It’s a Miracle! Sermon Series – #5: Go Fish!

SCRIPTURE – John 21:1-14 –  After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards[b] off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

It’s a Miracle! Sermon Series
#5 – Go Fish!
John 21:1-14
Nov. 16, 2014

Does this miracle story sound a bit familiar? If you were with us when this series started a few weeks ago, you may recognize some similarities to the story we look at in Luke 5, where the disciples, after a long night of fruitless fishing, are encouraged by Jesus to try again, and end up hauling in a catch of fish so big that their boat couldn’t hold them all. Jesus calls them to follow him, promising they will become fishers of people. It must have been so exciting at the beginning of their time with Jesus, setting sail on a journey with this rabbi from Nazareth who just might be something more than just a rabbi from Nazareth.

So you see why the disciples may have had déjà vu in this story: the boats, the nets, the sound of the waves, a stranger calling out to them. Only this time, the circumstances couldn’t be more different. The first time, they were fresh, rugged, ready to drop their nets and follow Jesus. Now they are tired, emotionally raw, ready to drop their nets and just give up.

Two fish stories with many similarities, but canyons apart in the emotional state of Peter and the other disciples. They’ve just been through the most incredible three years of their lives: following Jesus, witnessing his miracles, listening to his teachings. They loved him beyond measure and had given up all they had to be with him. They just knew he was the Messiah. And then…he was arrested. And beaten. And brutally murdered. This was not supposed to happen! It was such traumatic experience for many of them that they ran away. Even Peter, the leader of the disciples, actually denied even knowing Jesus three times. They had all abandoned Jesus when he needed them most.

Then, John tells us, while the disciples are huddled together in a locked room, afraid that they might be the next ones on the cross, a resurrected Jesus appears to them and tells them not to be afraid. He tells them the Holy Spirit will be with them, and he even shows Thomas his wounds so that he would believe. Maybe the dream didn’t have to end. Maybe life would be different, even without Jesus.

And then, it was over. Jesus was gone. No more resurrection appearances, no idea of when the Holy Spirit was coming, no instructions on what to do next. Jesus simply says, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” To do what? “Wait, Jesus…that’s it? We need a little bit more detail in our marching orders.” What do they do now? They couldn’t stay in Jerusalem. The authorities knew they were friends with Jesus; the disciples might suffer the same punishment. But up until this point, they’ve only been followers of Jesus. Where do you go when you don’t have anyone to follow?

So they go home. What do you do after such a life-changing experience? Have you ever had some mountain-top moment, and then thought, “Wow, I’ve done it. Now what?” We look so forward to the accomplishment that we don’t even think about the letdown. I can remember going to a lot concerts while I was in college. The lights would dim, the band would start playing, we’d rock out for two hours, then they would leave the stage and the lights would come on and we’d all go, “Hmm. Oh well.” The very moment you say, “I doesn’t get any better than this,” that means it can only get worse from there.

The disciples had just lived three years of, “It can’t get any better than this.” And now it was over. What do you do after spending three years with Jesus? How in the world do you follow that? The disciples had no idea. So, with fear and sorrow still in their hearts, with their faces sagging, they simply go back to doing what they did before Christ filled their nets and called them out. “I’m going fishing,” said Peter, but it wasn’t really about fishing. You can almost hear the sigh of resignation in his voice. “I’m going fishing.” What else is there to do?

Remember, fishing for the disciples was more than just a diversion; it was how they made a living before Jesus came along. For many of them, it was the only thing they knew how to do without him. Jesus’ life on earth had ended, but theirs hadn’t, and they still had to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. So they go fishing. And even that is a letdown! The spend all night fishing and don’t catch a single fish, the feelings of failure as fishermen piled on top of their feelings of failure as disciples. Can you picture their mood when, in the morning, a stranger appears and says, “So fellas, catch any fish last night?” I have a feeling the disciples said a few choice words that didn’t make it into the Bible.

Then the stranger (we know who it is) invites them to do something quite peculiar. The disciples had spent the night fishing off one side of the boat. That was probably the way they had always done it. But the stranger says, “Throw your nets on the other side.” But what he was saying wasn’t really about fishing. He invites them to change their methodology, to see things from a different perspective. Do you know the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And a night of fishing without catching anything would surely drive someone insane. But this stranger told them to try something new, to see things from a new perspective.

When I was in college I took a photojournalism class. We were given these primitive 35-millimeter cameras to use, a Pentax K-1000. I was used to the cheap point-and-shoot cameras, so this was a learning experience for me. I shot my first roll of film and developed it in the darkroom. But when the images appeared on the paper, they were all blurry. I took them to my professor and said, “Look at these pictures. Something’s wrong with my camera.” And he said, “Did you adjust the focus?” And I said, “What’s the focus?” So I took the camera and held it up to my eye, and he turned the lens, and everything that was blurry came into focus. And I said, “Can I take those pictures again before you give me a grade?”

Sometimes, when seen through human eyes, life seems blurry, the path forward is out of focus. We can’t quite see things clear in our mind; we lack the clarity to understand why something is happening and where God is in the picture. Then Jesus invites us to turns the lens a bit, to see things, not through our own eyes, but through God’s eyes. And suddenly, things change. One moment things seem hopeless, the next you see possibilities you never saw before. One moment your problems seem too big to be budged and the next you discover handles on them you didn’t know were there. One moment the net is empty, the next it is full of fish. There’s something alive in there, where before there was nothing but emptiness and darkness.

But we can’t see these things if we keep doing the same things we were doing before Jesus turned the lens for us. I know of many people who had mountain-top experiences at church camp, who welcomed Jesus into their heart, and then went back to being the same jerks they were before church camp. I firmly believe that if we’re the same person after we meet Jesus as we were before we met Jesus, then we didn’t really meet Jesus. Because meeting Jesus changes you. It fundamentally turns the lens on life. Sorry turns to joy. Cynicism turns to optimism. Despair turns to hope. But if we go back to doing the same things we were doing, being the same people we were, we’re going to miss this whole catch of fish Jesus has waiting for us.

I don’t know that this story is an actual supernatural miracle. It could be, for sure. But the miracle of the fish in this story might be secondary to the miracle of the disciples not doing things the way they had always done them. You know how hard it can be to get church people to change? Lord have mercy! “We’ve been fishing all night! What’s different about the other side of the boat?” The difference is that’s where Jesus called them to be. What we have here, folks, is a call story, just like the first catch of fish. Because sometimes – like every day – we need to be reminded that Jesus has called us, and because of that, we can’t go back to doing the same old things. What is the other side of the boat for you? What’s a source of frustration or hopelessness for you that Christ can turn into an abundance of blessing?

The story ends with a meal of fish and bread, surely calling to the disciples’ mind another time by the seashore when Jesus took fish and bread and fed multitudes. In that story, when the disciples complained about the lack of food for the crowd, Jesus said, “You feed them.” Just after our story today, Jesus will tell Peter three times, “Feed my sheep.” For three years the disciples had been nourished by Jesus’ teachings and his presence with them. He had filled their spiritual nets to overflowing with his abundance love, and grace. How could they go back to they way things used to be? How could they just go fishing for fish? There were so many people who needed to be fed.

I believe we are here this morning because, somehow, Christ has touched our lives. Maybe we’ve had a relationship with Christ since before we can remember. Maybe we’re searching for the “after” story that goes with our painful “before” story. Maybe we’re not even sure if Jesus is real. But we’re here, to be among God’s people, to hear God’s call to us, to share a meal that reminds us of Christ’s presence.  After this, how can we go back to doing the same old things? What will you do differently after you leave this place? Christ has come into our lives and changed things at the deepest levels. There’s light where there use to be darkness; there’s fish where there used to be empty nets. We have been fed, and we’ll never go hungry.

Now, Christ says, there are a lot of other hungry people out there just waiting to be offered nourishment. It’s as simple as a friendly smile, or a compassionate ear, or a show of patience, or an invitation to church. Isn’t it amazing what we can see when once Christ turns the lens on our lives? Can you imagine what difference that could make in the life of someone else? Jesus has supplied you with the abundant catch. You’re not the person you were before. You are a walking miracle, the embodiment of Christ’s love and grace in this hurting world. So now what? Are you just gonna go fishing? You feed them.


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