But Wait! There’s More! Jesus and Fish

John 21:1-14 / Easter 3C / 14 April 2013 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

I’m sure you’ve seen this: the movie after the movie. The little bit that some directors like to put at the end of a film to reward the people, like me, who sit all the way through the credits and the closing music. There’s that little director’s cut dropped in at the end. Something more. That’s what John chapter 21 is. It’s the director’s cut at the end of John’s gospel, a little something more for the reader who just can’t seem to get enough.

John 20 ended rather nicely with a footrace to the open tomb, Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene, the ten apostles, then the following Sunday to the ten plus Thomas. Jesus shows them His wounds, breathes His Spirit into them, authorizes them to forgive sin, and sends them on their way to do His forgiving and binding work. And then we read, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Roll the credits, cue the music. This is a great place to end the gospel. You’ve got a perfect seven signs, a death and resurrection, three eyewitness appearances. It’s in the can.

And then turn the page and you get more. A whole chapter more. And not the kind of more that you get with Mark where some versions have it and some don’t. They all have it. John 21. A reprise, a coda, a kind of mini gospel picking up all sorts of things already discussed: a miraculous catch of fish, a feeding, a charcoal fire, and a whole lot more. You might say that the gospel doesn’t really come to an end until it finds you and is preached into your ears, which is one reason why all four seem to end with a bad case of loose ends. The story continues with your hearing and believing.

Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the Zebedee brothers James and John, and two other unnamed disciples (seven in all) are at the Sea of Tiberius (aka the Sea of Galilee) sometime during the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension. Simon Peter wants to go fishing. And why not? He’s a fisherman. As are the Zebedee boys. And so off they go into the boat at dusk and fish all night and catch nothing.

Sound familiar? Sure it does! This hearkens back to their call as disciples when they had caught nothing all night and Jesus had them cast their nets and they hauled in a load of fish, and Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” John’s gospel doesn’t have that story, but he has this one.

At daybreak, the rising of the sun, Jesus appears on shore but the disciples don’t recognize Him. Shades of the Emmaus road. Jesus says, “Boys, have you caught anything?” And they answer, “No.” And Jesus has them cast the net on the right side of the boat and again the net is busting with fish: 153 fish, to be exact. More on them, later.

John, who seems to get things a bit quicker than the rest, recognizes Jesus. “It’s the Lord!” The same Lord who had caused those fish to swim into his net when he became a fisher of men. Peter quickly pulls up his robe which had been tied around his waist, hops out of the boat and guides boat and net busting with fish to the shore. There to greet them is Jesus, who’s already been fixing breakfast and has some fish cooking on a charcoal fire. And bread. Fish and bread hearken the feeding of the 5000 in the wilderness. And the last time we heard about a charcoal fire, Peter was warming his hands and denying that he had anything to do with Jesus. The story gets more interesting by the minute.

Peter hauls the net ashore and they count out 153 large fish. And like the last time this happened, the net wasn’t torn in spite of the catch. No one gets away when Jesus is hauling them in. What’s with the 153? It could just be one of those “historical details” that you throw in to let people know you’ve been there. 153 also happens to be all the integers up to 17 added together. Seventeen. 10 and 7, two biblical numbers of completeness. At least one church father speculated that the fish represented the catch of the resurrection as the dragnet of the kingdom hauls in the fulness of redeemed humanity from every tribe and language and people and nation. If that’s the case, then the fish represent humanity rescued from the depths of the Dead, the Deep, and hauled into the ark of the church, which would include you, having been baptized into Christ’s death and raised in His life.

And then there’s breakfast, a feast of bread and fish, and they recognized the Lord without even being told. Shades of the breaking of the bread at the close of the day in Emmaus.

And it happens to be the “third time” that Jesus was revealed to the disciples raised from the dead. Mary Magdalene doesn’t appear to count, at least in John 21. So three times, seven disciples, 153 fish, sunrise, Jesus, bread and fish.

What’s going on here? In a word: the eschaton. The coming of the kingdom. A foretaste of the great feast to come in the resurrection. The whole episode is full of fulfillment and everything coming together in Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is not simply an event in history, an exception to the rule that dead men don’t rise, a novel singularity. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning. It signals the last days of the old creation and the first day of the new creation. Jesus has landed on the shore of the resurrection. What remains is for the dragnet of the kingdom to haul a redeemed humanity out of the sea of Death to the shore of the resurrection.

Waiting there to receive you is Christ the Lamb who was slain but lives, whose blood has ransomed a people for God from every nation, tribe, people, and language, who has made us reign with Him in His kingdom and given us a place in His priesthood. You are that kingdom, you are that royal priesthood, baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Your sins have been washed away by the blood; your life has been redeemed from death; you have been caught in the dragnet of Jesus’ death and resurrection and hauled into the boat, the ark, the church where you are safe until you safely reach the shore on the Last Day.

Until that day you live as justified sinners, covered in Christ’s righteousness, cleansed by His blood, living under an umbrella of freedom that allows you to do your vocation – whether as fishermen, accountants, tax collectors, fathers, mothers, citizens, workers, whatever it is you do to do God’s goodness and mercy to others in your priesthood. But remember this and take it to heart, without the Lord the nets of your labor will come up empty. Without the Lord’s hidden hand beneath the sea, the fish will not swim into your net. Without the Lord and His Word, our labors are empty and futile.

The fishermen could not catch fish without Jesus. And they were pros! Peter could not walk on the watery Deep without Jesus. You cannot conquer Sin and Death apart from Jesus. A priest does not serve apart from the High Priest. Your priesthood in Christ draws its strength and life and vitality from Jesus, the High Priest, who offered His life for your life.

To the disciples far out on the water in their boat, Jesus seemed nothing more than a distant figure on the shore. A stranger cooking breakfast. John recognized Him first, with the catch of fish. But their eyes could not perceive him, nor can ours. Though very much present and with us, Jesus remains hidden to our eyes, the cloud concealing His glory that we won’t see until the last day. And yet, He gives us the signs of His presence – His body and His blood – the tokens of the cross. He gives the signs of His forgiving Word and His holy ministry. His gives us the sign of our baptism by which we are made priests to Him in His priestly kingdom. We may not see, but we are not without the signs that mark Jesus’ presence. The Lord is with you.

After the breakfast of bread and fish, Jesus goes on in John 21 to restore Peter and ordain him to shepherd the sheep and lambs of God’s flock. Peter the denier, the one who in weakness and fear denied knowing Jesus three times, is restored with three-fold forgiveness and entrusted with his apostolic office. The sinner can be a priest. You, a sinner. Me, a sinner. We can be priests to God. We are priests to God, baptized into Christ. God can use us. He can work through us. He can do His goodness and mercy to the world through what we do. That’s the second marvel of God’s grace. The first is that sinners are justified; the second is that sinners are useful. God justifies sinners in Christ and He works through sinners. There’s hope for us!

“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus says to the seven while the 153 fish are flopping away in the net. And He throws a few more on the charcoal fire. The charcoal that once bore witness to Peter’s denial, now serves to cook Peter’s breakfast. Jesus always makes good. And it’s breakfast, not supper! A foretaste, a beginning, a first meal of the day but not yet the supper of the Lamb. There’s more to come.

And so here today, Jesus says, “Come, my friends. Take and eat. Take and drink. This foretaste of the feast. The bread of my body; the wine of my blood. Be refreshed until I come to gather you ashore to a feast that has no end.”

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

And worthy are you in the Lamb!

In the name of Jesus,