The Mission and Our True Home – John 21:1-14

The Mission and Our True Home

Nick Esch, 12/2/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

As most of you know I grew up in Atlanta Georgia. And if I’m honest, I still get homesick from time to time. I miss my family and my friends; I even miss all the pine trees out there. But every time I visit it doesn’t feel the same anymore; it’s not quite home. There are still plenty of pine trees, but Atlanta has changed a lot… And though Atlanta has changed, I think the reason it feels different is because I’ve changed; when we moved from Georgia to Texas I was an atheist; but here in Texas God got a hold of me and has yet to let me go. So while Atlanta is my home from my youth, Texas, specifically Terrell Texas, is a kind of spiritual home for me. By God’s grace I actually came to know Jesus in the same office that I now write sermons in. The Lord caused me to be born again in this very church. So while I may get homesick for Atlanta sometimes, I get to spend much of my time, working for the glory of Christ, right here in my spiritual home, where my heart was first gripped by the gospel all those years ago… Every time I step into my office I am reminded of God’s amazing grace; that He can transform a rebellious atheist into a child of God; that He can take a weak sinner like me, and call me, and enable me, and empower me to be a pastor. Just walking into my spiritual home—Cornerstone Baptist Church—reminds me that God is sovereign, God is good, and God is mighty to save…

Well, in our passage today the disciples have taken a journey home. In Matthew we’re told that Jesus told His disciples that after He died for the sins of His people and rose from the grave that they were to leave Jerusalem and return to Galilee. And while Galilee was where many of the disciples were from, more importantly, it was where Jesus had called them. Jesus came to men like Peter, James, and John who were fisherman, and He called to them to put down their nets, to follow Him, and to become fishers of men… And Galilee was not only where they were first called, but it was where much of their ministry took place. It was where they had heard Jesus preach again and again. It was where they saw the miraculous works of the Lord. So, Galilee was also the disciples spiritual home. And just as my office, this building, you all, and this city are gospel reminders to me, so likewise Galilee was a gospel reminder to the disciples. And that seems to be why Jesus called them to go there. He wanted them to remember the gospel and His sovereign grace. He wanted them to remember that He is mighty to save. And He wanted this reminder to refresh them and ready them for their mission. And in the scene that unfolds in our text we get a picture of what that mission is. So with that in mind, look with me at John 21:1-14.

John 21:1-14

In verse 1 we read, “After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.” The Sea of Tiberias is another name for the Sea of Galilee. And it makes sense that this is where the disciples decided to go; Jesus told them to go to Galilee and meet Him there, but He didn’t say where in Galilee, so being that many of these guys were fishermen, and given that much of the ministry they had been apart of took place around the Sea of Galilee, they decide to wait there. And that’s where Jesus chose to reveal Himself to them again… As verse 14 says, “This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” This is His third resurrection appearance to the group of disciples.

Now it doesn’t appear that the whole group is here: John only lists seven out of eleven. In verse 2 we’re told, “Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together.” As we look at what is going on in this passage this list should greatly encourage us. This list is not a list of impressive people. On top of just being a typical working class fishermen, Peter denied Christ three times; Thomas doubted Christ and His resurrection; Nathanael was prejudice, even when first hearing of Jesus, saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46)? James and John the sons of Zebedee were just mere fishermen like Peter, and they were also known as the sons of thunder, which I don’t know exactly what is meant by that, but it doesn’t sound like they were the most peaceful guys… And these other two disciples aren’t even named. What this tells us is that this is a group of ordinary men, saved and called by an extraordinary Savior.

These guys are first and foremost sinners saved by grace. Like what we read earlier in 1 Corinthians, they were not wise, powerful, or of noble birth; they were normal people like you and me. And yet, as we know, God did amazing things in and through them; and that’s how God always works with His church. God doesn’t save us because of how awesome we are; He saves us because of how awesome He is… God doesn’t call us to make much of Jesus and to go and make disciples because He needs us; He saves us, calls us, and uses us because He loves us… If this group of guys can be saved and used by God so can we. God doesn’t use super Christians, He uses ordinary people who love Jesus and trust and obey His Word. And that’s the posture of these disciples here…

Like the last two times the disciples saw the risen Lord, they are gathered together again, but this time they’re not locked away in a room in fear; now the disciples are gathered together on their home turf. So think about that: if the Jews wanted to arrest them or kill them, where would they look for them? Probably in their hometown, in the spots they typically spent time in… And that’s exactly where they were. They were not hiding; they were not fearful. They were openly gathered together in obedience to Jesus. Through the power of the resurrected Christ their fear has been replaced by faith. And again, this is not because of how awesome they were; it’s because of how awesome Jesus is…

They are in Galilee gathered together in faith, not because of their might, but because of the might of King Jesus… Their faith was renewed and strengthened when the risen Lord made Himself known to them. In and of themselves their faith would fail, but as we sang earlier, Christ holds them fast. And here again He’s making Himself known to them, He’s revealing Himself to them, and therefore, He’s once again strengthening their faith and holding them fast. And beloved, all this is the same with us. In and of ourselves we could never keep our hold on Him, but He holds us fast… And He renews and strengthens our faith again and again as we pray, sing, read, study, gather with God’s people and hear His Word taught and preached, and thus behold the glory of our risen Lord…

So the disciples are here gathered in obedience to Jesus, waiting on Him. And since they had some time to kill, and since Peter was a fisherman by trade, and since they have to eat at some point, Peter says in verse 3, “I am going fishing.” And like I said, Peter wasn’t the only fisherman there, so then the rest of the group says, “We will go with you.” Then we’re told, “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” Now remember what I said earlier about this scene being a picture of the mission of the church. Often, in God’s providence, life and history become examples and lessons… Well here, Jesus uses this scene as a type of living parable to explain and encourage the disciples (and us) in the mission He has given the church. So, there’s some symbolism behind these actual events.

First, you need to understand that the Bible often uses the image of the sea to refer to the sin, the chaos, and the sinister and dangerous nature of the world. That’s why John says in Revelation, after Jesus comes back and fixes all that is broken, that there’s no sea in the new heavens and new earth; when he says there’s no sea he means there’s no sin, no chaos, and no danger… But right now there is. So the disciples are here on a boat in the sea—the Sea of Galilee. And the Sea of Galilee is referred to in Isaiah 9 and Matthew 4 as the Sea of the Gentiles, or the nations (same word)… So the disciples are here fishing in the very sea that Peter, James, and John were in when Jesus called them to lay down their nets and become fishers of men. And He uses what they are doing to remind them of just that. Here the boat and the disciples represent the church, the sea represents the gentiles—the nations—this sinful world in need of a Savior, the net represents the gospel, and what they are doing (fishing) represents the mission of the church to advance the gospel and make disciples…

We’re told that they go about this mission at night; on the one hand that was just the typical time that fishermen went fishing—it’s still common today… But given the symbolism here and the overall context, we need to understand that night in the Gospel of John is typically tied to sin… Now, I’m not saying they were sinning by fishing; the problem isn’t what they were doing, but how they were doing it. They were passing time, waiting on Jesus, and given that a few of these guys were fishermen by trade they set out to fish, knowing that they had the skills to do so… And you see, that’s the sin… Whether we eat or drink, or fish, or whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). And part of the way we do that is by being in a constant posture of open dependency on the Lord. In whatever profession we find ourselves in, or in whatever we find ourselves doing at any given time, we are to do it in a way that magnifies the glory of the Lord, not relying on our own strength, but as Proverbs 3:5 says, trusting in the Lord with all of our heart, and not merely leaning on our own understanding… But, here they are only leaning on their own understanding, they are seeking to do this in their own strength, so they caught nothing…

Even with professional fishermen among them, they spent the whole night fishing and caught nothing. But then in verses 4-6 we read, “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.” So it’s still kind of dark, and therefore at first they don’t realize that it’s Jesus speaking to them from the shore, though they’ll come to realize it soon. They should’ve put it together when He called them children, since it is through the person and work of Jesus that they (and we) have become children of God; and they might have, we don’t know… But, what we do know is that Jesus gets them to admit their failure: that they didn’t catch anything. And then He tells them to fish on the right side of the boat, and when they do they catch more fish then they can handle…

As this happened the disciples should’ve been reminded of the words Jesus spoke to them just before the cross; in John 15:5 He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from Jesus they can do nothing, not even fish… Sure they can go fishing, but they aren’t going to accomplish anything unless God wills it. And that’s true for everyone. As God’s Word tells us, by Jesus all things were created; all things, including us, were created through him and for him. And in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). He gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25). So without Jesus we couldn’t take our next breath, without Jesus we would have nothing, without Jesus we would be nothing, because we would literally fall apart… And from the smallest thing to the greatest thing, apart from Jesus we can do nothing… Everything we are and everything we do is by the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ…

This is true in general, but the lesson we’re meant to learn here more specifically is that in ministry, especially in evangelism, apart from Jesus we can do nothing. Remember what’s being portrayed here; the boat and the disciples represent the church, the sea represents this sinful world in need of a Savior, the fishing represents the mission of the church to advance the gospel and make disciples, and the net itself represents the proclamation of the gospel, and gospel ministry… Again, this scene points back to when Jesus called the disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men; but if they are to ever catch any fish or win any souls it will only be by God’s grace in Christ.

The church must go about its mission of advancing the gospel and making disciples in a posture of desperate prayer and loving, joyful obedience to God’s Word… In evangelism we are to faithfully share the gospel—the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ—with others, with an aim to persuade them to repent and believe; but, it’s only by God’s grace that they will do so. We cannot force or manipulate someone into becoming a Christian; they must count the cost, die to themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus… And that will only happen by God’s grace. The Holy Spirit must grant new life, and change a person’s heart, causing them to be born again, and then they will repent and believe. A fruitful ministry is only possible by God’s grace… All we can control is the faithfulness of our ministry; and faithfulness is portrayed here as dependence and obedience.

Jesus tells the disciples to fish on the right side of the boat, and when they do they catch more fish then they could haul in… The only thing that was special about the right side of the boat is that it was the side that Jesus told them to fish on… Jesus, showing Himself to be the omniscient God in the flesh, knew that there was an abundance of fish on the right side of the boat, and so He told them to cast their nets there; and when they did their obedience bore fruit. This is important for the disciples to remember, because after Pentecost they will give their life to the mission of the church. So Jesus is showing them here that faithfulness leads to fruitfulness. It says they couldn’t even haul in the net because it was so full of fish, and the gospel harvest that is soon to come will be even greater.

For instance, in Acts 2, when Peter preaches after the Holy Spirit comes down upon the Church at Pentecost, it says that about 3,000 people were saved. And that was just the beginning… Gospel faithfulness leads to gospel fruitfulness… That was true then and it’s still true today. After all, the faithful witness of Christians is what led to our salvation; someone loved and trusted Jesus enough to tells us about Him, and now we love and trust Him. So let that encourage you as you seek to live a faithful Christian life; by God’s grace our faithfulness will lead to fruitfulness, even if we never see it, just as the faithfulness of the apostles led to the gospel advancing all the way to Terrell Texas, almost 2,000 years later. As Charles Bridges once wrote, “The seed may lie under the [ground until we do], and then spring up…” But faithfulness always leads to fruitfulness…

From here, after hearing Jesus, and seeing the fruit of His sovereign grace, in verse 7 we read, “That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.” As we’ve seen, the disciple whom Jesus loved is John, the very author of this Gospel. And it’s no surprise that he’s the first disciple to realize that it’s Jesus on the shore… There’s a reason that John refers to Himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved; the love of Jesus is what defined who He was and what He did… As he wrote in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us…” And that’s how it was for Him… John knew that He was greatly loved in Christ, and thus He greatly loved Christ in return. And those who love Jesus see Him and hear Him; they have eyes to see and ears to hear…They are the Shepherd’s sheep who hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27)…

So John, in love, recognizes Jesus first; but Peter acts first. This is not because one of them is better than the other, it’s just they have different gifts and personalities. Peter’s zeal leads Him to act quickly. And though we may not all be wired like Peter—to act first and ask questions later—we should strive for zeal to draw near to Jesus, like him… Peter knows he is a great sinner—he knows he has a weak faith that led him to deny Jesus three times, yet knowing that Jesus is near by he cannot help but go after Him with all that he is. He jumps out of the boat, and into the sea with all of its dangers, and goes hard after Christ. And remember, the sea represents the world in its sin and danger; yet Peter zealously jumps in—his only concern is drawing near to Jesus… Since taking on the dangers of the sea will bring him closer to Jesus, he jumps right in. And in doing this he shows that his love for Jesus is just as true as John’s. For if he did not truly love Christ he would have withdrawn from him; but in his love for him, even though he carries great conviction over his sin, he draws as close as he can as fast as he can…

I wonder what you do when you fall into sin… Do you long to draw near to Christ, or to hide from Him? As Christians our hearts should cry out, “Give me Jesus…” Even when we stumble and fall, we must run to Christ, not run from Him. And what’s amazing is that Jesus always welcomes those who come to Him… As James 4:8 says, when we draw near to Him He draws near to us… Though our sin is great, if we will flee to Jesus we will not find condemnation, but mercy and grace… And Peter knowing this, and in great love for Jesus, jumps out and swims to the shore. He jumps into the sea, which represents this sinful world. It’s not that he jumps into sin, but into the world. If going out into the world is going to bring him closer to Jesus, he plunges in. This tells us that whatever we need to do to draw near to Jesus, we should do it. And one of the great ways we draw near to Jesus is by obeying His commission to go out into the world with the gospel to seek to reach the lost… The consistent testimony of Christians is that they always feel closest to the Lord as they step out in obedience, giving their life to advancing the gospel and making disciples. As we step out in dependence on and obedience to Jesus, we will experience great communion with Him…

 After this, in verses 8-13 we read, “The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So 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. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.”

Here we see the other disciples staying faithful to their task; they get the boat headed towards shore and drag their catch behind them. And what they find when they get to shore is Peter there with Jesus, and Jesus has already prepared breakfast. He didn’t need their fish; He doesn’t need anything from us… In His sovereign power He had already provided fish and bread… Which seems to be a reminder of John 6, when Jesus fed the 5,000. But even though Jesus doesn’t need the fish they caught He tells them to bring the fish to Him anyway…

Peter alone goes and boards the boat, gets the net, and hauls the fish to the shore… This scene tells us a couple of things about Peter. We see that he was a strong man in good health; he had no problem swimming a hundred yards, and then he was able to haul in a load of fish by himself that the rest of the disciples couldn’t even get into the boat. Though he jumped out of the boat to get to Jesus, he wasn’t afraid to do some hard work; after all, it was his idea to fish in the first place… So Peter is a strong hardworking man; and as we already know, he tends to be overly confident… So this lesson that Jesus is teaching here is one he needed…

No doubt, Peter was prone to be self-sufficient, just as so many of us are as well. Like the disciples seeking to fish in their own strength, we go about our lives with little to no prayer, and rarely leaning on our brothers and sisters in Christ for help… Even if we’re not physically strong like Peter, we’re certainly headstrong. I don’t know about you, but as a pastor I often say to myself, “It sure would be nice if the church had a bigger budget, and I never had to worry about the bills being paid…” But really what I’m saying there is, “It sure would be nice to not have to pray and be dependent on the Lord…” My flesh desires wicked self-sufficiency. So I must fight that, repent, and seek to walk in dependence on and obedience to Jesus. Beloved, we must remember, that apart from Jesus we can do nothing… Human strength means nothing in the kingdom of God… Remember what Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)… Weakness is the way… For when we are weak, then we are strong…

Now literal human strength is not bad; God gives us each different gifts, and we should use whatever gifts He gives us for His glory. So strong Peter here is able to bring the net full of fish to Jesus; but what’s amazing is not Peter’s strength, but the net’s strength—even with 153 large fish in it the net doesn’t break. People have been speculating for 2,000 years about what the number 153 stands for, but it seems that it stands for the amount of fish they caught… We aren’t supposed to speculate about the importance of the number, but we’re supposed to see the beauty of the gospel and its promises here… The point of the number is that the fish are indeed numbered; they matter… Jesus knows their number, He cares about each one, and He loses none—He holds them fast… And the fact that the net doesn’t break shows that the net of the gospel is able to bring in any and many; and again, all who are brought in are kept… As Matthew Henry put it, “The net of the gospel has enclosed multitudes, yet it is as strong as ever to bring souls to God.” Jesus is mighty to save… These fish were caught from the sea that represents this lost and dying world; and it’s a large number symbolizing people from every nation and generation…

Beloved, this should stir you to have great hope for the unbelievers around you. Jesus has purchased a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation—from every generation. He’s mighty to save and He’s in the business of saving the least likely of people… So pray desperately and share the gospel faithfully; God has you in their life for a reason… If Jesus can save and use for His glory the likes of men like Peter, or even save and use someone like me, He can save and use anyone… And friends, if you’re here and you’re not a Christian, I hope you realize that God is after you. I believe that because you are within ears reach of the gospel; you’re in a room full of Christians. If God is sovereign over the fish of the sea He is most certainly sovereign over you and me. If He ordained which side of the boat these fish would be on He ordained for you to be right here this very morning. That so, I pray that right now you would get caught up in the net of the gospel. God has so lavished His love on sinners like you me that He sent Jesus to live the perfect life that we have failed to live, die the death we deserve to die, and rise from the grave in power so that all who would turn from their sin, trust in, and follow Jesus would be saved. And that’s what I implore you to do right now… Forsake all and cling to Christ… Come to Him; He will have you… He will save you, keep you, and care for you… And that’s in part what we see lastly here…

Jesus calls them to go home to Galilee, reminds them of the gospel, teaches them these lessons, and gives the a refresher on their mission, and an assurance of the success of their mission; but, after all of that He meets with them, fellowships with them, nourishes them, and cares for them—He provides what they need… He provides and cooks them breakfast; He knows that the work before them of advancing the gospel and making disciples will not be easy… They will encounter persecution and hardship; the sea will be rough and rage… So He wants them to know that He cares for them and will provide for them… He wants them to know that He will hold them fast, and that if they will walk in faithfulness He will make sure their ministry produces fruit. And even in caring for them He’s providing them an example of how they should be as they embark on the mission He’s given them. Even as the risen Lord, Jesus loves and serves His disciples…

Pentecost has not yet happened, so the disciples aren’t clear on everything the way they should be. Even here, though they know that the Lord is right there with them, it’s like they want to ask Him, “Is it really You?” Perhaps for fear, or confusion, they seem hesitant to fully engage with Jesus, but Jesus in His grace is engaging them; He bids them to come… And like Peter that’s where they really wanted to be—with Jesus… And that was perhaps the greatest lesson of this whole event.

Conclusion

Here we see that the mission is important and great, but the goal of the mission is even greater—that we, and people from every nation and generation, would be in fellowship with Jesus, making much of Him, and enjoying Him forever. That was the great lesson they learned here; that was what Peter modeled here as he jumped out of the boat and drew near to Jesus… Jesus had the disciples meet Him in Galilee, their home, to remind them of the gospel, it’s promises, and their gospel mission. But the greatest thing He showed them was that Galilee really wasn’t their home; their home was with Jesus… And the same is true for all of us; we all have physical homes and spiritual homes, but our true home is with Jesus… And knowing that will empower us to embrace our mission all the more; that’s what the author of Hebrews was getting at when He said, “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14)… And we seek that city as we embrace our mission and live for Jesus—making much of Him, advancing the gospel, and making disciples—longing for the day that we will be with Him, truly at home, forevermore…