I’ve got a fish story for you today, and it’s a whopper. But unlike almost every other fish story, this one is totally true. It’s only believable though, because Jesus is in it. Also, because Jesus is in it, this is much more than a fish story. It’s a story that helps us. It shows another reason why it’s so great for us that Jesus is alive.
We have big work to do for God, and this story tells us that Jesus is alive to give success to our work. The disciples had heard Jesus tell them that he was sending them out to continue the work that he started, the work of forgiving sins. It’s always a little intimidating to take over a job that someone else has been doing well, and no one has ever preached the Word of forgiveness better than Jesus did. Those are huge shoes to fill.
While they were waiting to find out what to do next, they went back to Galilee. They needed food, and since they were professional fishermen, they went fishing. Jesus appeared to them while they were fishing, and this is how it happened:
2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
The amazing, unbelievable thing about this fish story is that they didn’t catch anything all night, and then, all of the sudden, they caught a lot of big fish. When I go fishing, if I haven’t had a bite in a long time, I go home. It isn’t happening. You can always catch one or two fish, but if you haven’t had a bite, you aren’t going to suddenly catch a lot of fish. Professional fishermen are much better at catching fish than I am, and these professional fishermen were using nets. It wasn’t a matter of the fish not biting all night, and then all of the sudden getting hungry. If you don’t catch any fish in the nets all night, there just aren’t many fish around. You aren’t going to catch a lot all of the sudden. Jesus told them to throw the net out on the right side of the boat, as if that would make a difference, as if they hadn’t already tried that several times, but they did it and the net was filled. We find out later in the story that there were 153 large fish.
When the disciple whom Jesus loved, probably John, saw all the fish, he and probably the others remembered another time when this had happened. It was right after they had met Jesus, and they had been out fishing all night and caught nothing. Jesus told them to push their boats out again and let the nets down for a catch. They had done it, and their catch of fish had filled the boats so full that they began to sink. Then Jesus had told them that instead of catching fish, they would be catching men for the kingdom of God.
Now, after the resurrection, it wasn’t deja vu. It wasn’t a hallucination. It was Jesus, alive, and showing them that nothing had changed. Their world had recently been turned upside down: Jesus had been arrested and crucified, but they saw him alive again. Even still, though he was alive, he wasn’t with them all the time like he was before. Jesus came to show them that some things hadn’t changed. He still wanted them to catch men, and he was still going to be the one filling the nets. Jesus takes the pressure off of his disciples. He is the one who fills the nets.
Theme: Jesus fills the nets.
That was great news for the apostles, and its easy to see why that’s great news for people like me who preach the Gospel too. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I will be persuasive enough to bring people into the church. I just have to preach the Word, casting out the net, so to speak. Jesus, the Lord, will make sure that the net is filled. That doesn’t mean that it will always come back full, but where and when he wants to, Jesus will bring people faith. Jesus fills the nets.
That’s great news for pastors and apostles, but it helps you too. All of us have people in our lives who need to hear what God says. Even if you don’t know anyone who isn’t a Christian, we all need to be straightened out once in a while, and we all need to be told that our sins are forgiven. You have your children, friends, and family, and you have Jesus’ command to tell them that they have sins that are either forgiven, or not forgiven.
Now if we really take this seriously that Jesus is Lord and he fills the nets, we are going to find hope for other things that we do too. If God is going to continue to gather people into his kingdom, he needs this world to continue to operate smoothly. He has made some of us teachers, garbage collectors, carpenters, and accountants. Every useful occupation fits into his plan. Probably a lot of the ones we see as useless do too. Apparently, God even needs old people who don’t think they can do much, because he has left a lot of you here. Whatever Jesus gives you the opportunity to do, he will help you do it. Maybe you’re an old woman and you don’t really know why God is leaving you here, but the disciples didn’t really know why Jesus was asking them to cast their nets out on the other side either. Sometimes we just need to do what he asks us to do, and let him worry about how it fits into his plan. He is the one who fills the nets.
Maybe you haven’t been a very good fisherman for Jesus, though. You’re not sure that you’ve been doing the things you are supposed to do. You’ve heard people talk about turning your life over to Jesus, but you really have a hard time seriously saying that Jesus is in control of every aspect of your life. Every time you review the 10 Commandments, you think of another way that you have rebelled against his Lordship. You don’t think you’re like the disciples in the boat, casting their nets for Jesus. No, it’s the fish that you can identify with, the struggling fish trying to get out of the net.
That’s a scary thought, because a person who struggles against God’s will is sometimes a person who is not a part of his kingdom, and will not be saved. But this is where you are different from the fish, and where you know that you will be saved. You actually want to be in the boat with Jesus. His Word is in your ears, and that means his net has already been cast around you. He is drawing you in. As much as your sinful mind may struggle against him, you don’t actually have to swim out of the net. You don’t have to forget about church and never come back. You don’t have to keep your Bible closed and never read it. Stay in the net.
A fish will never stop fighting to get away, even after it is in the net. There is a part of us that is always like that. Our sinful heart will always be struggling against God, our whole life long. But as much as you may struggle against the net, you don’t have to leave it. Stay close to the Word.
Jesus is the one who makes sure the fish are caught in the net, and interestingly enough, even with so many large struggling fish, Jesus made sure the net was not torn. He made sure the fish would be caught. He will make sure that you are, and he will make sure that your work is part of his work to catch others. Trust that Jesus will use his Word to pull you in and pull in others, like a net pulling in fish. Remember that Jesus fills the nets. Amen.