Copyright April 28, 2012 by Geist Christian
Church/All rights reserved
Randall Updegraff Spleth
April 28 & 29, 2012
Scripture: 1 John 3:16-24
Text: John 21:1-14
We’ve been looking at Easter stories for the
past few weeks. This may seem odd to you since Easter was three weeks ago. But
it makes sense when you remember that the Resurrected Savior appeared to His followers
for 40 days after Easter. That’s almost six weeks of resurrection appearances.
The church actually gives this period of time a name—Eastertide. During this time, we ask, “What do you do
Unfortunately, we don’t have 40 days worth of
experiences in the Bible. If Jesus lived in the 21st century, there
would be a social network trail that we could follow, daily posts or even
hourly tweets on where Jesus was and what it was doing. But we don’t have that
luxury. We know about his Easter evening visit to an upper room when Jesus
suddenly appears before ten of the disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” (John
20:19) and then he shows them his hands and side. That’s the first Easter evening story which
we studied three weeks ago.
The second story
we studied last week. It’s called Emmaus Road. Jesus joins two outer circle
disciples on a seven mile walk from Jerusalem to a place called Emmaus. A mysterious
part of this story is they don’t recognize Jesus. It’s a big question. Why
don’t they recognize Jesus? Did the
Easter Jesus look different? We’ll see that this week too. Jesus joins them for dinner and after he
blessed the bread and gave it to them, “… their eyes were opened, and they recognized
him.” (Luke 24: 31). Since that time, people have talked about Jesus being
known to us in the breaking of bread.
Both of those
stories take place on Easter evening. On the week after Easter, Jesus appears
again to the disciples in the upper room. Thomas is there. He was missing in
action on Easter evening. This is the story where Thomas gets labeled “doubting
Thomas”, a label I’m sure he never knew about.
It’s a label he earned from later generations. For the early church,
Thomas was a faithful theologian when he says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”
(John 20: 28). It’s a credo, a statement of faith. Thomas knows and believes
that Jesus is both fully human, his Lord and he is fully divine, his God.
Believe it or not, this was one of the major issues that the church struggled
with during the first few centuries and Thomas’ little affirmation of faith
actually helped. Jesus was both fully
human and fully divine, Lord and God. Those five words actually helped the
Council of Nicea in 325 answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Some of you know might know that creed. The second belief statement says, we believe “in
one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light,
very God of very God, not made, being one substance with the Father.” You can
see, can’t you, how Thomas influenced Nicea saying “My Lord and My God.”
Those three appearances
take place in the first eight days.
There are 32 more days before Jesus ascends to heaven. What did Jesus do
after Easter? How did Jesus spend his
time on earth prior to his ascension? We
don’t know. There isn’t a Book of Resurrection in the Bible, detailing the exploits
of a resurrected Jesus. Why? They didn’t
write down his appearances because they didn’t think they needed to. It’s
possible they didn’t understand that he was going to leave them even though he
tried to tell them this in lots of different ways.
We see this in
the Gospel of John. John consists of 21 chapters. The public ministry of Jesus
ends at chapter 12. And what is the rest? It’s Jesus trying to say good-bye, to
tell them he is leaving. There is a farewell meal, a farewell speech, a farewell
prayer, and then the stories of Easter. But the disciples don’t seem to understand
that this is goodbye, that Jesus will be
with them just a little longer even though he is straight with them several
times. He says, “Little children, I am
with you only a little longer. You will look for me; … so now I say to you, ‘Where
I am going, you cannot come.’” (John
13:3) Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.” (John 14:4). They don’t get
“The disciples are like
children sitting on the floor playing with their toys when suddenly they look
up to discover that Mom and Dad are putting on coats. The questions are always three and they’re
always the same. “Where are you going? Can we go? Well, who will stay with us?”
“Where are you going?” “I’m going to my
Father and your Father.”
“Can we go?” “Where I am going you cannot go
now. You can go later.”
“Then who will stay with us?” “I will
ask the Father and he will send the Spirit and he will be with you always.”[i]
Even after this,
they don’t understand which may be why they didn’t write down 40 days worth of
stories. We only have 4 stories of appearances after his resurrection, plus his
final ascension into heaven. But it makes
me wonder. Where was he? What did Jesus
do after Easter? We don’t really know. We can answer the question about Peter. What did Peter do after Easter? He went fishing.
That’s how the
fourth story begins. “Simon Peter said
to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go
with you.” (John 21: 3). The “they”
isn’t all twelve of the disciples. There are just six others. John gives us a
list and includes the theologian and doubter Thomas. John says they went fishing on the Sea of
Tiberias. Do you know where that is? It
is an alternative name for the Sea of Galilee. The disciples aren’t in
Jerusalem in longer. They’ve gone back to Galilee; they’ve gone home.
And they’ve gone back to work. When Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” he
isn’t saying, let’s go have fun. By
trade, Peter was a fisherman and fishermen by trade don’t fish for recreation. John says the Zebedee brothers, James and John
are on this fishing trip. They too were fishermen. Two of the five aren’t named
and the other two, Thomas and Nathaniel who more often goes by Bartholomew. We
don’t know their professions. The Bible doesn’t tell us. Maybe they were also
fishermen. So don’t make this in to some
male bonding fishing trip where there are jokes and cigars and the latest gear
from Bass Pro Shop. This isn’t recreational fishing. They are working. In fact,
seven is the perfect number for a Galilean fishing boat, a crew of five to row
and steer and two more to cast nets.
What did they do after Easter? They went home and back to their job,
fishing. “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught
nothing.” (John 21: 3b). How discouraging. They go back to work and
they have nothing to show for it. Think pay check. Think a day knocking on
doors and not a soul is buying. Think opening your store and there isn’t a
customer all day. Think turning the sign
on the office to open and not one client walk through the door for your
professional advice. Think nothing. What
would we say to a salesman or a shop owner or lawyer who had no sales, no
customers, no clients. You’d say, “This isn’t working; maybe you’d better find
another way to make a living, a different job.”
enough, that’s what Jesus does. You
might not have heard it this is what happens. After a night of nothing, just at
day break, Jesus stands on the beach and shouts out to the seven. “No fish?” “No.”
So he says to them, “You’ve got to fish differently.” “Cast the net to 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 there were so many fish.” (John 21:6). Do you believe in déjà vu, that
eerie experience that you have been here before, done the same thing before,
heard the same things, said the same thing? A new experience so familiar that
it makes the hair stand up on the back of your necks?
The Bible doesn’t say it but I think they had a
déjà vu experience. It’s the very same experience that Peter and Andrew had
with Jesus on the very same lake three years earlier. Do you remember it? You can read about it in
Luke 5. They fished all night and had
nothing. And just like this time, Jesus told them to cast their nets on the
other side and when they do, the catch is so great that they had to call James
and John over to help them pull all of the fish in. It’s déjà vu all over again
as Yogi would say. Because it was so familiar, John says to
Peter, “It’s the Lord” and Peter knows it. He jumps into the water and swims a
shore while the other six pull the catch in. Once they all get ashore, they sit down on the
beach and have breakfast with Jesus. He even asks them to bring fish to put on
the fire. Peter goes to the net which
was “full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them…” (John 21: 11b). Who counted?
How did they have time to count? Maybe that was how many they sold after
they took the catch into the city Tiberius.
Or maybe it means something more. There are
lots of theories, some of them silly, this silliest of which is to add all the
number together and divide by 3 and you get 3, the Trinity. Oh come on. That
sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel, a Tom Hanks movie. The most popular theory about 153 is by a
fellow named Jerome. Jerome
was one of the early theologians who did his work after the Council of Nicea,
in the late 4th century. He said the number was symbolic because at
that time, there were 153 known varieties of fish in the world at that time.
And, as the net was not broken by all those fish -- John makes a point of that
as well -- we can only suppose that it was a symbolic picture of Jesus and his
disciples drawing the entire world into the net of God's great purpose.
Whether or not that is accurate, I think he’s
on to the truth of this story. It’s a commissioning story. Jesus is telling the
disciples what to do after Easter. Do you remember what happened the first time
Jesus gives them fishing advice. He says to those four fisherman “… from now on
you will be catching people.” (Luke 5: 10c) and they dropped their nets and
There on the beach, Jesus answers the question
about what you do after Easter. You don’t go back to your old way of living,
casting the same old nets in the same old way, pulling in emptiness. You
change. You throw your nets onto the other side. You go about life differently
because Easter changed you. There with those seven, reminding them of what they
knew already but for some reason, they weren’t living that way. They weren’t
fishermen any longer; they were called to fish for people. The very last Easter
story that we have of Jesus comes on the fortieth day when Jesus ascends into
heaven. It’s told in Acts and it is told
in Matthew. Matthew’s story is called The Great Commission. You know it by
therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…”(Matthew 28:
19-20a). In this story, Jesus just says, “Cast
your nets on the other side” but it
means the same thing.
You know of all the places I’d like to meet
Jesus, on the beach at sunrise is my favorite image. I’d like to have breakfast
with Jesus on the beach and hope it is a glimpse of heaven. But I know that
with breakfast comes a question. Next
weekend, we’ll look at the question in detail. But until then, let me ask you the question we
started with “What do you do after Easter?” I’m wondering if anyone here went
That’s what Jesus would have us do. He’d say to you and you and me, “Cast your
nets on the other side. Catch people. Draw your world into the net of God’s
I wonder if you are doing that, if you are
casting nets for people?
If Easter is a powerful truth for you, if you
really believe in an open tomb, a resurrected savior, if you really claim Jesus
as your Lord and your God, you can’t go back to your old way of living. You have
a responsibility to tell people about Easter.
You have the responsibility for fishing for men and women. You are
commissioned to pull in the nets. We are all in the fishing business.
later, remembering I’m sure this breakfast on the beach with Jesus, writes a
letter and puts the challenge to fish this way.
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us…. Little children, let us love, not in word or
speech, but in truth and action…have boldness before God…love
one another, just as he has commanded”
(1 John 3: 16a,18, 21c, 23b).
What will you do after Easter? Love those around you by sharing the truth of
resurrection. Do with those whom you live and work with. Do it the bus stop
with your neighbors and at the fitness club with friends. Tell those who serve
you lunch at the restaurant or sell you groceries at the market. Invite those
within your world, your fellowship, your reach to experience the greatest truth
that you can live your life by. Christ is risen and in Him so shall we.
What do you do after Easter? I hope you’ll go fishing.
Fred B. (2011-04-13). The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock (pp. 195-196).
Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.