Journey into Joy Series — The Appearance on the Shore of Galilee

Number 8 in a devotional series using as a resource the book, Journey Into Joy, by Andrew Walker.

Scripture; John 21:1-14

What key questions and unusual observations did you note as you read the passage? 

Why did the disciples go fishing? 

Why did the disciples not immediately recognize Jesus on the shore?

Why did Peter respond as he did?

What was the lesson in the miracle?

Is there significance to the number of fish?

I note that Jesus had supplied fish, yet he also used theirs.

What are their implications for understanding the passage?

Why did the disciples go fishing?  For as long as there have been preachers there’ve been varying interpretations of this question.   One factor to be considered is that the angels had promised that Jesus would meet his disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:7). This event shows that the disciples had obeyed that instruction and returned to Galilee.  Back in Galilee, fishing would have been Peter’s normal occupation. In addition, without Jesus leadership, the disciples would naturally return to what they had done before. Peter’s leadership is evident, however, in that when he suggests the fishing trip, six other disciples immediately accompany him.

Why did the disciples not immediately recognize Jesus on the shore?    There are several possible answers to this question. It could’ve been early morning light; it could’ve been the distance from them to the shore; or it could’ve been simply that they were not expecting to see Jesus.    But one cannot help but connect this incident with the others we have already covered where Jesus was identified not by immediate physical recognition, but by his voice and actions (Lk 24:16; Jn 20:14).   Here the likelihood is that they recognized him because of the similarity of this miracle with an earlier one (Luke 5:1 – 11).

Why did Peter respond as he did?  There is passion in Peter’s response–impetuous yes– but genuine love is revealed in Peter’s jump into the lake.   Boats are slow.  He could not wait to get closer to Jesus.   This response of Peter to Jesus presence sets the stage for the drama that will follow in the latter part of this chapter.

What was the lesson in the miracle?   When Jesus addresses the disciples the word often translated “friends” is literally “little children.”   It is the kind of term a kindly father might use to teach a familiar lesson.   They had, after all, fished all night and caught nothing; now with just one sentence of instruction from Jesus their nets are filled yet they do not break.  It was an acted parable of what Jesus had taught, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5 NIV).   It was also the verification of who he was and the preparation for his conversations with Peter and John.   

Is there significance to the number of fish?   While interpreters through the centuries have made various attempts to extrapolate meaning from the number 153, there is no evidence in the text that meaning is intended in it.  The point is that the disciples were impressed enough with the number of fish to count them and recorded it in Scripture. The high number was impressive to lifelong fisherman and they remembered it.    It is an eyewitness detail from the fisherman’s memory. It adds credibility to the story.

I note that Jesus had supplied fish, yet he also used theirs.  This speaks to us of how Jesus’ kingdom works.   God uses our offerings, but it is his power that does the heavy work.

What is the role/significance of this event/passage in the Gospel story?

The first role of this passage is simply to record another appearance of Jesus. This appearance was especially important because in the first place it was in Galilee where Jesus had promised to appear. It was also, as John notes, the third appearance to a group of disciples.

The second role that this appearance of Jesus plays is to set the stage for the very important conversation that John is going to record in the latter part of this chapter; conversation that happened at this event.

What inspirational “take home” impressed me?

A take home question to ask is how this miracle applied to the commission that Jesus had given to the disciples? They were fishermen, and Jesus had called them to serve him with the commission, “I will make you fishers of men.” That call was after the other miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5).   This new event could not help but be a powerful encouragement to them to speak out, to continue forward in their calling.  

How often is it that we in our own strength fish all night, so to speak, and catch nothing? But when we are enabled by God’s power and following Jesus instructions, we have an abundant harvest. For the disciples, that would soon be the lesson of Pentecost too.  We are encouraged to continue speaking out for Jesus too.

The fish and bread on the fire also speak to us of Jesus’ care for his disciples. He knew that after fishing all night, the practical thing that they would need was food; so he prepared some.   They could not help but remember the many times that he had broken bread with them. But one time must have been especially brought back to remembrance.   That time would’ve been the miracle of the loaves and fishes and how Jesus took bread and the fish that the little boy brought and multiplied them to feed the multitude. There is a sense of abundance in the miracle of the fishes that Jesus has done here as well.    How often do we think only of people’s spiritual needs when we could help our message find greater acceptance by paying attention to their physical needs as Jesus often did?    How often do we forget that Jesus is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine?

I think I covered

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