“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” – John 21:7a
Ever feel discouraged, forgotten by the Lord? Ever get fed up with waiting for His plan to develop or pan out and just want to chuck it? Ever feel like putting a sign on the door that says, “Gone fishing”? Those are all feelings we at one point or another have been tempted by. The apostle Peter and the disciples experienced those same types of feelings.
In the beginning of the gospels Jesus called the disciples to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). Jesus had fulfilled His redemptive mission of dying on the cross for the sins of the world (John 19). His redemptive work was accepted by God and its efficacy evidenced by the resurrection (John 20). In John 21 we have the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus with His disciples (John 21:14).
But there was a lull in the contact between Jesus and the disciples. In John 21 we find Peter and six other disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:1-2). The Sea of Tiberias is another name for the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1). There is a third name for this body of water. The locals call it Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) which is derived from the harp shape of this body of water (“Gennesaret” means a harp). It’s interesting that John was moved by the Spirit to use “Sea of Tiberias” as the designation for the Sea of Galilee here. This name is a very secular worldly name. It contains the name of one of the Caesars. “Tiberias” means literally from the Tiber and refers to a river god. Sea of Tiberias fits well with what might have been going through Peter’s and the disciples’ mind.
Peter, James and John were fishermen by trade. The passage allows us to picture them on the shores of Tiberias waiting on the Lord. I can see Peter sitting on the shore, pondering his recent past, wondering about the future. He had boasted loyalty to death toward Jesus (John 13:36-38). But he ended up sleeping when he should have been supporting Jesus in prayer (Matthew 26:36-46). Peter denied Jesus not once, but three times (John 18:15-27). Peter had utterly failed the Lord; his Lord! He had “wept bitterly” over that (Matthew 26:75). No doubt this was embedded in his mind and heart like a tragic nightmare. How would the Lord respond to him in light of his failure? Would He respond to him? Was this silence an indication Peter would be put on the shelf by Jesus? Would Jesus still love him? Would he, could he still have a part in serving his Lord? These thoughts were all racing through his mind like a cat chasing its tail. Like a harbinger of doom there was a gloom over him. Perhaps Satan was sifting him like wheat (Luke 22:31). Finally, when he could stand it no more, he said, “I’m going fishing” (John 21:3a).
There’s no exclamation point on the end of the words, “I’m going fishing.” Peter simply said it, got up, and went to work. Peter was a man of action. We see that in the gospels. He was the one who had taken a sword and cut off the ear of Malchus when Jesus was taken into custody in Gethsemane (John 18:10). Peter was a man of impulse. Now he just had to do something. He reverted to what he knew best, fishing. And the others followed Peter (John 21:3b).
It’s never a good thing to impatiently act on impulse. If waiting is required by the Lord it is for good reason. Perhaps He’s putting things in place to carry out His plan. Perhaps He is waiting to teach us something about ourselves as well as the way He works. It states, “That night they caught nothing” (John 21:3c). When you act impatiently, impulsively, in frustration, in your own strength, just to do something, anything, your net will be empty. And going back to old ways even if they are the ways you feel the most familiar with, is not the answer when it comes to the Lord. This was an indispensable lesson Jesus wanted His disciples to learn. Waiting on the Lord was something they would have to do regularly as they fulfilled His call on their life. They had to learn to trust Him; even if it meant waiting in silence. We need to learn this lesson too.
It says, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” (John 21:4). Jesus was there all the time. He always is. He waited and watched patiently as these disciples learned the futility and frustration of acting in their own strength. In their own strength all they got was emptiness. Now Jesus would show them a better way; the best way. Jesus is always watching. He knows what we’re going through. He knows how hard it is to wait on Him. But He also knows how important it is that we do wait on Him, trust Him, follow Him, and not lunge ahead of Him.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’” (John 21:5). Jesus knew they had no food. He wanted to emphasize that reality to them. Maybe they were aggravated by the inquiry. That they had no food to eat was clear to anyone with eyes. He who has eyes let him see. More importantly, no food meant they had no instrument to facilitate fellowship. He addressed them as “children,” because they were acting like spiritually immature children. He wanted them to grow up, be spiritual men, spiritual giants in His Kingdom living in His fullness.
What’s the alternative to all of this? “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (John 21:6). Years before these same fishermen had again, “toiled all night and caught nothing.” (Doesn’t say too much about their ability to fish does it?) A “Master” told them to, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter thought the Master’s request useless and said as much. But to be polite he complied with the request and to their surprise hauled in a catch that nearly broke their nets! This was Peter’s and the other’s introduction to their Master Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). Three years of ministry training taught Peter and the others to be open to suggestions about where to cast their nets. You never know, the One telling you to cast might be Jesus. Just like before, when they cast their net at Jesus’ instruction they hauled in a net stretching catch.
Then cerebral John, “that disciple whom Jesus loved,” said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7a). John put the pieces together of what was happening. Any huge catch like that, “It is the Lord!” Any fruitfulness, any full net in our life, “It is the Lord!” Remember that. That’s true in our relationships. We can try all night with all kinds of self-reliant ingenious ways of trying to change our spouse to our liking but without the Lord, it will be empty efforts. That’s true in parenting, family, our jobs, careers, education, ministry, and everything. “It,” must be, “the Lord!” to succeed. If the Lord is not in it, empty. If the Lord is in it, full.
It was Peter who instantly, “put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea” and made a bee-line to Jesus (John 21:7b). I hope we are just as quick to run to Jesus when we realize our catch is from the Lord. Fullness comes from Him. It took the six other disciples to drag the full net toward the shore (John 21:8). But when Jesus invited them to bring some of the fish for a fellowship meal it was big burly Peter who had the adrenaline rush to singlehandedly drag the large fish on shore (John 21:9-11). Peter couldn’t wait to be with Jesus. Are you like that? Or do you let your depression or distractions of life keep you casting an empty net?
“Come and eat breakfast” Jesus invited (John 21:12-13). The disciples were a bit hesitant, but they couldn’t turn down such an invitation; especially Peter. It wasn’t until after Peter had himself been fed that Jesus entered into a conversation about him feeding others. That’s important. We need to feed on God’s word first, before we are able to feed others. We need to practice the priority and discipline of feeding ourselves spiritually on God’s word. Man doesn’t live on physical bread alone but on every word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). We need the solid food meat and potatoes of God’s word. Not the cotton candy junk food of worldly philosophy and human tradition. Not even commentaries or good Christian books can substitute for God’s word. We need the undiluted balanced spiritual body fuel of God’s word (e.g. Colossians 2:8-10). We need to grow up from spiritual children’s formula feeding to the solid food of an adult diet of God’s word (Hebrew 5:12-14).
“Jesus then came and took the bread and give it to them, and likewise the fish” (John 21:13). Jesus wants to spend time with us. He wants us to spend time with Him. He wants us to realize “It is the Lord!” It’s all about Him and our relationship with Him. To the latter day lukewarm church of Laodicea Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). That’s an invitation to the church! for me and for you. “It is the Lord!” But there’s a problem. We don’t always realize “It is the Lord!” Why? What was Peter’s issue, the problem, that Jesus was calling him to sit down and discuss? What did Peter and the others have to learn before their nets could be filled? That is what we will see in part two of It is the Lord!