Gone Fishin’

John 21:1-14 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.

6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

“Gone fishin’!”

That’s the proverbial vacation sign, isn’t it? The sign on the door of the business that’s closed because we need to get away, to spend some time alone, to clear our minds, to rest and recover from the hustle and bustle of life.

Maybe for you it isn’t fishing. Perhaps it is golf, or biking, or gardening, or a good book, or a good movie, or something else. You just need to get away and do something completely different for a while.

Gone fishin’!

That’s what seven of the disciples needed to do. The past few weeks had put them through the wringer. They had experienced so many emotional ups and downs. Three of them enveloped in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus’ grand Palm Sunday entrance. Then His arrest at the hands of the temple guards. The disciples had run away in fear. One of them was so scared that he got away by leaving his cloak behind. Then the horror of the crucifixion. The confusion brought on the empty tomb. The exhilaration of seeing Jesus alive again.

They are drained. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.

So they go to Galilee. Perhaps because it was home. Perhaps for safety away from the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple guards who were still searching for them. Perhaps because of the message of the angels to the women at the tomb that Jesus was going before them to Galilee and they would see Him there (Mark 16:7).

Tired in body, tired in mind, tired in soul, they need some R&R: rest and relaxation. Maybe the splash of the waves and the smell of the sea would put some life back into them.

When they get there, Simon Peter announces, “I’m going fishing.” This doesn’t mean just sitting in a boat for a couple of hours with a rod and reel, drinking beer. No, when Peter and the boys go fishing – they go fishing! They haul out the net – most of them are commercial fishermen, remember. They get in a boat big enough for all seven of them. They are out all night. Not really relaxing their bodies. But trying to relax their minds.

You know how hard it is to turn off your mind; to disengage your thoughts. It’s one thing to put your body in a place of rest. It’s another to get your mind to cooperate. Thoughts and memories, worries and concerns, fears and troubles keep intruding, don’t they? Perhaps that’s the way it was for these seven disciples. Peter feels physically ill because of his denials. Thomas is still embarrassed by his doubting. James and John are still kicking themselves for having asked for places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom … right before He died. 

They have been fishing all night, but they catch nothing. They can’t even do that right.

But then they hear a voice from the shore. “Hey guys, do you have any fish?” Proud fishermen probably would have been upset at such a question, but they are too tired, too preoccupied, to get angry. They don’t have the strength of mind or body to get angry. What’s the use? So they simply answer, “No.” They have nothing.

You know what that’s like, too, don’t you? To come back empty-handed. You’ve tried hard. You wanted to succeed, even a little. You try to be such a good parent at home but you end up being irritated. You try to be a good employee. You even try to be a good Christian – the kind of Christian your risen Lord would be proud of! Someone devoted to Word, constant in prayer, always patient, kind, gentle, and in control. But at the end of the day … you’ve got nothing. You yelled at your kids again. You feel like your work environment sucks the life out of you. You put your prayers off again until you forget about them. The Scriptures stayed on the shelf. You were the opposite of patient, kind, and gentle with your spouse this morning. Maybe you even went through a whole day without even thinking about Jesus once!

Nope. You’ve got nothing. You’re a failure. Again.

And everything piles on. Heavier guilt. Greater irritation. Bigger arguments. Worry compounded by fear compounded by pain. More sleepless nights.

You try to relax, to get some R&R, to calm your mind and rest your body. But everything just keeps pulling you further and further away from Jesus.

And then … there is Jesus. Standing on the shore. Waiting for you.

We have nothing to bring to the table. But that’s OK. Jesus already has the table set for you. He gives the disciples a miraculous catch of fish. And that’s awesome! But Jesus doesn’t need it. He already has a fire going on the shore, complete with fish and bread.

“Come and have breakfast.” That is Jesus’ invitation to the disciples. Jesus turns the beach into a banquet hall. His disciples are the guests of honor. Just as Jesus fed the 5,000 on the hill with only a little bread and fish, so He provides a meal of fish and bread for His disciples. To eat and have their fill. To feast with Jesus and enjoy their time with Him. With no sense of hurry. Jesus doesn’t have to rush off. He is here for them.

“Come and have breakfast.” That is Jesus’ invitation to you. He turns your church into a banquet hall. You are the guests of honor. You are invited to a feast. But not on bread and fish, but on the very body and blood of the risen Lord. To eat and have your fill. Not to fill your stomachs, but to fill your faith. To feast with Jesus and on Jesus. To enjoy your time with Him.

You come with nothing. You confess: “Holy and merciful Father that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.”

You tell Jesus about your denials. You confess your doubts to Him. You admit all the times you ran away from confrontation because of your Christian faith. You lay it all on the line. Nothing in your hand you bring. Only to the cross of Christ you cling.

The failure of the disciples doesn’t make Jesus leave. In fact, it is the very reason Jesus is there! Jesus doesn’t leave because of your failures, either. It is for failures like you and me that He seeks us out, invites us to sit down, and enjoys a meal with us.

While you may need a rest, Jesus doesn’t. After He rose from the dead, Jesus didn’t hang a sign outside the tomb saying, “Gone fishin’!” Jesus did not rise from the dead for some R&R. The entire thirty-three years of His life was about Jesus working for our salvation. He rested for three days in the grave. Then He rose from the dead to continue that work for us.

It was by a charcoal fire when Peter denied the suffering Jesus. Now it is by a charcoal fire where the resurrected Jesus restores His denying, deserting, fallen disciples.

No matter how many times you have denied Jesus with your words. No matter how doubted His actions in your life. No matter how you ran away and hid from Christ’s enemies. No matter your blatant sinful actions. No matter your weak sinful inactions. You have stood by the charcoal fire and let down your Lord and Savior. That’s why you need a rest so badly. Your conscience won’t let you rest.

But Jesus will.

The good news is that Jesus is by that charcoal fire. He is calling you over to Himself. He picks you up when you have fallen. He makes you His brother or sister in Christ, even though you are a failure. He gives you love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness, even though you are devoid of any of those gifts on your own. He forgives all your sins of action and inaction. He refreshes you with His presence. He relaxes you with His peace.

The resurrected Jesus with His meal, peace, and presence, changes you. It changed each one of the disciples. It changed Peter. When Jesus first called His disciples into His ministry, He had produced for them a miraculous catch of fish. Peter shrank back in holy fear. Peter’s sinfulness and weakness were glaring in the presence of the purity and power of Christ. At that time, Peter fell on his knees and said to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).

This time, when John says to Peter, “It is the Lord!”, Peter is not afraid. This time, he can’t wait to get to Jesus. He jumped into the water and swam the one hundred yards to shore. He had to get to Jesus as fast as he could. Before Easter, Peter knew only the weight of his sin. Before Easter, Peter is afraid to be in the presence of God. Before Easter, Peter tells Jesus to leave. But now … after Easter – after He has seen and touched His resurrected Savior – now Peter is not afraid. The weight of his sin has been removed. He has been restored as an apostle of the risen Jesus. He has been tasked to feed Jesus’ sheep and lambs (John 21:15-17).

Jesus ministered to Peter and the other disciples so He could send them out to do His ministry.

The time for R&R on the fishing boat was over. It was time to get to work for Jesus.

As Christians, we find our R&R in Jesus. His presence. His peace. His forgiveness. His resurrection. His holy meal. Jesus meets with us in the banquet hall of our church so that He can minister to us with Word and Sacrament. He ministers to us He can send us out to do His ministry.

So maybe there will times when you need to just “Go fishin’!” That’s good. Rest while you are fishing or golfing or laying on the beach. Especially relax in the peace, light, and joy of Christ’s forgiveness in church. Through this, Jesus will be with you. He will feed you. He will refresh and restore you for His ministry work. Amen.

Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (Ephesians 6:23)