Story 202: Going Fishing

John 21:1-14

VATICAN CITY - SEPTEMBER 21: The Great Catch of Fish mosaic in the St. Peter's Basilica on September 21, 2013 in Vatican City, Italy. One of the world's most visited sacred sites with 7 Million annual visitors.

VATICAN CITY – SEPTEMBER 21: The Great Catch of Fish mosaic in the St. Peter’s Basilica

The Lord told His disciples that He would meet them up in Galilee, so they journeyed there, staying in Peter’s old hometown along the Sea. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John, and two of the other disciples were all together. At some point, Peter decided he wanted to get busy. “‘I’m going fishing.’” The rest of the men jumped up and said, “‘We’re coming, too!’”

The men made their way out to the boats and spent the night out on the water. Imagine the inky black sky overhead. Were there a million stars shining in the stillness? Was there a layer of clouds hovering down over the dark, surrounding hills? Imagine the gentle breeze and the sounds of water brushing up against the boats as they rocked gently on the Sea.

It was a quiet night for fishing. The men didn’t catch anything. The long hours crept by. Did they talk about the events that they had so recently gone through? Did they sit in quiet, pondering these things in their own minds? Did they watch the dawn come as the sun began casting early glimpses of himself on the horizon? We aren’t sure of all the details, but there is one thing the Apostle John did tell us: There was still no fish. Then someone noticed that there was a man standing on the shore. It was Jesus, but the disciples didn’t recognize Him.

“‘Friends!’” the Lord called out. “‘Haven’t you caught any fish?’” What an odd thing to call out in the peace of the crisp, early morning.

“‘No,’” they answered. What a disappointing night. Everything in their lives seemed like one big wait. When would they arrive at what they were waiting for? When would the outpouring come?   Where was Jesus?

The man on the shore said, “‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’” Now, truly, that was an odd thing to say. How in the world would this guy know that there were fish on the right side of the boat? And if there were, why wouldn’t there be fish on the left side of the boat as well?

But the men followed the man’s advice and threw out their nets.   And for doing this senseless act, they were mightily blessed. There was a massive number of fish swarming in the waters. The nets captured so many of them that they were too heavy to haul on board.

This story was feeling strangely familiar to John, the disciple that Jesus loved so much. He looked at Peter, his old fishing partner. Did he remember, too? Finally, John said, “‘It’s the Lord!’”
The instant Peter heard that, he knew it was true. And true to form, he could not possibly wait for the boat to be pulled to shore. He grabbed his outer garment and tied it around his waist. Then he dove into the frigid water.

The rest of the disciples rowed the boats to shore, dragging the nets along behind them in the sea. They did not have to go far. They were only about a hundred yards from the beach.

By the time they landed, they noticed that the smell of a campfire was in the air. Jesus had made a fire with burning charcoal. Some fish were already cooking and there was some bread as well. Jesus was making them breakfast. There was Jesus, in His risen body, doing the most common work possible. It was not beneath His dignity to make food for His friends. Even in the life of eternity, service and work is honorable. Even for God Himself. What a wholesome, simple meal He provided there on the beach!

Now, there is something interesting we should know about in this story. The authors of the New Testament first wrote it in the Greek language. Often, they would use very special words to help the reader understand when an idea was especially important. This word “charcoal” that was used in this story was used only one other time in the New Testament. The first time it appears was in the story when Peter was warming himself by the fire during Jesus’ trial. This charcoal had a very potent smell that would have filled the night air. It was the very smell that filled Peter’s lungs as he was denying his Lord.

The second and only other time that word for charcoal was used in the New Testament was here, in this story, as Jesus met with His disciples once again. The same smell came wafting up as Peter stood on the seashore with Christ, waiting for the rest of the disciples to pull up. Was Jesus purposely bringing that painful memory alive? Why?

As the boat pulled up, Jesus said, “‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’” Peter climbed on board and dragged the nets to the beach. There were 153 fish in that bulging net. Apparently, they counted. But even with so many, it did not break.

Imagine the how the disciples felt as they got out of the boat. This was the third time they had seen Him since His death. There stood the Man who was killed in the most graphic, public death of their lifetime. Yet it was their own Lord and Master. Now He was alive before them with strange powers that somehow shifted the laws of nature. He was God. They expected Him to come in victory and power, but not like this! What does one do before a Holy God, especially when He is cooking you fish?

Jesus told them. He said, “‘Come, have breakfast.’” Jesus still hadn’t introduced Himself. His disciples were sure it was Him, and they didn’t have the courage to ask. Jesus took the bread and gave some to each of them. Then He handed out the fish.

The entire nation of Israel would have been fascinated by that little gathering along the shore of the Sea. But Jesus was not there to satisfy human curiosity for the novel and unique. He had come to those who loved Him. He had come to restore and strengthen and prepare them. One day, every one of them would come home to be with him in His Kingdom. They would reign with Christ in Heaven. But before that glorious time came, there was a task ahead. And for this task, Peter would be called upon to take the lead.


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