Isaiah 42:1-13, John 21:1-14
May 11, 2014
This story for today is one of the most important stories for us to read after Easter. Because, in the whole history of the world, as well as in the history of our individual lives, Easter means that life is now different! Once we choose to be a follower of Jesus Christ, all things are new!
Two thousand and fourteen years ago, people realized that. Because of the Easter event, they started counting the years all over again. History was now divided into “Before Christ” and “AD.” Do you know what that stands for? When we were kids we thought “AD” meant “after death.” But no. It stands for “Anno Domini,” “The Year of Our Lord.” (That sounds a lot better, doesn’t it!)
Even those who have been trying to remove Jesus Christ from our society have not changed that milepost in time! They’ve just called it something different. For those folks, “BC” is now “BCE” – “Before the Common Era,” and “AD” has become “CE” – “The Common Era.” But it’s all still counted from the same year – the Year of our Lord! The time stamp of Jesus on the history of the world is still very much there! The “Common Era” started with Jesus!
Easter changed everything! All things were new, two thousand and fourteen years ago! Nothing would ever be the same! Jesus Christ and his Resurrection has affected the course of history on this planet more than anything else – ever!
Now, we can say all those wonderful things. And we often do. But we always need to ask ourselves how this whole thing has affected us. How has Easter changed things in our lives? Because the worst thing we can do is to celebrate this great event, and then when it’s over, simply go back to “life as it was before.” That’s the worst thing! It’s almost worse than not believing it in the first place!
However, let me say that there is a huge tendency to do just that, to go back to “life as it was before.” And that tendency that goes all the way back to the Apostles. That’s what we have in this story for today. And by the way, this is a story that seems to be “tacked on” at the end of John’s Gospel. If you read the end of chapter 20, you find words that sound like a good ending. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which were not written in this book, but these were written that you may believe, and in believing you may have life in his name.”
That would be a great ending right there! Wouldn’t it? It even contains the purpose and theme for John’s entire book – “belief” in Jesus and “life” in his name. That’s the reason he wrote his Gospel. But then we have this further story. And this story contains the tendency I was just talking about, the tendency to want to go back to “life as it was before.”
Simon Peter, of all people, says to the others, “I’m going fishing.” And they all decide to go with him. And notice, we’re not talking about recreational fishing. These guys weren’t going out to sit in a boat and talk about sports! (“Hey Peter, you going to the chariot race this weekend?”) No, these men were fishermen by trade. Fishing was their livelihood. So this was like going back to work! It was like going back to “life as it was before.”
Then they have this encounter with Jesus. And I love how Jesus does this. Because here again is that “flair for the dramatic,” I mentioned last week! “Children, have you caught anything?” he yells across the water. And I have to think this is one of those times that someone stating the obvious could well have been very irritating! This is like someone walking up to a dented and smoking car, and asking the driver, “Oh, did you have an accident?”
These men had been up all night, and had worked hard – for nothing. So for someone to have asked that question, and then to have had the audacity to tell them how to do their jobs, might have been too much. “Cast your nets on the other side of the boat.” he said. I’ve heard people try to say that Jesus simply had a better angle on the water. He could see the fish from where he was – which is nonsense, if you think about it! When you look across a body of water, all you can see is the reflection! You have to be looking straight down to see anything. No, Jesus did this supernaturally. And there’s no doubt for me that these men saw this as “armchair quarterbacking.” “Really? Cast our nets on the other side?” “Who are you to tell us our business?!” And of course at that moment they really didn’t know who this was.
Well, again, in a moment of high drama, two things happen. First, they do cast the nets on the other side, and they catch a plethora of fish! Again, that’s literally the Greek word here. My bible says a “quantity” of fish. But the Greek says they caught a “Plethous” of fish. Well, the second thing is, the nets didn’t break! Luke is careful to point that out. We have to know that these men were not used to catching that many fish. They counted them, as though there were way more than they had ever caught before at one time! And it was pointed out that the nets didn’t break. Their nets weren’t made to hold that weight. So, this was a miracle, not only of catching fish, but of a record catch! There was indeed a plethora of fish. So much for armchair quarterbacking!
Well they rowed to shore, except for Peter, who jumped in and swam! And there they had breakfast. And Luke tells us that they didn’t bother asking “Who are you?” They knew it was Jesus! And I have to wonder if the words that were spoken in Emmaus were also true here. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us by the lake?” I’ve no doubt that Jesus touched their hearts by appearing to them this way! And again, that’s what he wants to do. He wants to touch our hearts.
Well, there was one more part of the story. Jesus turned to Peter. Peter who still had to have a nagging, burning feeling in his heart – a feeling of shame. Yes, the others had scattered and run when Jesus was arrested, and I’m sure they endured their own shame over that. But Peter’s was worse. At first, he had been brave enough to stay and to follow, and to try to see what was going to happen to Jesus. But then, when confronted by a servant girl, he had denied he even knew who Jesus was!
So now by the lake, Jesus asked him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And notice he used his former name. That too would have been a blow to Peter’s heart! He was no longer Peter, the Rock. The Rock had crumbled! When Jesus asked the question the third time, Luke says “Peter was grieved.” And I don’t think it had anything to do with the persistence of this question! When he asked the third time, Peter knew at that moment what he was getting at! This was a direct challenge to his three-fold denial? I believe that cut him to the heart! But I also believe that, in this exchange, Jesus healed his heart!
I believe that’s what Jesus does for us, too. “All things are new,” including our hearts. This is as God told the people through the prophet Ezekiel. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will take out of you your heart of stone, and give you a new heart…” (Ezekiel 36:26) God doesn’t just want to redeem us in Jesus Christ, he wants to heal our broken hearts.
In all this story, the disciples were learning that there was more to the story of Jesus than just the Resurrection. Through this dramatic event, they knew things were going to be different. And they knew true reconciliation! They were all there listening to this exchange between Jesus and Peter. And they all knew of their own denial. For they denied Jesus with their feet! And he healed their hearts, too. And they also knew that from then on, fishing was going to be a thing of the past. All things were going to be new for them. The path they were on, which they thought was ended, had only just started.
We need to know that things are different, too. As I said at the beginning, the worst thing we could do is to celebrate this great event, and then, now that it’s past, simply go back to life as it was before. Let your life be different. Let your heart be healed. Know that for you, “all things are new.” That’s what Easter means. The road did not end at the cross. It started there!
Heavenly Father, help us to know that because Jesus lives, we will live also. And help us to know that all things are new in him. Help us to follow where Jesus leads us. Help us to know we being changed into his likeness. For these things we pray in his name and for the sake of his kingdom. Amen.