Summary: This incident probably reminded the disciples of the time 3 years earlier when Jesus asked them to cast their nets again. That was the time when he first called them to be fishers of men.
The disciples have seen the resurrected Jesus, alive and well. He appeared to them on the evening of Resurrection Sunday (20:19) – Easter Day. On that occasion He commissioned them – He authorised them to go – saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (20:21); and he then appeared to them a second time a week later and dealt with the doubts of Thomas who had not been with the others the first time that Jesus had appeared (20:24).
Jesus appears to His disciples a third time (21:14). On this occasion it is at the Sea of Tiberius (21:1) also known as Lake Galilee and the disciples have spent a whole night fishing in their boats, but catching nothing (21:3). I wonder what situations you have been in where you have done what’s needed, but the results have been zero - a whole night of fishing but not one fish; hours, weeks, years trying to build a relationship but no response; nothing to show for your effort.
In the morning Jesus stands on the shore. The disciples don’t recognise him but even so, when he speaks they respond with obedience (21:4-6). “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some [fish]”. And when they did, they were unable to haul the net in to the boat because of the large number of fish; and it was then that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and the author of John’s gospel said to Peter, “It is the Lord” (21:7). The results of their obedience were clearly the work of Jesus, and it is very likely that they will have remembered another occasion about three years earlier - before they were disciples of Jesus – when Jesus had asked them to go back into the water after a fruitless night of fishing. On that occasion (Luke 5:1-11) their nets began to break (v6), and their boats were so full of fish they began to sink (v7) and they were astonished at their catch of fish (v9); and that was when Jesus had said to them, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men” (v10). They left everything to follow him (v11).
Three years earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would be fishing for men and women. Now, he has reminded them of their calling by saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”; and by once again filling their nets with fish. The only difference is that this time, even with so many fish the net was not torn (21:11).
When the disciples landed Jesus had already prepared some cooked fish for them, along with bread (21:9). The miraculous catch of fish – known and directed by Jesus – was then added to the fish that Jesus Himself had already prepared; and this is a picture of the actions of the risen Lord Jesus in His Church today. Each one of us is called to serve Jesus in a whole variety of ways. Every baptised Christian is called to serve, without exception, and if you’re thinking, “OK. How can I serve?” come and have a chat with me or a Christian friend. Jesus needs every member of His Church to be serving.
Like the disciples we are all called to fish for people for the kingdom. We are called to show compassion, bring healing, bring comfort, and be Jesus to men, women and children for the kingdom. Sometimes we can spend a lot of time fishing – a lot of time trying to do something – without any results; and perhaps Jesus is drawing alongside us to say, “Throw your net over there. Get involved with those people. Telephone that person, visit that neighbour, and use your money for the kingdom of God.” Perhaps Jesus says to us, “Drop your nets again! Do something you did before even though it failed then. Do it again because I am asking you.” Many Churches say we’re not doing that because we tried it before and it didn’t work. Jesus says, “Drop your nets where and when I ask you to.”