Jesus had told them to go to Galilee. Just after He rose from the tomb, Jesus instructed the faithful women, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Matthew 28:10). It took them awhile to get there. Even a week later, they were still meeting in the house where He had first appeared (John 20:26).
Eventually, the disciples trekked to Galilee, just as Jesus had told them to do. But Jesus didn’t tell them what to do when they got there.
They waited around awhile, and Peter got restless (I imagine). What did he know how to do? What came to his mind as he stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee? And what might help him forget that he’d denied Jesus to everyone?
Fishing: It was familiar
and usually fool-proof.
Fishing. He could go fishing. That was something familiar…something he’d done for years…something he didn’t usually mess up. Instead of waiting around for Jesus to appear, he could be productive. So Simon Peter stood up one evening, looked at the other disciples, and told them, “I’m going out to fish” (John 21:3). Six other guys decided to go with him. (By the way, in this time and region, people typically fished at night.)
They fished all night and caught nothing. Previously, in The Elephant on the Beach, I speculated on what happened through that long night, so let’s skip ahead here.
Just as the sun began to rise, Jesus called out from the shore: “Caught anything yet?” (John 21:5 paraphrase). Then He said something crazy. They had been throwing the nets out of the boat on the left side. Jesus told them to throw the nets to their right.
Seriously? What difference could changing sides of the boat possibly make?
Obedience makes all the difference.
When they did [what Jesus had asked], they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. –John 21:6
With Jesus in charge,
it’s completely different.
I call it uncommon sense: that thing you do because Jesus tells you to do it even though it’s not logical or practical. It defies common sense to think the opposite side of the boat will be any different. It’s the same water, the same fish. But with Jesus in charge, it’s completely different.
What was going on here?
- The disciples forgot their calling. Jesus had said,
“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” –Luke 5:10
The disciples spent the night doing things in the traditional way, expecting traditional results. Throwing their nets off the opposite side of the boat symbolized the different kind of fishing they were supposed to do now. When they fished for what He had trained them to fish for, they would be successful. The book of Acts is proof.
These next few years were not going to be their daddy’s kind of fishing trip!
- Peter’s calling didn’t change just because he “blew it” when he denied Jesus (John 18:15-27). I don’t think Peter knew that. Most likely, he thought his relationship with Jesus was over and his chance to serve forsaken. He had no expectation of forgiveness or reinstatement. Peter probably thought he needed to go back to the regular kind of fishing, but Jesus will sort him out in the next few verses (John 21:15-19).
It’s easy to fall back into old
patterns of meeting our own
needs and doing our own thing.
After a big failure, a series of small failures, or a significant delay, it’s easy to forget our calling. It’s easy to think God has no more use for us. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns of meeting our own needs and doing our own thing. But Jesus’ plan for us hasn’t changed. Yes, we have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. Yes, we need His reminder of the calling. But we shouldn’t give up. Again, consider everything that happened to Peter in Acts and beyond!
- Jesus didn’t need their fish. That huge haul of fish wasn’t about meeting Jesus’ needs. When they got to shore, they found fish already cooking in Jesus’ pan. Nevertheless,
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” –John 21:10
Jesus doesn’t need us to fulfill our callings or to carry out His will on earth. But He invites us into the process. Why? For the relationship. For our spiritual growth. For the expansion of the Kingdom. For any number of other reasons. The reason isn’t important.
When He asks for our contribution, we need to be like Peter, who “climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore” (John 21:11). That is, we give Him everything we have.
In Peter’s case, “everything” meant 153 large fish, enough to tear the net (John 21:11). It was time for a feast!
What’s your “153 large fish”? Is it one big thing you’ve returned to after He called you to something else, that is, the net full of fish? Is it 153 small things—the individual fish in the net—from your present-day life?
I’m thinking through the many large, tasty elements of my life that I could contribute to His feast…that He’s asking me to offer eagerly even though He doesn’t need them…my 153 things that could free me to walk down the beach with Him unhindered. Because, like Peter, I’m done with the old kind of fishing.
What will we do the next time we’re waiting on Jesus? Let’s not go back to our old habits. After all, this isn’t your dad’s fishing trip anymore.
I’d love to hear your take-away from this passage. What has God shown you either in your personal study, from a speaker, or from reading this today? Drop me a note in the comments, and I’ll get back to you!