Open your Bibles to John 21:1-14. As we begin this morning, I thought it would be wise to give you a brief roadmap for the summer. We have two Sundays left in this wonderful book of the Gospel of John. Then on June 18th, I will be on a short vacation with my family and Tristan will be preaching from the book of 1 John. Upon my return, On June 25th, I will be preaching on the topic of the Church for one Sunday. Then in the month of July and August, I plan on picking up where I left off two summers ago and I will be preaching from the book of Psalms. Also, during those two months, Tom and Jeff will each take a turn and preach one Sunday. Then in September, God willing, we will begin working our way, verse by verse through the book of Romans. Something that I am already excited to start. However, before we can get to Romans, we must first finish up the wonderful book of John. So with that said, let us read out text, pray that God would open the eyes of our heart, and then study what God has to tell us this morning.
John 21:1-14 – “After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3Simon 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. 4Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6He 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. 7That 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. 8The 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. 9When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So 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. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”
Jesus Reveals Himself for a Third Time
John chapter 21 is known as he the epilogue. If you recall, this gospel began with a prologue, so it is only fitting that it ends with an epilogue. John MacArthur likes to say that in Chapter 21 we see John tying up some lose ends. And I for one am glad that the Holy Spirit inspired John to do this, for I have found the last chapter of John to be one of the most convicting chapters over the years as it relates to serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we begin this section we see in verse 1 that “Jesus revealed himself again.” Then we are told in Verse 14, that “this was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” If you recall from last week, in chapter 20 we are told of the first two occasions, both times the disciples were hiding out in a locked room. The first time it was ten of the disciples, due to the absence of Thomas, and the second it was all eleven of the disciples. The reason that it was not 12 is because Judas has hung himself after betraying Jesus and Matthias, the replacement of Judas, didn’t occur until after the ascension of Jesus.
Even though this is the last time John speaks of Jesus appearing to them in his gospel, it is not the actual last time. The last time is at his ascension, which can be found in Acts 1. In whole, Jesus appeared to over 500 people over a 40 day period. We are told this by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
For forty days, the resurrected Jesus appeared to people over and over and over again. Why is this important that Jesus appeared to multiple people over multiple days? Well one reason it is important is because a very common argument against the resurrection of Jesus is the belief that the followers of Christ experienced hallucinations, and that they didn’t actually see Jesus, they just believed they saw him, but were actually just hallucinating.
I have actually had someone who sees themselves as a very intelligent person make this argument to me. Now, why would someone who sees themselves as intelligent makes such a far fetched argument? It is because of the subsequent radical behavior of the apostles.
No one can deny that the disciples of Jesus claimed that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Likewise, no one can deny that not only did they claim it, but they lived like they believed it. It is not unusual for people to die for a lie, if they believe that lie. Just think about Islamic suicide bombers. They believe the lie and it makes them kill themselves. However, it is highly unusual for people to die for a lie, that they know to be a lie. Therefore for the disciples to lay down their life for the claim that Jesus is alive is proof that they actually believed it. So how could they claim to have seen the resurrected Jesus, lay down their lives for that belief and the resurrection actually be false? The world's answer…hallucination. The argument is that they really believed it, but they were mistaken because they were hallucinating.
This is shear stupidity. When people argue hallucination, you are seeing complete and utter spiritual blindness. Is it possible that one person hallucinates? I suppose. I have met a handful of people over my 38 years of living that have had legitimate hallucinations. But lets remember, we are not talking about one person who has seen Jesus. This story today marks the third time that Jesus has appeared to the disciples. For multiple people, 500 to be exact, over multiple days, 40 to be exact to all hallucinate the same exact hallucination that Jesus has come back to life my be one of the most improbable explanations ever concocted, but nonetheless people who claim to be intelligent make this highly unreasonable argument from time to time. And now, all of you should be able to easily cast it aside as foolishness with a few minor points.
Now with that minor point covered, let us now turn out attention to what the disciples were doing when Jesus appeared to them this third time. Verse 3 says, “Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” We are told that these seven disciples are fishing on the Sea of Tiberius. Many of you will probably recognize this sea by its more common name, the Sea of Galilee. This is interesting because in Chapter 20, the disciples were still in Jerusalem. This means that they traveled about 70 miles to Galilee. Why? Because this is where Jesus told them to go. We are told in Matthew 28, Jesus instructed them that after the resurrection to go to the mountain in Galilee and wait for Him there.
Now, what is missing in this chapter? A mountain. The disciples are not where they were suppose to be. Jesus told them to go and wait for Him at the mountain, and instead where are they? The have gone fishing.
Perhaps we should not find this overly odd, for many of the disciples it was their occupation prior to following Christ. In fact, it is exactly where Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him nearly three years earlier. We see this in Matthew 4:18, “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
It appears that we have come full circle, prior to Jesus, they were fishermen, now three years later after Jesus death and resurrection they are reverting to their old ways. They had fallen back into the rut of their previous lives.
Now what is even more interesting, is what Jesus had said to them the first time that he was with them after the resurrection. Do you recall? Just flip back and page and look at John 20:21, “Peace be with you. As the Farther has sent me, even so I am sending you.” As we stated, this was John's way of revealing the Great Commission of Jesus to go and make disciples. Jesus was commissioning his disciples to go and do exactly what Jesus did, to proclaim the Gospel, to call the sheep of God into the fold of God. And instead what are they doing, fishing.
Three years ago they dropped everything to follow Christ so that they could be fishers of men, and since the beginning of follow Jesus they saw some pretty amazing things, the greatest of these being the death and resurrection of Christ. And when Christ is absent from their life for just a few days what happens? They go back and pick up the nets that the once dropped at the foot of Christ.
And what was the result of this fishing expedition? Verse 3 says, “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” How about that? They are sitting around waiting for Jesus, they get antsy, so they take matters into their own hands and do what comes natural to them, and what do they get out of it? A big fat nothing. These guys were experts in fishing. They had fished these waters their entire life. They were the cream of the crop in in the Galilean fishing circles, but on this particular night they labored and labored for a big fat zero.
Was this coincidence? Absolutely not. There is no such thing. The lack of catching fish is just as much as a miracle as the fish they eventually catch. This fishing expedition is a God ordained real life parable for these seven disciples. Jesus was teaching them a lesson. A lesson he spoke to them in John 15:5 when he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
In this moment, the disciples were living their life independent from Jesus. They were pursuing the desires of their heart, not the desires of Christ's heart. And what did it get them? Nothing. Empty handed. Life without Jesus is a life full of empty nets.
But Christ did not abandon them to this wasted life? As he regularly does, he meets them where they are at, and speaks His word into their life. Now what should be noted is that Jesus waits until the very last minute. He lets his disciples toil and labor in the flesh of their worldly pursuits until they have reached the end of themselves, and then poses a simple question. Verse 5, “Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?”
For these expert fishermen, this was a humbling question. These seven men had to swallow their pride and cry out in the middle of the sea, and in the middle of the night, that their pursuits had gotten them absolutely nothing. And then we hear their Lord command them in verse 6 “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”
What is beautiful about this command is that it comes with a guarantee. Not only does Jesus tell them exactly what to do, but he guarantees results. Now with the command of Christ there is now a fork in the road. The disciples can puff out their chests and say, “We got this. We do not need your help.” Or they could eat their humble pie and do as Christ commands and fish by faith.
Thankfully, they do not double down on their flesh, but instead they obey, despite fishing all night, catching nothing, and despite looking into the water and seeing nothing but dark waters, they cast their net, one last time. In fact, my guess is that their arms and backs were tired from throwing that net out a hundred times that night. But they would do it one more time. And what was the result? Verse 6, “So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.”
What changed? Why were they now successful in life, but earlier they were not. Before they were trusting in their flesh. Now they were abiding in Christ. It was hearing and doing the word of Christ that changed their empty nets to abundantly full net. And what is their response? Verse 7, “That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
It is the Lord!
What an appropriate response, “It is the Lord.” For what does Lord mean? It means master, the one who has authority over another. Jesus was their Lord, he was their master, he had authority over them. And when he spoke into their life and the obeyed, their nets were full. And what did they do? In verse 7 we are told that Peter threw himself into the water and started to swim towards Jesus. Good old Peter. He gets a bad wrap a lot because he tends to stick his foot in his mouth, but I wish I was more like Peter. He loved Jesus. I mean really loved Jesus.
And with that, as far as we know, Peter finally put fishing behind him, and followed Christ completely. From this point on we see a Peter who was committed to Jesus. In fact, think how out of place this story would be in the book of Acts. It just wouldn't fit. Why? Because in the book of Acts we see the followers of Christ radically committed to being sent out into the world to fish for men. IN the book of acts we see followers of Christ who laid up treasures in Heaven, and laid aside the things of this temporary world. And were their spiritual nets full, yes they were. We are told in the book of Acts that God added to the number of Christians daily.
What Net do you Need to Lay Down and Leave Down?
So where does this leave us? I think it leaves us with the question, what net do you need to Lay Down and Leave down? We have likewise spent time with the resurrected Jesus. We have walked through the Gospel of John for eighteen months. We have studied his teachings, examined his miracles, and heard His great commission to go and make disciples, yet many of us walk out of these doors and go right back to fishing, not for men, but the things of this world. Instead of being about the Lord's work, we are all about our own work. We are behaving as if we are our own lords.
I am reminded of what Jesus says to the Church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:17-19, ”For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Many of us in this room need to repent. We need to lay down the nets of this world and start acting like Jesus really is our Lord.
The question is, will you listen? Will you finally lay down your waywardness and follow Christ? Will you finally abandon your old life and pick up your cross and follow Jesus? Jesus says in Luke 14:33, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Likewise, the Apostle Paul says to young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:4, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” Is this your aim, to please Christ? Or is your aim something else? It is time for us to lay down our idols and throw ourselves into the sea and swim to Jesus.