The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. John 21:1-14 (15-19)
Third Sunday of Easter, 18 April 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the first part of the appointed Holy Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter, John 21:1-14.
We pick up right where we left off last week. During the Easter season this year, the appointed Gospel lessons come from St. John. We heard from the latter part of chapter 20 last Sunday. It recorded Jesus’ visit to His disciples on Easter evening and a week later.
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 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 will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Seven preachers went fishing. Saying it that way makes it sound like a joke. Well, look at the results! It was! They caught nothing. Why did they go out to fish? Hadn’t the Lord risen from the dead? Did they forget His two miraculous appearances to them, entering a locked room? Why were they going back to their previous profession of fishing for fish if the Lord had made them fishers of men?
The Lord cares about details. Things in Scripture aren’t just mentioned for no reason. Since we know God cares about details, you can know that He cares about you!
CPR: Since his call into ministry back in chapter one, this is the first time that Nathaniel is mentioned by name. At his call Jesus said that he would “see greater things.” This certainly points in that direction. The account sounds somewhat like Luke 5, but they are not the same experience. Although the resurrection has taken place, the fishermen still fish. Life goes on. However, after a night of fishing, these experienced fishermen have caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, do you have any fish?" They answered him, "No." He 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.
Jesus stood on the shore; yet they did not know that it was Jesus. Luke records that the disciples on the road to Emmaus on Easter evening did not immediately recognize Jesus, either. John records in chapter 20 that Mary Magdalene mistook Him for a gardener.
Perhaps it would be helpful to reexamine the first verse of the text: After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.
We’ve heard this word before. The water to wine miracle concludes with this verse: (2:1) This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested [revealed] His glory. Also with the healing of the man born blind: (9:3) Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed [revealed] in him.” In Luke 24, Jesus was recognized in the breaking of bread. In order to show He was more than a gardener, in fact the very Creator, risen from the dead, Jesus said, “Mary.” And she recognized Him. How does Jesus reveal Himself in this text? The great catch of fish!
…Now they were not able to haul [the net] in, because of the quantity of fish. That 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. The 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.
Jesus’ miracles were not done just for show. Miracles have a purpose. Jesus, and apostles later, do miracles that are connected to faith. If someone doesn’t believe Jesus could heal them in the New Testament, does the healing take place? Childlike trust in Jesus is faith. Looking to Jesus for full forgiveness and all good things to support body and life is faith. Believing in that which you have not seen is blessed faith.
John saw the miraculous catch of fish and realized that only one person could be responsible. Peter dove into the water to see the Lord, probably remembering his threefold denial in the back of his mind. Jesus forgives Peter in this chapter.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So 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.
Speaking of fish, take a look at your bulletin insert on the triangle side.
Why did the Holy Spirit inspire John to record carefully the number of fish caught in the second great catch (John 21:1-14)? Edwyn Hoskyns has written, “Now 153 is the sum of the first 17 of the natural numbers: 1 + 2 + 3 + … + 17 equals 153, and therefore 153 dots can be arranged in the form of an equilateral triangle with 17 dots on the base line. [Granted, the illustration provided isn’t exactly equilateral.]  is therefore a triangular number. Enough of mathematics. How about biology?
Greek zoologists of the day held that there were 153 different kinds of fish… The disciples, therefore, make the perfect catch of fish, one of every kind, and fulfill concretely both the prophecy of Ezekiel and the parable recorded in Matthew 13. It is interesting how the Lord used this mathematical and biological detail as prophecy.
Ezekiel 47:10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to En-eglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. Matthew 13:47-48
The fish are to remind us of converts to Christianity. A perfect catch for fishers of men! And that is what disciples today are to be: fishers of men.
“Thank the Lord and sing His praise,” we sing. “Tell everyone what He has done. Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and proudly bear His name. He recalls His promises and leads His people forth in joy with shouts of thanksgiving. Alleluia, alleluia.”
The songs of Easter continue. And it’s rather easy to sing them and confess our Resurrected Lord gathered together with other Christians. Out there, beyond these walls, it’s much tougher. We don’t always rejoice. Do you always proudly bear His name? If you’re honest with yourself, you would have to admit that it is sometimes embarrassing to be a Christian, or when other people learn that you’re a Christian? And all too often we’d rather remain silent, even when no one else makes the good confession of Christ. Do you tell everyone what He has done?
New Christians are pretty forthcoming about what it was like to be an unbeliever. One of the things they are most surprised by and upset by was the silence of some Christians around them. Of course, not every Christian had been silent because they eventually heard the Gospel, believed in Jesus, and affiliated with a Christian congregation. But many Christians in their families, neighborhoods, schools or workplaces remained silent.
“Tell everyone what He has done.” That’s exactly what many of us are afraid to do. We’re afraid of rejection. Aren’t you at least a little afraid of ridicule? Shouldn’t we be more afraid that our coworkers, classmates, neighbors, friends and family won’t end up in heaven?
Such silence bothered one new believer. “I guess I wasn’t too Christian acting for a new Christian,” he said, “But I went to four [people] that I knew were Christians. They went to church and everything. But they didn’t have much to do with me. So I confronted all of them at one time. I kind of got mad when I asked them why they never tried to get to know me better when they knew I was lost. Not one of them said a word. So I walked away mad and got a parting word, ‘Why didn’t all of you tell me to go to hell? That’s what your actions said to me.’” His real quote was a little more colorful.
I’m pretty sure that’s not what most Christians intend by their actions. Yet, this is how one former unbeliever perceived the actions, or rather, inactions, of Christians who keep Jesus to themselves. Many Americans would come to church if invited. Don’t let one “no” discourage you from inviting someone else, or even the same people again and again.
Was this the most helpful way this new Christian could have encouraged his acquaintances to tell others about Jesus? Perhaps not. Does he have a point? He sure does. Is it often hard to witness? Sure. Sometimes we are the ones who need to steer a conversation with a non-Christian in order to speak about spiritual things. Other times, they’ll ask you questions.
Asking questions at a public lecture may not be the best venue to change people’s minds, but it is an opportunity to for at least a few to make and hear the good confession.
Look again at the sermon insert. You don’t have to prepare a canned speech. Use the Word. Be yourself. Be honest. Be loving. Tell them the good news about Jesus. Tell them what you believe by confessing the creed you learned even before Confirmation class, the APOSTLES’ CREED. Speak of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion. Tell the story of Jesus and His forgiveness. Keep it simple—law and Gospel, sin and forgiveness. Invite them to Sunday School, Bible Class, or Divine Service.
Are we the first Christians who have kept silent? Not hardly. Look at Peter, typical impulsive Peter. He missed the boat! He swam to shore while everyone else took the boat. He denied Jesus three times on the very night when he said he’d rather die than fall away. He gave in to peer pressure. He knew Jesus was in trouble after the arrest in the garden. Later, in our appointed Gospel lesson for today, Jesus forgives him three times. Our Lord’s forgiveness even covers the sin of silence. Then He says to us, “Go and sin no more.”
Forgiven, we sing, “Thank the Lord and sing His praise; Tell everyone what He has done. Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and proudly bear His name. He recalls His promises and leads His people forth in joy with shouts of thanksgiving. Alleluia, alleluia.”
Our Lord’s forgiveness even covers the sin of silence. Then He says to us, “Go and sin no more.” He lays before the Church and her pastors the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That day Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus continues to reveal Himself to us. In His table fellowship, the meal and teaching were accompanied by His physical presence. Our menu today is not the breakfast of bread and fish eaten by the Sea of Tiberias, but the Lord’s very Body and Blood according to His words along with the bread and wine of the Sacrament for the forgiveness of your sins, even sins of omission and silence.
Why did the Holy Spirit inspire John to so carefully record the number of fish caught in the second great catch (John 21:1-14)? Why 153? Why? God cares about the important details. We aren’t told in sacred scripture how tall Jesus was, or what color His eyes were, or how He wore His facial hair. The Lord has revealed to us the most important things. He has made known to you the gift of salvation. He wants you to be with Him forever and have life in His name. He wants to assure you of His forgiveness.
Remember this portion of the Holy Gospel from last week? Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Jesus used the miracle of the 153 fish so that the disciples would recognize Him by faith and once again be who Jesus had called them to be—fishers of men. They were called to make disciples of all nations—all kinds of human fish—by means of baptizing and teaching that by believing, you, and all who hear and believe the Easter message of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, may have life in His name.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.