The Third Sunday of Easter
April 17-18, 2010
Text: John 21:1-14
Dear Friends in Christ,
Scripture does not record for us all of Christ’s appearances. In some cases full accounts are given. In others there is merely a reference. This would be the case with the appearance to the five hundred, the appearance to Simon Peter, and the appearance to His brother James. I would further suggest that there were likely additional appearances which are neither recorded or referenced. Why is that? The Bible is like a legal brief. It gives sufficient data to make the point. By the standards of a court of law, what is presented is sufficient several times over. Two is the number of adequate witness. If Christ appeared alive to two people, that would have been sufficient for a Jewish court. Yet, at least seven appearances are recorded in detail. Only one of those, the appearance to Mary Magdalene, is to a single person. All the others are to two or more people at once. In the case our text we have five of the surviving eleven present. Two others were present as well. We cannot even say for certain that these are part of the eleven. We can only say that they are followers of Jesus. Perhaps they are Philip and Andrew. That would make sense, as Philip and Nathanial are probably brothers, and Andrew and Peter are brothers. Perhaps they are Justice and Matthias. The book of Acts tells us that they were witnesses to everything that had happened. Nor does our text preclude the idea that others of the disciples joined them once they were ashore.
These seven followers of Jesus go fishing. We don’t know why they did this. Perhaps, they were thinking to return to their former lives. At least three of those named were fisherman by trade. Perhaps they were restless and needed something to occupy their time. We don’t know. What we know is that they went fishing and caught nothing. Fishing is like that. Some days you do well, but other days it is though there are no fish in the water at all. At dawn someone calls to them from the shore. They are to put their nets out on the other side of the boat. Now, one would assume that such a suggestion would be seen as comic. But there is some history here. Once before they had been told to put the nets out on the other side, with rather spectacular results. They follow the instruction and instantly find the net so full that they can’t haul it into the boat. It is John who first voices what they all must have been thinking. This was Jesus on the shore. In the repetition of the sign of the great catch of fish, they see their Lord.
There are several subtleties to this text. Jesus had told them that they would be fishers of men. Fishing for men would require some certain bits of understanding. There was more than finding the fish and putting the nets down. They could work forever by their own might and cunning and they would catch nothing. The nets would be empty until God put fish in the net.
This is instructive for us as well. For this is talking about evangelism. A great heresy regarding evangelism has infected our church body. That heresy has come to us from the Arminian Reformed churches - that is the Methodists and Pentecostals. This heresy is that by our own skill and cunning we can make the Church grow. We can find the fish and lure them into the net by our games and gimmicks. This is rank heresy and it leads people to hell. How so you ask? It starts with the notion that we are doing some thing for God. As Luther tells us, God doesn’t need our works, our neighbor does. As soon as we think we are doing something for God, we are in the realm of work righteousness. You see those who teach that we can make the Church grow by our works are also depending upon their own works to get them into heaven. We can no more make the Church grow than we can get ourselves into heaven. That’s not how it works. God fills the nets when and where He wills. God fills the nets, not on our schedule, but on His.
There is a friendly warning here as well. When God fills the nets - look out. It might not be a few well spaced fish, but a net full at once. This is in fact the second miracle of our text. It’s often over looked. They caught 153 large fish. That net should have just burst open. They should have lost all the fish. But the net did not burst open. It stayed in tact all the fish were landed. When God puts fish in the net, God also provides the means for them to remain. Again this is not by human means. We do not preserve people in the faith by our power. Rather Christ preserves them in the faith. If the net is the Holy Spirit, it will not break, in fact it cannot break - even if it looks weak and stressed.
In the verses after our text, Christ charges Peter with the task of feeding His sheep. This is instructive for us as well. Peter, wasn’t just to evangelize. He was to catechize and minister. In fact, it was in the course of preaching the Word and the administering the Sacraments that nets would be filled. And when we look at Peter’s ministry in the book of Acts we see an evangelist of opportunity. Peter doesn’t set out to evangelize, but at every turn the fish are in his net. But then what about Paul? He certainly was a more deliberate evangelist. Yes, but in Paul’s case, the congregation in Antioch, with instruction from God, sent Paul out to do that special work. In other words, God told Paul this is where I’m going to fill your net. You could say that God told Peter fish out of one side of the boat and Paul out of the other.
Christ, as He continues to appear to His disciples is also now instructing them on what they are to be about. They will be fishers of men - fishers whose nets are filled by God. They are not to worry if the nets are full or empty. God will fill them when and where He wills. Nor are they to be concerned if the net will hold them. The net will hold, because it ultimately is God’s net. They can take no credit for this. It is God’s doing. This is the same as in all things. We do nothing. God does it all. We are mere instruments in God’s hands. Christ died for our sins and rose to life for our salvation. It is Christ and Christ alone. We contribute nothing. The same it true with evangelism and outreach. God fills the net in His time. We do nothing. It is Christ and Christ alone.