Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples (John 21:1-14)
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.
- Peter and the Disciples are fishing
- They are throwing their nets to the left side of the boat.
- Not catching any fish
- A guy (that’s all he is to them) is on the shore and asks them if they have caught any fish
- Cast your nets to the right side
- Peter has de ja vu. This feels like the time Peter first met Christ
- Peter recognizes Christ.
- Maybe he’s embarrassed he didn’t recognize him.
- Like Adam, Peter changes his clothes when he recognizes Christ
- They end up catching 153 fish; could barely haul in the catch (the net was not torn)
- At that point it’s obvious to all of them who it is but no one dared to ask him
- Jesus invites them to breakfast
Surprisingly, fish appear only four other contexts in the New Testament.
- Calling the First Disciples
- Parable of the Nets
- Feeding of the crowd
- After teaching the Lord’s prayer Christ says
I think all of them are related in one way or another. I’m going to pull those four together to show what they tell us about what we, as Christians, should do to spread the Word of God.
Jesus Calls the First Disciples: Fishing is the Great Commission
The first time in the Gospel that fish are brought up is when Jesus calls the first disciples in the Book of Luke. James and John are fishing with Simon on his boat. Jesus tells Simon, to “let down your nets for a catch an put [the net] out into the deep and” when they put their nets in the deep, they catch so many fish that the nets were breaking. Jesus explains to the Disciples that they will no longer be catchers of fish. Instead, the Disciples will catch men.
When Jesus tells them they will become catchers of men, he is alluding to part of the Great Commission. The Great Commission tells us to spread the teachings of Christ to all the nations. To spread the Word of God they should cast their nets far and wide. If they do that, Jesus will fill their nets. But they will not break. In this way, the Church will grow.
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
Unfortunately, that’s not what’s going on when Jesus reveals himself the third time after the resurrection. Perhaps without Jesus with them physically, they have no one to follow. Without him, they’re not sure what to do or how to do it. The Disciples have returned to business as usual. They have literally “gone fishing.” They keep throwing their nets to the left side. They catch nothing again and again and again. They’re just doing what they know.
Perhaps they had the same mindset they expressed when Jesus first called them or when he fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 3 fish.
When Jesus calls the first Disciples. Simon first explained that they’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing. Why should it be any different if they through their nets any deeper?
Before Jesus fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. The Disciples had just told him, “Send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves?” In response, Jesus told them to “feed them.” But when Jesus told them to feed the crowd instead of turning them away, the Disciples did not believe they had enough food to feed so many.
When it comes to spreading the Word of God, maybe we have slipped into the same mindset. We’ve been doing the same thing all night and we haven’t caught anything. Why should it be any different if we through our nets deeper? Why should it be any different if we through our nets to the other side? How could we feed so many people when we have so little food? We may not like to admit but maybe we’ve adopted the same mindset as the Disciples first had before Jesus performed his miracles.
Parable of the Nets
In the Parable of the nets, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. Not just fish but “fish of every kind.” Every kind! Jews and Gentiles alike.
Who are the Jews and Gentiles today?
Pew Research: Religion in America
Let me tell you who are the Jews and the Gentiles today.
In 2014, the Pew Research Center talked to 35,000 people in English and Spanish across 50 states about their religious beliefs.
- Church attendance is dropping.
- Religious affiliation is dropping.
- There are a growing number of agnostics and atheists.
- Some are just “done” with religion
- It’s not all bad news.
- The decline in religious affiliation is matched by an increase of unaffiliated
- Pew calls the unaffiliated the “nones.”
- The “nones” represent about 25% of the population.
- Most of them describe themselves ”nothing in particular” but say religion is either “important” or very important.”
- Yes, America is becoming less religious. That’s the story we usually hear. But…
- 7 in 10 identify as Catholics and Protestants
- America has the largest Christian population in the world
- Two thirds of all Americans attend Church at least a few times a years.
- Three fourths of Americans believe in Heaven.
- 74% believe God determines what happens to them
- 75% of all Americans think religion is important in one’s life
- Three fourths of all adults pray
- Three fourths talk to God
- They’re out there. All kinds of fish! Of all nations!
- How do we find them?
- Not by going about business as usual.
- Not by doing what we’ve always done.
- We are not going to catch fish the same old way.
- It won’t work.
- We have to stop casting the net to the same side and expecting different results.
- Let’s try something different.
- Let’s do what Jesus asked the disciples to do.
- Let’s cast the net to the right side.
We don’t like to admit it. We are not that good at doing what Jesus asks us to do. Like Judas, we betray. Like Thomas, we doubt. Like Peter, we deny. All the disciples had their shortcomings.
I’ll be honest and tell you a fear I have in the back of my mind. I know some of you share the same fear. I think it’s important that we talk about our fears no matter how small. If we don’t they will grow and become monsters.
I and others fear if we spend our time going out into the community, we will not have enough time and love to care for own congregation. Time and love feel like a zero sum game. If I win then you lose. If I lose then you win. Remember there are only 153 fish!
There is a fear that we won’t attract any members. We won’t have enough to share when they visit. They will come and go. We won’t be able care for the ones who stay. We won’t retain our new members. We will neglect our current members. We will lose our old members. In one way or another, we won’t be able to love our brother and feed our family.
Brotherly Love is Sufficient
There’s an interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus at the end of the passage that we didn’t read. Jesus approaches Peter who denied him three times before his crucifixion.
Paralleling that, Jesus ask Peter three times whether Peter loves him. Agape is the love of God. Philia is brotherly love. In the passage, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me with the love of God?” Peter says he loves him with brotherly love. Again, Jesus asks him, “Do you love me with the love of God.” Peter says, he loves him with brotherly love. The third time Jesus asks him if he loves him as a brother. Peter confirms a third time that he loves him as a brother. One thing, I think Jesus is doing is testing Peter’s humility after he refused to believe that he could deny Jesus before he was crucified.
But I think another thing Jesus is saying that brotherly love is sufficient to do the work of Christ. What Jesus expects of us is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus uses the word agape in that expression. Love thy neighbor is an aspirational statement but brotherly love may be good enough.
Like Peter we cannot provide the same kind of love that God provides us. But love, even brotherly love, is not a zero sum game. Fishing will bring more fish. The loaves and fish we have are enough. More love creates more love.
Follow me, tend my sheep and feed my lambs
Every time Peter confirms his brotherly love for Christ. Christ directs him to, “Follow me. Tend My sheep… Feed my Lambs.”
- When the Disciples were first called, they chose to follow him without a second thought.
- When the disciples were asked to throw their nets deeper, they took a chance and threw them again letting them go deeper. Jesus filled their nets.
- When the Disciples were asked to cast their nets to the right side, they did it. Jesus filled their nets again.
- When the Disciples brought the loaves and fish, Jesus feed the crowd that the disciples wanted to turn away.
After teaching the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus asks if your child asks for fish, what parent among you will give him a snake.
If we bring the loaves and fish we have, Jesus will feed the crowd.
If we commit to throwing our nets deeper, if we throw our nets to all sides, the nets will be filled.
First, we have to fish!
Let Jesus do the miracles.
It is Jesus who will turn “wonder” into faith.
It is Jesus who will turn “nothing in particular” to something in particular.
It is Jesus who will open the hearts of those who are “done” with religion.
But, we must first do something else to attract those with doubts, those who deny and even those who betray. Thomas doubted. Peter denied. Judas betrayed. They were all Disciples. They were all called to serve Christ.
We must fish in all nations for all kinds of fish.
We must also do it in a new way and not the way we are familiar with.
We must throw our nets far and wide to all the nations.
We must throw our nets deeper to catch all kinds of fish.