Summary: Before Jesus ascends, the disciples get a crash course on what is needed to carry on the ministry of Jesus to which they have been called--and they just thought they were going fishing.
John 21:1-19 “Lessons on Obedience and Forgiveness”
The school year is drawing to a close. Both students and teachers are talking about the end of school and are looking forward to the summer break. Before the end of school can occur, though, students must take the dreaded final exams. The final exams will clearly show if the students have been paying attention during the course of the year and if they have learned what was necessary for them to learn.
The disciples, in this gospel story, are in the midst of their final exams. Jesus has risen from the dead, but he is not constantly with them like he was during his earthly ministry, and soon he will be ascending to be with God the Father. Before Jesus goes, he needs to be sure that the disciples have been paying attention during the three years that they walked with him and that they are ready to take up his ministry—the ministry to which they are called.
In this gospel passage, the disciples are reminded of two vital elements of lives of discipleship—obedience and faith. They are Christian characteristics of which we need to be reminded, also.
Jesus appeared to the disciples twice with in the first week of his resurrection. After giving the disciples peace and the Holy Spirit, and telling them that he is sending them out as the Father had sent him out, he leaves. The disciples become impatient.
One of the most difficult tasks of the Christian life is waiting upon God. The disciples are not up to the task. They decide that they want to get out of that upper room and out of Jerusalem. So, they head toward Galilee and the Sea of Galilee or as it is called by John, the Sea of Tiberias.
Once they arrive at the Sea of Tiberias, it doesn’t take impulsive Peter long to decide that he’s going fishing. The other disciples decide to follow him.
Some fishermen will try to convince others (after they have had a non-productive fishing trip) that the act of fishing is more important than catching fish. These people are really not telling the truth. Catching fish is infinitely better than going through the motions of fishing any day of the week. The disciples didn’t catch a thing.
The disciples learned an important lesson. Patience is needed in the Christian life. Running ahead of God simply doesn’t work. When we run ahead of God we will not get the results that we expect or that God wants.
The disciples fish all night with no success. They are experienced fishermen who were completely duped.
As the night begins to turn to dawn, the disciples notice a man on the shore—they are only about one hundred yards off shore. The man asks them if they caught anything, and they truthfully reply, “No.” The man instructs them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.
The instructions that the man gives them are ridiculous. It is now day, and one does not fish during the day because the fish are no where to be found. The other side of the boat is the side toward deep water. The disciples’ nets are meant to be used in shallow water. Still, the disciples obey. They cast their nets into the deep water and the catch a great number of fish—153 to be exact.
The disciples learn another lesson. Obedience is an important part of the Christian life. It is not about us; our will or our great ideas. The Christian life is about God and doing God’s will. When we are obedient to the guidance of the Holy Spirit great things will happen. Though there is much discussion on the meaning of 153 fish, it does seem to foretell the worldwide reception of the Christian message.
The story ends with Jesus talking with Peter. Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. Peter replies three times that he does. You may recall that just before the crucifixion Peter denied Jesus three times. It is universally agreed that Jesus’ words, “Feed my sheep,” and “Tend my flock,” were words of forgiveness and reinstated Peter to active ministry.
We can only imagine what was going through the minds of the disciples and especially Peter when they had breakfast that morning with Jesus. None of them had acted heroically on the night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, or when Jesus hung on the cross. Basically, they ran and hid. Peter stayed around and denied Jesus. All of them had acted shamefully. They had sinned and needed to be forgiven.
God not only wants to have a relationship with us, God also wants us to have abundant lives of service. God knows that when we are burdened with guilt and shame our relationship with God is strained and our service is severely limited. Because of this, Jesus died, and through the cross of Jesus Christ God forgives us our sins and empowers us for service. We may not be perfect, but we are forgiven.