A Great Fishing Trip
Tim Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles to John, chapter 21, as we continue our study of the Gospel of John. We are coming to the end of the book even though we will not be finishing it in this lesson. We will read the first eight verses together:

John 21

1After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.
2There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
3Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
4But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
5Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.
6And 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.
7Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
8And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

We want to talk about a great fishing trip that is described in the first eight verses of this chapter. The Resurrection galvanized the early Christians. The truth of the Resurrection changed them from a group of disorganized bumblers, jealous of each other and unsure of themselves, to men who turned the world upside down and who, when people saw them and heard them speak, could tell that they had been with Jesus.

The Resurrection and their belief in it changed the tradition of centuries from worshiping on Saturday to worshiping on Sunday, from thinking that the law would enable them to reach Heaven to understanding that it was the heart that really mattered, teaching that and preaching that all over the known world. Ultimately, because of the Resurrection, most of these men died for their faith for refusing to recant this idea that Jesus had risen from the dead.

It is understandable, then, that John concludes his book and sets the stage for all that was about to happen by emphasizing the Resurrection in the last chapters of the Gospel of John. We have divided chapter 21 into three parts. First, in verses 1-8, we see a fishing scene; in verses 9-19, we see a fireside scene; then in verses 20-25, there is a fellowship scene.

Setting for the Fishing Trip

In this lesson, we are going to look at the fishing scene that is presented in verses 1-8. The setting for this unsuccessful fishing trip is in verse 1:

John 21

1After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.

The setting is here: “After these things…” Of course, you may or may not remember that in the chapter that we looked at in our last lesson, Jesus had appeared to the disciples in the upper room on the first Sunday night after the Resurrection. I always love to point out the blessings of attending church on Sunday night. Then He came back the next Sunday night, so it doesn't hurt to come back to church on Sunday night. You may see the Lord again. Those are the things that John is talking about—not so much the Sunday night attendance, but the fact that they saw the Lord, and He showed them the proof of His Resurrection. He showed them His hands and His side. Then you remember how Thomas was unbelieving and said that he had to see it for himself, so Jesus, in His grace, came back again and showed Thomas, who was doubting, that it really was He.

We talked about some of the implications of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in taking the time to come back for one who was doubting when there were ten who accepted it without really having to see it in the first place. They believed it when they saw it, but apparently the implication of the passage is that they would have accepted it by just seeing Jesus. They didn't have to put their hand in His side and feel the wounds and all of those things that Thomas did.

After these things, we have another appearance of Jesus. What John is doing in beginning the chapter this way is showing us further proof of the Resurrection of Christ. Paul is going to develop the proof of the Resurrection even further in I Corinthians, chapter 15, and there Paul catalogs all of the various appearances that Jesus made to people after the Resurrection. To me, the most powerful proof is the fact that He appeared to more than five hundred people at one time. Of course, that solidifies the fact that it had to have been a real thing because even though some people might hallucinate and some people might have wishful thinking, it would be very hard for five hundred people to have the same hallucination and for five hundred people to agree on the same thing.

There were a number of appearances Jesus made after the Resurrection, and John tells us in verse 14 that this is the third time that He showed Himself to them since the Resurrection. John wants us to carefully understand that Jesus was alive and well and presenting Himself and that the Resurrection was a real thing that had happened.

The Disciples Go Fishing

In the course of reporting on those appearances after the Resurrection, John records some things which I believe teach us some very real spiritual lessons about seeing the Lord and about fellowship with the Lord. After looking at the setting in verse 1, the situation actually is in verses 2-3. Notice in verse 2:

John 21

2There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
3Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

Here were seven out of the eleven remaining disciples here together. As you look at verse 2, it seems to be that they were together without any real purpose. They were just there, maybe to reminisce together, to talk about the Lord or to have some fellowship. We are not told exactly why they were there, but in verse 3, Simon suddenly says, “I am going fishing.” The sense of all of that together—the fact that we are not told the reason why they were together, the fact that they were not all there—is a lack of direction in that meeting and the sense of saying “Well, there is nothing else to do. Let's go fishing.” Here they were. They had already seen the resurrected Lord. They had already been meeting together for fellowship, but they were not doing much with that information. To go fishing was to go right back where they started from.

In one sense, there is nothing wrong with going fishing, nothing wrong with taking the time to relax and have a change of pace; but if we took the time to go back to John, chapter 4, verses 18-21, we would see that James and John and Peter and Andrew had all been fishing when Jesus called them to be His disciples—not the first time they met Him, but when He came back through. It was probably not for sport; it was their business, but at the same time, what we have here in these first verses of chapter 21 is just a lack of anything to do. They weren't caught up in all that had happened and all that was about to happen. They were just frittering time away.

A Different Kind of Fishing

The interesting thing is that Jesus had said to these very same men, “I will make you fishers of men.” The sense in which Jesus said that to them was that nothing would ever be the same again about fishing. Their whole purpose in life and their whole purpose in the kind of fishing they would do would be a different kind of fishing.

This trip was probably a going back to the old ways, from a spiritual standpoint at least. Again, there is nothing wrong with going fishing. There is no indictment of that, but the fact with all that was behind them, now with their frustration with the change of things, not having Jesus with them, not knowing what was going to happen next, they reverted back to the former lifestyle. Notice what happens in verse 3: “They got in the boat,” and there is the rather poignant statement, “they caught nothing.”

You fishermen can understand that better than the rest of us, probably. It is interesting to me the way John summarized a whole night of fishing with just that one phrase, “…that night they caught nothing.” Jesus had said, “I will make you fishers of men…,” and for three years or so they had had the joy of catching men for Christ and seeing Jesus reel men in as a catch for Himself and the Kingdom of God.

I believe that that statement at the end of the verse is a reminder that not only had they gone back to the old ways, but in going back to the old ways, there was no longer any fulfillment. Things were just not the same any more. You know, that is the way it is and it ought to be when we walk with the Lord and we know what it is to fellowship with Him, when we know what it is to have His Spirit open our hearts and our eyes to Jesus and to the truth of His Word and to know those spiritual blessings that probably every one of us have known at some time or other. We know what it is to have the blessing of God and to walk in the light of the fellowship with the Lord. But from time to time, probably every one of us have done what Peter and the others did: We have gone back to the old ways; we have gone fishing even though we have known the light of His presence. When we have done that, we know that it is just not like it used to be.

I'll tell you something: If you, as a believer, can participate in the things of the world and still get the enjoyment out of them that you used to, there is something seriously, seriously wrong in your Christian life.

Recently, I was talking with a friend who was having some of the same temptations and problems that he had had before he had gotten right with the Lord. He had been a believer for a long time, but he had spent a long time out of fellowship. He had gotten right with the Lord and had had some weeks and months of blessed fellowship with the Lord. He was telling me, “I am beginning to have some of the same old attractions that I used to have. The difference now is that it bothers me. For years it didn't bother me at all.”

It is possible for a believer in Jesus Christ to go fishing and to get so far out of fellowship with the Lord that it doesn't even bother him too much to be living in the ways of the world again, but Peter and John and the others had known the real presence and fulfillment of the Lord in their lives, and they went fishing and it didn't do the trick. That night they caught nothing. I think John is saying that in the sense of emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically.

What would it have been like to be with Jesus those years and then to suddenly be without Him? I'm sure that they went fishing during the years that Jesus was there with them. I am sure they took time to relax, and when He said, “Come apart and rest a while,” they very likely had cast a line into the Sea of Galilee or wherever they were. They loved to do that. It was a great thing to them, but when Jesus was there, it was completely different. Everything is completely different when Jesus is there. Here they were seeking some fulfillment, some enjoyment away from Jesus, and they caught nothing.

There was a saying after one of the World Wars and several of you here could probably tell me which one of the World Wars it was, but there was a song that had the words, “How are you going to keep them down on the farm when they have been to gay Paree?” That is what the disciples faced. How could they go back to fishing when they had seen the Lord and when they had been fishers of men, and how can we?

Ignorance of the Disiciples

In verses 4-6 they get some new advice. They had had no bites in verses 1-3, and so in verses 4-6a they get some new advice. First, we see their ignorance in verse 4:

John 21

4But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

Part of their lack and part of their frustration was that they didn't have Jesus with them physically, but here He is on the shore—the answer to all their frustrations—but they did not know it was Jesus. Maybe that was because of the distance. In verse 8, we read that it was 200 cubits. Most Bible scholars have settled on the distance of 18 inches per cubit. At different periods of history, a cubit measured different distances, so just for the idea of getting a general idea when cubits are used, Bible scholars use 18 inches. That gives you a general idea of the size of things in the Bible in terms of cubits. Here they would have been a hundred yards or so from Jesus. It was dawn, and they had been fishing all night, so maybe it was just because they were tired and it was far away that when they saw a figure on the shore, they didn't know that it was Jesus.

I think there is something more to it than that because back in chapter 20, verse 14, when John was describing the Resurrection and the women coming to the tomb and seeing Jesus gone and etc., Mary saw Jesus at arm's length, and she didn't recognize Him. Then somewhere in this time frame, somewhere in these first few days after the Resurrection, probably on the first day if we put it all together correctly, Jesus had appeared to two people who were on the road to Emmaus, walking back to their home in the village of Emmaus. They walked seven miles or so with Jesus and didn't know Who He was until they got to their home. In Luke, chapter 24, where that story appears, it says in verse 16 that their eyes were restrained, and they did not know Him.

I think that phrase, “their eyes were restrained,” probably applies to Mary and these seven disciples on the fishing trip. The reason that I say that is the circumstances that apply in each situation. Back in Mark, chapter 16, we are told that Mary went with several other women, but John just mentions that Mary went to the tomb on Resurrection morning to anoint the body. Mark tells us there were several others, and in Mark, chapter 16, verse 6, Mark tells us that an angel told Mary and the others that Jesus had risen; but in John's account, in chapter 20, we see that Mary still thought that the body had been stolen. She thought Jesus was the gardener and asked Him if he knew where they had taken the body.

In the story of the two on the road to Emmaus, we see that Jesus said to them, “Oh, slow of heart to believe.” In fact, He called them fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. Of course, in that passage, as Jesus opened the Scripture to them and showed them in all the Scripture the things concerning Himself, His focus was on the fact that the Messiah would suffer and be glorified. Their focus had been on the glory of the coming king, and they said, “We thought that this would have been He Who would have delivered Israel.” Their focus had been on the physical deliverance of Israel from slavery to the Romans and the great King, the Messiah, who would come someday. Jesus said, “You people are fools because you have not believed all the prophets have spoken.” Sure the prophets said that the Messiah would be a great king, and under His direction Israel would become the focal point of the world, and all the other nations in the world would come to Jerusalem to worship, and all the other nations would serve Israel. That was true, but it also said that He would suffer and be despised. They just picked out the part that they liked, and therefore, they missed the point of Who Jesus was.

Mary didn't realize Who He was because she was still convinced that His body had been stolen. The two on the road to Emmaus didn't realize who He was because they were insisting on their little pig trail through the Bible and were not believing all that the prophets had spoken. What about Peter and the others? They were doing their own thing, and they did not recognize that it was Jesus because they were trying to satisfy themselves. They were trying to meet their own needs, so they did not recognize Jesus when they saw Him.

The reason that I have gone into all of that is that every one of those situations are possible for any one of us and for all of us. Do you feel spiritually dry? Someone made that statement to me just last week: “I just feel spiritually dry.” I wasn't in a setting where I could tell him what I am about to say to you, but if you feel spiritually dry, could it be that you are doing your own thing, that you are trying to satisfy that longing in your heart that Christ can satisfy, but you are trying to satisfy it with a hobby or with relaxation of some other kind, trying to satisfy, as those disciples were, something that only Christ can satisfy?

Could it be if it is not that, it is that you have chosen a few promises from the Word, and you have claimed those promises and God doesn't seem to be answering those promises and you are not looking at all the Scripture says? You are looking at something that you have picked out or that somebody else has taught you as a great truth from the Scripture. You are not looking at it in the context of everything else that the Scripture says, and because it hasn't worked out the way that you thought it would or like you were told it would, you are spiritually dry. Maybe it could be that you have made up your mind that the truth is a certain way as Mary had made up her mind that the body was missing because someone had stolen it. When we are operating in those kinds of areas, when we are operating on the way that we see things or the way we want to see things, we are not going to see Jesus either, and we are going to be spiritually dry and empty until our eyes are opened.

Jesus' Inquiry

That was their ignorance in verse 4, so in verse 5 Jesus begins to work on that, and we have the inquiry that He makes in verse 5:

John 21

5Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.

What a strange question for this stranger standing on the shore to ask them. I believe that Jesus asked that question to deliberately remind them of the emptiness and futility of what they were doing. They had fished all night, and they didn't have anything. When He asked them if they had any food, it was easy for them to say no, and it brought it all the more freshly to their minds. It underscored it in their minds—the emptiness and failure of what they were doing.

Jesus' Instructions

In the first part of verse 6, we have His instructions to them:

John 21

6And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find…

It is interesting, isn't it, that they were willing to take the advice of a stranger and just immediately cast their nets on the other side of the boat when just a few months earlier, in Luke, chapter 5, when Jesus Himself told them to do that, they argued with Him? In Luke, chapter 5, Jesus made use of their boats to get away from the press of the crowd so that the crowd would be able to hear Him better. The sense of Luke, chapter 5, is that almost as a favor to them, almost as a reward for their having helped Him in that pressing situation, when He got through with His message to the crowds, He said, “Cast out and let your nets down for a drought,” and Peter straightened the Lord out about that. He said, “Lord, we have been fishing all night, and we haven't caught anything.” The sense of it is, “Hey, we're the fishermen here, Jesus. You're the carpenter. Who are You telling us how to fish?” They argued with Him about it. Here they don't know Who this man is, but they don't check to see what His credentials are; they just do it.

That is so typical. Aren't we just like that? So many times we see some instruction from God's Word or we hear someone point out some instructions from God's Word, and we argue about that—maybe just in our own minds; but we find some reason not to do what God clearly tells us to do, when at the same time, some total stranger will give us a tip or give us a suggestion, and we will do it just like that without even thinking about it. We are humans just like the disciples were. We will take the advice of friends or we will read some self-help book about that problem we are facing or about that need that we have, and very, very often we will reject some idea from the Scripture because, after all, that is just not the way things are done these days. What would people think of me if I actually did claim this promise and act on it? Jesus tells us to let down our nets for a catch, and we argue with Him; the world makes some silly suggestion, and we pick it right up.

Nets Alive

We find the next paragraph in this passage beginning in the middle of verse 6 and going through verse 8. I refer to this as Nets Alive . Notice verse 6:

John 21

6And 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.
7Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord…

Suddenly, they understood who it was. Their eyes were opened. When Jesus told them to throw the net and they did and they had this huge catch, they knew it was the Lord. The same thing had happened to others before them, and there is a very important lesson for us to learn from that.

In this instance, why did they recognize the Lord? Because they remembered what happened in Luke, chapter 5. They remembered something beyond the mundane activity they were doing, and they remembered the past works of God. It sounded familiar to cast the nets and bring in this huge catch that was to almost sink the boat.

With Mary, her eyes were opened when she heard His voice. She thought He was the gardener. She asked Him where they had laid the body of Jesus, and He said, “Mary,” and that is all that it took. She heard His voice and her understanding was opened and she saw Who He really was.

With the two on the road to Emmaus, they saw Him and realized Who He was, finally, and in Luke, chapter 20, verse 25, it tells us that in breaking the bread, their eyes were opened and they saw Who He was. They said, as they hurried back to Jerusalem, that their hearts had burned within them when He opened the Scriptures to them, but they realized Who He was finally in the breaking of the bread.

God Opens Eyes

God still opens our eyes to His presence and this fits in, too, with the overall context of just going back to doing what we think may satisfy us. If you are in a spiritually dry time and even if you are away from the Lord to a greater extent than that, if you long for the presence of the Lord and the blessings of the Lord that you have known in other times, here are some ways that you may see the Lord again because God still operates this way.

What happened in this instance? They remembered, they thought about the acts of God in their lives in the past. God saw to it that they did. Here is a way to come back to God's presence. Take time to remember your first love and to meditate on the Word of God. Find some passage that used to mean something to you and think it through carefully again. God opens our eyes when we meditate and when we remember just like He did physically for these disciples.

If you are away from the Lord, if you are in a spiritually dry time or whatever degree of progression you may be along that road, maybe the thing to do is to listen to His voice. That is what opened Mary's eyes. She heard Him speak. How long has it been since you just sat down with your Bible and said, “Lord, open my eyes. Help me to see what You have for me here.” That is how we hear Him speak—through the reading of His Word, through the study of His Word, and through the teaching of His Word and the meditation on what we have studied.

Another way that God opens eyes is as with the two on the road to Emmaus with the breaking of bread with worship. In this church our basic, primary purpose is to study the Word of God together, but we don't want that to be just an academic exercise. We study the Bible, but we study it as a means of worshiping the Lord. If your spiritual life is dry, if you are farther away from the Lord than that in broken fellowship with Him, one of the ways that God will open your eyes is if you will come to Him in worship.

As we sing hymns of praise and worship choruses to Him, we think about the words of those and sing them to the Lord. Worship the Lord, and in the worship of the Lord, He opens our eyes to Who He really is and what He has really done for us.

The Disciples' Entrance Into Fellowship

It worked with the disciples, because in the middle of verse 7 and on into verse 8, we see their entrance into fellowship. John recognizes the Lord and says to Peter:

John 21

7Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
8And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

Peter came back to the Lord. He couldn't get to Him fast enough when he realized Who He was, when he saw that He was still involved in his life and was still there for him.

It is a typical scenario of Christians and the different ways that Christians react. Peter rushed ahead, swam to shore as quickly as he could, and the others followed, dragging the net. That is the way that we have seen Peter operate all through the life that we have recorded of him. Some Christians are like that. They rush into something and rush to the Lord. Others do it more methodically and take care of responsibilities along the way, but the basic point is that they all came to the Lord, and we are going to see in the remainder of the chapter the things that Jesus gave them and showed them when they did. They all wound up in a time of fellowship with the Lord Jesus.

We will leave that for our next study, but as we wrap this up, let me ask you, where do you find yourself in this story? Have you gone back to fishing, thinking that you can meet your own needs with hobbies or whatever going fishing might mean in your particular setting in life? Or maybe you have come to the point that you are beginning to realize that you have fished all night and you found nothing. You have been trying to meet your own needs and now you have done it for a long time and it is beginning to dawn on you that this is not going to work. “I haven't caught anything. I have put all of this effort into it and I still don't have the joy that the Lord used to give me.”

Maybe you are at that point of grappling with obedience to Jesus. You know that what you need to do is come back to the Lord and worship Him and spend time with Him and obey Him. You're grappling with that like the disciples did the first time Jesus asked them to come and cast the net. That thing that you know the Lord is asking you to do may not seem like the wise thing to do or it may seem too difficult, but you are grappling with obedience to Him.

I hope all of us are in this category. We are realizing Who He is, and we are obeying Him, maybe only haltingly. Maybe we are like Peter and putting on some clothes so we will be presentable to Jesus, but even that is an honorable thing to do. Maybe we are like they are going to be in the next verses, basking in His presence and learning from Him.

That kind of obedience may come in fits and starts. We don't just instantly walk with the Lord. As we first get saved or as we come back to the Lord after a time of being out of fellowship with Him, it seems to me the pattern of Scripture and the pattern in my own life works on one or two things at a time. There is probably that big need in our lives that is separating us from the Lord that caused us to go fishing in the first place, and so God works on that, and He gets that settled in our lives and causes us to come to grips with that; but the interesting thing is that once that is under control or at least we are in the process of being able to trust the Lord about it, the Lord begins to show us other things in our lives that need to be worked on that we didn't even know were there.

Conclusion

That is what we are going to see in the latter part of this chapter. Maybe that is where you are. I hope it is where you are. Wherever you are in this chapter, wherever you find yourself pictured, if you are willing to come to the Lord, the blessings of His presence will be yours. It may take some time. There may be things that are settled little by little, but in His presence there is fullness of joy, even as we move toward maturity and as we move back to, in some cases, those blessings that we once knew before we left His side.


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