All the way around, it was a very difficult night. Jesus had shown Himself to the disciples after His resurrection more than once already. But now, it had been several days since the last comforting time in His presence. Jesus had said in Matthew 28:7 that He would one day find His disciples in Galilee and that they should go and plan on meeting Him there. But until that night, He was nowhere to be seen. For three years the disciples had enjoyed the miraculous provision that Jesus had made for their daily needs. They had been entertained in different homes, sometimes eating and sleeping well, and other times learning to simply trust. But this night in John 21, Peter fell into the terrible place of having to make a choice without the benefit of Jesus’ felt presence to help him. There was no food, no money, no Jesus, no direction; what should they do? Peter made an executive decision in verse 3 when he said to the others, “I go a fishing.” And they replied, “We also go with thee.” There, it was done; the decision had been made and the way had been cleared. They would go back to what they knew how to do by themselves. After all, if there was no Jesus to help them, surely they weren’t expected to do any more than that!
These were fishermen from Galilee. They knew how to do it, where to do it, and they knew for a certainty what they should expect. But that night, the Bible tells us, they caught nothing! Not one fish made its way into the net that night. For all of their efforts and all of their knowledgeable experience, they had nothing to show for it. Why? They were looking for the wrong kind of fish.
While they labored on the lake, Jesus was resting comfortably on the shore, with fish and bread already on the fire. When finally Peter realized that it was Jesus calling to them, he was the first one to abandon the fishing boat and swim his way to the Lord on the beach. It must have been with a mix of humility and relief that the disciples sat down to feast with Jesus that morning following the disastrous fishing expedition. It was certainly true, and now very obvious to them, that without Him, they could do nothing. Jesus’ invitation to “come and dine” was never more welcome than on that bleak dawn.
But coming and dining brought Peter to an even deeper test of his understanding and his commitment. It was after that delicious meal of fish and bread when Jesus looked at him and asked in John 21:15, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” What exactly were “these?” The Greek word found there is touton, which as a pronoun can substitute for either people or things. It seems somehow doubtful that Jesus was challenging whether or not Peter loved Him more than he loved the others that had just eaten with them. What would that mean anyway? But it could very well be that Peter was being asked, “Do you love me more than these fish that you have just enjoyed?” Living for God, being a true follower or disciple of Jesus Christ is more than just rejoicing in what He has to give. He did, after all, say that it was more blessed to give than to receive. The whole chapter centers upon this fishing trip that Simon Peter had decided upon. From the failure to catch fish with the net to the tasty meal of fish and bread prepared by the Lord, the story revolves around this one theme: which fish most interests you, Peter? Is it the fish in the lake? Or, is it the fish that only Jesus can cook on an open fire by the lakeshore? Or, is it the fish that need to be caught for the sake of their salvation.
Surely, that night, as Jesus asked Peter three separate times if he loved Him, Peter must have reflected on the day that Jesus first found him and declared in Luke 5:10, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” That was forever destined to be the new priority for Simon Peter’s life. Whatever the trial or difficulty that may confront him, Peter was to have the firm resolve that there could be no compromising on this issue. For Peter, and for us today, this is the fifth reality of the Church: we must choose to be part of this revival that God has ordained. There is no looking back and trying to pick up the old ways; all things are become new.
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