Jesus not only had risen from the dead; he had also appeared alive many times to validate his resurrection. Dr. Lynn Gardner lists at least 10 resurrection appearances by Jesus in the New Testament (Christianity Stands True). These appearances were to individuals and groups, to men and women, to leaders and non-leaders. The word appeared brackets our text today (1 and 14). It means, “to reveal, show, make manifest.” Jesus wants us to have an informed faith. The resurrection appearances help undergird that faith.
The event described in our text today is the setup to the text for next week. One major goal of this fish fry on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee was to restore Peter and move him from catching fish to tending sheep. A church has been constructed on this site upon a huge rock. From the shoreline it is easy to imagine this event as you look south out into the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus Appeared as a Discerning Fisherman
Most of the resurrection appearances took place near Jerusalem, but this one took place on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus had worked so many of his miracles. Since Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days following the resurrection (Acts 1:3), there would have been plenty of time for the disciples to walk to Galilee following that first Easter.
This resurrection appearance was to seven of the disciples: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael (his other name was Bartholomew—an inscription on a church in Cana of Galilee supports this), James and John, and two unnamed disciples. To suggest that, “I’m going out to fish,” represented a return to his fishing business after Jesus had clearly changed Peter’s occupation is a real stretch. Most likely the men returned to Galilee because the angels had told the women that Jesus would meet them there (Matthew 28:7), to say nothing of the fact that they probably wanted to see their families (Mark 1:29-31; 1 Corinthians 9:5). Their night of fishing was totally unproductive (see Luke 5:5).
As morning broke they saw a figure on the shoreline, but they did not recognize it as Jesus. The Lord spoke in direct address, “Friends.” In John’s Gospel (unlike in Matthew) that expression is a term of endearment (see John 15:15). It is one thing not to catch fish; it is another to have someone underline your failure. But then Jesus, the discerning fisherman, suggested something pretty wild, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” As silly as it sounded, it was worth a try. Then history repeated itself (Luke 5:6, 7). The catch was a large number of fish.
No wonder John, the ever-perceptive disciple, said, “It is the Lord!” Whether he had better eyesight than the others or just had his spiritual antenna up (John 9:39-41), his announcement was all that Peter needed. In the previous miraculous catch of fish incident Peter felt like a sinner (Luke 5:8). This time he came to Jesus with great enthusiasm. Jesus was a better fisherman than all of them combined.
Jesus Appeared as a Capable Chef
Psychological research suggests that our olfactory sense is more tied to memory than any of our other senses. When the disciples landed on the shore with their 153 fish they could smell a charcoal fire. That smell would have all but done in Simon Peter (see John 18:18). Jesus was not so cruel as to take Peter back to the scene of his crime, but the only other time this kind of fire is mentioned in the Bible is when Peter denied Jesus. Joseph Stowell says that Jesus had the burning coals for an obvious reason, namely, to cook the “last breakfast.”
“Dinner’s ready” can be one of the most delightful expressions we hear. “Come and have breakfast” must have sounded the same to the disciples. They did not have to wonder about his identity any more. They knew it was the Lord. As he did with the two on the road to Emmaus, Jesus played the role of host. He served them. John noted that this was the third time that Jesus had appeared to his disciples (the appearance to Mary Magdalene was private) after being raised from the dead.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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