Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
The DEEP

Just Fishing

Living life in a parable

John 21:1-10

 

After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 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 are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”

They answered Him, “No.”

And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

 

I love to fish. I grew up in rural Georgia and spent many an afternoon on the bank of my grandfather’s catfish pond with a cane pole. Solid memories there. Likewise, a family vacation at the lake, passing minutes while hoping for a bass on the line, was a time to treasure.

Today, I live near salt water and have found paradise among the pilings fishing for redfish or in the marsh grass where shrimp pop and oysters open and close with the tides.

There can be nothing more relaxing than time spent with a rod and reel or a cast net under the Lowcountry sunshine.

Recently my pleasure in fishing has turned to sheer joy as my sons have joined me by the water. After years of using kiddie rods or my old cast offs, adult rods have been received as birthday gifts and demands of “Let’s go fishing, Dad” have become music to my ears.

My youngest is quite the angler, and last year he took the largest bass ever seen from the little pond in our neighborhood, on his birthday, and with his new rod and reel. A red-letter day on both our calendars to be certain. He thought we were just catching fish, but to me, there was much more than fishing going on that day. Like the Trace Atkins song about his little daughter:


I'm lost in her there holdin' that pink rod and reel
She's doin' almost everything but sittin' still
Talkin' 'bout her ballet shoes and training wheels
And her kittens
And she thinks we're just fishin’

A father’s love for a child makes a fishing trip about much more than simply catching fish.

Jesus was surrounded by fishermen during His life. Even in the dry, high countryside of His sojourn on this earth, Jesus spent much time near or on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. At least four of His twelve disciples were professional fishermen. In addition to this, fishing and the bounty it produced figured often in Jesus’s teachings and miracles. Fish were a source of food, of God’s provision, even a surprise coin as a payment for taxes (Matthew 17:27).

It is little wonder then that John’s gospel ends with a scene and story of Jesus and His disciples fishing once again:

After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.–John 21:1-2

There was previously the meeting in the locked room when Thomas was shown the scars and all present knew that Jesus was alive, just as He said He would be. A few more days or maybe even a week has passed, and Jesus has not revealed Himself to them again. The emotional high of those initial hours had begun to drain. Fear and mundane needs crept back in. No one seemed to know what to do next.

Peter does the only thing he really knows to do when life crowds in:

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.”–John 21:2-3a

Peter is going fishing. I like to think that Peter is seeking comfort in the familiar, in using his hands. As he grows idle, his urge to work rises. At least he can fish. [Mike has wonderfully illustrated that here in a previous edition of Deep!]

Robert Ruark, a writer and columnist for Field and Stream during the 1950’s, authored a memoir of sorts through novelized columns of his boyhood in coastal North Carolina. These short stories were compiled into a book entitled The Old Man and the Boy, and it has become a favorite of mine.  

Ruark (the Boy) shares the wit and wisdom of his grandfather Captain Ned Adkins (the Old Man) who provides this nugget of fishing wisdom:

“Son,” he would say, “when your heart is sick and you think you got some thinking to do, there ain’t no substitute for a boat and a fish pole. Water eases the mind, soothes the eyes, calms the nerves–and you can always eat the fish.”–Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy, (1957)

For Peter, the rote and honest motions of rowing and sailing his boat, casting and working his nets, and feeling the sun and wind on his face are part of his muscle memory–and perhaps he hopes they will clear his mind to think.

Fishing, for Peter, is more than like you or me lazily watching a cork bobbing in a pond or gently reeling a lure beneath a submerged log to entice a hidden bass. Peter’s kind of fishing is hard work. I know many fishermen here on the coast. Nearly all are weather-beaten men who are on the water in any season. Shrimpers, crabbers, and oystermen display calloused hands, wind-chapped faces, and bent backs from the labor of hauling the bounty of the sea.

Peter is not alone:

They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.–John 21:3b

Peter is joined by his fellow disciples, at least two of them (James and John) are fishermen such as he. “Many hands make short work,” as the saying goes, and Peter probably welcomes the help.

It is likely that in addition to Peter needing to clear his mind, there may be a real need for the band of disciples. It has been at least a week since Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Although this wonderful thing has happened, there are basic necessities to be met. Food is one of them. It is likely that some of their efforts are simply to re-supply dwindling stocks in this time of uncertainty.

The hours on the water, a night of work, however prove fruitless. Frustration may be growing. Maybe conditions are not quite right. Maybe the additional hands are unskilled to fish (Matthew the tax collector or another “all thumbs” landlubber may be with them, tripping over lines or beginning to complain) and frustration is mounting.

Peter thinks of the three times he betrayed Jesus that night and may be muttering, “I am a failed disciple and now I can’t even catch a fish.”

As dawn breaks, someone walking on the beach hails them:

But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Boys,* have you any food?”–John 21:4-5a (*Jesus actually uses a word for young boys or "lads.")

Oh great. All this bumbling about and now a bystander wants to offer free fishing advice. Peter has forgotten more things about fishing than most people–but now he is wondering if he has forgotten too much. Instead of telling the beachcomber to “pound sand,” they play along:

They answered Him, “No.”

And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.–John 21:5b-6

First nothing and then, suddenly FISH. Lots of fish! All at once they know this is Jesus. John shouts it first:

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.–John 21:7-8

While the name of Jesus still rings in the clear morning air, Peter leaps into the water to swim to his Master. On the boat there are frantic commands as John and James scramble to keep the nets and fish while people smack each other with oars and grab at ropes to get the boat ashore.

There, Jesus is waiting:

Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”–John 21:9-10

Jesus has a fire banked with hot coals and has already begun cooking breakfast. Peter drags himself ashore but (still the responsible fisherman) goes back to help pull in the catch as the boat strikes the beach. A massive load of fish–and a miracle–on this bright morning.

We know that during the meal that follows, Peter is restored by Jesus. John mentions the “charcoal fire” and reveals that the only other mention of it in his gospel is the charcoal fire in the courtyard where Peter denied Jesus.

Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter answers, Jesus instructs him to “feed My sheep.” This both breaks Peter’s heart and puts things right between them forever. The stranger on the shore is the Friend and King who takes away guilt and sin to bring restoration with God the Father.

All of this feels like a parable–the fish, the boat, the call of Jesus–because in some ways, it is a parable. In these moments we see everything filled with meaning, and there is a part of us that wishes the same could happen in our lives.

And it does. When you become a Christian, your life becomes like a parable, too. God speaks to you through the Word and through prayer and fills your life with His presence. All around you is the evidence of His work through creation and providence–and through the Holy Spirit, you are never alone. As one commentator describes:

It is up this kind of life that Christians are called. Invited to strain and listen to what God may be telling us through the nets of fish that miraculously appear in our own lives as well as the catchless days.

Think of this. Your best and your worst days in this life are filled with His presence, even if you feel He is so very far away.  For the unbeliever, life is a series of tests of strength, hoping for good luck, or working a network for success. The believer gives even the ordinary things to God and relies on Him.

True, surviving this life does involve strength, skill, work, and other earthly things. Zig Ziglar’s saying still rings true: Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude. However, life in Christ means always being able to tell others “I know a guy” in the ultimate way.

Peter and the disciples were probably not wrong to go back to fishing, at least if they were simply trying to stay busy or provide for the now-struggling band of followers of the Risen King. The thing that Jesus did by calling to them from the shore was to show them that He had other plans for them in mind–and that even the most mundane things of life now had new meaning for them as followers of the Christ.

When you follow Jesus, He becomes Lord over even the ordinary things in life. He takes away the “big things” such as sin and death - but you can now pray and seek help for the “small things.” You seek Him with your job, your health, and even the simple daily struggles within your family.

Jesus calls you to give ALL of your life to Him, not just the things you feel you cannot handle. What’s more, He will provide you with the grace and peace to get through. There is no guarantee of material success or even a giant net of fish, but Jesus will always be ready when you come back ashore. As the old hymn “Jesus Calls us O’er the Tumult” proclaims:


Jesus calls us o'er the tumult
of our life's wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying "Christian, follow me."

Peter thought that he and the disciples were “just fishing,” until they heard Jesus’s sweet voice calling to them from the shore. Then they knew that much more than a simple fishing trip was taking place.

Do you “know a guy?” Do you know THE guy to get you through this life?

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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