Knowing His Word and His Ways…
“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. 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. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (John 21:1-14 ESV)
A few weeks ago I was at our local youth summer camp, Falls Creek, with our youth group and sponsors (mostly family). As a part of our activities for the week, we decided to add a new event called Sponsor Search. Five of the sponsors, including myself, would dress in costume or disguise our looks in some way and then “hide” in a public area of the campground and our youth teams would have to find us and document it with a “selfie” on their phone. The first team to find all five would earn points towards their team championship goal for the week.
I faced a particular challenge because I have a bald head, a white goatee beard and I’m fairly large. I don’t hide or disappear into crowds easily. In addition, two of the youth are my own granddaughters. I had purchased a ball cap with a mullet wig attached to help hide my distinctive bald head, and then I used my wife’s mascara to darken my white beard. I also wore a t-shirt that I’d never worn before and kept my cap pulled down to keep my face in the shade.
Apparently I was fairly effective at hiding in plain sight because I was the last of the sponsors to be found by any of the teams, but I was found by my oldest granddaughter, Teagan. I walked right past several of the groups without being recognized, but as I was walking down the street I encountered Teagan’s group and she was out in the lead. I could hear her say, “Wait a minute. That guy walks like my Papa and he’s wearing my Papa’s shoes.” Darn! I’d been spotted.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples following the resurrection, they didn’t initially recognize Him. We aren’t told how or why they struggled to recognize Him, only that they did. While I don’t intend to spend much time on why they didn’t recognize Him, I do want to spend most of my time on how they DID recognize Him and its significance to our relationship and walk with Christ.
On this particular occasion, only seven of the twelve were present when Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples. The term “revealed” can mean that Jesus was visible to them but unrecognizable or that He was not physically present and then appeared, like he had done previously in the locked room. In this particular story, the first use of the term “appeared” seems to better fit the circumstances. He was physically present on the shore of the lake but unrecognized by the disciples because John notes that Jesus “stood on the shore” but they didn’t know it was Him.
Any comments here as to why He’s unrecognizable are really just speculative on my part, but I do want to note just two. First, it could be that Jesus identity is intentionally veiled or hidden from them for God’s purposes. Like the story of the men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, Jesus might be intentionally veiling His identity so that the impact of His words and actions penetrate their souls and understanding before His identity penetrates their conscious observation. In other words, they recognize Him at a deeper, personal level before they recognize His physical appearance. Sometimes our eyes get in the way of our hearts. We think we need to physically see Him when, in fact, He’s been present with us at a deeper, spiritual level this entire time.
Second and, perhaps, along with the first is that Jesus appearance is impacted by His resurrection and glory. He looks different because He IS very different. Every indication from scripture is that Jesus’ post-resurrection body is very different from His pre-resurrection body. His body is now capable of moving and responding to the environment in ways it never has before. He is now able to “appear” and “disappear”from locked rooms. His body bears the marks but not the results of His physical crucifixion wounds. So, it’s like His pre-resurrection body in some observable ways but very, very different in other ways. While it bears the physical marks or scars sin’s temporal power once held, it now reveals the greater glory of God’s eternal victory over sin and death and that’s precisely what will happen to us when we believe. For the rest of our time together, I want to focus on the importance this has on our response to Jesus influence on our lives.
Peter and the other disciples are now waiting on direction from Jesus as to what’s next. His physical presence and leadership has dominated their lives for the past several years, now what? They initially seem a bit lost without Him. What do we do now? Peter says, “I’m going fishing!” It’s really easy to fall back into old habits, isn’t it? It’s like a comfortable shirt or old pair of jeans, you put them on because they’re comfortable and you like how they fit. We do that with our old habits, old ways and old thoughts, too. But, we’ve been transformed by the power of God’s Spirit and something’s not quite right. Things don’t fit or work like they used to. Something’s off and Peter and John noticed it, too.
People I know who fish, and do it often, take pride in knowing where the fish are and how best to catch them. They are also easily frustrated when their knowledge or skill doesn’t result in a catch. This same attitude seems to be true for Peter and John. These guys grew up fishing on this lake. They know the best spots, best times and best methods for catching fish. Nobody knows it better! Well, except the one who made them and the fish. And that’s precisely His point.
They’ve fished all night and not caught a thing. Now fishermen love to fish better than just about anything, anything except catching fish. You don’t go fishing just to fish, you go to CATCH fish and they hadn’t caught anything. Nothing! Frustrating. Extremely frustrating. There’s a man standing on the shore who asks them about their catch. Nothing? Hmmm, why don’t you try casting your nets over there, he suggests. Ha, what does he know. Well, go ahead, give it a shot. What have we got to lose? Wait! What’s happening. What’s that pulling on the nets? This all seems vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?
Suddenly, it hits John. The reason this all seems familiar is obvious. It’s the Lord! Peter, it’s the Lord! Notice the first thing Peter does. He puts on his clothes because he had stripped down to go fishing. Old habits, old comfortable ways but no fish, until Jesus shows up and changes everything.
This really describes the church today. We struggle with old habits and old ways and wonder where the fish are. Why aren’t we catching anything? I know these are good spots where I’ve caught fish before using these same techniques, but nothing today, or yesterday, or all last week or last year. What’s wrong? We think we know how. We think we know better than anyone. But the Lord, the one who made us and who made the fish (or men) we’re trying to catch really does know best.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. The Gospel and its truth have NOT changed, but the men (fish) and the methods have and He knows best how to catch them. I’m not going to tell you what methods or means you should be using because those are unique to your spot in the lake and that’s precisely what Christ will do, if you listen to Him. As pastors, we often run around and ask everyone else what they’re using to catch fish. We attend seminars, we read the latest church growth guru’s book, we steal ideas from every mega-church pastor that posts anything to the Internet but we miss the obvious because it doesn’t look familiar.
As I mentioned previously, I’m not entirely sure what specifically changed about Jesus appearance, but something obviously did. There’s no other way to explain John’s comment, “Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.” They KNEW it was Him. How? They recognized His words (Word) and His actions (Love).
My point today is that Jesus’ doesn’t look anything like he did back when I was a kid growing up in the church. The way we do ministry, the challenges our families face, even the very method in which I present the Gospel have all changed dramatically. Church today doesn’t look like the church I once knew, nor should it. But Jesus’ Word and His Love haven’t changed, nor should they. The message is the same, but the methods and the men have changed and He know best how to present that message to them. In many ways, ministry is a wedding dance.
Several years ago, my oldest son was getting married. He warned his mother that they would be slow dancing together at the reception. Now, at first, I thought I was off the hook. But I soon realized that I was going to be expected to also dance with my wife. I don’t dance. Never have. I have two left feet. So, Tina arranged for us to take a dance class. Great idea, bad experience. I show up at the dance class with Tina and it was a disaster. First, we aren’t learning to “slow” dance, we’re learning to “swing” dance. I give it a try. Not happening. The instructor comes over and says, just listen to the beat and move with the rhythm of the beat. Beat? What beat? I can’t hear a beat or rhythm. The class was a complete failure. Fortunately, I did learn something. Dancing is about moving in sync to the rhythm of the music (life) and the movement of your partner (Jesus).
In this ministry dance, Jesus leads and His bride, the church, follows. We might not know the specific moves, but we can hear the music, we know Him and we try to stay in step. Now, to be honest, my moves are a bit clumsy and awkward. I make lots of mistakes. But a wedding dance isn’t really a dance performance, it’s an expression of love. Just correct your step and keep dancing. Why? Because your dancing with the one you love. You might not know the song, but you know them and the way they move. Just dance.
That’s also the way others come to know and love Christ. They experience the wedding dance of the church. Not the performance dance, the real love dance. We’ve all seen videos of wedding dances that are just performances. The bride and groom aren’t really dancing with one another as much as they’re dancing for one another and to impress others. That’s not an expression of love it’s an expression of pride and self-glory. It’s a “watch me” dance.
Too many churches are busy dancing just that kind of dance. They aren’t dancing with Jesus as much as they’re dancing for Jesus so others can watch the performance. Love of God might exist, but it’s not the focus. That kind of ministry might be fun to watch but it is mostly performance and not really an expression of loving God more than self. That’s not the kind of ministry God wants from us…
But, notice how Jesus addresses the disciples during their fishing trip. “Children, have you caught any fish? No? Try casting your nets over there.” This is that dance I’ve been talking about. Don’t try and lead. Listen to the rhythm of the music and follow Jesus’ lead. Our culture is changing and quite rapidly. We can lament and moan over the changes occurring and turn our ministry inward to maintain our old methods and slowly but surely die or we can recognize that Jesus is still Lord and that He’s still at work in our changing culture. We can listen to the rhythm of the music and lovingly follow his dance lead and reach our culture for Christ.
Finally, the disciples recognized Jesus because they recognized His words and actions. This was all very familiar because they remembered Jesus words and actions when He had first revealed himself to them (see Luke 5). Jesus is ending His time with these men in the same way He began His time with them. He originally called them to become “fishers of men” using an identical situation and result. Just when they’re struggling with their personal identity and future direction because of His death, He points them back to their original calling, fishing for men.
Just like my granddaughter recognized me at camp because of my actions (my walk), we should recognize the work of Christ by His actions (transforming lives). Also, once I spoke to my granddaughter she knew it was me and Christ also confirms His identity through His Word. His methods might change but His work today will still be consistent with His Word. Our calling is to be fishermen (fishers of men) who listen to the Master’s words about where to fish and how. The church truly has no grater purpose and, for them, it’s a matter of life or death.
Well, are you going to cut bait or fish? Or to use our dance scenario, are you going to sit this one out or will you cut some moves with Christ?