By the Word of the Risen Lord

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go fishing. They say unto him. We also go with thee ….and that night they caught nothing….Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord….As soon as they were come to land, they saw a fore of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread….Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine….This is now the third time that Jesus shelved himself to his disciples after that he was risen from the dead. John 21:3-14

I go fishing!

A heart full of impatience and weariness tries to unburden itself in this brief announcement.

It was at the Sea of Galilee.

The familiar surroundings must have recalled to the disciples that were together here many an incident from the ministry of their beloved Lord, who had now died and risen again from the dead!

Here many a miracle had been performed! Many sick had been restored to health; many a leper had been cleansed; many a lame man had been sent forth Reaping with joy; many a devil-possessed had been set free; to the blind sight, to the deaf hearing was restored; and the gospel of the kingdom of heaven had been preached to the poor! Here multitudes had been fed with a few loaves of bread and fishes; here the crowds had been roused to enthusiasm and would have crowned Him king; and here they had become offended in Him because He would not give them the bread that perisheth. Here the wind and the storm tossed billows had obeyed the word of the Master’s power; here they had seen Him come unto them in the night, walking on turbulent waves! And here they had been called away from their earthly occupation with the somewhat strange assurance that He would make them fishers of men. . . .

I go fishing!

How many strange and marvelous things had taken place since they had followed the Master in His journeying through Galilee, especially during the last few weeks! Many a change had been brought about, not only in their relation to and fellowship with the Lord, but also in their own hearts and experience. Jesus had died! And how terribly He had died! All that He had spoken concerning Himself and His decease at Jerusalem, His being delivered into the power of the chief priests and Pharisees to be crucified, words that had never been understood by them, had now come to pass. Willingly, without the least manifestation of His mighty power, without a word of self-defense, He had died. And, indeed, He had risen! They had seen Him after His resurrection. Yet, things were not the same as before the cross! Jesus seemed remote! The former daily fellowship had never been resumed. And even when He did come to them, He seemed to belong to them no longer!

Hardly ever did they see Him!

Was He, perhaps, still grieved with them, because in the hour of His sorrow they had all been offended in Him?

I go fishing!

The Lord had directed the disciples to go to Galilee, and promised them that there they would see Him. Even before His suffering and death and resurrection, when He spoke to them of all these things, He had enjoined them that they should go to Galilee. But even as they had never understood the gloomy predictions concerning His death and shame, but had continued their own line of thought and discussed the question who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, so in the hour of darkness they had never remembered His word concerning the resurrection, and had forgotten the promise that in Galilee they would see Him. And after the resurrection the command had been repeated. Another week they had waited, hoping that also Thomas might be persuaded to go with them. And now they were at the Sea of Galilee, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise that here they would see the Lord. . . .

I go fishing!

They had now waited for His coming what seemed to them a long time. And they had expected Him in vain. For, notice that the apostle informs us that this was the third time that Jesus appeared unto His disciples. Twice He had manifested Himself to them in Judea. Hence, this appearance of the Lord at the Sea of Galilee was the first since the disciples had gone thither. They had waited for some time. Every day they had looked for the coming of the risen Lord. But hitherto their hopes had ended in bitter disappointment.

They were weary with waiting!

Impatient. . . .

They had forgotten their own slowness to understand all that the Lord had told them, their disobedience and delay in following the Lord as He would go before them to Galilee; and now they felt that they had reason to be impatient. The Lord is slack concerning His promise. So foolish we are!

I go fishing!

Seven they were. Five of them are mentioned by name; two are merely indicated as “other disciples”. This most probably indicates that only five of them were of the eleven apostles, while the other two were disciples in a more general sense of the word. And where were the others? Is there not an indication here, in the presence of these five only and the absence of the rest, that the apostolic bond was already beginning to dissolve? Always they had been together during the last three years. But the bond of their fellowship had been their special relation to Jesus, had been Christ Himself. And now He was gone from them! And they already began to scatter! Easily we may conjecture what would have become of these men, had the Lord not returned to them in the Spirit. They would have scattered. They would have returned to their former mode of living. They could not have preached the gospel of the risen Lord; Christ Himself must do it through them. . . .

Hence: I go fishing!

It is, of course, Peter speaking.

Peter, who had so self-confidently boasted; who had so deeply fallen; who had been so marvelously saved from utter ruin, by the prayer of Jesus and His never to be forgotten look and the sign of the cock’s crowing, all correctly synchronized; whose name had been especially mentioned by the angel at the vacated grave: “tell His disciples. . . .and Peter”; who had been especially privileged by a manifestation of Jesus to him alone; and who now, perhaps, felt that he needed still another word from the Master, a word of public restoration,—Peter takes the initiative, and that in his own characteristic way!

I go fishing!

Then, of course, there were the two sons of Zebedee, the Boanerges, whose mother had once conceived for them a place of special honor in the cabinet of the King! Not easily would they separate themselves from the company of the disciples, nor abandon the hope of seeing the risen Lord. Nor would Nathanael, the Israelite in whom there was no guile, and who on a very early occasion had confessed that Jesus is the Son of God!

But Peter leads: I go fishing!

He asks no question. He does not invite the others to go with him. He merely makes an announcement.

You may do as you please, but I go fishing!

I am weary of waiting.

I shall, for once, at least, return to my former occupation!

Yet, the others follow: we also go with thee!

And fishing they went!

And that night they caught nothing!

For, how shall they go fishing. Yes, yes, they may labor and toil, cast their net into the dark sea and again draw it out, all the weary night long.

But the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the sea is His and He made it. And if the fishes are to be caught into the net, it is He, Who calleth them all by name, that must lead them into it. How, then, shall they fish, but by the Word of the Lord?

And they toil, and they wait, and they labor all the night long. . . .

And they grow more weary still!

And more impatient: all things are against them!

And more irritable. . . .

I go fishing! We also go with thee! Yes, yes, but. . . .

Apart from Me ye can do nothing!

Whether ye be fishers of fish, or fishers of men!

And that night they caught nothing!

Hark! a voice!

Is it not familiar?

In the pale light of dawn they perceive a man, standing on the shore, waiting, watching them. . . .

Had he been witness of their toil and of their failure?

O, it was the Lord! It was the risen Master, for whom they had been waiting, at whose tarrying they had grown impatient, if not disgusted. But now they see Him not, they fail to recognize Him, they know Him not though they see His form, though they hear His voice! And how could they? Is not, as long as we are on this side of the grave and He on the other, the Word always first? And must we not needs live by faith, before we can ever live by sight? And had they not grown impatient at His Word, unbelieving, so that they could abide no longer?

And now, He stands before them, and they know Him not!

And He speaks, familiarly, intimately, with friendly words: Children, have ye any meat?

And they hear not His voice!

And all their fishermen’s disgust they express in the curt:

No!

And again they toil.

And still they catch nothing!

It is the Lord!

This time it is not Peter, but John, the man whose soul is like the placid waters that are deep, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the quiet but profound, the intuitive John, who speaks.

It is the Lord!

Or is it?

They cannot tell and yet they know. They wonder, and yet they are sure. Even presently, when on the shore they are breakfasting with Him, they would like to ask Him: who art thou? And yet, they durst not, for they knew that it was the Lord! O, it was He, yet He was so different! He was the same as they had known Him, yet He was wholly other! It seemed that He was with them, and still He was far from them! For, He had risen! And the resurrection was no return, but an advance. He had gone through death, through the grave! He had swallowed up death into victory! He was on the other side! No, He was not another, yet He was other! It was the same body, for you could still see the prints of the nails in hands and feet, yet it was completely changed! The weak had become strong, the corruptible had become incorruptible, the mortal had become immortal, the psychical had become spiritual, the image of the earthy had been replaced by the image of the heavenly. . . .

He was familiar, yet strange!

It is the Lord!

O, yes, He had shewed Himself to them, and they had recognized Him then.

He had spoken again, and the Word had been reminiscent of a similar Word they had heard in the past, and that could only be spoken by the Lord: “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find!” And was there not something familiarly authorative about that command? Was it not the Word of Him, of whom the people had borne witness that He spoke as one having authority and not as the Scribes? Still they do not see Him, but they hear His Word! And they obey in faith. . . .

It is the Lord!

O, John had recognized Him as soon as he heard that command. But he waited, expectantly now, anxiously, with every nerve taut, until they should have obeyed and beheld the effect of His mighty Word. . . .

It is the Lord!

O, yes, indeed, it is the Lord. For the net is now full of fishes, and they were not able to draw it for the multitude of them! And, behold, although the net was so heavy with the catch, yet they drag it to the shore and it does not even break!

Yes, they went fishing!

And fishing they would go again. For, had not the Lord spoken to them on a similar occasion (though at that time the net had rent!), that He would make them fishers of men?

But even so they must abide in Him and believe and obey His Word!

They could not be fishers of men in their own power!

But the risen Lord would ascend to the Father, would be glorified at the right hand of God, would be clothed with all power in heaven and on earth, would receive the Spirit of promise, would pour out that Spirit upon all flesh. . . .

And He Himself would direct their fishing activities from the shore, where they could not even see Him: Cast your net on the right side of the ship!

And they must obey His calling!

And He would by His Spirit direct the fishes into their net!

Thus only could they be fishers of men!

And give Him the glory!

Come, and dine!

O, it is the Lord, indeed!

For, as they reach the shore, they find that He, Who but a moment ago had asked them, whether they had any meat, had breakfast all ready! There was the fire of coals, and fish, and bread. And He gives the invitation: come, and dine!

Yes, to them it meant that it was the Lord! And none of them durst ask Him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord! But it also meant far more! Perhaps, they did not understand at that moment, for they were amazed and perplexed, and they did not understand the resurrection, neither did they expect the ascension. But later they must have understood, that as all the wonders of the Lord so this one was a sign. The Lord meant to speak to them:

Ye shall be fishers of men!

Go fishing for fish no more! And take no thought what ye shall eat! I will provide!

Come, and dine!