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(John 21:1–14) A Refresher Course . . . Fishing 101

(John 21:1–14) A Refresher Course . . . Fishing 101

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in John
Ref: John 21:1–14

Isn't it strange that when Jesus performed miracles in front His disciples they would sometimes be surprised by His power? Here these men are... they've given up their lives to follow the Messiah, yet when He reveals His true nature to them, they seem stunned! Jesus had to refresh their memories at times, just like He has to refresh ours, that while He is a friend and companion... He is also God.



(John 21:1-14)

After Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he appeared at least 6 different times in or around Jerusalem.  Afterward, the disciples returned to Galilee, still uncertain, still unsure about what would be their future.

Just think about what they had experienced over the last few weeks:

-the triumphal entry of their beloved teacher and the high hopes that Rome would be overthrown and the Kingdom established

-a supper in an upper room filled with mysterious actions and          words

-the suprise of a late night garden arrest

-the betrayal by one of their closest friends

-the trial and crucifixion of Jesus

-his burial

-his resurrection and appearance to them, saying more                      mysterious words

What are they to do now?  They did as they were told and returned to Galilee. . .and waited.  As they waited, their uncertainty and confusion must have mounted. . .what will happen next?

So they did what they knew how to do best - eight of them packed their gear and went fishing!

This leads me to the first observation about these verses in John 21.

1)  The risen Lord is still using simple places to teach special lessons.

John 21:1  After thsee things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Teberias, and He manifested Himself in this way.

2.  There were together Simon Peter and Thomas called Didymus (twin), and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee (that would be James and John), and two others of His disciples.

3.  Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing."  They said to him, "We will also come with you."

I love this - Peter's tired of sitting around - he's restless - besides, his hands haven't felt the rough nets in his hands or the sea on his face in quite some time. . ."I'm going fishing".  The other men said, "That sounds like a terrific idea - we'll come to."

So, it will be in something almost as old as man - fishing, on the waves of their beloved Sea where they will learn some incredible lessons.

They are using cast nets that are thrown from the boat in a circular fashion.  Complete cast nets have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back 2000 years before the time of Christ.  Nothing unusual about this setting - just 8 fellas fishing! 

For you, the ordinary might be in the kitchen or laundry room;  it might be the corporate board room or at an easel or behind a cash register or lectern or in front of a computer terminal. . .an ordinary setting. . .

It is in the grind of the everyday world where God reveals His glory.  What is your world?  What is typical to you. . .what is your profession or craft - where has God assigned you?  It will be in that classroom where He will teach you the most.

The ordinary duties of life become His chalkboard upon which he draws the most profound lessons.

And Jesus is about to teach His disciples some profound truths that they will never forget.

2)  The risen Lord is still taking us to our places of greatest confidence to teach us our need for total dependance. 

Notice the last part of verse 3.  They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.

Now that's a loaded statement.  I've only fished 2 or 3 times in my life...verse three will tell you why.

But I have read of some, like Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone who would go fishing without any bait - they had no intention or desire to catch anything- it was a diversion - a time to think.

I personally don't think Simon Peter was Thomas Edison - he wasn't out there to think, he was out there to catch fish...and he was good at it too.

He knew every fishing spot on that sea - he'd traveled every square inch of it a thousand times.  So for the Bible to record, "and they caught nothing. . ." is as much to say, they were frustrated, tired, and hungry.

Where do you feel the most confident?  Where is your place of greatest strength?

There's no such thing in the Kingdom of God as a self-made man or woman. . .this is not an easy lesson for a society in which a "self‑made man" or a "self‑made woman" is idealized. 

A survey was taken some time ago among preschool teachers, administrators, parents, and child‑development specialists. They were asked what the most important thing for a child to learn in preschool was;  "self‑reliance and self‑confidence" won the day with 34%.    Percentage who said "sympathy, empathy, and concern for others" 5%.  

There is hardly anything more destructive to the believer's growth than self-confidence, self-assurance.

And so look at the disciples - they are in the area where they know the most - they've seen the most; they are experts at their craft.  They are self-assured, confident.  Yet, it is here that Jesus teaches them that it is possible to fail in your sphere of expertise  - the other side of that lesson is, "If you follow me into something you've never done before, it is possible to succeed.

A special program preceding the 1988 Winter Olympics featured blind skiers being trained for slalom skiing, impossible as that sounds.  Paired with sighted skiers, the blind skiers were taught on the flats how to make right and left turns.  When that was mastered, they were taken to the slalom slope, where their sighted partners skied beside them shouting, "Left!" and "Right!" As they obeyed the commands, they were able to negotiate the corse and cross the finish line, depending solely on the sighted skiers' word.  It was either complete trust or complete failure.

If I could follow up this observation with another one like it, it would be this:

3)  N.T. disciples are still learning that serving in the energy of the flesh produces empty nets.  

It's at this time that Jesus makes His post-resurrection appearance. 

4.  But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

5.  Jesus therefore said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish do you?"

Now stop here - this is about the worst possible question you can ask a fisherman who's spent all night catching mosquito bites, tin can and rubber boots. . ."You didn't catch anything did you?"

6.  They answered Him, "No."  Their answer implies they are through trying!  They didn't say, "We will after one more try. . ."  "Not yet."  Simply "No." 

The Lord isn't asking questions becuas He doesn't know the answer.  He is bringing them to admit failure.

God has asked many questions;  His first ever was "Adam, where are you?"  Is that becuase He didn't know where Adama and Eve were hiding?  "Let's see, are they behind the maple tree or the azaleas?"

"Cain, where is Abel your brother?"

God asks questions to force us to face the situation.

Many times our efforts at work, relationships, parenting, ministry leave us with "empty nets."  I'm convinced the Lord allows us to experience lack of productivity, frustration, and even failure to bring us closer to the truth that dependancy upon Him is not optional, it's essential.

Now notice verse 6.  And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch."  They cast therefore and then they were not able to haul it in becuase of the great number of fish.

It seems like such a silly command - throw the nets over the right side.  The point is simple - if you follow my direction, there will be effictiveness, fruitfulness, productivity - to disregard my direction means one thing - an empty net.

But, Lord, why the right side of the boat - you can bring the fish to the left side can't you - besides I'm already facing in that direction - my feet are already firmly planted - why make this command to cast in the other direction.

The critical point is that Christ made the command.  Not that it made human sense; not that it made life easy; not that it followed the normal pattern of fishing;  Jesus Christ just said it.

How often, like these disciples, in our own wisdom we have been fishing on the wrong side, making our own decisions, trying to get things done in our own strength and wisdom, really saying to ourselves, "I'm going fishing, on my own."

Some of you might be struggling right now with the direction the risen Lord has given you - you know what His command is, you know He's asking you to make a change - to move from familiar territyory into unchartered waters, to throw your net in another direction and your heart simply says "No!"

"Men, stop throwing your net over the left side of the boat - I want you to change your target area - throw the nets over the right side."

So the disciples then and now - we can continue to throw the net the way we want  - "Lord, I'm used to serving you in this way. . .I know what I'm doing. . .I'm a left side of the boat fisherman. . .this is the way I learned to fish. . .just bless what I know how to do!

I was trained that churches grow by doing certain things. . .certain methods had to be used.  That was ingrained into me, and I had served on several church staffs part time while attending college and seminary.  Churches, for instance, that experienced first time visitors to church only after there was a concerted effort in canvassing neighborhoods.  Mailing things were okay, and the newspaper was okay, but "knocking on doors is God's method for church growth."  By the way, I'm not knocking, knocking on doors. . .especially for older, established churches.   I was also trained to be in everyone's home who visited the church as soon as possible.   A good pastor spends time in everyone's living room.  So, thirty days before Colonial held it's first service, in the heat of August, I walked all over the neighborhood we had just moved to and knocked on every door; I wrote down notes and names of those who seemed interested and then followed up with a personal letter.  I would see to it that someone was at that first service.  And so, at our first service, 28 people came - and not one of them from my neighborhood.  To this day, no one has come from that neighborhood.  Maybe it's becuase they all met me. . .It's as if the Lord said to me very early on, "I'm going to build this church and it will be through totally different methods than you've expected - you can work out of the left side of the boat all you want, but the fish are on the right side."  But then I had another problem - I had all these people to visit - I was out every night - showing up at people's doors unnanounced - the standard line of pastoral reasoning is "If you want people to come back, you have to visit them within a week of their first visit."  This is what I was trained to do - I love being with people, plus, this was God's method of keeping people coming back to church, right?!  Problem was, by the end of the first two Sundays, I had 20 families who had visitied Colonial.  I was hardly ever home.  So, not long after that I knocked on the door of a man one evening; he was a mid 50's gentleman, an executive with a major company in the Triangle - I would end up discipling him for nearly a year. . .he answered the door - I told him how happy I was he visited and I'd like to visit with him for a while.  He invited me in and then halfway through the living room, he turned and looked at me and said, "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"  I said "Sure!"  "he said, "Do preachers ever make appointments, or do they always just show up?!"  I had never learned that in seminary. 

I had to relearn fishing.

Now I'm not suggesting that everyone in ministry has to do things my way - that would be just as wrong - but for me, for this church the Lord made it very clear early on - "Listen, here's how I want you to throw your net - don't spend all your time in living rooms, spend time in the kitchen, preparing a meal for hungry people. . .if they come back it will be becuase I want them to, when I want them to, for the reasons I want them to return."

What about other areas. . .Many  of us might be trying to raise children by simply copying someone elses plan, or book or system.  God may want you to do things differently; unique to your family.

Some of you might be treating your marital relationship with the same harmful patterns that you saw growing up - Adopting Biblical patterns for your relationships may involve breaking deep rooted patterns that have been passed through your family for generations.

Some of you might be convinced that God would never use you in an area of service where you have no experience whatsoever, and so you continue to force yourself forward in an area that continues to yield unfullment - empty nets.

He wants you to head to the right side of the boat, leave the left side.

That leads me to observation #4

4)  Following the risen Lord will often move us from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

This event in John 21 is a refresher course, a reminder to something that occured years earlier.   Luke chapter 5 records another similar incident. 


On their first fishing trip under the direction of Jesus, Luke records in verse 4.  And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."  And Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets."  6.  And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break.'

skip to verse 8.  But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"

9.  For amazement had seized him and all his compnaions becuase of the catch of fish which they had taken. 

Now notice the middle part of verse 10.  And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men."

What fascinates me is that the Lord precedes His commission, His life changing challenge to Peter to become a fisher of men with the words, "Don't be afraid."  Why?  Becuase unfamiliar territory is always frightening.

These men knew a lot about fish - but fishing for fish is a lot different than fishing for people!  For one thing, all the work in lakeside fishing is in the fishing - once you've caught your catfish or bass, you're finished - and the fish dies.  But with people, when they are caught by the truth, they don't die, they come to life.  And your work has just begun.

Jeus Christ says to these men, established in their careers, rooted in their families, come away with me from the familiar to something totally unfamiliar - I want you to catch men.

By the way, the term "Fishing for men" was not invented by Jesus; it had been used for years by Greek and Roman teachers.  To be a "fisher of men" in that day meant to seek to persuade men and "catch" them with the truth; whatever that particlar teachers brand of truth was.

So in affect, Jesus is telling these men to trade in their fishing poles for kindgom truth.  Their bait will no longer be earthly worms but heavenly wisdom - while they were used to working with their strong muscles, Jesus now wants them to work with their mouths -declaring the gospel truth of the risen Lord!  WHAT A CHANGE!

I like the words of Kent Hughes who says, "The horizon of these fishermen's lives was bound by the margins of Galilee.  Once in a while they went down to Jeruslame for a festival.  But by and large they knew little more than the deck of their boat, the currents of the lake, and the handful of people in the marketplace. . .then Christ came and how their world changed!  John would go to Ephesus, Thomas to India, Andrew would go the borders of Russia."

Men who's lives had been wrapped up in the small affiars of mending nets and catching fish, were now moved to reach the world.

Are you willing for God to expand your world? 

Principle #5

5)  N.T. disciples are still discovering  special surprises behind doorways labeled obedience.  

Go back to John's Gospel . . .

It's possible for the disciples to say, "No."  and row into shore - I'm convinced that the Lord would still have fed them, taught them the significance of empty nets and their need to obey him; but they would have missed a wonderful miracle.

You ever been surprised by God. . .when you answer His call to become fishers of men, get ready; you begin a life of unpredictable events. There's no game plan - you have no idea what that may mean for tomorrow - you begin to live with a sense of anticipation - "What is God going to do next?"

Frankly, that's one of the reasons many people stay close to shore.

But for those of you who are already fish, let me encourage you with the next observation:

6)  N.T. disciples are still recognizing that the Lord's direction will always be accompanied by His  provision.

Where the Lord directs you, He will develop you. . .His calling guarantees his enabling.  If He wants you to fish, don't ever forget He knows where the fish are - He knows what bait to use - He knows where to cast the line - He knows how many fish you'll catch - He knows when you'll need nourishment - He knows when you'll need encouragement - and He knows when it's time to come to shore.

He will never lead you somewhere and then leave you.

The amazing thing is that Jesus never said to them or to us, "Follow me and you will watch ME catching men."   The truth is, Jesus could row the boat, cast the net, and haul everything to shore. . ."

But instead, He has chosen to use us - He doesn't want a boatload of spectators; He wants us to roll up our sleeves, feel the tug on the nets, work together with others and in His strength.

Chuck Swindoll applied this passage by writing, "Excellence in the Christian life requires casting our nets into the sea of humanity, while mediocrity lies tanning on the beach, watching the fishing boats of others sail by." 

This passage teaches us that Christ demands obedience but He also delivers blessing.  What do we do????  We get involved by thowing the net!

One final observation:

7)  The risen Lord is still revealing his willingness to forgive and and provide second and third chances. 

How do you think they all felt as they ate their fish with Jesus. . .excited?  Somewhat.  Embarassed?  Perhaps.  Uncertain?  No doubt.

The wisdom of the world would say, "Lord, you selected 12 losers; start over, why waste any more time on them - they obviously have no real potential.

In 1894, the rhetoric teacher at Harrow in England wrote on the 16‑year‑old's report card, "a conspicuous lack of success."  The 16‑year‑old was Winston Churchill.  In 1902, the poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly returned a sheaf of poems to a 28‑year‑old poet with this curt note:  "Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse."  The poet was Robert Frost.  In 1905, the University of Berlin turned down a Ph.D.  dissertation as being "irrelevant and fanciful."  The young physics student who wrote the dissertation was Albert Einstein, and his dissertaion was on the theory of relativity. 

There isn't any doubt in my mind that the disciples expected anything but another chance. . .after three years of training, they had flunked the final exam.

I also believe that they easily tied the events here in John to the events three and a half years earlier where Jesus had miraculously caused them to bring in an incredible catch and then said, "From now on, I want you to be fishers of men."  They had failed him, why would he invite them to fish for men and women again.

I want you to see something wonderful.  It wasn't the final exam after all.   John 21:9.  And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish placed on it, and bread.  10.  Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught."  1. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.  12.  Jesus said to them, Come and have breakfast."  None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?"  knowing that it was the Lord.  13.  Jesus came and took the bread and gave them, and the fish likewise.  14.  This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples after He was raised from the dead.

By the way, Jesus had always before given thanks before eating - here he doesn't.  Why?  Becuase He was the creative source.  You notice in verse 9 that, even though Peter dragged the net to shore (in verse 10) and Jesus asked Peter to bring some of the fish - look at verse 9.  And when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire (already; present tense) laid, and fish placed on it, and bread.  Where'd the bread come from. . .where'd the fish come from, the charcoal already glowing with heat; miracle upon miracle as Jesus Christ, the resurrected Creator reveals His ability to not only command a school of fish into their nets, but create a fish and bread to eat.

Now back to principle at hand; In the Middle Eastern culture of Christ's day, to eat a meal with someone who has wronged you was the specific act of revealing that you have forgiven them.  This was more than breakfast; this was Jesus Christ's special way of showing them that He had forgiven them. 

So here is Jesus Christ playing Servant, Host, Cook, Waiter, Friend, Teacher, Lord.

In effect telling them He had not, and would not give up on them. . .cast them aside. 

What He wanted from them, as the rest of this chapter will reveal over the next few weeks of study, is that Jesus wanted them not to give up either. . .He had plans for them. . .He had a future. . .they were going to be fishers of men after all.

Poland's famous concert pianist and prime minister, Ignace Paderewski was in concert.  The magnificent concert hall was packed;  everyone was waiting in anticipation.  A mother, wishing to encourage her young son's progress at the piano, bought tickets for a Paderewski performance.  They had found their seats near the front of the concert hall and this young boy was awed by everything, including the majestic grand piano waiting on stage.  Soon the mother found a friend to talk to, and the boy slipped away.  Suddenly, the sound of piano playing was heard, and as the audience quieted, they saw that is was this young boy, seated on the bench, innocently picking out, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star."  His mother gasped; at first the crowd laughed, but then people began to shout, get him off there.  Before she could make it to the stage, the master had heard the commotion and suddenly appeared on the stage and quickly moved to the piano.  He whispered to the boy, "Don't quit ‑‑ keep playing."  Leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part.  Soon his right arm reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obligato.  Together, beautifully, the old concert master and the young boy held the crowd mesmerized.  All the while Pederweski kept whispering, "Don't stop son, don't quit."

In our lives, unpolished though we may be, it is the Master who surrounds us and whispers in our ear, time and again, "Don't quit ‑‑ keep playing."

That was one of the lessons that fish and bread breakfast taught them.

And it teaches us, His disciples, the same thing.

You may not be accomplished, none of us really master life, wrong notes are played no matter how hard we concentrate, our hands grow tired, our minds distracted by the crowds. . .Jesus Christ says, "Don't quit, don't stop.

Whenever you fail Him and repent, Jesus Christ forgives.   He continues to direct, he continues to offer nourishment and fellowship - "Don't stop now. . .play on. . .or rather, stay in the boat, don't stop - with the wind of faith in your sails . . . and keep on fishing."

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