Jesus Making Himself Known Helps us see Ourselves.
Text: John 21:1-19
Audio: Seeing Jesus, The Risen One
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
"Throughout the season of Lent we have been 'fixing our eyes on Jesus' and seeking to 'see Him' in ways that would refresh our faith and restore our souls and revive our love.
Today on Easter Sunday, we get to see Jesus as 'the Risen One.' So turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of John today, and to chapter 21:1-19. This isn’t the story of the first resurrection appearance of Jesus on Easter Sunday, but of a later appearance of the Risen Jesus to his disciples back in Galilee by the shores of the lake which was generally called the Sea of Galilee by the Jews who lived there, but was renamed the Sea of Tiberius by the Romans who occupied and ruled the land at this time.
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus Reinstates Peter 15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
On the first Easter Sunday morning, when the women went to the tomb and found it empty, the Gospel of Matthew tells us an angel appeared to them saying, 'Don’t be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, he has risen, just as He said...He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' (Matt. 28:5-7) And then as the women were running back to tell the other disciples, Jesus himself appeared to them and said, 'Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'
Well, my friends, this passage from the Gospel of John tells us that there was a period of time after the resurrection, when the disciples did go back to their homes in Galilee. And just as he promised, the risen Jesus did meet them there.
1. First, this eyewitness account of Jesus preparing breakfast for his disciples after a long night of fruitless fishing is meant to refresh our faith in the fact that the resurrection was real.
People in John’s day, as well as people in our own day, tried to explain away the resurrection of Jesus as some kind of 'delusion' of the early disciples. Either something they made up, or some kind of 'mystical vision' they had. A 'ghostly apparition' that appeared to them.
But in relating this appearance of Jesus by the shore of the Sea of Galilee, John is saying loud and clear, this was not some ghostly apparition we saw, and we couldn’t make this up.
This was Jesus in the flesh who was right there with us. And it wasn’t a ghost. It was a flesh and blood person, who built a fire, and roasted some fish, called out to us across the water with a real voice, and then sat down and ate with us. And, my friends, when we read the story, every part of the narrative has the details and nuances of an eyewitness testimony. And that’s because John, the Gospel writer whose relating the event was one of the sons of Zebedee. He was there that morning, along with his brother James, and Peter and Andrew and Nathaniel and the others.
In fact, it was John who was the first in that morning’s mist to have his eyes opened to see that the stranger calling out to them from shore was Jesus. He’s the one who turned to Peter, and said, 'O my gosh, it’s Jesus.'
2. And this leads us to the second aspect of this story I’d like us to pay attention to today. It’s the way Jesus made himself known to John and the other disciples that morning. The way Jesus made himself known was what refreshed their faith that morning, and restored their souls, and revived their love, especially Peter’s. And it can do the same for us, because it’s also the way the risen Jesus makes himself known to us all these years later.
But first, let’s go back to John.
John is the one who was the first to grasp that it was Jesus on shore calling out to them. And it wasn’t because John could see him clearly and recognized his appearance. No it was early morning, with only dawns light over the lake and they were still over a hundred yards off shore. They weren’t sure who this guy was yelling out to them across the water.
But it was the nature of what the man yelled to them that opened John’s eyes to who this was. This whole thing of telling them, after a long night of futile fishing, to cast the net out on the right side of the boat, and then they catch a huge netful of fish? It was almost exactly the same kind of fishing miracle Jesus had done back when he had first called these fishermen to follow him and become fishers of men.
Back then, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus had met these fishermen right there by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And just like on this day, they had been out fishing all night and had come back having caught nothing. And back then, Jesus had asked Peter in particular if he could take Jesus out in the boat and show him how the fishing was done. And Peter had said, 'Lord, we’ve been out all night and haven’t caught anything, but if you want to see how it’s done, ok, I’ll take you out and show you.'
So Peter takes him out and casts the net in the lake, and guess what? When he goes to pull the net back in, there are so many fish that he couldn’t pull the net into the boat. In fact, the weight of the fish in the net was so heavy it threatened to capsize the boat. Peter had to call John and James and these other same other guys to come and out and help him bring the catch in.
You see, that was the very first thing Jesus had ever done for these fishermen. That was what had opened their eyes were to see that this Jesus was not your average Rabbi. That’s what cause them to drop their nets and follow when Jesus called them to come and be fishers of men.
So you see the connection? As soon as John starts pulling on that net and discovers it is full of fish, he turns to Peter and says, 'O my gosh, it’s Jesus!' And Peter knows exactly what he’s talking about and jumps in the lake and starts swimming for shore.
He’s not waiting to haul in the net or get the boats back to shore. He knows it’s Jesus standing there on the beach, and there is nothing else on his mind but getting to him.
You see, it wasn’t just that when Jesus showed up that morning. It wasn’t just that the disciples saw a man in the flesh who looked like Jesus. It’s that when the risen Jesus showed up, he made himself known in a way that was personal to these disciples. In a way that said, 'I know you, and you know me, and here I am in your midst.' You see, this little miracle was like a calling card to them, personally. And they knew it instantly.
And you know what? It’s the same thing with the breakfast of fish and bread they share on the beach.
John tells the story of this breakfast in much the same way as he tells the story of the Feeding of the 5000 earlier in the Gospel. Both of these are stories about Jesus feeding people with bread and fish, and doing so in a rather miraculously way.
In this case there aren’t 5000 people Jesus is feeding with just a couple fish and a few loaves of bread. This time it is just the disciples Jesus is feeding. But the disciples still have nothing at the beginning of the story, and then somehow end up with not only more than enough for the meal, but a net full of fish left over at the end. And in much the same way as in the other story, Jesus takes the bread and gives it out to the disciples, and takes the fish and gives it out to them. And they all sit down to eat together, and everyone eats and is satisfied. John tells the stories in the same way.
Again, my point is that when the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, he makes himself known to them in ways that are so typically Jesus; in ways that are so personal to the disciples’ experience of Jesus, so they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this could only be Jesus.
This is what refreshes their faith. This is what revives their soul. This is what renews their love.
3. And of all the disciples, Peter is the one whose experience of Jesus on that morning by the Sea of Galilee was more personal than anyone else’s.
He was the one who more than any other needed restoration of his soul, and renewal of his love relationship with Jesus. Because it was Peter who felt he had most deeply failed and disappointed Jesus, when Jesus needed him most.
Remember, it was Peter, who at the Last Supper on the night Jesus was betrayed had proclaimed his undying loyalty to Jesus. He had said, 'Even if all the other disciples desert you, I never will, Lord.'
But later that very night, while Jesus was on trial for his life before the Jewish High Priest and the whole Jewish ruling council, Peter was outside in the courtyard with the servants and maids, and denied three times quite vehemently that he even knew Jesus.
And afterwards Peter was devastated by what he had done. And he was even more devastated when Jesus was crucified the next day. Good Friday and the Sabbath on Saturday were two of the worst days of Peter’s life. He was devastated by Jesus’ death, and mortified by his own weakness and failure.
So you can imagine that the news on Easter morning that the tomb was empty, and that Jesus had risen from the dead, was unbelievably good news to Peter.
But you can also imagine that seeing Jesus again would be an awkward experience for Peter. He was ashamed about what he had done, and though part of him couldn’t wait to see Jesus and be with him again, another part of him might have been reluctant to see Jesus and stand before him feeling like a failure.
And it’s Jesus who after breakfast takes the initiative to start the conversation with Peter. Jesus takes Peter aside and looks him in the eye, and then asks him, 'Peter, do you love me more than these?'
And my friends, I think Peter knew full well that Jesus was speaking about his boast that even if all the others deserted Jesus, he never would. And he knew Jesus was addressing him formally and seriously, not using the nickname 'Peter' that Jesus had given him years before, but calling him by his formal family name, Simon son of John.
And Peter answers, humbly this time. Not comparing himself to any of the others now. He simply says, 'Yes, Lord, you know I love you.' And Jesus says, 'Then feed my lambs.'
But then Jesus asks again, 'Simon son of John, do you truly love me?' And again Peter says, 'Yes Lord, you know that I do.' And Jesus says, 'Then take care of my sheep.'
And then a third time, you see, one for each of the denials. Jesus asks, 'Peter, do you love me? And Peter, saddened that Jesus has to ask again, says, 'Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.' And Jesus says, 'Feed my sheep.'
And again what I want us to notice here is how personal and intimate this resurrection appearance is. It is not a grand display of resurrection power. It is not an ethereal vision of light and a voice from heaven.
It was a net full of fish, and a breakfast baked on an open fire, and a conversation with Peter. But each of those little events was done in such a way that what was communicated was Jesus saying, 'I know you. Each one of you. And I know all about you. And I know that you know me. And that you know that it is me who is with you right now. And I love you, and I forgive you, and I want you to follow me.'
So how does this open your eyes and mine to see the Risen Jesus even now, all these years later in our lives?
1. First, eyewitness accounts like this strengthen our faith and trust in the credibility of the resurrection, and in the reliability of the men and women who first experienced it. These fishermen were practical, hard working men who knew what they had seen and heard and touched and eaten. The risen Jesus was not an apparition to them. The resurrection was real, and they knew it full well.
2. Secondly, the Risen Jesus not only did things just like the Jesus they had always known, he also did things that showed them that he knew them. He knew what they had experienced with him before, and he did things he knew would evoke those memories and let them know it was really him.
3. And in Peter’s case, he spoke to Peter about events on Peter’s heart and mind that only the two of them knew anything about.
And in doing so, Jesus revealed Peter to Peter as well as revealing himself to Peter.
And my friends, that is a hallmark of the way Jesus makes himself known to us. It’s like he turns on a lightbulb in our lives and in some unique way that is personal to us, we hear him saying, 'I know you. I know all about you. And I know that you know me. And that you know that it is me who is with you right now. And I love you, and I forgive you, and I want you to follow me.'
You see, when the risen Jesus makes himself known to us, it’s a revelation that helps us not only see Him for who He is, but simultaneously to see ourselves for who we are. The two revelations go hand in hand. And though the revelation of who we are is often one which saddens us, because we become aware of our faults and our failures, our idolatries and petty foolishnesses. Still, the awareness is coupled with a deeper sense of who Jesus is in all his love and grace and mercy for us.
He reveals us to ourselves so that he might heal and restore us, just like he did with Peter. And those moments become the defining moments in our lives, and defining moments of our ministry to others. What we have received is what we then have to bring to others, doing unto others as Jesus has done for us.
And such moments of revelation convince us that Jesus really is still alive, that He is the Risen One. We are convinced because He has shown us like he showed the disciples that he knows who we are. He knows where we have been. He knows what we have experienced. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our fears and failures, as well as our successes and giftings. He makes himself known by knowing us in such intimate detail that we can only say with John, 'It’s Jesus, O my gosh, it can only be Jesus.'