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.
John 21: 1 – 14
A very merry unbirthday to you. That’s a strange greeting. I wonder if anyone has ever said that to you before. The phrase originated in the novel “Through the Looking-Glass,” by Lewis Carrol. In his novel, Carrol introduced the idea of a person’s ‘unbirthday,’ of which all of us has 364 or 365 on leap year. This idea of an unbirthday was made even more popular by the song, “A Very Merry Unbirthday to You,” from the Disney film, “Alice in Wonderland.” The idea of celebrating an unbirthday seems foolish at first because it is such a common event. A birthday party marks an important day for all of us, but an unbirthday doesn’t mark anything special. Perhaps though the idea is not so crazy because we seem to have many fewer days in our lives filled with celebrating and we would like a reason to celebrate each day. Today is the Third Sunday of Easter, and the celebration of the empty tomb may already be wearing off for most of us as we’ve gone back to the routine of daily life including Sunday morning. For all of us who are in a slump wondering what might provide us with a reason to celebrate day to day now that Easter is over, our gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus Provides for us with Power!
Jesus’ disciples were in a slump after the first Easter. When they saw Jesus put to death on Good Friday, they thought their world was over. Their hope in Jesus as the Savior seemed lost and the fear that they would suffer the same fate as he had filled their hearts. Then on the first Easter, they witnessed Jesus’ awesome power to rise from the dead as he stood among them and said, John 20:21 “Peace be with you.” His words calmed their fears and their eyes were opened to his power to give them eternal life. The disciples were filled with joy and peace seeing Jesus, but he did not remain with them. Jesus was alive and preparing to return to his Father in heaven, but the disciples were wondering what was next for them. However, three days before he rose from the dead, Jesus had told the disciples what to do. In the upper room on the night he was betrayed, Matthew 26:31 …Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” The disciples were supposed to leave Jerusalem and return to Galilee to wait for Jesus. This was the same message the angels gave Easter morning. Jesus had told the disciples how to prevent the Easter slump by going to Galilee to see him again.
The disciples returned to what was familiar to them after seeing Jesus back from the dead. Whether the disciples remembered what Jesus told them or they were just going back home, many returned North of Jerusalem to Galilee. Here in John 21, seven disciples were standing at the sea of Galilee and decided to return to their old profession of fishing. They spent an entire night fishing but had nothing to show for it. Early the next morning, as they floated along the shore, Jesus appeared on the shore, but the disciples were kept from recognizing him. He asked if they had caught any fish and they responded with a short, “No.” Then, Jesus said, 6 “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” And, they caught so many large fish, they couldn’t haul them in. At that point, the disciple whom Jesus loved, John, the writer of this gospel, recognized it was Jesus saying to Peter, 7 “It is the Lord!” Jesus had performed a similar miracle in Luke 5, when Jesus first called Peter and some of the other disciples to first follow him. At that time, when Peter realized Jesus’ power, he fell at his feet to worship him and Jesus said, Luke 5:10 “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” The disciples had been called to follow Jesus and fish for people. Now, Jesus was going to make it clear to them how.
Like the disciples, we can all struggle with understanding what it means that we are followers of Jesus. Inside the walls of our church surrounded by our fellow Christians on Easter Sunday, we feel confident in our Savior Jesus and our purpose to give him thanks for all he had done for us. We get Easter, but outside the walls of our church or among others who do not share our faith, we wonder what Jesus’ power means for us. Many times, we can feel lost as believers because Jesus seems far away, and we aren’t sure if we are still following him in our lives. It is not always as easy for us to understand what Jesus’ power means for us as it was for someone like Paul in our reading from Acts 9. Paul clearly was not a follower of Jesus in his early years, in fact he killed people who followed Jesus. Then, Jesus appeared to him and changed his heart. Paul was then given specific instructions by God through a man named Ananias who was told by God, Acts 9:15 … “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” Paul was lost, but God called him to the light. You and I have seen the light of Jesus too. We trust in him as our Savior, but it can be easy for that light to grow dim when we return to the routines of life.
When the pressure to be a joyful, productive, purposeful, active Christian begins to feel like a burden, we need to be reminded what it means to be a follower of Jesus. So often, we feel like we have not lived up to what Jesus wants us to be. So often, we struggle like the disciples after Jesus was no longer walking with them to know how we fit into the world. We might not be persecuting the church like Paul did, but then again, we also do not feel like we are making the kind of impact on the world like Paul did as he shared Jesus with countless people throughout the Roman world. The spiritual struggle we face as Christians when we feel lost, drifting along, stuck in a rut and far from Jesus is to believe that God expects nothing from us.
We often equate our status as saved, believer, Christian with how we are living, how we are keeping away from sin and temptation, and how we are shining the light of Jesus, but we are not saved by what we do. We are saved by what Jesus has done for us. Jesus lived the good, kind, purposeful, God pleasing, sinless, holy, perfect life for us, then he sacrificed his life on the cross as a trade for our lives. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus saved us by taking the punishment of our sins and also giving us his goodness, his righteousness, his full acceptance in God’s eyes for always doing the right thing. When we feel like we are struggling spiritually, our hope to get better is not in ourselves, but in what Jesus has already done for us and already given us.
Easter joy can fade rather quickly for us and we can get lost in the feelings of unEasters. We can often feel like the days when it is not Easter morning are not as joyful as that one day, but the empty tomb isn’t like some viral YouTube video shared through Facebook or texts bringing a quick giggle, then forgotten because something more exciting comes along. Jesus provides for us with power every day because of the empty tomb. When we are lost, it reminds us that Jesus came to find us and give us life. When we are found, it gives us the strength to live by faith.
When the disciples recognized Jesus, their faith was renewed. John calls this 14 “the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” The disciples recognized Jesus after the miraculous catch of fish. As fishermen, they knew their full net after one cast was not normal and only Jesus’ power could provide that kind of miracle. Now Jesus would give them further guidance as his leaders of the church and witnesses to the resurrection.
We recognize the power of Jesus in his resurrection. There is no one else who holds the power over life and death like Jesus. Early in John’s gospel, Jesus said, John 10:17-18 “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” All our hope for eternal life, to be free from guilt, pain, anxiety, even death all rests in Jesus. His power has saved us, and his power provides us with what we need each day.
Jesus called us to trust him to provide the power to bring us out of this world to heaven. When our sinful nature tempts us to jump out of his net, Jesus reminds us where to find him. Jesus holds on to us through his Word and sacraments. Just before our gospel reading today from John 21, John ended chapter 20 with the words, 31 But 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. Peter who jumped out of the boat seeing Jesus tells us in 1 Peter 3:21 … baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And when Jesus gave his disciples the bread and wine and his body and blood in communion, he said, Matthew 26:28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Our faith in Jesus is strengthened by what God has done for us to give us his Word, wash us clean and make us his in our baptism, and give us the promise and assurance that our sins are forgiven when we take communion.
And when we do feel like we are struggling in our faith, we can consider the apple tree. An apple tree doesn’t look all that impressive in the winter, but when spring comes its full of beautiful flowers that eventually turn into apples. Then, the apples are picked or fall off and it becomes less impressive again in our eyes again. We quickly forget that no matter what season an apple tree is in, it is always working to produce fruit, even when we aren’t seeing a tree full of apples. We may not feel like our lives are producing the right amount of fruit or fulfilling our calling as Christians, but our fruit doesn’t get us into heaven or make God love us more or less. God has called us to be his people and that is what we are, so you are producing fruit for him whether you see it or not. God has done everything for you, so the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples are for us too, John 20:21 “Peace be with you.”
We like to celebrate birthdays, but we can often forget to celebrate our unbirthdays. With Easter, there are no unEasters because Jesus’ power does not fade. In our reading from Revelation 5, John, the one who recognized Jesus from the boat, was given a vision to remind him what his constantly going on every day in heaven: Revelation 5:12-13 In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Every day is Easter in heaven and our joy awaits us there through the power of Jesus, the lamb who was slain, the Savior who gave his life to save us, our Lord Jesus who rules all things for our good and waits to bring us home to live with him in heaven. Today is the Third Sunday of Easter and we continue to celebrate the empty tomb with Easter joy and the promise of eternal life in heaven to join the choirs to sing the praise of our Savior Jesus because Jesus Provides for us with Power! Amen.