Some of the leading disciples were huddled together near the Sea of Galilee. Abject despondency gripped them after the crucifixion of Jesus. Coming to love him, they had sacrificed everything in order to follow him. Now they must have been plagued with terrible questions. Had their faith been misplaced? Was it all one ghastly mistake? What then should they do now?
Finally, the activist Peter takes the lead. Life’s got to go on. He determines to go back to his old job and get on with life: “I’m going out to fish”, he declared (21.3) and the others followed his lead.
Jesus stepped into this situation of hopelessness and manifested himself to those disciples. Professional fishermen though they were, they fished all night and caught nothing. They must have felt awful when someone called from the shore, “Children (rather diminishing?), have you caught anything?” And then came the apparently ridiculous suggestion that if they just let down their net on the other side of the boat, they would do better. But they obeyed and duly caught a huge shoal of large fish.
“It’s the Lord!” John now exclaimed as he recognised who the man on the shore actually was. This whole event of Jesus manifesting himself to those disciples was so vividly etched on John’s memory that in writing about it John some times slips into dramatic present tenses – e.g. John “says (not ‘said’) to Peter, ‘It is the Lord'” (21.7) and “Jesus comes and takes the bread and gives to them” (21.13).
Peter felt embarrassed because he was naked, hastily put something on and swam quickly to the shore. How he longed to be with Jesus! The others followed in the boat with the fish. With a fire by the edge of the lake bread and fish were duly cooked We can picture the disciples’ thrill as they ate that breakfast together with their much loved Master. As in African and Asian cultures today, so also in Jewish life, eating together has deep relational significance. So in Revelation 3.20 Jesus promises to all who will welcome him and open the door to him, he will ‘come in and eat with them’. So now we look forward to that great day when we shall feast with Jesus at the messianic banquet at the table of Abraham – and he has prepared a place for us (John 14.3)!
I have observed that church meetings in Britain today have a different feel and attract more people, if there is food before or after the meeting. Hungry or greedy? No! We experience warm fellowship when we eat and drink together. Perhaps we need to look again at our Bibles and develop a proper theology of food! Eating and drinking have deep significance throughout the Bible.
Although the outward forms of this breakfast seemed simple, just bread and fish on the shore by the lake, Jesus invites the disciples to “come and dine” (21.12) – not just ‘eat’. He uses a rather superior word which in the New Testament is only otherwise used for the wedding feast (Matthew 22.4) and for when Jesus is invited to dinner with a Pharisee (Luke 11.37). So Jesus makes it clear to the disciples that this meal has greater meaning than just a picnic.
The disciples must have thought back to the past when Jesus had given them the bread and fish which they then distributed to the crowds. That miracle had been unforgettable and it happened twice. Jesus had fed a Jewish crowd (Matt. 14.13-21) and then also a Gentile crowd (Matt.15.29-39) – still today Jesus longs to reach out to all nations. Perhaps they were also reminded of their first meeting with Jesus. He had called them to follow him and then immediately declared that he would make them “fishers of men” (Matt.4.19). Following Jesus should always go hand in hand together with mission. It is of course good to keep and beautify aquariums, but the primary call is to go out into the oceans to catch new fish. Teaching, pastoring and edifying the church is necessary, but let us never forget Jesus’ primary call to become ‘fishers of men and women’!
Even before Jesus gave them the bread and fish, they had recognised Jesus, but the gift of bread and fish certainly confirmed it to them. What an electrifying thrill! The dead and buried Jesus was alive again and here with them! John notes that this was the third time the risen Jesus had appeared to his disciples (21.14). Proof of the resurrection was adding up! The disciples needed proof and Jesus gave it to them. Grace abounds! He knows exactly what we need and duly provides what we require. Some of us gain assurance through some miraculous experience. Others of us need more intellectual foundations for our faith. God knows us and lovingly makes himself known in just the right way for each person. But in one way or another, we all must come into an assured, loving and committed relationship with the resurrected Jesus.
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