Expounding John 21:9-14.
Look at verse 9—we read that ‘When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.’
Make sure you’ve got the scene clearly set out in your mind… ‘a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.’
And then look at verse 10— ‘Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”’
So, the Lord Jesus had already put some fish on, but he wants them to contribute to this breakfast. The Lord Jesus is in the business of invitation not demoralisation.
Which is when we read in verse 11 that ‘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.’
I love that it’s Simon Peter who goes. He’s up for it. He’s ready to be a disciple again. Now—as we’ll see later on in the passage—there’s a bit of housekeeping that needs doing before he does that, but—again—his enthusiasm is commendable.
But then there’s all these very specific details that John includes. Perhaps it’s right to read symbolism into all these details. God the Father—of course—planned every element of this historic event and—of course—is able to pick specific numbers and details in order to point to hidden-meaning, he sometimes does that. But I think John’s aim here is actually to ground this event in history. His details take us back to his purpose-statement at the end of chapter 20— ‘these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’
And so, it’s as if John is saying, “Let me help you get a sense of the fact that this event happened in the same world as we all live, in the same way as all the events in our world take place, with real people, real stuff, and real details.” In that sense, the verse reads more like a sentence from a members’ meeting minutes, where the church make a point of giving exact figures, because they know that the details are not irrelevant. “There were twenty-three at the meeting” is what we write, not “around twenty”. “Thirty-three pounds and twenty-seven pence was donated” we write, not “around thirty”. Because these things really happened.
So, there’s a place for vagueness and estimates, but also there’s a place for accuracy, especially when we’re dealing with attestable history.
But then look at verse 12—we read that ‘Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”’
Just that word ‘come’ recalls the fact that the disciples had been specifically chosen by the Lord as witnesses. That’s certainly the way Peter speaks in the book of Acts, that ‘God raised him on the third day and caused him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.’
So, we’re reading key witness-statements here.
And then there’s the second part of verse 12 which says that ‘None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.’
Now, John has told us before about the disciples habit of holding back; moments of being able to say something but not saying it. He mentions it—for example—with the woman at the well, where he writes that when ‘his disciples came back. They marvelled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”’
And this occasion is similar, and yet it’s different, because this time, the reason they don’t speak has nothing to do with their incredulity, but rather their assurance—end of verse 12— ‘They knew it was the Lord.’
And so, then in verse 13, we read of Jesus not only cooking breakfast, but serving it too, ‘Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.’
We’ve talked about the sight of seeing the fire, and the fish and the bread. And of course that would have been lovely on the nose too, the smell of the charcoals and the bread and the grilled-fish. But now, we have the joy of taste being celebrated…
We know they had been fishing all night, so they would have been famished! How wonderful it must have been to be served in this way. But of course, the main lesson is not to do with a momentary example of satisfaction at a breakfast, but about the ultimate satisfaction that the Lord Jesus brings, as he is the only one who can truly bring joy to our souls.
There’s this American children’s picture book called The Giving Tree. It’s the story of a little boy and a tree. The tree gives everything it has to the boy, from its leaves to its apples, and then its branches, and eventually its trunk, until it is nothing more than a stump. The story ends with the tree saying he has nothing left to give, and the boy simply sits on the stump.
The Lord Jesus is nothing like that! He could be! He could say “I give you everything, but you give me nothing,” but he doesn’t.
As we close then, let’s make sure we’ve appreciated that the Lord Jesus asks for our contributions too. I think it’s striking that he already had fish, he didn’t need to ask for theirs, but he did. And it’s the same with the work that we do in the kingdom. The Lord Jesus doesn’t need us, and yet he says ‘Bring some of the fish that you’ve caught’; come and give me what you’ve done.
If we know that, then let’s make sure we’re Simon Peter-like. Any opportunity we have to serve Christ, let’s leap at it like Simon Peter does. I think many of you are like this already. So often, a call is put out to the church for a lift, or for a meal, or for any other sort of task that needs doing, and we do see that Peter-like leaping to serve. I love it. But I want to see more of it.
And if you’re not one of the ones who tends to leap at these opportunities, if you’re one of the ones who automatically says “I can’t” or “someone else will do it”. Then take this gentle rebuke from Peter. Be like him. Leap to serve!
And yet, maybe you’re at the stage where you just want some solid evidence that the Lord Jesus is alive. Well, look no further than the exact details of verse 11. The largeness of the fish. The fact that there were specifically 153. The net being untorn. It’s all there to help us believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
However, finally, we all simply need to hear the Lord Jesus’s invitation, “Come and have breakfast”.
Now, in the midst of the universality of that call, we also remember that here we have specific apostles called for this specific task of witness. And we must make sure we are making the most of their witness to us. And yet, on the other hand, we also have a call made to each and every one of us, “Come to Jesus!”
You don’t have to doubt! Wonder at the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the disciples, they no longer said, “Is it the Lord?” No. They knew. Do you know? Will you come to the one who will give you even more satisfaction than a cooked-breakfast after being up all night.
May you know the ultimate satisfaction that the Lord Jesus brings, as he is the only one who can truly bring joy to our souls.
Yes, we have sinned; and yes, we deserve nothing but to be sent away from the Lord Jesus’s presence. But he says “come and have breakfast”, and all we need to do is come. Come and see those hands that give you food, are the same hands that were pierced for our transgressions. We trust him. We repent of our sins. And we believe in the promise that Jesus really has risen from the dead.