A Bragging Fisherman
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Jesus used this experience at the Sea of Galilee as an object lesson. It symbolized the disciples’ future work. They were to be fishers of men. Many “nights” of disappointment would be their lot, but ultimately there would be success.
Difficult nights are some of our best growing times. God sometimes lets us fail to make us quit striving in our own strength. Failure often drives us to trust in God. The Lord will hold back His blessing until we are obviously aware of, and deeply concerned about, our lack of blessing.
One truth becomes quickly apparent in Christian living: if God withholds His blessing, all our labors are in vain. “Let us remember that we have done nothing until we have prayed over what we have done, let us consider that all the seed we have put into the ground is put there for worms to eat, unless we have dropped into the soil the preserving grain of prayer to keep that other grain alive” (Spurgeon). Since more needed to be learned from this event, the lesson continued.
John 21:7b (Holman) When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer garment around him (for he was stripped) and plunged into the sea.
While tugging on the net, Peter could think about only one thing, save all those fish. One whisper in his ear from John changed this. Others could drag in the fish, Peter was going to be with Jesus.
Fishermen wore only loin cloths when working. Out of respect to Jesus, Peter threw on his outer garment, and then dove in. Suddenly there was a huge splash. We would have known who it was had his name not been given. Had anyone else done this, it would have been awkward, ungraceful. But, since it was Peter, everyone understood. No ship in the world would have been able to hold Peter.
John was a seer, a lover; Peter was a doer. John was full of love, Peter full of zeal. Simon did not want to wait on a slow boat, but John’s heart was steady. The beloved disciple could stay in the boat because he knew Jesus would wait for them, but delay was not Peter’s style.
John 21:8 But since they were not far from land (about 100 yards away), the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish.
Since the others were only 100 yards from the shore, they soon arrived. This scene forecast what they were to do the rest of their lives. They would be fishers of men, bringing sinners to Jesus.
John 21:9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.
They reached land wet, weary, cold, and hungry. Jesus had made preparations to meet their needs. He who controls stars and oversees our world took time to care for seven tired fishermen. He prepared a fire to warm and dry them, a comfortable place to sit, plus fish and bread to eat. Jesus was ever thoughtful, ever compassionate. His followers should imitate His example.
The seven sensed something unearthly about this whole scene. It was obviously deeply imprinted on John’s memory. To the seven, this fire of coals was as mysterious as the burning bush. They may have felt they were approaching holy ground, and needed to take their shoes off.
Evidently this was an awkward moment for the seven. No one seemed to know what to do next. Thus Jesus redirected their thoughts for a moment.
John 21:10-11 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus told them. So Simon Peter got up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish – 153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Peter took the lead. Being a man of action, he was more than happy to have something to do. Idleness and contemplation always made him uneasy. That little fire may have been haunting him. The last time he sat by “a fire of coals” (John 18:18) near Jesus had been in the high priest’s palace. On that occasion Peter had warmed himself with Christ’s enemies. It was there he denied his Master. This was one moment he did not want to be reminded of.
Since this haul had to be divided among several men, it was counted. John, a typical fisherman, loved to preserve and tell the details of extraordinary catches. They had caught 153 large fish, but the net had not broken. This was a beautiful picture of the Gospel net! Thousands each day come to Christ, but the safety net never breaks. Jesus has not lost a soul yet. His net is never strained. It always has room for more.
John 21:12 “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus told them. None of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?” because they knew it was the Lord.
After the excitement of counting 153 fish, things returned to the former state of awe. Their Lord and their God wanted to be their servant. Had they been at home, their wives would have fixed their breakfast, but here, on a beach, Jesus performed this lowly role.
The disciples did not know how to act. Since Thomas’ confession, an awe about Christ’s deity had come over them. They did not want to be overly inquisitive, but each one wanted to ask, “Is it really you?” However, they knew it was a needless question to ask because there could be only one answer to the question. They could not deny what they were seeing. It was obviously Jesus.
John wanted everyone to know he and the other disciples believed Jesus rose from death because they had no other choice than to believe. They did not depend on hearsay or second hand information. No, Jesus himself came and gave them all the assurance they needed. They saw Him with their own eyes.
John was careful to emphasize this theme because Jesus’ Resurrection is the key-stone of Christianity. Disprove this one thing and our faith will crumble. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14).
The Resurrection proves our redemption has been accomplished. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17). If Jesus had stayed in the tomb, there would be no evidence God was satisfied with His payment for our sin debt. Thus we can see why nothing was more important to the Apostles than to prove the Resurrection occurred.
John 21:13-14 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after He was raised from the dead.
This was the third time Jesus had appeared to several of the disciples together, but this appearance differed from the other two. A miraculous catch of fish, Jesus assuming the role of a servant, His inviting them to eat with Him as His friends – the disciples were completely awed by the whole situation. They were too stunned to eat. Jesus had to prod them into taking food.
The disciples could not believe the love Jesus poured on them. As long as they lived, love would be the theme of their words about the crucifixion. Love was also the emphasis of their words about the Resurrection of Jesus.
Love is the main theme of the Resurrection as well as of the crucifixion. Before His crucifixion, the last time Jesus saw His disciples together they forsook Him and fled; and the last word He had heard from Peter was an oath and denial.
After the Resurrection, there were many less-than-pleasant names Jesus could have used to refer to the disciples, but when He spoke to Mary He called them “My brothers.” They had deserted him, and deserved scorn, but Jesus deemed them brethren. “Truly, Jesus is high, but not haughty” (Henry).
He loved them in deed as well as in word. After His resurrection, Jesus could have gone out to be alone in the wilderness, or He could have chosen to eat with angels, but He wanted to be with the disciples. He came to the upper room, to be where they were. It was a privilege they did not deserve. And when He spoke, He did not say, “Shame,” but rather “Peace.”
Even in the Resurrection narrative, we are reminded love is the greatest trait of all. God is love, and He still showers Himself on His followers. He still prepares a feast to delight us in our work, and continues to provide “times of refreshing” on Earth. And on the final Resurrection morning, we will all sit down to eat with Him.
Until then, remember, Jesus is here among us. Never take this blessed thought for granted. It evidences His great love for us.