Third Times A Charm
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. If you were going to be writing a Gospel doesn’t that seem like a perfect ending. It tells the reader that something else happens after your last line in the story but you can’t go into it. What you did write though was to help you believe in Jesus Christ. That is a great ending. Some think it was the original ending to the Gospel of John, until someone came around and inserted the epilogue. Chapter 21, what I just read, many scholars think was added later. Now what the reason of why they added these verses later is unknown and a bunch of people in horned rimmed glasses and sports coats with those elbow patches can argue about why and why not. The 19 verses I read do provide a great look into discipleship and who Christ is and we can glean a lot from it.
The first scene of this epilogue we find Peter, the Disciple whom Jesus loved, who will just call John today, and other disciples all back on a familiar shore. It was on a shore when Jesus called to them and said “follow me.” Now three years later, on the other side of the resurrection, the disciples now find themselves back there again. And when you go back home you try and do what you have always done and so Peter makes the statement, “I’m going fishing.” The other disciples agree and they all hop into a boat and fish all night, not catching a single thing.
When you went off to college do you remember what it was like to come home? When you came home for that first time something had changed, not only in you but also in your house and in your room, or at least that way my case. I remember coming home from Montreat College to find that my youngest sister had started to take over my room. She shared it with my other sister and she wanted for the first time a room to herself. I don’t blame her, she never had a room to herself and now was her chance. She attempted to keep it just like my room although some of her stuff started to flow in. When you go home for the first time you realize that thing people told you was true, you can never really go home. You can’t because you have changed while you were gone and so has your home.
The disciples look at each other after the resurrection is all over and before the day of Pentecost and they wonder, “Now what?” They do what came natural and what almost every guy wants to do when it is a quiet evening with nothing to do, they go fishing. What is funny though is they had lost a lot of skills in three years, either that or they did not understand that when Jesus looked at them and said, “I’ll make you fishers of men,” that it meant they could no longer be fishers of fish. They head out on the boat and fish all night and catch nothing. How can professional fisherman not catch anything? They can’t because they had been changed and home wasn’t home anymore. They had just witnessed the amazing, spent three years walking around with God, and catching fish just doesn’t seem to come as natural anymore.
As morning hits they get a call from shore. A stranger yells out to them to toss their nets over to the right side of the boat. After a night of empty fishing they listen and toss their nets off the right side of the boat and pull in so many fish that the nets almost burst. This scene is astounding because it seems that these fishermen couldn’t do what they were use to, trained to do, until Christ shows up again. This is the third time that Christ has appeared to them. We get the other two in chapter 20 when Jesus appears to them twice in the upper room and the doubting Thomas believes. This third time Jesus is on the shore, although no one has recognized him yet, and tells them that if they will simply follow his direction, even what comes natural to them will yield better results.
As they are pulling in all this fish the disciple Jesus loved, John, yells out, “It’s the Lord.” As they stood their witnessing another miracle it finally dawns on one of them who the stranger was on the shore fixing his breakfast. That was Jesus once again. He had come back to check up on them.
Then there is this humorous image that makes us laugh a little. “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.” In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible it says, “he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” No matter what translation you read it states that Simon Peter, the rock on which the church was going to be built, was fishing naked. Some scholars will say that he was probably just down to his loincloth, or underwear, and not completely naked. Regardless, he then puts on his clothes and jumps into the sea.
They weren’t too far from shore because Jesus could yell to them and Peter makes the swim pretty easy. But we have to ask the question what was Peter thinking. Peter has been known to do some things without thinking because he was the one Jesus looks at and says, “Get behind me Satan.” He is also the one who wants to build some tents up on the Mount of Transfiguration so they could live there. Peter seems to have one of those personalities that make him extremely impulsive and that God created him without that filter between your brain and mouth.
In the Reynolds Program in Church Leadership that I went to last year there was a session that we started to learn about our styles when it comes to change and conflict. There were three points on a linear line that we took a test and found out where we were. On one side there were Originators, in the middle, Pragmatists and on the other side Conserver. An Originator is someone who may appear unorganized, undisciplined, unconventional and spontaneous. These are the dreamers who enjoy risk and uncertainty and who will likely challenge accepted assumptions, policies and procedures. Peter is probably an Originator. In this spontaneous moment he puts his clothes on and jumps into the water. Maybe he was trying to walk on water again, to demonstrate to Jesus that he had a deep faith for him. Or maybe he was just as excited as a puppy when its owner comes home after work.
What is funny is that Peter is the only one who jumps off the boat. The other disciples, once again, stay on the boat. On the other side of the spectrum from Originator is the Conserver. A Conserver is a person who is deliberate, disciplined and organized. If change is going to happen this person who prefer it maintains the current structure. This person enjoys predictability and appears cautious and inflexible and focuses on details and the routine. Twenty bucks you can’t guess where I am on this scale. But I think John is the Conserver on the boat that morning. He is the one who first recognizes that it is Jesus on the shore but then he stays on the boat. If John and I share the same mind this may be what he was thinking, “That is our Lord. Wow he came back to visit again, this is awesome. Now what are we going to do with all this fish. To let it go back would to the sea would defeat the purpose of why we were out here all night. Let’s start to make our way to shore, Jesus will be there. This way we can keep the fish and visit with our Risen Lord. Plus we have plenty of hands to help…ahhh Peter, come on, well now we have JUST ENOUGH hands to help. I’ll stay here to help while you run off and forget your obligations to those on the boat.”
What is great is that Jesus called all these people to be disciples. He calls Originators and Conservers. He also calls Pragmatists. Those who are practical, agreeable and flexible. Those who are open to both sides of the argument and who hold down the middle. He calls all these types of people to be his disciples. This is great because if we are to be fishers of people we need all of them to pull in as much fish as possible. We need people to jump off the boat and others to stay on to guide the boat to shore. What is nice is that Jesus invites them all to breakfast.
When they all get to shore, Jesus breaks bread with them and shares the fish. They enjoy a wonderful breakfast and fellowship once again. Then he turns his eyes to Peter and asks Peter three questions, “do you truly love me.” Three times Peter answers “Yes.” Only a short time ago Peter is asked three times if he knows Christ and he denies it, three times. Here Jesus seems to make up for that denial by asking three times if Peter loves him. After saying yes, Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” And in the end he looks at him and says, once again, “Follow Me.”
On a shoreline three years earlier the disciples’ lives were changed because they left everything to follow a man they thought could be the Messiah. They witnessed miracles on previous boats. They saw Jesus calm the rough seas, walk on water, and watch Peter walk on water out to Jesus. They saw Jesus heal people, eat with sinners, produce enough food for 5000 people, turn water into wine, raise people from the dead, tell story after story, all the teaching moments throughout their three year journey, and they all cowered in fear as their rabbi, their Messiah, their Lord, died a humiliating death on the cross. Yet even though his followers forgot him in his hour of need, he still came back, broke bread, forgave them, and called them once again to “follow me.”
An epilogue is included in piece of work to bring closure to a situation. It ties up the book in a nice neat bow around it or it is the cherry on top of the sundae. This intimate picture of the third time Jesus reveals himself to the disciples gives us a glimpse at what we should expect out of our Lord and what our Lord expects out of us.
Once we are transformed by God, once we become followers of Christ, once we decided that our lives are nothing without being covered in the dust from our master’s sandals, than we cannot go back to the way it use to be. We cannot go back to work and think we can do it the same way. We can go back into relationships with friends or loved ones and think it will all be like it was. If we are going to fulfill the mission of Christ we will have to be guided by Christ. We will have to learn to listen and toss our nets off the other side of the boat. If we are going to fulfill the mission of Christ we will have to be fed by Christ. We will have to sit down for breakfast with him and have him ask hard questions to us. We will have to look him in the eyes and say over and over again, “Yes I love you.” When we do this God will look back at us and simply smile and say, “Follow me.”
And all God’s people said…Amen.