A Fish Story
Have you heard the one about the pastor who confronted a church member one Sunday morning? He said, “George, I heard you were out golfing last Sunday during worship.” George snapped, “Pastor, that’s a dirty lie…and I’ve got the fish to prove it!”
Peter and his buddies had no proof of fish on that long-ago morning as described in the opening verses of John 21. I imagine that their empty nets reflected their empty hearts. Not only were they disappointed about not catching anything, Peter and his fishing buddies seemed to have been suffering from, in the words of one Bible commentator, a case of the “post-resurrection blues.” Think about it. This incident happened after the Resurrection. The tomb was empty. God had raised His Son from the dead. The disciples had seen the Risen Christ on a number of occasions—and they were out fishing! The question begs itself: why weren’t they doing God’s business? Why were they out in the middle of a lake, returning to their ruts and routines, when they could have been spreading the Gospel, as they had been commanded to do by Jesus himself?
It happens to all of us at one time or another. Our hearts, like the fishermen’s nets, become empty, vacant, fruitless. We don’t lose our faith, just our fire. Like Peter, we sometimes find ourselves adrift, just going through the motions. Thankfully, Christ does not abandon us during these times when we go off-course. We may not go to Him, but He comes to us. On the shore, as Peter rowed in after a hard day’s night of luckless fishing, Jesus was there—waiting patiently, a question on his lips:
“Friends, have you caught any fish?”
Can you hear the frustration in Peter’s voice? “No.” That confession must have stung Peter. After all, he was a professional fisherman. His mantel gleamed with bass tournament trophies. He knew how to read the currents and weather. His gear was top-notch. And still he came up with zilch.
You know, when our nets come up empty in life, we need to hear the voice of Christ calling out to us:
“Is your way working?”
“Are you in control?”
“Will denial fix this problem?”
“Are you ready to come clean?”
The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous famous 12-Step Program is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” When Beverly Sills, the famous opera singer, went in for a physical exam, she denied to her doctor that she weighed 215 pounds. The physician said, “Well, are those your fat feet on the scale or mine?”
Maybe your problem isn’t alcohol or food. Maybe you’re a control freak. A chronic cynic. You’re in the grip of a bad temper. We all have something that we can’t fix on our own. Better to ‘fess up than go under.
We can hear the drumbeat of confession and healing all through the scriptures. Because of the knowledge of his pent-up sins, David “wasted away,” “groaning all day long,” his vigor “dried up as by the heat of the summer” (Ps 32:3). Then he confessed his iniquities to God and heard heavenly shouts of deliverance over him (v 7). In the waters of the Jordan, John the Baptist warned onlookers to make their paths straight for the coming of the Lord, prompting scores to confess their sins, submit to baptism and turn to a new life. In Acts 19, we read that the people in Ephesus were seized with fear of the Lord and confessed their sins openly; some who had been practicing sorcery burned their scrolls in public. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another and pray for each other so that we may be healed. The New Testament word for heal means to “cure,” “deliver” or to “be made whole.”
Let down your nets
Note the second thing that Jesus tells Peter to do: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find fish.” An odd comment, don’t you think? A bass fisherman might tell you to cast toward a submerged stump or shallow cove. A crappie fisherman will tell you that spring spawning time is a great time to score. But Jesus’ invitation to fish on the right side of the boat is vague, at best. Peter must be thinking, “How does this guy know there’s fish on the right side of the boat? He’s on the shore. It’s barely daylight. Besides, I’m the pro here!”
But I also imagine there’s a glimmer of light in Peter’s soul. . .a tiny revelation. . .a hunch that the man on the shore does, indeed, know what he’s talking about. Perhaps Peter barked an order to his buddies: “Toss the nets out on the right side. Don’t ask why.”
BAM! The net instantly explodes with fish, so many the men can’t pull it up. John shouts, “It’s the Lord!” And, splash!, Peter is overboard, doing the butterfly stroke to get to Jesus. Once ashore, the guys do inventory and count 153 fish. They went way over limit! Their hard day’s night had turned into a miracle morning.
Peter heard the word, and obeyed the word. The biblical term for obey literally means “to listen under.” It means to hear the command of a superior—someone over you—and carry out the order. Have you ever heard the Lord’s call to do something strange or uncomfortable—like forgive an enemy, tithe to God’s work, get up in the dark and pray, serve in a ministry you’ve never served in before? Our natural tendency is to hesitate, to doubt, to manufacture excuses as long as an auto assembly line.
And Jesus patiently keeps calling until we trust and obey.
In the days of Troy Aikman, the Cowboys were fighting a tough game and driving toward a first down. In the huddle, Aikman called a pass. Receiver Jay Novacek dashed downfield, heavily defended. Just when it looked like Aikman was going to be sacked, he sliced the ball through the air. Hemmed in, Novacek spun around, saw the ball, and clutched it just at the right time. The ‘Boys got the first down and kept the drive going.
In the huddle, Novacek said, “Troy, did you see me downfield when you threw that pass?” Aikman replied, “No. . .but I knew you’d be there.”
When we’re surrounded by opponents of doubt and confusion, we need to remember that God is also there. The Bible tells us that the righteous live by faith (Hab 2:4, Rom 1:17). So let down your nets. Cast your excuses to the sea. And let God do what God does best: come through for the righteous!
‘Fess Up! Let Down! And, finally, if we want full nets, we need to …
John looked ahead and recognized the man on the shore as Jesus. Peter kept his eyes on his Master as he jumped into the water. The Bible encourages us in Hebrews 12:2-3 to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” and to ”consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” The verbs in this passage for “fix” and “consider” imply a long, thoughtful gaze.
I love baseball, especially old-school ball. One of the greatest hitters of history, Ted Williams, claimed he could see which way the seams of the ball were turning as it approached the plate. Some might dispute that, but you can’t dispute Ted’s lifetime batting average of .344. In 1941 he hit .406, a record that stands to this day. The man had incredible focus when he stepped into the batter’s box.
It’s easy to get distracted in today’s world. We have phones ringing, emails and text messages bombarding us, traffic noise outside, thoughts dashing around in our heads on the inside. We can listen to the noise of the world, or we can listen to the One who made the world.
One night a few years ago, I suddenly woke up, worried about something. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I finally got out of bed, brewed some coffee and decided to pray and worship. What a concept, huh? I went to YouTube and found a praise song I haven’t heard in a while:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of earth shall go strangely dim,
in the light of his glory and grace.
I got lost in the song and Spirit spoke to spirit, saying, “Peace, be still.” I learned that in the presence of Jesus, there is no fear.
My problems haven’t magically disappeared. They don’t have to. Christ is bigger than any problem we might have. He is the eye of the storm. In Matthew 14, when Peter fixed his eyes on the storm, he sank; when he fixed his eyes on Jesus, he treaded on water.
The post-resurrection blues come to all of us at one time or another. Life is unpredictable. The world throws us a curve ball now and then. But Jesus tells us to ‘FESS UP, LET DOWN and LOOK AHEAD TO HIM.
On the shore, after a breakfast of charcoaled fish, Peter confesses his love for Jesus. The Risen Lord smiles, shielding His eyes against the rising sun. Yes, He could work with the big fisherman, as imperfect and rock-headed as he was. “Follow me,” Jesus said.
Is this the end of the story? No way. In Christ, there is no end—just another beautiful beginning.