Breakfast on the beach John 21:1-25
We are still reflecting and thinking about the resurrection this morning. It is after all, the most significant event of the Christian year and we believe that it is the pivotal point of history. Luke and John take time to underline the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, whilst Matthew is quite short and Mark peremptory.
Luke records the Easter Sunday appearance to the women, the meeting of the two on the Emmaus Road, an appearance to Simon Peter and then meeting with the eleven in the room where they were gathered. He shows them his hands and feet and ate to show he was real because some still did not believe. He also took time to teach them about the Messiah from the Old Testament. John records the appearance to Mary Magdalene, the appearance to ten and then to the disciples plus Thomas, on both occasions showing his wounds. Then we have the account of meeting those who had gone fishing in Galilee. The message is clear: Jesus has risen physically from the dead.
Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
The encounter with Jesus here pivots on a meal as does ours. Communion that we celebrate is not unimportant but a vital meeting point together with Jesus. Fellowship with Jesus pivots round a meal, as should fellowship in the body of Christ. In our fast food culture meals are to be prepared in minutes and gulped in seconds. If the body of Christ cannot take its time over meeting in communion it is going to miss out on fellowship with one another and with Jesus. If the body of Christ cannot eat together, taking time with each other, it is going to miss out on fellowship with one another and with Jesus. That is why we have been having regular times after church to eat together. We often talk about being like New Testament church. One of the reasons they were effective was because they grew in community and weren’t just people who met for an hour and dashed off.
This account that we are looking at briefly has been allegorised and analysed with meaning sought in all aspects, including the failure of the disciples to recognise Jesus, the number of fish, the strength of the net and the ways in which the word ‘love’ is used. Just take this account as it reads. They had been out all night, it was early morning and they were off shore when someone called out with fishing advice. It could even have been a little misty or hazy. It is not surprising they didn’t recognise Jesus. The fact that there were 153 fish was remarkable for the size of the catch and that the net held. Apart from indicating the generosity of God it has no more significance. Jesus performed a miracle or realised there was a shoal of fish when the disciples didn’t. There is significance in the act which we will reflect on later.
Now you could be forgiven for thinking this account is all about Peter. He instigates the fishing trip, he jumps out of the boat and then goes back to haul the fish in to shore. He is the one who has the conversation with Jesus and is concerned about what someone else is going to be doing. However, I would suggest that this account very clearly demonstrates the grace of God in Jesus Christ, which is appropriate since that is what Easter is all about. So let’s wander through this story.
They’ve gone fishing. Jesus at the end of the previous chapter has commissioned them and they go fishing – for fish. Some have criticised the disciples for doing this. Fancy going off fishing when they had seen Jesus and he had given them a job. What were they waiting for? Why were they kicking their heels and going off fishing? Well it is quite difficult to place the different parts of the resurrection accounts in chronological order and at the end of Matthew the instruction is to go to Galilee to meet Jesus and here they are. What is more, even disciples have to eat so why not go and catch it? Even disciples can’t live on nothing, so why not sell the rest in the market? Jesus isn’t phased by the fact that they have gone fishing; and he has met them in Galilee by the lake.
Why did they listen to the stranger on the shore? Well who knows. Not so long ago we were walking along Deal Pier with our grandchildren. When it is busy, rods protruding out onto the walkway all the way along. Our concern was that our grandchildren running and playing around would trip over these rods… One of the things these experienced fishermen wouldn’t appreciate is me saying to them, “Have you tried the other side?”
For some reason the disciples do what the man on the shore said and they get a surprise. This is reminiscent of Luke 5 when Jesus tells them to cast out the net one more time after a night’s unsuccessful fishing. Peter’s response is we’ve been out all night but we’ll do it. And then at the result he says: ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ The act revealed something of who Jesus is to Peter. The act of doing what this person said, revealed who was standing on the shore. It is almost as though a light bulb has been turned on and Peter’s response is automatic. He does the strange thing of getting dressed before going swimming, but his object is to get to Jesus on the shore. This is how John has used the miracles of Jesus in his gospel: to point to who Jesus is so that people might believe. They may have laboured all night, but the trip doesn’t end a failure – because of the provision of Jesus.
As the story progresses the grace of Christ is clearly seen. Jesus has already anticipated the physical needs of the disciples who had been out all night unsuccessfully fishing, by providing fish and bread, and then using their offering. In preparing this meal, there is a reminder that it was Jesus who took the initiative in making arrangements for the Passover meal before he was killed. At that meal John records he took off his outer clothing and became the lowest servant as he washed the disciples feet before the meal. Jesus is the one who serves bread and wine, investing that simple act with eternal significance. In this account Jesus serves bread and fish and we are meant to think straight away of the time he served bread and wine; and perhaps it also reminds us that on the mountain side he took bread and fish and fed the multitude.
It also makes the point that following Jesus is not all about pie in the sky. If the Kingdom of God does not impact here and now in the creation he came to redeem; if it does not change people’s circumstances then it is not the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies and the declaration of Jesus in Luke 4 was just rhetoric.
The prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’
However, the example of Jesus was and is that the Kingdom impacts here and now, and he showed this by feeding the weary disciples. Grace has been shown.
Grace has also been shown in that here is another encounter with the risen Lord to underline that he is alive. He shows grace by providing the catch of fish which reveals to them who he is. Why didn’t they recognise him straight away? Early morning, tired and perhaps they still had taken in that Jesus had risen and they were likely to see him. Grace stands out to me here, because at no point in the resurrection accounts is it recorded that the disciples say they are sorry for the way in which they behaved around the crucifixion. There is no record of remorse, just that once they realised and believed Jesus was alive, they were overjoyed. Jesus doesn’t reprimand them in any way, but ensures that they know he is alive and shows acceptance and love. In fact there is not a record of them ‘giving their lives to Jesus’ in the traditional evangelical way; they believe and get on with it. Grace is shown because in spite of their fallibility, Jesus gives them the responsibility of sharing the news of forgiveness and eternal life. They are the ones who are going to take the Kingdom to others – and they had a whole lot to learn about who was acceptable in the Kingdom, just as the church has had to re-learn that down through the centuries to the present day.
The conversation with Peter is an interesting one. Does he wander off down the beach or talk quietly with Peter round the fire? Who knows. What happens though is clear: Peter is not chastised after his bold promises about dying with Jesus and then running away; his bold declaration that he would never disown Jesus and then swearing that he never knew him. But Jesus does probe and challenge through the questioning. Often a distinction is made about the way Peter and Jesus use different words for love in this conversation. However, we need to be wary, because John uses these words interchangeably in the gospel. So for example agapao is used in the negative context of people preferring darkness to light in John 3:19 and concerning the love of praise from men in 12:43. Phileo is used of the Father’s love for the Son in 5:20 and in 16:27. This happens with other words as well.
What does seem to be happening here is a testing of the love of Peter for Jesus – and it will be tested in the months and years ahead. Before the crucifixion he declared that his commitment was greater than that of the others: is that really the case? Again there is no expression of sorrow, but Peter has got the point because he is sad about being asked three times. The grace of Jesus is that he takes this failed follower and gives him the huge task of caring for the other followers. Jesus knew the limitations of Peter’s love – and stretched him.
The challenge of our love for Jesus is there. Think about Matthew 10:37ff
‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
These are tough words. Let’s get personal: do I love Jesus more than my wife and more than my children or grandchildren? What does it mean to love Jesus in this way? I actually don’t like to imagine. Surely we all fall short of loving Jesus to the extent that we should, and we don’t know how much we love him until the test comes. What I do know is that without the grace of Christ, I would not be acceptable in the Kingdom. What I do know is that we have a great high priest who is not unable to sympathise with our weaknesses and whom we can approach with confidence to receive mercy and help.
You have received the mercy and grace of Christ and so are welcome in the Kingdom. Without it you would not be here, so don’t start rejecting others because they don’t measure up to the weak standards you achieve and their failure to love fully. The breakfast on the beach declared the grace of God in Jesus Christ to those failures of disciples who willingly declared that Jesus was risen from the dead and the one in whom everyone should believe. The grace of God symbolised in a meal.