and doubtful. Maybe they were simply coming back down to earth after all that happened. Jesus had clearly told them to go to Galilee, back to where they had first met Him, and wait for Him. Maybe they were a bit apprehensive. Maybe there was a positive air of excitement.
Whatever they were feeling, Peter, still the leader, decides to go fishing. Nothing else seemed to be happening and he might as well get on and do something constructive. His companions decided to do the same: “We will come with you,” they said.Now some people see the return of the disciples to the fishing boats as sign of denial, of giving up on all that they had learned and done over the past three years they were with the Lord (Nathaniel, doesn’t think anything good can come from Nazareth, and Thomas was the loyal pessimist) – so they return to “worldly ways”. Others, meanwhile, think they’re getting hungry and decided to get on and do something while they were waiting. They needed a breath of fresh air. They needed to take their minds off things. After all, they haven’t had any firm instructions yet and are not really confident enough or equipped enough to get on with the task of evangelism which will shortly be theirs.
The thing is it’s night time. We might think it’s a strange time to go fishing? However, Peter was experienced enough to know that it must be a good time so we trust his wisdom. However, it turned out to be unsuccessful, because “that night they caught nothing.” Imagine now how they must have felt! First they failed as disciples; now they couldn’t even catch one fish. Then at dawn a stranger on the shore arrives, Jesus in control as always, taking the initiative, bringing His light into their darkness. With a friendly shout, He calls them “friends” (in GNB it says “young men” which corresponds in English to “Hi lads!”), but He already expects a negative answer: for He says, “You’ve caught no fish, have you?” – and they sadly agree. “Put the nets down on the other side”, He replies. And a miracle! It works and the nets fill with many fish that makes it difficult to haul them in – without the nets ripping!
There are some amazingly inventive theories as to the significance, the sacred geometry, of the number 153. I’m not going to entertain them now, except to say that the specific number of fish, I think, is a clue that the author, John the Son of Zebedee, the beloved disciple, was an eyewitness. Actually, the vast number of fish is typical of Jesus and the super-abundance of His provision, like turning gallons of water into wine, or feeding the 5,000. It serves as a sign to wake the grumpy, tired disciples up. And their mood turns to joy, as one of them recognises: “It is the Lord!” That’s such a profound theological statement isn’t it? Jesus is the Risen Lord who soon will sit on a beach and share a meal with His group of disciples whom He has called to be His Church in the world. The life application for us from this text primarily is that the resurrection of Jesus is the meeting point for all who seriously seek God and the peace and certainty that He offers. When we reach that point, then like the disciples, we won’t need to ask who Jesus is, because we know it is the Lord.
Peter knew right away and he jumps out of the boat and makes for shore. He takes his shirt with him, because in Jewish law, it was unthinkable to greet anyone in a state of undress – let alone your Lord and Master. Don’t you love his passion and intensity? His heart is so captivated by Jesus that he plunges ahead, come what may, thinking nothing of a 100 metre swim back to shore. It’s about coming to Jesus, who energises us, putting Him first above all other concerns. Although Peter was convinced of the reality of the resurrection, he still at this stage regarded himself as a failure. We’ve all struggled with the feelings of failure too — particularly with regards to faith. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “I’m not a good enough Christian.” But what’s really interesting in this passage is that even when the disciples are engaged in fishing, and not preaching and teaching or healing the sick – they are still disciples.This is where the encouragement lies for us, I believe. Sometimes we have a tendency to complicate things when it comes to serving the Lord. Everyday life isn’t about the spectacular. It’s a humdrum routine. Looking after family, washing, cooking, sitting at a desk, at the wheel of a car, talking with neighbours – all that kind of thing. But we can still witness by our lives to the fact that Jesus is alive. He makes a difference in all kinds of situations, and especially in the everyday ones. With discipleship even if you’re struggling with confusion, discouragement or anxiety – remember that God is not a God of such things. He created us, loves us unconditionally and wants to free us from all our entanglements that we may be able to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. When things don’t go quite as expected and the fish seemed to have disappeared – we are still disciples.
Fishing was Peter’s idea but he jumped ship leaving the others lurched over the side dragging the nets in. When he gets to the shore, Jesus has breakfast prepared. He cooked and ate with them. He feeds His disciples with His risen life through loaves and fishes. He gives them strength to follow their true calling. Even though we might not always realise it, Jesus is there, getting involved in our lives. There may be other things that are taking up our time and our energy, things that are frustrating us, concerning us, annoying us, exciting us. We may have forgotten about Jesus for a while because of all these other things that are crowding in on us. But that doesn’t stop Jesus being there, watching us, trying to direct our efforts in the right direction.
This side of Easter is all about faith in resurrection; of being renewed, re-energised. Are we, like Peter, hurrying back to be restored? We have difficult times, where our response to adversity is to waver in our commitment to Christ. Church attendance can suffer. Bible study and prayer slacken. We might press on with our duties but without any Christian joy. If any of this describes you, hear the good news: Jesus hasn’t forgotten you. He still sees you as a disciple. He’s still there, even if you can’t make Him out terribly clearly at the moment. He’s not waiting with a rebuke, but with “breakfast” – spiritual nourishment, replenishment for your hungry soul. Be encouraged. The Risen Lord has chosen you and there are better things ahead if you’re prepared to be faithful, repent and re-commit yourself to Christ now.