Fishing and Feeding

Fishing and Feeding

Two weeks ago we noted the many times Jesus appeared to his followers from the time he rose from the dead on that first Easter morning until he ascended to heaven forty days later. These post-resurrection appearances are pivotal because they confirm that Jesus is who he said he was. Without them, Jesus would only have been a humble and wise teacher not unlike the prophet Muhammed of Islam or Mahatma Gandhi, the nonviolent civil disobedience leader in India.

If Jesus had not risen from the dead and appeared to those who knew him prior to his resurrection, we might then view him as many do in fact view him today: as a humble man, born in Bethlehem, who loved those whom others considered unlovable, and cared for those who were viewed as outcasts in his day.

In other words, apart from Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, he would only have been Jesus raised in the city of Nazareth in the region of Galilee, son of a carpenter who followed his father’s trade[1] and himself became a carpenter,[2] a leader worthy of modeling for his humble lifestyle and loving treatment of those around him.

Had Jesus not risen from the dead, he would have been nothing more than an inspiring leader who had some good things to say about how to navigate our earthly lives, reminding us of the things that matter and those that don’t; he would have been a man who by his teaching and example helped others gain perspective on their earthly lives.

Had Jesus not risen from the dead, he might be to us not unlike a beloved parent, or mentor, or teacher, or friend or perhaps even a cultural hero or celebrity who at some level has had an impact on our lives and whom we therefore admire and seek to emulate.

But the fact that Jesus did rise from the dead completely changed the lives of those who knew, loved, and followed him when he was alive. On Easter morning we considered Mary Magdalene who, having gone to Jesus’ tomb to finish anointing his body after he had been crucified, became distraught upon discovering that Jesus’ body was gone. But Mary’s persistence in seeking Jesus was rewarded for she was the first disciple—as far as the Gospels record—to whom Jesus appeared after he had risen from the dead. Her tears of sadness became tears of joy as her Lord and Savior appeared to her not as a ghost or spirit, but in the flesh, talking with her and entrusting her to go and tell the other disciples that he was alive and would be ascending to his Father and their Father, to his God and their God.[3]

And we also saw how in the case of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and the author of that Gospel, actually seeing the resurrected Jesus wasn’t necessary in order for him to believe for when John ran to Jesus’ tomb with Peter, after Mary Magdalene went and got them, John believed upon entering the tomb and seeing the linen cloths left behind after Jesus had removed them from his resurrected body.[4] For, unlike Mary Magdalene, the disciples had been told by Jesus before he was crucified that he would be killed and that he would rise again on the third day.[5] So in John’s case, simply seeing the linen cloths without Jesus’ body was sufficient confirmation that what Jesus had said would happen had in fact come to pass. Though he had not yet seen the risen Jesus, John nonetheless believed.

In our passage this morning, we have another instance of Jesus appearing to Peter and John among other disciples. This isn’t the first time he has done so. In verse 14 of this morning’s passage in chapter 21 John states “This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” And in chapter 20, John records the two other incidents, one when Thomas wasn’t with them[6] and another a week later when poor “doubting Thomas” was with the rest of the disciples.[7] How would you like to be referred to as “doubting your-name-here” in perpetuity?!

As we begin chapter 21, John provides details of this third appearance by Jesus to his disciples for us. Upon Peter stating that he’s going out to fish—he was a fisherman by trade, after all—a number of the other disciples, also fishermen, join him including no-longer-doubting Thomas. This particular fishing expedition was unsuccessful. Though “they went out and got into the boat… that night they caught nothing” (3). But “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” Again, we can’t be sure why they didn’t recognize him. As occurred when he appeared to Mary Magdalene, this appearance too occurs early in the morning so perhaps it was too dark or, again, it may be because Jesus’ post-resurrection body looked so different from his crucified one. Whatever the case Jesus calls out to them, “Children”—this is a better translation than “Friends”—“haven’t you any fish?” And the form of the question used here indicates that Jesus knew they hadn’t caught any fish.

So he tells them to thrown their nets down on the right side of the boat and they will find fish. And, boy, do they ever. They caught so many fish—153 all told (11)—that “they were unable to haul the net” (6). And John, using his favorite epithet about himself in his Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” realizes the significance of what has just happened and tells Peter “It is the Lord!” (7).

Now if upon reading this passage you’re having a sense of déjà vu, there’s good reason for it. This whole scenario is strikingly reminiscent of when Jesus first called the original twelve disciples to himself. In chapter 5 of Luke’s Gospel, he records the events surrounding Jesus’ first calling of his twelve disciples. The parallels to John’s account of this third post-resurrection appearance by Jesus are remarkable.[8]

In that account, too, the setting is the Sea of Galilee.

In that account, too, at least James and John, who were known as the sons of Zebedee (Luke 5:10), and Peter were present.

In that account, too, Jesus tells them—or at least Peter into whose boat he had climbed—to put down the nets (Luke 5:3, 4).

In that account, too, the disciples had been unsuccessful at catching any fish and Peter tells Jesus as much, saying “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).

But in Luke’s account, after doing what Jesus told them and putting down their nets, there were so many fish that the nets began to break and they had to bring over a second boat with the end result that both boats were so filled to the brim with fish, that they actually began to sink (Luke 5:6–7). Peter’s response then—perhaps because his life-long experience as a fisherman had led him to believe they wouldn’t catch any fish—was to fall at Jesus’ feet and say “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus didn’t send him away. Instead he said to Peter, “‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’” [And, we’re told] “11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” From that time forward Peter, John, and the others remained with Jesus, following him just as he called them to.

And as was true the first time that Peter witnessed a miraculous catch of fish upon Jesus’ instructions, Peter has a strong response this time as well. In verse 7 we’re told “he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water” as he led the way in bringing to shore the haul of fish.

When the disciples returned to shore, “they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (9) and Jesus tells them “Bring some of the fish you have just caught” (10) and then invites them to have breakfast! (12). We’re told that none of them dared ask who Jesus was for “They knew it was the Lord” (12b) and they received bread and fish from him as Jesus himself took care of these hungry fishermen and disciples whom he loved by feeding them (13).

The focus in the passage next turns to Peter. In the online version of the NIV Bible I use this section is entitled “Jesus Reinstates Peter” and I suppose this interaction may be viewed as a kind of reinstatement—a restoring of Peter to his former position. Now the reinstatement isn’t because Jesus has ever rejected Peter; the reinstatement is for Peter’s benefit because, if you’ll recall, the last thing Peter did before Jesus was taken under arrest was to deny knowing Jesus—not once, not twice, but three times. Three times Peter denied knowing the Jesus to whom he had committed his life.

From a purely human perspective, we can imagine how gut-wrenching it must have been for Peter to carry this knowledge with him to Jesus’ death. Don’t we hear, on occasion, of the terrible remorse someone feels due to a past slight made to someone they love especially if they never have the opportunity to make amends with their loved one before he or she dies? It’s fair to assume Peter felt something akin to this given how, at the Last Supper, Peter had sworn that he would never leave Jesus even if all of the other disciples did. But even at the time Jesus replied to Peter that he would reject him[9] and this prophecy sadly came true when Peter’s later thrice-denial of Jesus was confirmed by a crowing rooster, just as Jesus had said would occur.[10]

So here at the end of our passage we have a three-fold exchange of a different kind, this time between Jesus and Peter, and initiated by Jesus. And it certainly seems to correspond to Peter’s earlier three-fold denial of Jesus. In each instance Jesus is the first speaker:

1: v. 15: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” [Though we can’t be sure the exact sense of “than these,” it may be that this is an allusion to Peter’s statement at the Last Supper that he would never leave Jesus even if all the other disciples did. In other word the “these” may be referring to the other disciples.]

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

2—v. 16: Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

3—v. 17: The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

It’s an interesting exchange and one that I think makes us squirm a little. Why would Jesus be pressing Peter on this point? Doesn’t he know that Peter loves him? Well, Peter’s stating that Jesus—who is not only a man but also God—knows everything affirms that of course Jesus knows Peter’s love for him.

The passage ends with Jesus making another prediction about Peter. This time it isn’t about Peter denying him but about Peter dying for him. It’s interesting to note that here Jesus is confirming Peter’s initial claim at the Last Supper, prior to his denying Jesus, that he was willing to die for him.[11]

Jesus knows that Peter’s love was genuine.

Jesus knows that Peter will follow him.

Jesus knows that simply because in a moment of sadness, fear, and vulnerability Peter denied him three times, this doesn’t mean that he stopped loving or following Jesus anymore than someone who’s lost someone they love before having a chance to reconcile need worry that that person doesn’t know their love. Peter’s denial is a sober and realistic reminder that even those who have given their lives over to follow God in Christ can and probably will screw up. But we can rest assured that God in Christ never stops loving us and he welcomes our imperfect love for him and others, promising that one day we will become what he intended us to be—those who love our heavenly Father and others even as he loves us.

After being crucified, dead, and buried the risen Jesus, the risen Christ, God’s Son who is God himself in the flesh, appears to those who loved him—and even rejected him—while he was previously alive, with a word of comfort, hope, and reassurance. These post-resurrection appearances confirm that what Jesus bore witness to about himself when he first came to earth—namely that he was never only Jesus of Nazareth but was ever our Savior and Lord, the only hope of our salvation, of our deliverance from temptations and sins that cause us to turn to earthly delights that promise but momentary and fleeting pleasure rather than finding our highest gain and joy in him, in Christ who as the resurrection and life is our eternal life.

I began this morning by suggesting that if Jesus were only a man, then he would be no more important or relevant to our lives than our personal heroes, whether those we know personally or those we have read about in newspapers or books or seen on the news. But the truth of the matter is that I didn’t go far enough in making this point. For if the Apostle Paul—he who at one time had been one of the greatest persecutors of Jesus Christ’s followers until the risen Christ himself personally appeared to him—if the Apostle Paul were sitting here today, he would tell us that the point isn’t that Jesus lived an exemplary life—many people throughout history have. Paul would put it far more strongly, as he did in his first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 15:

14 …if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

15 More than that, […if Christ has not been raised] we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, [Paul goes on] your faith is futile; [it’s incapable of producing any useful result. And, what is more] you are still in your sins.

Not only that but…if Christ has not been raised, 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ [those who have died believing in him] are lost.

…if Christ has not been raised, then only for this life [do] we have hope in Christ, [and] we are of all people [are] most to be pitied [for believing and living a lie]

For Paul, it isn’t enough that Jesus was good man—though he was a good man. It isn’t enough that Jesus was humble—though he was a humble man. It isn’t enough that Jesus was kind and loving and caring even towards those the rest of us might recoil away from or perhaps not even notice.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead matters because apart from it our faith would be pointless.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead matters because apart from it you and I would still be in our sins, unable to do the good we know we should and trapped in a cycle of desiring and doing things that ultimately bring us—and those around us—harm.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead matters because apart from it you and I could only have hope in this earthly life. Having believed a lie, we would be no different from those who believe in another god or gods or even than those who have no belief whatsoever.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then our belief in him would be nothing more than a vain attempt to comfort ourselves—our belief would be empty, lacking any real content or hope.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then you and I would be most to be pitied of all people because we’ve believed a lie—a lie told by none other than the Jesus to whom we’ve committed our lives.

Because if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then he really wasn’t who he said he was. And if he wasn’t who he said he was then we are most to be pitied because we’re building our lives around his teaching even though his teaching was wrong because what gives gravity—what gives weight—to what Jesus had to say is that he wasn’t only Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, babe born in a manger in Bethlehem, who spent his childhood in Nazareth, and went on to preach and teach and care for others. What gives weight—what points to the truth of Jesus’ teaching is that he was Jesus Christ, Jesus the promised Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus Christ, Son of God who was one with Father and the Holy Spirit and was therefore God himself—God incarnate—God in the flesh.

Brothers and sisters, prior to his crucifixion, Jesus never presented himself as just a wise teacher. His teaching and living focused on the fact that he himself was God. And those around him, especially those familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, knew this for he said and did things that only God could say and do.

Jesus’ resurrection—followed by his post-resurrection appearances—changed the life not only of Mary but also of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and Peter, who, just as Jesus told him, would go on to die a martyr’s death.

Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in which he taught his disciples and fed them and ate with them and encouraged them, changed them from confused, heart-broken followers prior to his resurrection to women and men who ended up sharing this amazing good news with whomever would listen. And it is because of their courage and conviction in proclaiming the truth of who Jesus was, in becoming fishers of men and shepherds of God flock, that you and I are here this morning.

And you and I are called to do the same.

Though we never witnessed Jesus’ life in person.

Though we never witnessed his crucifixion.

Though we never witnessed his resurrection.

Nonetheless, you and I, by means of Jesus Christ’s giving his Holy Spirit to us, are able to bear witness to the truth of what the Old and New Testament Scriptures say about him. We are able to experience a unique blessing—the one Jesus told Thomas about when he appeared to him after his resurrection: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”[12] That would be you and me.

Brothers and sisters, you and I are heirs of a profound Teacher, Jesus Christ, who was not only a human teacher but also God. And unlike those who lived on earth at the same time as he and only experienced him external to themselves, by the Holy Spirit he gives to all who have believed in him since the time of Pentecost, you and I can know Jesus from the inside—by his indwelling Holy Spirit who helps us see the truth of what the Scriptures teach and who unites us to our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, and conforms us to his image, enabling us to love him with all of our hearts, soul, mind, and strength, and others as ourselves.

By the indwelling Spirit of Christ who is here right now, we, too, are called to be fishers of men, bearing witness to those around us of who Christ was and is and ever will be;

By the indwelling Spirit of Christ who is here right now, we, too, are called to be shepherds of God’s flock—of each other—for we are called to be like our Good Shepherd Jesus and proclaim and share, as Martin preached last week, the abundant life he gives; the abundant life that both saves us and enables us to follow our Good Shepherd, our Savior, our Lord, Jesus Christ who is risen indeed!

Let us pray.

Unused Notes

Peter takes Jesus’ words to heart. He’ll demonstrate his love for Jesus by loving God’s people and feeding them with his Word (ESV): I Peter 5:1, 2: 1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

John 8:58 records Jesus saying “before Abraham was born, I am!” And those around him, understanding this claim to divinity, responded by “pick[ing] up stones to stone him.”

In John 10:30, when Jesus claims that he and the Father are one, again his opponents pick up stones to stone him “for blasphemy, because [he], a mere man, claim[ed] to be God.”

From the time Jesus was born, people came to worship him.[13] And though being a baby he had no say as to what others did, when he was worshipped as an adult, he didn’t correct others or give any indication that this behavior was inappropriate.[14]

Jesus forgave the sins of others and because people knew that this is something only God can do, they accused him of blasphemy.[15]

With but a word, he stilled the wind and the waves.[16]

With but a word, he cast out demons.[17]

With but a word, he healed the sick.[18]

With but a word, he gave life to those who died.[19] And on the occasion of going to raise Lazarus back to life,[20] he even connects the dots between what he is about to do and his own identity stating that he is the resurrection and the life and that no one who believes in him will ever die (John 11:25–26). What human being could ever say that? For only God, who is ever living, is able to give life to those of us who will one day die.


[1] Matthew 13:55: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?

[2] Mark 6:3: Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

[3] John 20:17–18.

[4] John 20:8.

[5] E.g. Mark 8:31: He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again; Luke 9:22: And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

[6] John 20:19–25: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

[7] John 20:26–29: 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

[8] Luke 5:1–11: 1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[Sea of Galilee] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

[9] Prophecy: Matthew 26:31–35; Mark 14:26–31; Luke 22:31–34; John 13:36–38.

[10] Fulfillment: Matthew 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:54–62; John 18:15–18.

[11] Luke 22:33: But he [Peter] replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

[12] John 20:29b.

[13] Matthew 2:11a [the Magi]: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

[14] Matthew 14:33 [after Jesus walks on water and enters the boat with his disciples]: Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” John 9:38 [after Jesus heals the man born blind]: Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

[15] Mark 2:5–6:When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

[16] Mark 4:39: He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (//Matthew 14:25–26)

[17] Mark 1:34: and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

[18] Matthew 8:16: When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. Mark 5:25–24/Luke 8:43ff: Woman with issue of blood healed.

[19] Mark 5:35–43: 35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” 36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” 37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. John 5:21: For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

[20] John 11:17–43 provides the entire account.

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