John 21:1-14 A Fish Story

Miracle catch! A gift to be given back to the Giver.

John gives us a final story that my bible breaks into three sections. We will look at it that way too. This is John’s PS to his letter. I love this story and think John must have too to include it like he did.

The first thing that I noticed about this story is that this group of disciples were at loose ends. They didn’t have a direction yet. I don’t know if Jesus had given them the Great Commission yet but they hadn’t moved into the role of evangelism at this point. Our story has seven of them hanging out together with nothing pressing to do.

Peter decides to return to something familiar; he’s going fishing. This is at least something Peter knows how to do and does well. He had his own fishing company before leaving it to follow Jesus. Maybe it’s time to get back to what he knows. We don’t know from our story though if Peter was intending this to be a long term vocation again or simply one night out on the water.

The other disciples hanging out with Peter think this sounds like a good idea too. With nothing else pressing, they say they will join in. James and John had been in business with Peter before so there is no surprise that they are game to join in. We don’t have vocations for the other disciples but since Jesus traveled with them by boat a LOT, I imagine they were familiar with the sea too. So off they go to the Sea of Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee. A very familiar place for them.

All night long they fished. They did everything trained fishermen knew how to do to receive a catch. They worked so hard that Peter even stripped down to the bare essentials in clothing. But there was not a fish to be had that night.

By morning the group is discouraged and exhausted. I’m sure this wasn’t the only night in their career that they came home empty handed but tonight was a little more discouraging than any other time. They had been seeking more than fish that night. They had been seeking direction. Should they go ahead and go back to their old lives? Jesus had been gone for some time and they were feeling a lost for direction. What did He want them to do now? They needed some kind of sign.

A voice from shore calls out to this discouraged group. “Children, do you have any fish?” (verse 5). What did they think about being called “children?” Was this a normal greeting? Did they assume the one calling to them was an elderly person? They didn’t even connect that it was Jesus referring to them as God’s children.

Without responding to the title they answered the question honestly. “No.”

Instead of dropping the matter the caller gives them instructions on where to find the fish. Now I’m not a fisherman but I would assume that they had been casting their nets on both sides during the long unproductive night of fishing. John doesn’t tell us that they hesitated or only did as the caller told them as a courtesy. John simply says they complied. I think there would probably have been some grumbling along with that action if I were in the boat. “’Cast your net on the right side’ he says. What does he think we have been doing all night? Fishing on one side only? How dumb does he think we are?” I can fully see those thoughts running through at least a few minds as they throw out the nets one more time. I also think they weren’t expecting to catch anything. “Just to keep the old man happy we will do it one more time. After we haul in the empty net AGAIN we will see what he has to say then.”

So out go the nets, one more time. But this time something amazing happens. The nets are being weighed down with so many fish that they can’t haul them up! John is the first one to recognize this as a miracle and who the Miracle Worker on shore was. “It is the Lord!” (verse 7). “Peter, it’s the Lord! He is the one who called to us! He is the one who made this catch possible!”

Peter’s first reaction is to cover himself. He made himself presentable first, then he hurried off to meet up with Jesus. Peter had been stripped for work and had no qualms about being seen that way by his fellow fishermen but not by Jesus. He was ecstatic about seeing Jesus again, but not in his present state.

Having quickly accomplished redressing, Peter doesn’t wait for anything else. He doesn’t think about the catch. He doesn’t consider the difficulty of wading to shore. He doesn’t even consider the others in the boat and their desire to get to Jesus. Peter rushes headlong into the sea to be at Jesus side. I wonder if Peter beat them to shore by very much. They all came too but they were bringing along the bounty that He had provided for them.

When they get to shore they notice that Jesus already has a fire made up with fish and bread on it. But Jesus tells them to bring some of their catch too. We know the amount of fish and bread was no problem for Jesus when it came to feeding the whole group, so why did He tell them to bring some of theirs? Was this symbolic? I don’t know.

Once again though, Peter is Johnny on the spot. Peter runs over to the boat and hauls the net ashore. This is the same net he left behind in his rush to get to Jesus. The net full of fish would have meant so much to Peter earlier in the night but it was abandoned so easily. Now that Jesus had need of it, its importance returned. Peter no longer wanted the fish to provide an income for himself and his fellow fishermen, but he was more than ready to use what Jesus had provided in service to Him.

I believe that is the point God wants to share with me tonight. He gives the gifts. They may be something that we have searched for and honed for years. But when the time is right, usually after we see how inadequate we are to do it on our own, He gives us exactly what we need. Only when we hold the Giver higher than the gift can we turn loose of it and serve Him and His people with it instead of serving ourselves.

One last thing I noticed in this section of the story is that Jesus didn’t look like He did during His previous appearances to His disciples or how He looked in life. I say this for two reasons. He was only about 100 yards away and His disciples didn’t recognize Him. Also when He invited them to breakfast they didn’t recognize His face. They recognized Him by His actions and authority instead. They KNEW Him but didn’t know his face. “Now none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’ They knew it was the Lord” (verse 12). Why was His face unfamiliar to them? Why did He choose a different form? I think this may be one of my “bench questions” when we meet face to face.

Jesus, thank You for the gifts You provide for me. Please help me always turn them back over to You in service. Thank You that You use the things I know too. Peter wasn’t told to construct a building. He was told to bring some of the fish he had. Thank You that I could use what You have instilled in me this week in service to another. Thank You for letting me be Your hands and feet. Forgive me for the times I try to take Your glory or push my agenda. Lead me in YOUR paths.

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