Fishers of Men

John 21:1-17,25

[11: Read verses 1-3.]

What do you do after you have witnessed the miraculous?

What do you do after you have seen water turned to wine?

What do you do after you have seen the invalid healed?

What do you do after you have seen someone walk on water?

What do you do after you have seen the blind obtain sight?

What do you do after you have seen the dead raised?


Everything you knew has changed.

The nature of the world itself has transformed.

The purpose of every human life until the end of time has been redefined.

So what do you do?


Jesus’ disciples were invited to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17)

and they spent three years experiencing the supernatural,

but now that Jesus is gone,

they yearn for a little taste of normalcy.


Vacations are fun:

You go to a different place.

You do different things.

You eat different meals.

Vacations are fun,

but it feels really good to return home, too.


The disciples were local fisherman.

Now they’ve seen the world,

and they’ve seen the world transformed.

So what do they do?

The return to fishing.


Do you what you’re good at;

do what you know.


But there’s a problem.

The fishermen can’t fish.

The fishermen can’t catch a single fish.

It’s one thing to not catch the type of fish you’re fishing for.

It’s one thing to not catch the size of fish you’re fishing for.

But it’s a whole other thing to not catch a single fish,

not for a little while,

not for an hour,

but for the whole night long.

They cast the nets,

drag them in,

shake their heads,

and repeat—

for twelve hours.


In their frustration,

perhaps they were remembering Jesus.


Maybe they remembered him sarcastically asking,

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” (Luke 11:11)


I’m certain they were remembering the time last time they were on the Sea of Galilee,

also called the Sea of Tiberias.

Five thousand hungry men. Five loaves. Two fish. One Jesus.

And after the five thousand men eat,

along with all the women and all the children,

there are twelve large baskets of leftovers. (John 6:1-15)

What was the difference between then and now?

Now they don’t have Jesus.

I wonder if they yearned for him,

I wonder if they prayed for him to be back at their side,

I wonder if they prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Whether they did,

or whether they did not,

Jesus comes.


[11: Read verses 4-14.]

In this appearance,

and in Jesus’ other post-resurrection appearances,

Jesus’ disciples do not recognize his physical appearance.

“Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.”

They are close to enough to talk with him, around a hundred yards,

yet they do not recognize his physical appearance.

When you know someone well, you can pick them out from a distance,

but the disciples could not recognize Jesus’ appearance.

Earlier Mary Magdalene “turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus…Supposing him to be the gardener…Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him…”Teacher!” (20:14-16)

Jesus’ disciples no longer recognize his physical appearance.

But they still recognize two things:

They recognize his voice,

and they recognize his acts.

They recognize when he’s speaking to them,

and they recognize what he’s doing in the world.

They recognize that without him their work yields nothing,

and with his guidance they have 153 large fish.


When you are looking for Jesus to appear in your own life,

do not look for a guy with long hair and a beard,

in a white robe with blue sash and sandals.

Do not look for Jesus’ physical appearance.

But listen for his voice,

and look for his acts.

If you are looking for Jesus to physically appear,

you will become as frustrated as a fisherman who can’t catch a fish.


Why doesn’t Jesus just physically appear on the clouds to the whole world right now?

Because then your worship would not be voluntary.

If Jesus physically appeared, it would not be voluntary worship but involuntary.

It would not be faith, but fact.

Instead we are left listening through a cacophony for a single voice.

Instead we are left filtering through a blur of activities for the actions of One.

That, friends, is faith.


[11: Read verses 15-17]

Peter had denied Jesus three times. It was the worst sin we know he committed.

Now Jesus has Peter affirm his love three times.

Peter had to squirm when Jesus revisits his worst sin.

God does not encourage us to sweep our worst sins under the rug,

and then sing “Jesus loves me,” “Amazing Grace.”

He encourages us to revisit our worst sins,

to stare them straight in the face,

and then still be able to sing “Jesus loves me”

and then still be able to sing “Amazing Grace,”

“that saved a wretch like me.”

Jesus forces Peter to directly face the worst of his sin,

and then forces him to turn to the work ahead of him.

He fixes Peter from the inside, and then sends him out.

Now let’s jump ahead to verse 25,

to the end of the gospel of John.

“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.

Were every one of them to be written,

I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

The Library of Congress has 838 miles of bookshelves.

Think of that: 838 miles of bookshelves.

Certainly you’d think they could fit all that Jesus said and did.

But John writes, “The world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

The Library of Congress has 38 million books —

certainly they could fit all that Jesus said and did.

But John (yes, using hyperbole) says, “No.”

Human books have an end.

Human works have an end.

God’s works have no end.

We don’t get every detail and every word. We get a pointed gospel, not a complete biography.

But what we have is enough.

If someone was not drawn in by the Sermon on the Mount,

they would not be drawn in by an anthology of Jesus’ sermons.

If someone was not mesmerized by the miracles we have recorded,

they would not be mesmerized by any further ones.

What we have is enough.

It was enough for the disciples.

For they will no longer return to what they know,

but after the Pentecost they will boldly go do what they have no experience doing.

They will no longer fish one side of the boat without God’s guidance,

but they will fish wherever Jesus leads them with His guidance.

They will no longer aimlessly wait for Jesus to make more fish,

but they will finally become what they were always meant to be:

fishers of men.

Fish are caught, eaten, and digested.

You can find their grey skeletons dissolving on sandy beaches,

and rotting in horrendous-smelling trash bags behind restaurants.

I like fishing as much as anyone else,

but fishers of fish smell bad, talk bad, and are dressed filthily.

But fishers of men —

in heaven

they are clothed in garments of pure white,

they have golden crowns adorning their foreheads, (Revelation 4:4)

their prayers are treasured in golden bowls (Revelation 5:8).


Brothers and sisters,

do not pursue the comfort of normality, but follow God’s guidance.

Do not wait for Jesus to physically appear, but listen for his voice and look for his acts.

Do not forget or avoid your worst sins, but experience Jesus’ forgiveness and grace there.

God we thank you for fishing for us,

we thank you for parents and pastors, Sunday School teachers and friends who brought us into your boat.

Give us boldness to fish for others — to trust in your guidance and work as we share you with others,

not pretending to be perfect, but knowing that

9: your amazing grace has saved wretches like us.

11: your Holy Spirit can transform our insides, and send us out.

In Jesus’ name we pray,