A Practical Savior
John relates 3 appearances of the risen Jesus: One on Easter evening, one a week later, and this one in Galilee. It contains small details: the number of yards the disciples were from shore, the exact number of fish they caught, the type of fire breakfast was cooked on. Jesus doesn't offer dramatic proofs of His resurrected body, doesn't speak of forgiveness, doesn't send the disciples with His message. Here Jesus shows what a practical Savior He is.
When Jesus sent them out the first time, He had forbidden them from taking any of the normal things for a journey. On Maundy Thursday, He reminded the apostles of this saying, "'When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?' Nothing,' they replied. He said to them, Now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.' That was the last thing Jesus had said about providing for them.
Is that how it is from now on? Are they to provide for themselves? Are they to be like self-appointed missionaries who have to drum up the funds to pay for their own mission? Is the Lord done providing for themand us? Does He rise from the grave and say, "That's it; I've done My share. You're on your own now." Feeding the 5,000 and 4,000, giving a huge catch of fish to the families of Peter, Andrew, James and John, and turning water into wine were things Jesus did when He walked the earth visibly. He's done with that sort of thing now. He's concerned only for spiritual needs now the physical ones are up to us.
If this is what Jesus meant in the upper room then He contradicts what He said in the Sermon on the Mount. There He said it was those who didn't believe in Him who sought after what they would eat and drink and what they would wear. There He assured the disciples, "Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." And there He promised, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you." Having said this, the risen Jesus doesn't throw His children back upon their own resources to provide for themselves. No, His Children are His Church, the Body of Christ. Jesus is the Head of His own Body. The head takes care of the body.
What kind of head wouldn't take care of His own body? Where would we be if our Head, didn't take care of us His Body? Jesus promised us that He sends us out as lambs in the midst of wolves. How do you think lambs fare in the middle of wolvesunless they have a very good Shepherd?
Jesus promised His Body that they would be hated by all men for His sake; since they hate the Head they will hate the Body; they hate the Groom they will hate His Bride. What happens to people the world hates? Ever see those movies where someone has the whole world against them? They can't use their credit cards; their bank accounts are empty; they have no way to prove their identity. How do you think people in the world fare when then world around them hates themunless the One who overcame the world is on their side?
Jesus promised His Church that the Devil sows weeds among His wheat, sweeps down as a crow to steal the Gospel seed out of people's hearts so they won't believe, prowls around for souls to devour, and appears as an angel of light. How do you think children fare in battle with the prince of demons who is smarter and stronger than they are.unless the One who is stronger and wiser still fights for them, by them, with them?
These are the sort of questions that were playing around the corners of the disciples' minds. That's why decisive, proactive Peter says he's going fishing. Peter thinks, "Things could be different now that Jesus has fulfilled His mission of keeping the Law for sinners and paying for their sins. Jesus isn't visibly here to multiply fish, bread, or wine. Jesus isn't here sharing the needs and burdens of physical life." So Peter would; he doesn't go fishing for recreation but for food. Jesus shows this by asking not about failing to catch fish but about (literally) not having anything to eat.
Jesus is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He has found them in their need. When Jesus asks, "Friends, you haven't anything to eat?" He asks it in a way that expects a no answer. "You haven't any food, do you?" These disciples noticed this and replied tersely, "No!" You try fishing all night to feed your family, catching nothing ,and see how you answer someone who asks you what you caught implying He knows you got skunked.
Despite the terse reply Jesus provides a great catch of fish, 153 large ones, the strength to get them on shore (if each fish just weighed 3 pounds that's 459 pounds of fish) without the net breaking. But that's not all. Jesus provides fire( in an age without Bic lighters this is no small provision), cooked fish, and bread. Then He tells them to bring some of their fish to show that both - the ones they caught and the ones He miraculously has already - are from His hand.
The practical lesson to be learned is that the risen, invisible Lord would continue to provide for His Body, the Church. He would fulfill His promise that He had made on Maundy Thursday, He wouldn't leave them as orphans. But this is hard to see sometimes. Sometimes it looks like the children of the heavenly Father are orphans. Jesus doesn't seem close by or like much of a friend or a help. The wolves of disease and death hound us; the world overwhelms us, and the Devil laughs at us with demonic delight.
That's why our practical Savior doesn't just provide for His Church, He reveals Himself to Her. Jesus is on the seashore from the get-go, but they can't recognize Him. Now don't think that's because the morning midst shrouded Jesus. There's no mention of mist; we're told specifically that they were only about 100 yards away from Jesus. They were close enough to recognize Him but they didn't. What's more they didn't recognize His voice. The fact they didn't recognize Him is why Jesus spoke up. The Greek says, "Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Therefore, He called out to them." But they didn't recognize His voice. What happened to My sheep know Me and follow My voice? Are the disciples no longer sheep?
Not so fast. What do you expect in a fallen world, where the devil roams, and the little lambs of Jesus are surrounded? Neither Job's friends, nor Job could recognize God in the tragedies that struck his possessions, family, and body. Paul struggled to see God in the hardening of the Jews against the Gospel, and the thorn in his flesh bedeviled him. Where was God when the roof was coming down upon Job's children? Where was the power of God's Word when the Jews so steadfastly rejected it? Where was Jesus, Friend and Helper, when the thorn bit deep into Paul's side?
If you haven't been here, you will. "All that live godly in this life will suffer," Paul promises Timothy, and the prime suffering is not the physical pain of disease or even the sting of death. It's the feeling that your risen Jesus has indeed left you alone to fend for yourself and you can't do it. You try as hard as you can in the face of hungry wolves, a hostile world, and a hateful devil, and you can't do it. And where is Jesus, where is the Lord who defeated your sin, your death and the power of the devil? Where is the Jesus who promised to be with you always even until the end of the age?
He's here; you just can't see Him unless He reveals Himself to you. Your reason won't be able to discover Him. Positive thinking in your head or feelings in your heart won't find Him. No, He must come to you; He must unveil Himself to you as He did to Job and Paul. Then what do we find? We find Job confessing that the tragedies that befell him were "things too wonderful for me." We find Paul seeing the thorn in His flesh as "grace," and the hardening of the Jews as "mercy."
That's the miracle of revelation. The Christian looks at death and sees life, sickness and sees health, suffering and sees glory, rejection and sees acceptance even as the apostles looked at a nosey guy on the seashore and saw "the Lord." Then they didn't dare ask Jesus, "Who are you?" because it would have been a stupid question; they all knew without being told. How?
They heard Him in the command to throw down the nets and in the promise that they would find fish. When things blow up in your face and all goes wrong, when you can't see your risen Lord anywhere, listen for His command and promise in His Word. These are the buoys that mark the channel of God's grace. When you feel that Jesus has left you to fend for yourself, when it certainly looks that way, you aren't stupid or wrong for going back to the command and promise of Baptism. Jesus commanded you to use water and word and promised you would be joined to Him. In your Baptism, you are to see the risen Jesus with you regardless of where you are.
Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples in taking and giving. He took bread and fish and gave it to them even as He had twice taken bread and a fish and gave it to them, even as He had taken bread and wine and given them His Body and Blood. We make this same connection between our daily bread and this Bread of life when we pray, "Come Lord Jesus." Every meal we eat, even when prepared by our own hand, bought with our money, is from Him. We are really His guests. We who see the Bread of Life on this table can see Him at every table of daily bread. No matter how meager, whether eaten in a hospital or hotel, wherever we eat we are fed by our Lord Jesus who is present then and there.
See the risen Lord revealed to you in the everyday providing He does especially in times of despair. See and hear the gospel message right there in the providing as Peter did. The last time the Lord provided Peter a huge catch of fish he demanded that the Lord depart from him because he was so sinful. This time what does Peter do? He again sees his Lord and Savior in the ordinary provision of food, but this time he makes a beeline to be with Him and to eat with Him. May we as well. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Third Sunday of Easter (20070422); John 21: 1-14