Easter Sunday 2023
Jesus is risen and today we celebrate What He's Done! Join the celebration as Dr. Marty Baker takes us through John 21 and the disciples' encounter with Jesus after His resurrection.
Jesus prophesied on various occasions that He would be killed and that He would then rise victorious over the grave (John 2:19-21; Matt. 12:38-41; 17:22; John 10:15-18). How did he validate that He had risen from the dead after His brutal crucifixion? He appeared in bodily form, bearing the scars of the crucifixion, to various followers at various times and places:
- Mary Magdelene (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18)
- Various women at the tomb (Matt. 28:9-10)
- Peter while he was in Jerusalem (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)
- Two heartbroken disciples on the Emmaus Road (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-35)
- Ten disciples behind closed doors (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25)
- All eleven disciples . . . including Thomas (John 20:26-31; 1 Cor. 15:5)
In each instance, they could see, touch, and talk with Him and see the crucifixion wounds. On resurrection eve, they were dumbfounded when He suddenly materialized in a closed room with the disciples and ate some broiled fish (Luke 24:42-43). Jesus had died and risen again and He truly had an unusual but recognizable resurrection body. Seven days later, when the disciples met again in a closed and locked room, Jesus appeared suddenly and even challenged, doubting Thomas to touch His noticeable wounds. Realizing his resurrected Lord stood tangibly before him, Thomas humbly exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
All of these post-resurrection appearances before His ascension (Acts 1:9-11) validated that Jesus had risen victorious over sin and death. Ten disciples who witnessed His post-resurrection appearances paid for the educational point with their lives when evil people martyred them. Not even martyrdom could intimidate them to deny their first-hand educational experiences with the risen, living Jesus, the Messiah.
While all of these six appearances served primarily to validate Christ’s resurrection in time and space, it is the seventh one I find most intriguing. The angel at Christ’s empty tomb told the women, who came to attend to Christ’s body, that was risen, and they needed to tell His disciples to head to Galilee to rendezvous with Him there (Matt. 28:7). In John 21, we see some of the disciples had traveled 80 miles from Jerusalem to Galilee as told, but when Christ didn’t quickly appear, they went back to what they knew how to do: fishing. Their fishing excursion, however, would be one for the books, for during it, they encountered the risen Lord. What He did and said on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee became a message for them and us.
From these seventeen verses of the last chapter of John, we learn this one major truth about the resurrected Lord:
The Risen Lord Wants To Know You And Grow You (John 21:1-17)
Shocking and comforting, isn’t it, all the same time? Jesus could have just risen and ascended into heaven and sat down on His glorious throne, but He didn’t. He hung around for forty days prior to His ascension on the Mount of Olives, making sure we fully know He rose, and that He wants to know us intimately and challenge us to grow spiritually. What happened to seven of the disciples on that fishing trip drove these truths home to them as nothing else could. These divine truths they grasped, as I’ve said, are now ours as well, for we pick up where they have left off.
A helpful way to appreciate these practical and motivational truths is to move down through the narrative based on how the various panels thematically hang together.
The Party (John 21:1-2)
Let’s follow how John recounted what happened:
1 After these things, Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples (John 21).
“After these things” (Μετὰ ταῦτα) is a familiar Greek prepositional phrase referring us chronologically back to what has just occurred. Here it speaks of Christ’s last six appearances or manifestations, where He moved from the “unseen” heavenly and spiritual dimension to the “seen” earthly and physical dimension at will. When did He plan for His seventh self-revelation? He waited for some of his key men to go fishing. Amazing. Sometimes the Lord who loves us waits to reveal himself to us when we are doing something we enjoy and when we least expect Him to show up.
Three of these seven disciples were professional fishermen: Peter, James, and his brother John. The other four were simply along for the enjoyable boat ride on the Sea of Tiberias, which is the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee. Where were the other four disciples? Who knows; however, since the angel had given them all orders to head to the Galilee region, they were probably a few days out.
You know, after you have experienced a highly emotional, trying time, there is nothing like a little R & R with your closest friends who shared the tough times with you. What exactly was their plan?
The Plan (John 21:3a)
As the leader among them, Peter piped up as I’m sure boredom set in:
3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you” (John 21).
You gotta love Peter. He led with his heart most of the time, and this was no exception. He loved the sea: the feel of the boat bobbing in the water, the stars above your head as you fished at night, the physical challenge of manipulating the massive net, the mist hitting you as the boat cut through small waves, the rush when you reeled the fish in, and the camaraderie with your buddies. No sooner did he propose the idea than everyone else followed him to the boat docked on the north side of the lake, probably near Capernaum.
Their fishing excursion didn’t turn out as they had anticipated, however.
The Problem (John 21:3b)
Ever been skunked fishing? I have. Many times. It’s embarrassing. One of my pastoral friends was so embarrassed after a fruitless fishing trip he actually stopped by Safeway to pick up some striped bass. That was an unwise move, for it didn’t take long for his wife to figure out what he had done. Better to walk in empty-handed. That happened to these men, even though three of them knew what they were doing because they had professionally fished this particular lake for years.
They went out, and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing (John 21).
Do you know how hard ancient fishermen had it? The trammel net they used was typically composed of 38 yards of net composed of five sections. This meant the net was around 190 yards long, almost two football fields. Imagine the space it took up on the boat. Imagine how heavy it was as they lowered it into the water and retrieved it multiple times, only to find it completely empty. Not one fish of any size. Don’t you know they all recalled the episode when Jesus called them to discipleship at the beginning of His ministry? They had fished that night and caught nothing according to Luke 5. If only Jesus had been around for this particular trip, things would have been different. But as it stood, they smelled skunk all over them, and this was by divine design, as we shall see. Sometimes the Lord wisely causes you angst over something you know how to do quite well to teach you spiritual concepts which are far more important. That’s what these men were about to find out.
At the beginning of their careers as disciples, as I’ve said, Jesus caused them to catch a massive amount of fish after being skunked to serve as an illustration that they were no longer to be fishermen, but fishers of men (Luke 5:10). Post-resurrection of the Messiah they had forgotten this lesson and were back to their old ways. How quickly we stray from what the risen Lord wants from us. We get bored, distracted, and caught up doing things that pull us away from the mission of evangelism He has set before us in His Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). Hence, they were about to be motivated by the risen Lord to get on with the redemptive side of kingdom work, of sharing the life-giving gospel and saving lost fish, as it were.
This next panel gets at the heart of the spiritual matter:
The Provision (John 21:4-6)
First, permit me to read the text and then I’ll circle back and offer some salient observations:
4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus therefore said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No." 6 And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch." They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish (John 21).
Don’t tell me the Bible is boring. This section is most exciting, entertaining, and instructive.
Jesus just happens to appear on the north shore beach at sunrise. There are no angelic trumpeters announcing His arrival. We don’t see His blinding shekinah glory. No, it’s just him standing on the beach with the waves rhythmically lapping up around His sandals. This portrayal of Jesus tells you upfront He’s the God-man who is approachable and wants a relationship with you.
For the first time, Jesus calls the disciples “children,” a Greek term denoting adolescents. His question that bounced off the lake as the sun rose to His left couldn’t have been more probing: “You do not have any fish, do you?” He knew they didn’t, but He wanted them to admit it, which they did. Again, they had forgotten that He had told them “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Had any one of them prayed as they fished out in the darkness? It doesn’t appear so. Again, how quickly we forget the importance of communicating with the risen Lord who desires to go before us so He can bless us. How quickly we forget how the living God uses failures to lead us to new spiritual heights.
After their monosyllabic, depressing answer, Jesus then did the unthinkable as a non-fisherman. He told them how to fish and where to fish. All of this is most intriguing to me.
- Since they were about 100 yards off the shore, why did they listen to this unknown man they could barely see at that distance?
- Why didn’t anyone argue? “Say, don’t you know who we are? This is our lake and we know how to fish it. And who are you? And why would we lower our heavy nets on the right side of the boat now that the sun is up and the fish can see the netting? Obviously, you don’t know how and when to fish.
But no one argued. They only obeyed the voice of the stranger.
What happened almost immediately? Their nets became laden with jumping, squirming fish of all sizes. Imagine the rush they all experienced in broad daylight. How did the man on the shore know where the fish were located? He created the fish for the lake, and He, as the risen Lord knew the exact location of the fish, as He evidenced when He first called them disciples in a similar situation (Luke 5).
Since Jesus had called them, and us, to be fishers of men, the massive haul that morning showed them they, along with us, need to get back to vigorously getting on with the work of the gospel. It also showed, as they would learn later, that the Lord blesses His servants when they share the plan and purpose of His redemptive work and resurrection. Just when you thought a given fishing hole wouldn’t prove to be profitable, Jesus does the unthinkable and gives you a spiritual catch for the books.
As they hauled the fish in, John, who had been very close to Christ, connected the dots. Where Peter was emotional, John was intellectual, always looking at the facts. Let’s see. We’ve been skunked before, and Jesus caused us to catch more fish than we ever had in broad daylight, so who is the person on the beach we can barely make out? It must be Jesus because only He created fish, only He can tell you where fish are at any given moment on any body of water, only He could control a major storm on this lake, and only He could walk on the water of this small sea. Yes, by process of quick deduction, John came to the appropriate conclusion:
The Person (John 21:7)
Here John recounts what happened as he figured out the guide on the shoreline was none other than the risen Lord:
7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." And so when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea (John 21).
John, you were right. This had to be the Lord, the creator and sustainer of all things living and unliving, animate and inanimate (Col. 1:16-17).
How did Peter respond? In his typical emotional and impulsive fashion. Men like Peter don’t dive, they jump. That’s what the Greek word means here. Even though they were 100 yards off the beach, Peter instantly went for a swim after he dressed appropriately (viz, some fishermen stripped down to their ancient version of underwear to fish. Who would want to approach Jesus dressed inappropriately? Not Peter, and not I.)
Nothing more is said about Peter’s Olympic record-breaking freestyle to the beach that day. John, then, turned and made sure we understood . . .
The Purpose (John 21:8-17)
From the ensuing historical narrative of the seven disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord that particular sunrise, two truths quickly emerge:
Re-connecting & Re-orienting (John 21:8-14). This is what Jesus was, and is, about as the risen Lord.
8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish. 9 And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught." 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread, and gave them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead (John 21).
Isn’t this episode sweet, tender, and, well, jaw-dropping? Indeed. Jesus could have been sitting on the beach on a glistening throne surrounded by cherubim and seraphim, accompanied by the sound of thunder and the saw-toothed bolts of lightning. But He wasn’t.
Jesus just lovingly and patiently stood there beside a charcoal fire He started. Where did He get the charcoal? Who knows? He could have just called it into existence. How did He start the fire? He could have used a flint, but a simple word from His sovereign, all-powerful mouth would have worked too. Where did He get the fish that were cooking over the fire? Again, since He could enable a disciple to find His tax money in an arbitrary fish, why couldn’t He just make one appear? And where did the bread come from? Probably not the local store. Once more, He who was and is the Bread of Life can make the best bread you’ve ever eaten suddenly materialize at His mere word. Regardless, knowing His men were hungry after fishing all night, Jesus thought of their physical needs. What love. Also, the fact that He invited them to bring some of their catch to the fire illustrated that He planned on having ample time to sit and talk with His chosen and dumbfounded disciples.
Beyond making a meal better than any IHOP or Denny’s could provide, Jesus served each of them breakfast (Mark 10:45). Amazing. They should have been serving Him, but as He had done so many times before, He set the pace for how His people should live toward each other. The servant, indeed, was not greater or above his master. Since Jesus served, we must serve, especially those of the household of faith. Do you? Will you?
In this one beautiful, intimate breakfast, Jesus reconnected with His men and showed them that He still desired an intimate, personal relationship with them. Nothing has changed in the last 2,000 years either. He still knows what is going on in your life, whether you’ve had a hard evening when you’ve been disappointed and when you feel like an utter failure. He knows all about you as His child, and He still wants to spend special time with you so He can get to know you and you Him.
Further, He wants to re-orient you, as He did His disciples, to His mission for your life. As you serve each other in the body of Christ, you are to live each day to fish for people’s souls. And you are to fish where He places you even if you think there is no way you will win any converts in this ferocious fishing hole. Prepare yourself, for as you fish, He will fill your nets.
Have you been distracted post-resurrection as the disciples were? They got distracted within a few short weeks, so don’t tell me you are still on target with fulfilling His last words to you (Acts 1:8). May this Easter motivate us to fish as we’ve never fished before, and may we live to see the Lord give us each a catch of a lifetime.
A second purpose in this Lord’s breakfast with His disciples emerges in verses 15-17. I call it . . .
Restoring & Re-launching. Publically, Peter arrogantly and thoughtlessly said before the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection he would never desert or deny Him (Matt. 26:33; John 13:8, 37-38; 18:10-11): but He did three times before a whole group of hostile people at the home of Caiaphas. However, now that the fire had died down, old times had been retold, and their bellies were full of breakfast, Jesus had to get his main leader, Peter, back in the spiritual game.
I’m sure the charcoal fire by the beach reminded the drip-drying Peter of the other charcoal fire when he denied he even knew Jesus thrice. Don’t you know he felt terrible? Don’t you know he must have thought God would never use an undependable, fearful man like him? Yeah, who would want a deserter on your team?
The risen Lord, however, is full of grace and mercy for His children, especially when they walk off the proverbial spiritual reservation. Listen to the following conversation and understand how Jesus brought His wayward saint back into the fold so he could be used to do great spiritual things:
15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?"
By calling Peter, Simon, Jesus used the name he had prior to becoming the spiritual rock of the disciples. The word choice was purposefully designed to cause Peter to see how his words at the house of Caiaphas resembled words from his old man. Jesus’s first question employs the lofty word for love, agapao. In a sense, Jesus asks Peter, “Peter, do you really love me as much as these other disciples sitting around the fire love me?” Peter’s reply reveals much about his heart condition at that moment:
He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
Peter didn’t use the word agapao, but the other Greek word for love, phileo, or brotherly love. He obviously didn’t feel worthy of using agapao based on his former actions.Jesus then told the leader who thought he was worthless what he should be doing in the future:
He said to him, "Tend My lambs."
This is the command for all leaders in the body of Christ. They are to take care of Christ’s people and, in turn, are supposed to take care of each other.
Wanting to get at Peter’s heart, Jesus poses another question:
16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"
Jesus once more used the word agapao. He wanted to know if Peter personally loved Him. I’m sure the words cut Peter to the heart.
Still feeling unworthy, Peter replied:
He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
Once more, Peter told Jesus, “You know that I love (phileo) You,” or “You know I love you like a brother.” His prior desertion had so scorched his soul he just didn’t feel worthy telling Jesus he loved Him with the loftiest, most sacrificial form of Greek love. Ever been there? Ever sinned as God’s sheep so heinously you thought He was finished with you? If so, you understand Peter’s reply.
Again, Jesus’s reply told Peter that He was not through with him despite his denials and desertion:
He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep."
With Christ’s third and final question, Jesus really got to Peter’s heart:
17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?"
At this juncture, Jesus drops the word agapao, and employs the word phileo. By so doing, Jesus basically asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me as a friend?” That’s why Peter was grieved. Peter loved Jesus as a friend in his heart, even though he hadn’t acted like one. He also loved him with the most supreme form of love, agapao, but tough circumstances had caused him to falter in his faith and love of Jesus. Looking at the loving Lord standing in front of Him in a resurrected body, Peter knew he had just to lay it all out there:
And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You."
To paraphrase: “Yes, Lord, you know I love you like a friend. And more than that, you know I’ve always loved you with selfless love.”
Peter’s humble, repentant, and honest words moved Jesus to restore and relaunch his formerly broken spiritual man with these memorable words:
Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep (John 21).
The same resurrected Lord says the same thing to you today if you are His wayward child. I want to restore you and relaunch you so you can do much for my kingdom until I return. Any saint need restoring and relaunching? Your risen Savior stands ready to forgive and equip you to get back in the thick of the spiritual action.
For those who don’t have a faith relationship with the risen Lord, this is what Easter is about. He died for your sin, not His. He rose victorious over death to give you the ability to secure divine forgiveness for all eternity, coupled with the right to be not just His child, but one of His chosen disciples who have a mission to spread His gospel until He calls you home. Call upon His holy name today and He will not only hear you, He will save you (Acts 4:10-12).