The Dawn of a New Day
John 21:1-19 (NRSV)
Easter Sunday is a big day for the Christian Church. Celebrations abound with music, drama, decorations, and food that are rarely seen on other Sundays. It is also the day most churches have their biggest day of attendance. But Easter is more than just one big special day. It’s a season. In fact, we have seven Sundays to celebrate Easter this year. We find ourselves today on the third Sunday after Easter, barely halfway through the season. I’m sure you have noticed that after Easter Sunday the remaining Sundays in the Easter season look like business as usual. The heightened celebration and crowds have dwindled back to the regular ebb and flow of a typical church gathering.
We may be disappointed and wish every Sunday would look like Easter Sunday. But if we are honest with ourselves, this dynamic of the Easter season probably reflects our own worship of the Lord more than we would like to admit. Every day is not High Easter in our daily lives. In fact, some days our lives don’t reflect the fact that he is risen at all. We are just going about our lives “business as usual.” Sound familiar? If so, the text we have before us may be just the reminder we need. It’s the story of Peter and other disciples, who have met the resurrected Lord on Easter Sunday, but seemed to be returning to their lives as it was before they even met Jesus. I guess if it happened to Peter, the one Jesus chose to build his church on, we should not be surprised that it can happen to us. But, we will see that the Lord does not intend for us to remain stuck there. Let’s take a look at how it played out for Peter and his fellow fishermen.
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 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. (John 21:1-3 NRSV)
This story begins with seven disciples gathering at the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already appeared to them so we may be left scratching our head as to why they are out fishing. Peter is recorded as saying, “I’m going out to fish.” Notice his orientation. He is no longer acting like a man who dedicated himself to following Jesus, he is choosing for himself what he is going to do. One could say he is returning to a self-determined approach to life. Not only that, but he is also influencing the other disciples to follow him in this self-determined decision. Peter was called to be the one who would lead the early church. This doesn’t appear to be a good start for leadership. Instead of leading others to be followers of Christ, he has led them to follow himself.
Have you seen yourself ever slip back into self-determining patterns of thinking and acting? It happens to us all. Let’s face it, the culture we live in celebrates and continually barrages us with the temptation to “be your own man” or “be the captain of your own ship.” Self-determinism is a virtue that must be attained in a culture where self-worship runs rampant. We are called to be followers of Christ, but we often find ourselves, just like Peter and his fishing mates, returning to our boats and tackle, as if Easter Sunday meant Jesus had decided to move on without us.
Peter and the other disciples give us a glimpse of how a self-determined life will look apart from Jesus. They proceeded to answer for themselves a series of questions in order to fulfill their self-determined quest. They determined for themselves what they would do – go fishing. They determined for themselves where they would go – out to sea. They determined for themselves how they would do it – by boat. They determined for themselves when they would do it – at night. This self-initiated task in the end produced for them a net full of NOTHING! We are reminded that Jesus told his disciples that apart from him they could do nothing. Been there? You return to your boats, make your best plan, gather your favorite tools, and give it all you got, only to end up with the same results before you knew Jesus. Nothing! Nothing worth counting anyway. Usually, we end up with less than nothing – often making a mess of our lives and dragging others down with us. So far, we have a pretty dismal start for our third Sunday of Easter. But don’t go away, the sun hasn’t come up quite yet.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to 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 there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. (John 21:4-7 NRSV)
It was “early in the morning” when Jesus appeared on the shore, and everything begins to change. Although Easter Sunday has come and gone, with Jesus, it is always the dawn of a new day. The disciples did not recognize Jesus. They answered for themselves every what, where, how, and when question but they did not have an answer to the “who” question. Who was this man on the beach? Jesus asked a question of his own with, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” Here Jesus gives the disciples the opportunity to admit that their way is not working. After fishing all night with nothing to show for their efforts they are honestly able to admit that the only answer they have is “No.”
We can note that Jesus’ timing is for our good. He could have saved the disciples a lot of toil by showing up earlier, but Jesus waits till the morning. This is Jesus’ third appearance to the disciples in John’s Gospel. By appearing at sunrise, Jesus offers a reminder of Easter morning. Jesus also has the disciples in a place where they are ready to cast aside their pride. They are now ready to listen to another voice other than their own. A mature disciple, in time, learns that the voice worth following is the voice of another who loves us so much we want to turn our ears toward him. When Jesus said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat,” the disciples followed his instructions, leading to a catch so great they were unable to haul into the boat.
With this miraculous catch, the disciples were able to realize that, “It is the Lord!” Jesus helped them answer the only question that is truly important – the “who” question. And he does this by reminding them in very personal ways of who he has revealed himself to be through his relationship with them. The disciples no doubt remember when Jesus first told them to cast their net on other side of the boat – with the same results. When we fall back into our self-determining patterns, forgetting who our Lord is, Jesus is gracious and loving in his approach to us. He comes to us in ways we can recognize, often with little reminders of who he is as we have come to know him.
Notice how Peter finally saw who was standing on the shore. His eyes were opened when one of his fellow disciples said to him, “It is the Lord.” Peter’s excited response is comical. He jumps off the boat and swims to shore. It seems that seeing Jesus also helped Peter see the futility of being captain of his own destiny. He couldn’t abandon ship fast enough. This is why it is so important as we gather together as fellow disciples to remind each other of who the Lord is. How often is it that we can’t see the Lord present with us until someone reminds us who we have lost sight of? There is something about a brother or sister in Christ coming alongside you in your times of doubt and confusion to remind you of who Jesus is. To remind you that it is the Lord who is with you, who is calling you friend and calling you to himself. Many a self-determined life has been turned back to the Lord thanks to a faithful disciple who shared what the Lord opened his eyes to see. May it be so with us in our relationships with one another.
But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish 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, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:8-14 NRSV)
Now that Peter is following Jesus again, and not his own self-made plans, he has rightly reclaimed his calling as the one upon who Jesus said he would build his church. Notice the disciples in the boat are now following Peter to the shore where Jesus is, and not out to sea. As Peter follows Jesus with self-abandonment, the other disciples follow suit. This is the primary calling of any church “leader.” It is to be a follower of Christ.
When all the disciples were on the shore, we find that Jesus is already cooking some fish. Jesus does not need our catch, but he invites us to participate in what he is doing. Jesus tells them to bring some of the fish they had just caught, and then he invites them to a communion-style breakfast. Jesus gives them credit for the catch of fish they just hauled in. Even though they know it was Jesus who was the one that enabled them to catch the fish, Jesus doesn’t mind sharing his glory. This is the Lord the disciples had grown to know during their time with him. He was not a Lord like the religious and political tyrants of their time. He was a glorious Lord who shared all that he has with them. After this invitation we see that “None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” The “who” question had been settled for these disciples.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19 NRSV)
It’s after receiving this communion-type meal that Jesus restores Peter to the ministry of feeding the sheep. In the series of three questions to Peter about his love for Jesus, Peter is once again brought face to face with the futility of his own self-determined love and loyalty to the Lord as he is reminded of his three denials. This shot to Peter’s pride hurts, but ultimately leads him to the admission that the Lord knows “everything.” Jesus even predicts that Peter will not waver from his new orientation of following the Lord over following himself. Jesus contrasts how Peter once lived by going where he wanted, but who will now remain faithful in following another even when it leads to death. Peter will grow more and more to look just like Jesus.
After this we see a new Peter who is ready to follow rather than lead. And his role as “leader” in the church is defined clearly as one who nourishes and takes care of the sheep that belong to the Lord. And he will do this by feeding the sheep only with that which the Lord has fed him. And that doesn’t mean literal fish. John records Jesus feeding the disciples with bread and fish in a communion fashion. Peter is charged to feed the sheep with only what he receives from the Lord. In this way, the church is the place where sheep are fed by being reminded of who Jesus is with his word and are invited into his presence at the communion table.
In summary, when Jesus shows up everything changes. Night turns to day. Fruitless fishing becomes an abundant catch. Toiling at sea becomes a rest on the shore. As Jesus answers the “who” question for us, we can reach a point where we place our full confidence and faith in the Lord who knows all things. We can leave our boats of self-determinism and let go of our frantic desire to be captain of our own destiny. As we do so, we are fed by the Lord and are invited to participate in his feeding of his sheep. And we do that by obeying Jesus’ last words to us in the passage: “Follow me!”
Small Group Discussion Questions
- The sermon noted how our Easter season celebration tends to dissipate after Easter Sunday. Can you see this parallel in your personal walk with the Lord?
- In what ways do we return to “business as usual” even after being encountered by the risen Lord?
- The sermon pointed out how Peter was returning to living a “self-determined” life instead of following Jesus.
- Share how you have seen yourself slip back into self-determining patterns of thinking and acting instead of being a follower of Jesus.
- How does the cultural inclination of self-determinism create damage in the church?
- What do you see in Jesus’ teaching and in his life that would counter the cultural fixation of self-determinism?
- The sermon indicated that Jesus waited till “early in the morning” before appearing to the disciples to give them the opportunity to come to the end of their self-determined efforts.
- Do you sometimes wish Jesus would have showed up earlier than he did in your life?
- Can you think of examples where you had to come to a place where all your self-determined efforts amounted to “nothing” before you could recognize Jesus and what he was giving you?
- The sermon pointed out how Jesus helped the disciples recognize him by personal reminders of his relationship to them.
- Can you think of times when Jesus reminded you of something personal in your relationship with him that helped you recognize him or know he was talking to you?
- The sermon related how Peter’s eyes were opened when one of his fellow disciples said to him, “It is the Lord.”
- Can you think of times when it was another believer that helped you see Jesus when you had lost sight of him?
- What does this say about the importance of our fellowship with one another in the Lord? How might we help one another see Jesus?
- The sermon claimed that the primary calling of any church “leader” is to be a follower of Christ. How does being a follower of Christ best equip one to be a leader in the church?
- What difference does it make for church leaders to first be followers?
- After restoring Peter, Jesus instructs him to feed his sheep.
- According to the sermon, what should be the main diet the sheep are fed?
What do you KNOW about Hell?
What do you UNDERSTAND about Hell?
What do you BELIEVE about Hell?