Summary: Jesus appeared on the beach as an intervention to keep the disciples from missing out on Pentecost and going off-the-track of ministering to the entire world.
This is going to seem like a strange question, but how many of you have heard of “The Amazing Randi?” He was a stage magician, “mentalist,” and escape artist (in the tradition of Houdini). He once escaped from a block of ice and once escaped from a straitjacket while hanging upside-down over Niagara Falls. He once broke a record for staying underwater (in an air-tight coffin) for over two hours in a public pool in London, England. Today, he is something of a “debunker” who reveals the “tricks” behind some stage magic and alleged psychic powers. He even taught me a little trick I want to demonstrate. I’ve never tried it before, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. [Perform “Carnak” Trick where I pretend to know what’s in the envelopes before I open them.] It’s all about disclosure to remind us about Jesus revealing himself like when a message comes out of an envelope. We can’t really see it while it’s in the envelope and, apparently, the disciples still couldn’t see Jesus either.
But the real reason I bring up the Amazing Randi is that Penn Gillette is writing a biography of him and, in that biography, he has revealed that when the fellow was performing as a “mentalist” on-stage, he would awaken each morning and take a note out of his wallet, destroy it, write a new one, and put it in his wallet. The note essentially said: “I am James Randi. This is xx-xx-xxxx and today will be the day I die.” That way, IF he died on that day, someone would find the note, believe that he had accurately predicted the day of his death, and his legend would live on. That’s a lot of trouble to guarantee your legacy when you’re not, by definition, going to be around to enjoy it.
Today’s message is about legacies, too. In one sense, it’s about Jesus’ legacy because He was preparing both Peter and John, in particular, and the other disciples in general for continuing their ministries. In one sense it’s about Peter’s legacy and the fact that he would die a martyr’s death and John’s legacy when he allegedly lived a long, long time. In another sense, it’s about our legacy. Who is going to enter the Kingdom of God because of our faithfulness?
When we read John 21:1, we see that Jesus “shewed himself,” “revealed Himself,” “manifested Himself,” or even “clarified Himself” to the disciples. The evangelist uses the verb twice in verse 1 and again in verse 14 (when it says that this was the third time Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples after His resurrection). As far as the Gospel of John is concerned, the third time must have been the “charm” because he doesn’t recount any of the other appearances, even though Luke tells us in Acts 1:3 that Jesus kept appearing to them over the course of 40 days. Anyway, the Gospel of John uses this verb nine times in total and the Epistles of John use this verb nine times in total. Compared to the two times it is used in the other three gospels, it must have been an important verb to John.
The verb has the root idea of clarifying something that might be in obscurity. With the emphasis on Jesus “clarifying” Himself in this chapter, I would suggest that the main message here is that the disciples still don’t get it. The crucifixion is over, the resurrection is complete, everyone has seen Him, but they still don’t get it. Jesus went through all of this torture and torment on their behalf and for every human in history, and THEY don’t get it. Even after two other appearances, they still don’t recognize Him. But I emphasized the pronoun “THEY” for a reason. WE don’t get it. WE act just like those disciples, going our own way when God wants to use us and bless us. WE just look at the envelope and think we’ve got the message. But getting the message requires watching for Him and listening to Him in the Word on a regular basis.
In verse 2, we discover that there are how many disciples in the boat? I count SEVEN. It seems to me like the evangelist was going to a lot of trouble to let us know just how many disciples were in the boat. It wasn’t the whole TWELVE because they hadn’t replaced Judas yet. So, you couldn’t have 3*4 = 12, the divine times the created order for God and His creation in right relationship, but you have 3+4 = 7—that other symbolic number of God and His creation in right relationship. I truly believe that there were seven disciples in the boat so that the crew symbolically represented God’s people called to go out into the world and do God’s work. The only problem is that they aren’t OUT in the world doing what they were called to do. They were fishing, just like they did before Jesus came.