Well David’s been working through the end of the book of John the past little while, and we come up today to the text of John 21, verses 1 to 14. And this is the last chapter of the gospel of John. And at the end of every single one of the gospels, Matthew through John, Jesus, the resurrected Christ, comes and He calls people out and He sends people out. There’s always a commission at the end of each of the gospels. And if we had two hours to go through John 21 there are so many symbols and there are so many lessons and John doesn’t waste any words, every sentence is important, and it all pulls together around the idea of what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. And so we can only do it for the first fourteen verses this morning, so let’s do that. I’ll pray and then we’ll have a look. Let’s pray.
Father, we ask for help and we ask for help by the Holy Spirit as we read Your holy Word. And we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
John 21, verses 1 to 14:
“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 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 as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on 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 of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”
This is God’s Word.
There are four elements, four lessons this morning in this passage, of what it means to be a disciple, of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And we learn here that disciples are first empty handed fishermen. And they are people, second, who have been encountered. And third, who have heard the command to cast the net on the other side. And finally, who have been invited by Jesus to have breakfast on the beach. So let’s unpack this together.
Disciples are Empty Handed Fisherman
The first thing is, a disciple is an empty handed fisherman. Commentators are divided about the relationship between John chapter 20 and John chapter 21. And John 20, as we looked at on Easter Sunday, Jesus rises from the dead and then at the end He appears to the disciples all gathered together in a room. And in verse 21 He says, “Peace be with you. I’m breathing on you. I’m giving you the Holy Spirit. I’m sending you out. You can go forgive sins in the power of My name.” And so He says, “Go.” And that moment looks like Pentecost and it looks like Moses on top of Mount Sinai facing the fiery God in the midst of the fiery bush saying, “Go and get My people out of Egypt.” It’s a commission and it’s a fiery commission. He breathes on them and He tells them to go and forgive people in the name of Jesus.
And there’s oftentimes an unnoticed structure between 20 and 21 where the end of 20 and the beginning of 21 are parallel because at the end of 20 Jesus has a resurrection appearance, His first. He reveals Himself to the disciples gathered together in a room and He commissions them and then He turns and speaks just to one man, Thomas, doubting Thomas. In chapter 21, Jesus shows up, He reveals Himself to the group of the disciples, and He implicitly commissions them and then He turns to one man in the passage just after what we read, Peter. And Thomas was dealing with objective doubts – “I need to touch Your hands.” Peter dealing with subjective doubts – “I don’t know if I can be an apostle anymore because of the treason I’ve committed.” But do you see there is a deep connection for John in the structure between 20 and 21. They are meant to be read side by side.
And when you read 21, when you get to 21, the context there, the disciples have moved 95 miles north to the Sea of Galilee – he calls it the Sea of Tiberias here – and some amount of time has passed; we’re not sure exactly how much. And the tone of the text, well it’s right there in verse 2 in the word, “they were together.” Just like after the resurrection they were huddled down together in a room hiding, you have the same connotation here in 21. They are now 95 miles north back in their hometown and they are together; they are huddled down. And the idea – the side by side. They’ve heard the commission – “I am breathing the Spirit on you. Go and forgive disciples, forgive people in My name. You have the power of Jesus. Go forth. Get to work! The resurrection power is upon you.” And in 21, the commission of 20 does not become their life yet at the beginning of 21. They are huddled down and they are together. And Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” And they all say, “Okay, we’ll get up. We’ll go with you.” And the commentators are all divided about this because on the one hand you could say, “This is innocent. They’re hungry and people have got to eat and so they go fishing.” But John is so intentional. He wastes no sentences. He doesn’t throw away any words here. Jesus had breathed upon them and the idea here is that they are sitting on their hands in the very next chapter, not many days later.
And even more – how do we know this? Because John knows that the reader is aware that in Luke chapter 5 there is another parallel. In Luke chapter 5, the story of how James and Peter, the sons of Zebedee and Peter were first called to be apostles of Jesus – what happened? They were out on a fishing boat and they fished all night and they caught nothing. And Jesus came and He said to them, “Cast your net on the other side.” And they hauled in a load of fish. And then He said, “Follow Me.” And you see, John is giving, in his real history, in a parallel spiraling history, that in 21 right after the resurrection, right after they have been commissioned, they’re going in reverse. At best, they don’t know what to do; they’ve not yet come to grips with the power of the resurrection, with its cosmic impact and it’s personal impact and it’s missional impact. But one commentator puts it like this – “Going back to fishing was dangerous.” It was like being lulled to sleep. It was like they had not heard the commission of chapter 20.
And when you read through and you see the deep parallels of this passage to Luke 5, they look like lost men here. And they catch nothing John tells us. And it was nighttime John tells us. And they are empty handed John tells us. And that’s exactly his point because followers of Jesus, followers of Jesus first come as empty handed fishermen. And this is the condition. You’ve got to be in a place where you come empty handed. You must be lost in order to be found. And disciples have to come to a place where they say, “Without Jesus, I can do nothing.” They have to be lost in order to be found.
And this text reminds me of Acts chapter 9 when Saul, in Acts chapter 9, Paul’s conversion story, the writer, Luke, uses the language of a beast to describe Paul. It says that he was “breathing threats and murders” upon the Christians. And that’s the verb there used typically for animality. It’s got the idea that he was slobbering over anger and hatred for the Christians. He wanted to destroy them so badly. And Paul in Acts chapter 9 seems like the most unlikely convert to Christianity that could ever exist in all of history. And Peter had publicly denied knowing Jesus Christ in His face, in the same room even, three times. He had committed treason against Jesus Christ and he’s wrestling here. “Do my failures disqualify me from the commission, from the mission of God?” And the first element of being a disciple is that it is for the dead. And it is for the undeserving and it is for the lost and it is for the people who come empty handed and it is to know that becoming a disciple always counters the human will and every human desire. And that means that if Peter and Paul are the two men, probably, most used by God in all of human history, it means that nobody is an unlikely convert to Jesus Christ in that nobody is an unlikely disciple because following Jesus means that you have to be lost in order to be found. That’s the first element.
Disciples are People Who Have Been Encountered
And so that takes us to the second element in the passage – disciples are people who have been encountered. It says it three times in the passage that Jesus revealed Himself to them – twice in the first verse and once at the very end in verse 14. And that is a very, very important word in the book of John. It doesn’t just mean that Jesus showed up. He uses it here three times but the first time he uses it is at Jesus’ first miracle, the wedding at Cana in John 2 where John says Jesus, when He turned the water into wine and they didn’t know what to make of it, it says that “Jesus revealed His glory.” And for a moment at the beginning of His ministry He unveiled Himself; He took Himself out of hiddenness and He showed up and there was a glimpse. And every time in John or Acts or the other gospels that Jesus “reveals Himself” it’s something more than just Him showing up. When Jesus “reveals Himself,” as John puts it, people fall down on their faces and people fall down to their knees before Him or scales come over people’s eyes and they are blinded or people are knocked off horses. Or at the transfiguration it says, “He revealed His glory and the men there had to hide their faces;” they couldn’t look. So the revelation of the resurrected Jesus Christ is a big deal throughout all the gospels and Acts.
And later, when they are on the beach at the end of the passage, it says that they wanted to ask Him. It says that they knew it was Him but at the same time they wanted to ask Him, “Is it Him? Is it You? Are You really the Lord?” And that’s because in His life they did not understand the words that He told them and in His resurrection they could not see Him. And you remember Mary in the garden of God, in the garden of the resurrection, she thinks He is the gardener. He’s standing right in front of her. She had traveled with Him for three years and she can’t see Him. And then right after that, the road to Emmaus, He appears before two disciples – they can’t see Him. And now here there’s this theme, this lesson, this symbol of blindness. They cannot see Him. And when they are sitting on the beach with Him they say, “It is really Him? I want to ask Him, ‘Is it really You?’ I know it’s You, but you know He looks different.” His resurrection glory is something we don’t understand and something that they did not expect.
And the second element, the second lesson here is that conversion to Christ, becoming a disciple of Jesus, is when you encounter a glory, a glory, the God that you never expected. And a God who is beyond anything that you could have possibly constructed. No mere idol, not something that is produced by your own feeling or desire or expectation. It’s when the God that you cannot define and you cannot control and you cannot see unless He stoops down and unveils Himself appears. And He confronts and He reveals Himself. They had an encounter here with the exalted Christ and nobody can be different after that; nobody can be the same after that, I should say. Remember when the exalted, resurrected glory of Jesus appeared before Saul in Acts 9 it knocked him off his horse. And when the angel of Yahweh, who is the Son of God, showed up to Moses on Mount Sinai, He hid his face and took off his shoes. And every time the glory of the Lord, the resurrected Christ appears, people are changed and they’re knocked back and they’re unsettled. And it’s a God they did not expect.
And look, if John wastes no words, there’s no accident here in verse 7 that when Peter realizes that this is the Lord, it says that he was “stripped for work,” but that then he “threw himself,” or “hurled himself” into the sea. And this is the same verb that gets used in the story of Jonah when Jonah, knowing that he was exposed, running from God, throws himself down into the sea. This Peter looks like Jonah here because in the ancient mind the sea is the place of death and chaos and darkness. And when you get encountered by the risen Christ, revealed in all of His glory, and you see Him and you know what you are in front of Him you go down. You go down into the darkness. You know who you are. You read the Law of God and you see who you are. And Peter, he had to go down into the sea; he was exposed.
Disciples have heard the Call and Command of Jesus
And that means, then, that the third element here is that Jesus – the third element of being a disciple – is that Jesus then speaks, and when Jesus speaks, people are called and they’re commanded in this text. You see He says, “Children,” to them, and then, “cast your net on the other side.” And the first that He calls out to them, He says, “Children,” and there’s two things here that He uses to open up their eyes so that they can see Him. Back to John 20, which David preached on last week, he pointed out that Mary thought Jesus was the gardener and it says that He revealed Himself. How? She’s blind before the resurrection glory of Jesus and all He does is He says, “Mary.” And the scales fall off and she gives Him a bear hug and she comes to Him. And she was there in John chapter 10 when Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and when I call to them they run to Me.” And He did it for Mary and then He said, “Thomas, come and touch Me and run to Me.” And then here in this passage He says, “Children.”
But the ESV that we read from translates this as “children,” but really all the commentators agree that it’s not best heard as the word, “children,” even though that is the literal word Jesus uses. This is colloquial speech in the first century Jewish context and it would be like, you know, if we lived in the United Kingdom, Jesus standing on the beach saying, “Lads, come to Me.” Or like here, you need to hear Jesus says, “My friends.” So Jesus stands here on the beach and He yells out to them and He calls them, “friends.” And just a few days ago He had said in that upper room, He had said, “Because of what I am about to do – I’m about to go to the cross, I’m about to die for you, I’m about to lose My life for you – I no longer at that point will call you ‘servant.’ I will call you ‘friend.’” And in the resurrection glory of Jesus, He stands on the beach and He unveils His glory and He yells out, “My friends!” John doesn’t waste a word. He puts it here in verse 4 – “They fished all night and caught nothing, but just as day was breaking.” Just as the sun was coming up over the horizon, there He stood and He said, “Friend!” And because of the power of the resurrection, the revelation of Jesus Christ to you and to Peter and to James and John and to any who listens, He does not come and stand in the glory of daybreak as Judge, but He comes and calls out and says, “Friend! Come to Me!” And He opens their eyes here.
And then the second way He does it is, again, back to the parallel of Luke 5, verses 1 to 11, when Jesus first called Peter and James and John – back in Luke 5 when they were fishing the first time – He said, “You’ve caught nothing. You’ve been fishing all night and you’ve caught nothing,” just like 21. “So go” – and here’s the command – “cast your net on the other side.” And when Simon Peter, when that happened and they filled the boat up with fish, it says that Simon Peter fell down on his knees before Jesus and he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And Jesus said, “Get up and follow Me.” And here they fill the boat with 153 fish. John says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter jumps in the water to go and then it says – we have nothing on what happened at the beach. You see, John is the writer here and he’s the eyewitness and he says, “The beloved disciple stayed in the boat to help pull the fish in and to row back to shore.” We have this moment in the text where Peter makes it to shore and he’s there with Jesus by himself and we don’t know what happened. This is the first encounter after he had committed treason, one on one, against Jesus.
And you know, I don’t know what He said but I’ll bet it was something like this. I think John makes the point of it. I think he fell on his knees and he said, “Depart from me. I am a sinful man, O Lord. I said to the people I didn’t know You three times. I am treacherous! I don’t deserve to be commissioned. I don’t deserve to be called. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle!” And Jesus said, “Friend.” You know, because when empty-handed fishermen see the glory of Jesus Christ, they’re encountered, you fall down and you go into the depths of the sea and you fall on your knees before Jesus and you say, “Depart from me! I am a sinful man and I don’t deserve to be called by You!” And He speaks your name in resurrection power and He says, “Mary, Peter, Thomas, get up. I call you ‘friend.’ I am not your Judge.” You see, this is what happens in faith and repentance. Peter will say just after a few days, not many days after this scene, he will be preaching after the Spirit comes upon him in Acts 2, he preaches and he looks out to the crowd and he says to the people, many, many of whom were not present for the physical death of Jesus Christ, he says to them, to the thousands, “You crucified Jesus Christ.” And how could he say that to people who were not there for it?
But you know, that’s repentance – when you say, “My sin is so personal that I know that I crucified Jesus Christ, that my sin put Him on the cross. I was there in the crowd and I shouted, ‘I want Barabbas to walk free and I want that man to go to the cross.’ That’s me.” That’s when you know there’s repentance, when it’s personal. And if that’s happened to you and you have encountered the risen Christ, when you’ve seen Jesus, that means that you can also say, “You know what, it’s not just that I was there and I shouted, ‘I want Barabbas,’ it’s that I was Barabbas. I was the man, I was the woman, the guilty one who walked free and watched the innocent One condemned for me.”
Now disciples, when that happens, you become a follower, and what happens is that disciples become people under the command – as we draw things to a close this morning. Just like Luke 5, the last thing here is that we see Jesus give a command. And He says, “Cast the net on the other side.” And just like in Luke 5, the command is not really about fish. You know, yes, they haul in a load of fish, but do you know what He tells them in Luke 5 when they pull the fish in? He says, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” And that’s when He famously calls them, “Now go and be a fisher of men. I’ve been trying to commission you with pulling the net in. Be a fisher of men, a fisher of people.” And the difference between Luke 5 and Luke 21 is that the resurrection power stands in between here for this second commission – “Go and be a fisher of people.” If you have heard the call of Jesus Christ, you are commanded today to go and be a fisher of people.
And what does that mean? The symbol of the sea, again, was so important in the Greco, Roman and Jewish mind of the ancient days. For them, remember, going into the sea was a place of chaos and darkness and death. And when Jesus says, “Go and get people out of the water like you get fish out of the water,” that means, “Go in My name and pull people out of the kingdom of darkness, under the waters of chaos and death where there is no light, and bring them into the kingdom of the sun and light and life.” It’s a transfer from the kingdom of death and from the kingdom of life.
And that means that being a fisher of people is not only about proclaiming the message of the cross, but then it’s about walking alongside human beings that you’ve developed a relationship with and being a disciple making disciple. That’s the call – helping other people live a life that looks more like the kingdom of God than the kingdom of darkness. That’s what it means to be a fisher of people. Fishers of people, when you become a fisher of people, you know that you’ve been called to a whole life of ministry to other human beings in word and deed for the sake of Jesus Christ. And it says in Luke 5, “They left everything behind and they followed Him.” They left everything behind. You know, being called and commanded breaks the consumer mentality and it says, “My time is not my own anymore. My resources are not my own anymore. My gifts are not my own anymore.”
Do you guys remember the 90s? I kind of do; I was a kid, but I saw on Twitter the other day a teacher who said that she received a paper from a child in her class that began, “In the late 1900s…” referring to the 90s! Remember the 90s? You know I remember in the 90s when I was a kid people had pagers. And doctors had pagers; my mom had a pager as a radiologist. And you’d go to a restaurant and the pager would go off and you would have to get up and ask to use the restaurant landline in order to call in and say, “What do you need me for?” And I imagine it’s worse today because you doctors and nurses and others that are on call, you get a text and it tells them that you’ve read it so you can’t get out of it – they know that you know!
When you’ve been called, your time is not yours anymore. You lose it. And Romans 8:28, Romans 8:28 says that “All things work together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose.” But the back half of that, “All things work together for the good,” only if you realize that your good is completely wrapped up in walking in line with His purpose, “called according to His purpose.” To be a fisher of people is to know that my resources, my gifts, my time are for Jesus Christ.
Disciples have been Invited by Jesus to Come to the Feast
Now the last thing we’ll say is this – in two minutes. Fourthly, the final element here is that when you are a disciple and all this is true of you, you have been invited to breakfast on the beach with Jesus and you’ve been invited to come to the feast. The commentators debate about how this means that they eat at the end of the passage with Jesus, breakfast of fish and bread on the beach, relates to Jesus’ other meals in the gospels. And that’s because meals in the first century Greco-Roman and Jewish culture were so important. For one, a meal is covenantal. If you sit down and you eat with somebody in the first century, you are saying, “I love you and I want to be in a relationship with you.” That’s how it’s heard. That’s not just an introduction; it is a covenant.
And the second reason is because of Jewish contamination law. In contamination cleanliness laws that developed in between the Old and New Testament, to be clean, to be able to appear before God in the temple, you could not share the same plate or cup as a Gentile sinner or as somebody, a leper, or somebody who is unclean, or you would be unfit in the religious leader’s mind to enter the temple to worship before God. And over and over again, Jesus shows up and He eats with unclean people, with lepers and with sinners and with tax collectors and with everybody that He wasn’t allowed to according to the rules of the day. And what happens every single time? He does not become unclean; they become clean. And when He invites the disciples to eat this meal with Him at the beach, this is a reconciliation meal. Today, you are invited to the feast. And it is a reconciliation meal where He says, “When I come to you, when I reveal Myself to you and I touch you and then I break bread with you and for you, I do not become unclean; you become clean in the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ.”
This is the reconciliation meal we eat today. And that’s why in the early Church they called this meal the Agape Feast, the feast of covenantal love that the Church came and shared together to meet with Christ by the Holy Spirit and experience the covenantal love of God. The last thing is this. It was celebratory here in this story. “Come and eat breakfast with Me. You’ve been reconciled. You have been called. You have been commissioned. Come and eat breakfast with Me.” And the meal that we are about to eat, the invitation to breakfast on the beach, to eating with Jesus Christ, is celebratory because it is an invitation now today to know that by the Holy Spirit you dine with Jesus and one day you will eat with Him in person. You will have breakfast with Him in person in the new heavens and the new earth. And so the question of the supper – Do you love Him and do you want to see His face? Let’s pray together.
Father, we ask that You would stir us up by the Spirit to love Jesus and to long, above all else, to see His face. And so give us hearts of repentance now as we approach this holy meal, this sacramental meal. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
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