John 21:1-3 (NIV) 1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
On verses 1-3: By “going out to fish” (v3), Peter may have been saying, “I tried and failed at this spiritual leadership thing. I’m going back to my old life, my old job as a fisherman. How else am I going to eat and live now that I’ve denied Jesus and made a fool of myself?” Going out to fish with Peter were James and John (“the sons of Zebedee” – v2), who were Peter’s old fishing partners and fellow disciples, as well as Thomas, Nathanael and two other disciples.
Whereas Peter had given up on himself, Jesus had not given up on Peter. In the sequence that follows, Jesus shows Peter that he has not given up on him by subtly recalling specific miracles Jesus had done in the lives of Peter and his disciples. It’s a great reminder that when we have failed, or think we have failed, in major ways, we may be inclined to give up on any dreams we had concerning God using our lives and going back to our old way of living. But even after we have failed in major ways, Jesus still does not give up on us.
John 21:4-6 (NIV) 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
On verses 4-6: These verses recall an earlier miracle Jesus did in Luke 5:4-11 when Jesus told Peter to put out into deep water and lay down his nets, after which Peter experienced a miraculous catch of fish. That moment was significant in Peter’s life, because it was then that time that Peter said to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”, in response to which Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men”, enlisting Peter as a disciple. By leading Peter to yet another miraculous catch of fish here in John 21, it’s as if Jesus is saying, “Remember how I called you, Peter? Your call from me had nothing to do with your own goodness or merit. It was all because of my grace. It still is.” `
John 21:7 (NIV) 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
On verse 7: Upon hearing John say, “It’s the Lord!”, passionate and impetuous Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore. Why didn’t Peter just take the boat? Wouldn’t the boat have been faster? Couldn’t the other disciples have benefited from Peter’s help hauling the fish back to shore? In any event Peter jumping into the water reminds me of another time Peter got out of the boat and headed toward Jesus on the basis that “It is the Lord”: that was when Peter, even for a moment, walked on water with Jesus before sinking and needing to be pulled back up by Jesus (Matthew 14:23-33). As Peter is swimming here in John 21, I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter thought to himself, “The last time my head was under water this way, Jesus pulled me out. Maybe Jesus will do that again for me?”
John 21:8-12a (NIV) 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”…
On verses 8-12: Here Jesus serves the disciples a meal of bread and fish. Does that sound familiar? Of course it does. For one of Jesus’ most famous miracles was when he fed a crowd of over 5,000 with just a few loaves of bread and fish that the disciples found and gave to Jesus. That miracle taught the disciples an important lesson, which is that Jesus can take the little that we think we have and feed a multitude. By serving a meal of bread and fish here in John 21, Jesus was reminding Peter and the other disciples of that same important lesson.
Also, notice that it was these disciples who had left and abandoned Jesus, and yet Jesus comes to them not with judgment but rather comes to serve them. Who does that? Here we see the incredible love of Jesus, how he would humbly serve those who denied him and left him for dead. Jesus would do the same for us. Even when we had hurt him, denied him, and abandoned him, Jesus served us by dying on the cross for our sins to bring us back to God. That’s the incredible love of Jesus.
Finally, notice that though Peter, James and John were formerly professional fishermen, they caught nothing by themselves, but with Jesus’ help they caught so many large fish. It’s a reminder that our ability to gain wealth comes from the Lord, not from ourselves. Ultimately God is the source of our provision, not ourselves, our ability, our profession, or our business. You can have the business, the connections, the capital, but if you don’t have God’s help, you won’t succeed.
John 21:12b-14 (NIV) 12…None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
On verses 12-14: Not only does this moment recall the time when Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it to feed the 5,000 (John 6:11), even more it recalls the last supper, when Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you” and for your forgiveness. Perhaps the disciples were reminded in that moment of the reason Jesus was betrayed, arrested, crucified and killed in the first place: for the forgiveness of our sins.
To me it is touching and powerful that everything Jesus was doing here in John 21:1-14 pointed the disciples back to previous miracles Jesus had done, and even more importantly pointed them back to God’s grace and forgiveness which are not based on our performance but simply based on God’s unconditional love and mercy for us.
Perhaps you have failed God, or think you have failed God, in some major ways. Remember this: God’s mercy is greater your mistakes. Though you may have given up on yourself, Jesus has not given up on you. In fact, like He did with Peter here, He’s gently pointing you back to His grace and mercy and saying, “I still love you and I still want you”.
Jesus, thank You that You have not given up on me, no matter how many mistakes I have made. Thank You that You are always leading me to Your grace and mercy, reminding me that not even my biggest mistakes need to separate me from Your love. Thank You that Your call on my life is not based on my own merit as if I earned it; rather Your call on my life is a gift of Your undeserved grace. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!