Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. John 21.4-6 | ESV
The fruitless night of fishing seemed to wear on forever, but then, before they knew it, there was the sun pressing over the horizon, another new day beckoning, revealing the Son, their Salvation, standing right on water’s edge – though, as per usual, none of them had a clue it was Jesus. Salvation shouts to them from the shore, “Hey guys! You have anything to eat?” They shout back: “No!” “Try the right! Lower the net on the right side of the boat and I think you’ll find something,” he said, continuing the early morning exchange. So they did (why not?). And the boat lurched to the right, the net straining to hold the catch, the net so heavy with fish they couldn’t haul it anywhere. MAV
This is one of my absolutely most favorite-est stories in all of Scripture.
These key disciples have gone back to what they know – and what they formerly left, for good, presumably. “’Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets and followed him.’” On at least one level this could be viewed as a defection – and some do. Some see in Peter’s invitation more than a suggestion of a wee fishing trip while they waited for Jesus to show, but rather a throwing in the towel and picking up their former trade. In such a scenario, standing in His place, some of us would be tempted to turn our backs, to sulk, or to show up when they returned to shore and give them a piece of our mind.
At the very least it’s a great “O ye of little faith (and of even little-er fishing ability)” moment.
He could have popped into the midst again out on the boat, or done a repeat performance of the whole “walking on water” routine, but instead Salvation stands playfully on the shore. I say playfully because he doesn’t tip his hand as to who he is.
How he loves coming to us in another form!
And rather than the “O ye of little faith” rebuke that would feel so good to us, he offers them the ultimate deep sea catch. The disciples weren’t the only ones good at rewinding! Standing at the end of his story with them, Jesus brings them full circle to its beginning.
Oh the endlessly creative ways God has of tipping his hand – and getting us to see his face.
In what unexpected way have you most recently encountered God on the shore of your life?
Lord, remind me, when I turn to you empty-handed for the umpteenth time, that you don’t weigh me down with shame or guilt, but instead fill the nets of my expectations in ways I wouldn’t have imagined possible. And let that be a lesson to me – and through me. Through Christ.
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21.1-4 | ESV
Fast forward (or is it rewind? – and you thought we were done)…
Could be days, could be weeks. But now we’re no longer with the disciples behind barricaded doors in Jerusalem. No, the scene of the next Jesus manifestation was on the wide open waters of the imperially tagged “Tiberias Sea” (but we know it as the Sea of Galilee – talk about a vast pool of proof!).
And this is how it happened.
They were together, a bunch of them – Simon “I’m The Rock and I’m Listening” Peter, along with “Think Twice” Thomas, “Gift of God” Nathanael from Cana (the “Sticks”) of Galilee, Zebedee’s (“the Giver’s”) two sons, and at least two others (which would make this a party of seven). Peter has evidently had enough of waiting for Jesus to pop in again and decides to go back to what he knows. “I’m getting back to fishing, guys!” “Wait for us,” they all chimed in, “we’ll join you.” Back to Galilee. Back out on the lake. Back in the boat. Just like old times. And just like old times, they worked it all the night long and came up with…not. one. thing. MAV
Is it just me, or did it feel like the Gospel of John concluded in the last chapter with that grand finale sounding flourish in stating his purpose? So why this final chapter? Some scholars go so far as to infer chapter 21 is a clear later addition to John’s Gospel considering the clear ending of chapter 20.
Clearly they’ve never seen a Peter Jackson film.
Thank God for the extended edition we have before us, in that case, because there are treasures to be fished out of these final scenes.
First among them is another glorious view of the humanity of these first disciples – with resulting insight into our own. How marvelous that Peter returns to Galilee not out of obedience to Jesus’ post resurrection instruction to “go to Galilee because I will appear to you there,” but because he appears to be tired of waiting for Jesus to show. Or perhaps they all returned to Galilee in obedience to Jesus’ instruction, but then Peter tires of waiting and motions to his friends and former partners, “I’m headed back out to fish.”
Whichever way it happened, Peter is now back out on the lake, doing what he knew best: fishing – and catching nothing. The temptation to spiritualize or allegorize is almost irresistible all through John 21. So I’m not even going to try not to.
This is us.
Everyone one of us.
We can spend a lifetime waiting for God to show (okay, in the story it’s just days or weeks at most, but it always seems like so much more at the time) – and how much easier is it to simply go back to what we know?
And how often, when we do, do we find ourselves coming up empty-handed, no matter how hard or long we work it?
Oh yes, this is us.
This is so us.
This is us at our perpetually rewinding best…exchanging present suspending uncertainties of waiting for God to show for the more “down to earth” realities of our past that are, at least, familiar territory.
So, what is your own rewind version of “let’s go fishing”? How does your “rewind” experience compare with Peter’s?
Lord, as I rewind (over and over) in my life, exchanging present uncertainties of faith for the familiarity of the well-worn ruts of the past, thank you for waiting for me to come up empty – again – so that you can fill my nets with something much better. Through Jesus.
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. John 20.30-31 | ESV
So. Do you need more proof? This is just dipping our collective little toe into the vast pool of proof Jesus dunked his disciples into – most of it uncharted waters passed over in silence in this telling of the tale. But where I’ve broken that silence and invited you to join me in these waters of Jesus’ life and work, it’s been for one reason only: to open a spring of faith and trust deep within you that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen, the Son of God – and in that spring of faith to be saturated with Life, bubbling up from the subterranean depths of who He is. MAV
Your turn now.
Reread the entire text for this week. Then sit with it in silence. Open your imagination. Put yourself there with Thomas. See through the eyes of Thomas. You’ve held out so long from believing.
You want proof.
You have issues.
And where is he, after all?
And now, suddenly, here he is.
Right here in the room, by the lake, on the patio, wherever you happen to be.
What does he look like?
What does he show you?
What does he ask you?
What do you say?
And then let him lead you in your response to his voice.
How would you summarize the “pool of proof” God has used in your own journey of faith? Has it issued in a spring of faith within you “saturating you with life” – or are you still waiting?
Lord, you say it only takes a mustard seed of faith. Just a mustard seed. Give me that, that with the distressed father I can truly pray, ‘Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!’ Through Christ.
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20.26-29 | ESV
A full week passes, plus a day.
“Think Twice” must surely be thinking all the rest of them would be thinking twice by now, since the Lord is still a no show. Perhaps it was right in the middle of another “I told you so” moment – Thomas with the rest of the disciples back in that room, the door still securely locked and bolted. And he does it again. Jesus suddenly right in the middle of them, saying, “Shalom ya’ll!” aka “Hey there!”
Faces etched in astonishment, though Thomas’ seems to have been drained of all color. Jesus immediately seizes upon “Think Twice’s” no doubt often repeated faith challenge over the past week, saying to Thomas, “Take your finger and examine my hands, then take your hand, insert, and explore my side, and let this be the catalyst that transforms your calculating distrust with full-bodied trust.” Thomas could only blurt out, “My Lord and my God!” To which Jesus says, “So now belief and trust have awakened within you – now that you see it. How very happy they are who don’t have to travel your wearying route of seeing and proving and sorting all the evidence – but who, like a child, yet know how to believe.” MAV
“He that doubteth is damned.”
Okay, that’s not the full statement from Paul’s pen, but it might as well be, because it’s what we tend to believe. Doubt is one of those things that’s only cool to confess after you no longer have it. We frequently observe that doubt isn’t the problem, it’s what we do with it that counts.
But perhaps it’s better to take note of what he did with it. Perhaps it’s just me, but Jesus seems almost a bit mischievous in these resurrection appearances. Yes, he demonstrates with “many infallible proofs” that he was alive, that he was a human being and not a phantasm of some sort – only what Luke considers “infallible” clearly wasn’t for everyone who witnessed the events.
Yes, some doubted. Perhaps it had something to do with the way he came at them in a different form. The way he would just show up – and then vanish. The way he would show up and then simply stay away for eight days. It’s almost as if he allows the natural skepticism of Thomas to fully mature before popping right into the room with an almost casual “how you doin’?”
In how many creative, mischievous ways does he pop into our own midst inviting us to poke and prod him even as he pokes and prods us? How often, I wonder, do we even notice?
And one more question: Did Thomas have to touch and poke him – or did the sight of Christ finally enable him to see with a different set of eyes?
Describe your own journey to faith (even if you haven’t gotten there yet). What have been the key factors for you?
Lord, in this cynical world, show me how to see wonder as a child again, and believe. Through Jesus.
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20.24-25 | ESV
Now one of their number was missing from that empowered circle of joy – Thomas, the one they liked to call “Think Twice” or “Second Guessing” was nowhere to be seen when Jesus showed up right in the middle of that former huddle of fear. When he finally showed, they all jumped him with joy, “He was right here, the Lord was right here, and every last one of us saw him!” Thomas was totally true to his name. “No way, I won’t believe a word of it! Not unless I myself lay my eyes on the nail print in each of his hands and then can stick my finger into each of those nail holes and while I’m at it stick this hand right into the gash in his side. Nothing short of such hands-on proof will nudge me one bit towards faith. Period.” MAV
There’s a bit of Thomas in each of us, yes? We want to see, we clamor for proof, we hound after facts and certainty, yet always holding ourselves back as imagined impartial judges just waiting for someone to make the case – and there’s a whole apologetics industry ready to feed us in our egoic pursuit.
But the reality is that faith is more than seeing – or at least is seeing with different eyes. Hence, “we walk by faith and not by sight.” Which should make us stop and ponder a bit why we are all so all-fire obsessed with getting others to see our case when faith requires something more, something deeper than grasping our arguments.
Need proof, O Second Guesser?
Matthew relates that when Jesus went to Galilee and showed himself there to “his brothers” that when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted (Matthew 28.16-17). And no, this is not talking about Thomas in that upper room. Different time, different setting. Maybe this was the occasion Paul speaks of when he says that “over five hundred of the brothers saw him at once.” If so, isn’t it telling that only 120 evidently believed what they saw enough to actually stick around?
Oh elusive sticking place of faith!
When will you come home to rest in this weary, wandering, reason-wrestling heart?
Do you see your faith as more product of an intellectual process or as divine gift? Or both?
Explain (if you dare).
Lord, teach me how to see with those different eyes – those eyes from which fresh visions of faith arise. Give me eyes remade for wonder. Through Christ.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
John 20.21-23 | ESV
The disciples stood there, dumbstruck with joy. So Jesus repeated his greeting – “Peace y’all!” – but with special emphasis on the “peace.”
He quickly added, “Abba gave me a job to do, sent me out on assignment – and now I have one for you.”
Then he took a deep breath as they waited. Then he released that deep breath on his circle of friends.
“Breathe in the Holy Breath of God – inhale deeply! Now you are agents of life and forgiveness, breathing into others the empowering grace of God, freeing them from death grip of all their mess of sin and rebellion – but not everyone wants to breathe in the breath of life you offer, preferring to remain right where they are. And so they shall. Let them be. You just keep breathing.” MAV (Mike’s Authorized Version)
“Whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven; whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained.”
Now just try not letting that go to your head! Jesus’ pronouncement sounds foreign to these Protestant ears. This just sounds Catholic-y. Forgiving and retaining sins.
But rather than getting caught up Catholic vs. Protestant comparisons and debates, or lost in imagined scenarios of absolving this person or condemning that one (visions of Harry Potter with his magic wand come to mind), perhaps we need to pause.
Yes, perhaps there’s the key to understanding this entire passage. Jesus breathes on them, he breathes on his circle of friends. And then sends them out to do the same. It is the Holy Breath of God that is breathed into us, which we in turn breathe out on others in a holy, life long exercise of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the world.
It’s just not everyone is ready for the breath.
All lungs don’t share the same receptivity and capacity. All we can do is keep breathing, and let it be. Or, changing the metaphor, all we can do is keep giving off the aroma of Jesus, and let other’s nostrils decide whether to “ahhhhh” or to “ughhhh.” Perhaps there is more here than this Protestant is ready to see – but there is at least this.
The question is: will we continue to breathe?
Or will we persist in holding our breath?
Will we join the parade?
In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 | MSG
In what way or ways do you need to breathe in the holy breath of God today – and pass it on?
Lord, breathe on me – and let your breath not only invigorate me, but let it flow through me to others, bringing newness of life and forgiveness. Through your mercies.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. John 20.19-20 | ESV
Then evening fell on that day of days, that first day of the week. The doors had been sealed tight – locked, bolted, and chained – the disciples huddling behind them in fear, terrified that they would be the next targets of the religious powers that be. And then, poof!, right in the middle of that huddle of fear stood Jesus – and before they even had time to react he breathed the words “Shalom alecha!” meaning “Peace be with you” or in every day lingo, “Hello there!” No sooner had he breathed the greeting than his hands were on display right before their faces showing the tell-tale marks of crucifixion, and then he lifted up his tunic, exposing a nasty wound in his side marking the impact of that lethal spear thrust. Fear beat a hasty retreat before the joy that now flooded the soul of each of the disciples – they saw the Lord, and one look was all they needed! MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
This is so us.
Huddles and puddles of fear.
We live in a nation that spends, what, $500 billion annually or whatever amount on defense? Let’s not go all political here, but we tend to become reflections of the prevailing culture around us. We seek the security of locked doors, impenetrable walls, building defensive works in our lives more elaborate than those of the Japanese on Iwo Jima.
Yes, we are all huddled with the disciples behind those locked and barred doors. And what a high cost our imagined security extracts! The beauty of this upper room moment is that Christ doesn’t “stand at the door and knock.” He just pops up right in the middle of our insecurities, saying, “Peace, y’all!”
We so desperately need to be infiltrated.
We so desperately need to let ourselves be infiltrated.
By the reality that John many years after this upper room moment celebrates in his letter to later huddles of fearful disciples:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. 1 John 4:17-19 | MSG
Where in your life right now do you sense you are huddled in fear? How might Jesus already be popping up in your own circle of fear, announcing his peace? How can you embrace him and his peace?
Lord, I welcome you into the midst of my huddle and puddle of fear today. Give me eyes to see your wounded hands – wounds not only now healed, but healing. And let that glimpse of you make all else beat a hasty retreat before me. Through Christ.