John 21:1-14

Sermon preached on April 8, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

I love fishing stories. I have a few that I tell. I remember three or four years ago I went on vacation and I was really excited to go fishing for the first time that year. I went to the brook, made my way to the first hole and made my first cast with my fly rod. As soon as I did I noticed that there was something wrong with my reel. I couldn't reel the line in. I can't remember what was wrong, whether the line was tangled or something else, but something happened to my reel and the line over the winter but I had to send the next five minutes getting it fixed so I could reel it in. All the while my line was in the water. When I got it all fixed I started to reel it in and to my amazement there was a nice fish on the line. He was so hungry he had almost swallowed the fly and he was hooked. It was about the easiest fish I ever caught.

Fishing stories have certain things in common. With fishing stories, you remember some of the details with perfect clarity. I remember that the fish that was on the line that day was a nice sized fish. Really little ones will often be on your line in a situation like that, but it was very unusual for a big fish to be caught like that. I remember that the fish was big. I also remember exactly where I caught it.

Another thing about fishing is that when you're fishing sometimes people will give you advice on where the best spot to fish is. We see this in our text. At first the disciples didn't recognize Jesus and yet when this man on the shore tells them to cast their net over on the right side of the boat, they listen to him and try it. Some skeptics have questioned the authenticity of the story because of that. But I think those people don't know much about fishing. In his commentary on John, D. A. Carson speaks about the,

"advice contemporary sports fishermen have to endure (and occasionally appreciate): 'Try casting over there. You often catch them over there!'"

I love the comment that Carson then adds,

"If there are some contemporary sports fishermen who have not yet experienced this delight, I recommend they take my children with them on their next trip."

People give fishermen lots of advice and sometimes the fishermen follow it with good success.

I grew up near the ocean and sometimes from the shore you can see where a school of fish is located. I remember as a boy fishing mackerel in the harbor and on calm days you could actually see where the school of mackerel was located. The school was close to the surface and on a calm day the water above the mackerel was just a little bit different than the surrounding water, just a little bit darker, a little bit disturbed. We'd be on the wharf with our rods getting them read and someone would say, "Here they come!" and we'd all get our lines in the water. You could see the school moving toward the wharf and when they came in we'd all get bites. Then after a half minute or so the school would move out again. So perhaps the disciples thought that the person on the shore could see where the school of fish was. If so it's not surprising that they listened to this stranger.

Some people also think that it's unusual that they counted their catch. I always count my catch! Of course, I've never gotten 153, but someone has suggested that perhaps the fishermen needed to divide up the catch between them. Seven disciples are mentioned as fishing here. So it would not be unusual to divide up the fish and come up with a total rather easily. These details don't take away from the authenticity of the story—they tend to confirm it.

Another thing about fishing stories is that they often teach us a lesson or two. There's an Aesop's Fable called, "The Fisher and the Little Fish" that teaches a lesson.

"It happened that a Fisher, after fishing all day, caught only a little fish. 'Pray, let me go, master,' said the Fish. 'I am much too small for your eating just now. If you put me back into the river I shall soon grow, then you can make a fine meal off me.' 'Nay, nay, my little Fish,' said the Fisher, 'I have you now. I may not catch you hereafter.'"

The lesson is that a little thing in hand is worth more than a great thing in prospect.

The story before us is not a fable. It's not a story made up merely to teach us a lesson. As Peter insisted in his second letter, (2 Peter 1:16)

"We did not follow cleverly invented stories
when we told you about the power
and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty."

The incident before us is a wonderful, true story that has much to teach us about Jesus, about His resurrection life, about His love and care for us.

The first thing we see here is that after His resurrection

Jesus was aware of their situation. He was with them.

Nine years ago by brother Paul died. He had cancer and he wanted to die in his home and that's the way that it worked out. His wife, Mary, took care of him and Marg and I were able to go down and help her take care of him for about a month before he died. The palliative care people had told Mary that when Paul died she didn't have to call them right away to tell them that he had died—that the family could spend some time alone with the deceased. So that's what we did. We read some scripture passages, we prayed and we talked. After about an hour, I said to everyone there that in a sense, I felt like Paul was still with us, that he wasn't gone, that his presence was with us. And everyone there said that they felt the same thing. We weren't suffering a total sense of loss.

What do you think of that? Some of you might be thinking,

"That's total nuts!"

And most likely you'd be right. Sometimes one's feelings have nothing to do with reality. Just because we thought we felt Paul's presence didn't mean he was actually there with us. More than likely he wasn't. Scripture doesn't tell us that people stay around after they die. It tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I've heard of out of body experiences where someone will see themselves leave their body and float upward. But if those experiences are real, they are probably only momentary. I know a lot of people believe that the departed are up in heaven looking down on us. But the Scriptural teaching seems to lean against that. What we were feeling could have been more of a 'peace' that God gave us. It could have been that we didn't feel a great sense of loss at that moment because we knew that Paul was a Christian and that we would see him again some day. I don't actually think that people who have died and gone to heaven are looking down on us and observing what we do.

But with Jesus' resurrection, it was different. He knew what was happening to His disciples. He was with them.

During the forty day period between His resurrection and His ascension into heaven Jesus is showing His disciples, that, even though He was resurrected and they weren't seeing Him very often—

He knew all about them. He was still concerned about them.

Essentially He was showing them that He would be there for them in a different, greater way.

The forty days between the resurrection of Jesus and His ascension to heaven give us a window into Jesus' resurrection life activity—a preview of His ruling at the Father's right hand. Consider what verse 1 says. It says that Jesus 'appeared' to His disciples. Leon Morris writes, (The Gospel of John, 760)

"'Appeared,' twice repeated in this verse (NIV renders the second, 'happened'), is very much a Johannine word."

But that he means that 'revealing' is a common theme in John's gospel. It begins in chapter 1 with John the Baptist's work. John baptized so that Jesus might be 'revealed' to Israel. (verse 31) In chapter 2 Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana, 'revealing his glory'. Throughout His ministry Jesus revealed His Father. (John 17:6) Here, after His resurrection, He reveals Himself to His disciples. Leon Morris says that the use of the word here,

"points us to the very real existence of Jesus in a sphere beyond this world of time and sense. He and his glory were from time to time 'manifested' to people here and now; he showed himself as he is."

After His resurrection, yes, even after His ascension, Jesus is with His people. In Matthew 28:20, at the conclusion of the Great Commission, Jesus said to His disciples,

"And surely I am with you always,
to the very end of the age."

The Deists have a conception of God which is one where God is aloof and uninvolved in the world. He is not concerned about what happens to us. I remember when Marg got her teaching job we were talking to some relatives about it and one of them said that she was lucky to get her job. Marg replied something to the effect that it wasn't luck, but,

"It was God,"

who gave it to her. He was surprised and said,

"You really think that God is involved in the details of your life like that?"

He was incredulous. His conception of God is that God is aloof and unconcerned.

But that's not biblical at all. God is involved in the everyday things of our lives. In Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17) Our passage shows us that Jesus was with His disciples. They didn't always see Him. He came and went. But He manifested Himself to them after His resurrection to show them that in a very real sense He was with them.

The second thing we see about this incident is that

after His resurrection Jesus was greatly concerned about helping His disciples.

Here we see His love and care for His disciples. This incident shows that even in His resurrected state, He knows about us, what is happening to us, and He cares for us and intervenes on our behalf. He came to His disciples to feed them and serve them and remind them of their mission.

At the end of Ephesians 1 the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus has been raised to the highest place and is ruling 'for the church'. We read, (Ephesians 1:22–23)

"And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head
over everything for the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of him
who fills everything in every way."

Andrew T. Lincoln comments and says, (Ephesians (WBC, p. 70)

"All the supremacy and power God has given to Christ he has given to be used on behalf of the Church."

In our text we see that Jesus came to serve His disciples. That's what our text is all about. Jesus came to His disciples because they were in need. He loved them. He came to them with a demonstration of His power. He came to them to give them a great reminder of the mission that they were to carry out for Him.

We must not be too hard on the disciples here because the Spirit had not yet been poured out on the church and that they went to Galilee in response to Jesus' command. (Mark 14:28) Yet Leon Morris suggests that before Jesus appeared to them here the disciples were men '
without a purpose'—that they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. If you look at it in that light the great catch of fishes was to remind them of the great catch of fishes when Jesus first called them and to show them that they were to evangelize, and become fishers of men.

Others suggest that there was an economic need during this time of waiting—that they had to eat and this was a way of providing for themselves. If that is the case it shows that Jesus was concerned about that and provided food for them. We're not exactly sure why they went fishing, but in just about any legitimate way of looking at it that
Jesus is here showing great concern for His disciples. D. A. Carson writes, (John)

"In the days of his flesh, Jesus washes his disciples' feet (13:1–17). Now, as their risen Lord, he serves them still (cf. also v. 13): he meets their tiredness after a night of toil with a hot breakfast."

He supplied the fish. He supplied the coals. He cooked the breakfast and served it to them. D. A. Carson writes of the significance of our text.

"he reassures them, meets their physical needs, serves them as he did before his passion. It is a time for them to adjust to the new eschatological situation; it is a time sufficiently symbol-laden, in a culture where symbols were more highly regarded than in our own, to speak to them powerfully, as they meditated upon it, about the Lord's continued presence and power with them as they prosecuted the mission with which he charged them."

Jesus came to them to get them back on track—to remind them that they need to go into the world for Him, to be witnesses and make disciples.

The third thing we see from this incident is that

Jesus reminds them of their calling and that they can only fulfill it by relying on Him.

There is a parallel between our text and a similar incident in Luke 5, when Jesus called His first disciples. At that time He told Peter to launch his boat, go to deep water and let down their nets. Peter hesitated and told him that they had been fishing all night without any success. When they did what Jesus said there was such a great number of fish that the net started to break and they had to call for a second boat to help them. The fish were so numerous in the boats that they began to sink. At the end of that incident, Jesus said to Peter, (Luke 5:10)

"Don't be afraid;
from now on you will catch men."

Why were the disciples fishing? D.A. Carson writes,

"It is impossible to imagine any of this taking place in Acts, after Pentecost. There is a certain eagerness for the risen Jesus, still strangely halting as the reality of Jesus' resurrection is still sinking in. But most emphatically this is not the portrait of believers who have received the promised Paraclete. There is neither the joy nor the assurance, not to mention the sense of mission and the spirit of unity, that characterize the church when freshly endowed with the promised Spirit."

One of our main goals as a result of the resurrection of Jesus should be evangelism. Jesus came to His disciples here to remind them of their great mission.

Secondly, in this regard, He also showed them, with great emphasis, that

if they were going to have any success in evangelism, they had to rely on His power.

In John 15 Jesus told His disciples that without Him they could do nothing. He is the vine, we are the branches.

Here He gave them an object lesson about this. Consider the disciples here. They went fishing but they didn't catch anything. Why was that? John Calvin writes,

"If we always succeeded when we put our hand to any labor, scarcely anyone would attribute the reward of his work to God's blessing, but all would boast of their own industry and shake hands with themselves. But when sometimes they wear themselves out and torment themselves to no advantage, then, if they should succeed better, they are forced to acknowledge something extra-ordinary. Consequently, they begin to praise God's grace for their success."

So this passage teaches us that we should always acknowledge God's goodness to us. The success that we have in any endeavor depends upon His blessing us. As we read in James 1:17,

"Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father
of the heavenly lights,"

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,

Jesus' resurrection shows you that there is life beyond the grave.

Many people today will tell you that death ends everything. They say that this life is all there is. If that's true there's a sense in which you don't really have to worry about how you live your life—you're not going to be held accountable.

The main problem with that teaching is that it's not true. Your soul is eternal. It can't simply cease to exists. It endures after your body dies. Not only that, on the last day, your body and soul are going to be reunited. In John 5:27 Jesus said that He had been given authority to judge because He is the Son of Man. He continued,

"Do not be amazed at this,
for a time is coming when all
who are in their graves will hear his voice
and come out—those who have
done good will rise to live,
and those who have done evil
will rise to be condemned."

There will be a new heaven and a new earth for the righteous. There will be the lake of fire for the unrighteous. Those are the only two alternatives. Which are you choosing? How important it is that you choose Jesus. Go to Him today.