One of the most heartfelt stories in the Bible is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples on the shore of Galilee early in the morning (John 21:1-14). When Jesus appears to them this third time He prepares for them one of the most memorable breakfasts ever recorded. Experts say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It proved to be so with the disciples as they learned how the resurrected Jesus was going to relate to them from that day forward. He was going to love them, restore them, and empower them for ministry.
In order to get the full intended impact of the story, the details are important to know. After the second resurrection appearance, Jesus told His disciples to go to a mountain that He had designated and wait for Him to come to them (Matthew 28:16). But being impatient and maybe overcome with their failures, Peter led seven of them to go down to the sea to go fishing. There are several indications in the story that this fishing trip may have been an abandonment of their calling and a decision to go back to their former career as fisherman. These disciples were disobedient, distraught, disoriented and needing direction for their lives. They had left the mountain and descended into the sea.
Chaos on the Night Sea
There is an interesting comparison when you consider that the disciples should have been on the mountain but instead they disobediently fond themselves in devastation on the sea. Because the sea of Galilee is approximately 650 feet below sea level, the disciples inevitably went “down” into it. A brief survey through the New Testament gives an indication that there aren’t many too good things that happen on the sea where storms typically bring chaos (Matt 8:23-27). It should not surprise us that the disciples’ fishing excursion into the night ended in disappointment. Even though they were the expert fishermen John says, “they caught nothing.” This is a lesson that every true disciple of Christ must learn. When we move away from the mountain of obedience down into the sea of disobedience, we can be sure that our lives will not turn out as we had expected. And in fact, the Lord may very well bring about failure as a form of discipline to us.
Not a Whip but Loving Restoration
The story turns dramatically for good when the resurrected loving Savior appears on the shore. One would think that Jesus would come to these weak disciples with a stern rebuke. Instead of calling them “knuckleheads” (like I would have done), He initiates a gentle and loving call to them by calling them “children.” Just like them, when Christ becomes our Savior we enter into the family of God never to be lost (Jn 6:39). When Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, they haul in a huge catch of 153 fish. (It is just like fishermen to make sure we know exactly how many fish they caught.) Immediately the disciples knew that it was the “Lord” standing on the shore. Peter, with passion, dove into the water and swam a hundred yards to meet Jesus. He could not wait to know the love of Christ and to have his life restored with Him. The same is true for all of us as disciples of Jesus. He never meets us with a whip on the shore, but invites us to come to Him to be forgiven, restored, and empowered to do ministry in the world for Him (Jn 20:21). Incredibly Jesus had a meal waiting for the disciples when they arrived on the shore.
Serving Christ in the World
The last time Jesus did a miracle like this with the disciples (Luke 5:1-11), He was actually in the boat with them calling them to follow Him. The fact that Jesus was now on the shore possibly represents to His disciples how He will relate to them not on the earth, but as He is on the shore of heaven looking down and providing for His disciples as they serve Him in this world. The rest of the story reveals how the resurrected Jesus relates to His disciples and empowers them to serve Him.
Impossible Without Him: The first lesson they learned is that doing ministry will be impossible without Christ. In their disobedient fishing excursion, the disciples learned quickly that they had no ability or power in themselves. But Jesus had the power to help them. From that day forward, Jesus was going to empower them not to catch fish, but to be fishers of men. The great haul of fish was simply a foreshadowing of how the resurrected Savior was going to empower them to haul in men with the Gospel. The same is true for us today in every aspect of ministry. It is Christ in us and His power that enables us to do anything for Him (Jn 15:5). And it is in our obedience that the Lord blesses us and provides everything we need in this world to do a great work for Him.
Fellowship: Jesus did not just prepare a breakfast for the disciples to be loving, but to show them that fellowship with Him on a regular basis was vital. Jesus had promised them that He would never leave them nor forsake them (Matt 28:20). There on the shore (as now in heaven), the resurrected Savior promised to have continual communion with His disciples. The same is true for us as we serve Christ in the world. We must be eager to have breakfast with Jesus every day and fellowship with Him in His Word on a consistent basis. In those fellowship times Jesus feeds our soul.
Nourishment: It is hard to do anything when we are famished and weak. In order to strengthen the hungry disciples, Jesus gloriously cooked a meal for them on the shore of fish and bread. He fed them and nourished them. Feeding His sheep is what Jesus does and He always does it well. I’m sure that was one of the best breakfasts the disciples ever ate! In the same way Jesus wants to nourish us regularly in order that we might be strengthened for the ministry ahead of us. During that glorious breakfast, Peter was quite aware of his denial of Jesus three times earlier. But Jesus lovingly restored him by asking him three times if he loved him, and each time Peter acknowledged his love for Christ. In return, Jesus said to Peter, “Feed My sheep.” Weak shepherds are useless to the master. We must be nourished on the Word of God and grow strong in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:18). It is during those breakfasts with Jesus that we are reassured of His forgiveness and restoration. Only then will we be able to serve the Lord adequately in this world.