It’s Easter Sunday Morning, and we may not necessarily be worshiping together today, all dressed up in our Sunday best, worshiping together in a decorated church building, but we are worshiping together in spirit, worshiping together in our homes, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the promise of new life, and victory over the grave. One of my favorite resurrection stories is found in John’s Gospel, chapter twenty-one.
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.
For several years, Lynn and I took vacations on Indian Lake, in New York State’s Adirondack State Park. We rented a small “honeymoon” cottage each year because it had a large window that looked out over the picturesque waters. We would settle in early each evening to sleep and then be reawakened early each morning before daybreak by the sound not of birds or animals, but by the whine of a small outboard motor propelling a fisherman to his favorite fishing spot. When I read the story of the encounter between our risen Lord and the disciples who were fishing on the lake called Galilee [aka. The Sea of Tiberius], I remember those cool dark gray summer mornings.
John, the disciple Jesus loved, gives us details in the telling of that encounter that makes it a compelling argument for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. His voice is heard. His form is eventually clearly seen and recognized by all the disciples. He is cooking fish and bread over coals, something you’d hardly expect a ghost or a phantom or a demonic spirit to do. And, you just get the sense that John is just telling you like it happened.
But there is more here than that. Oh, I know there are some like St. Augustine of old, who find some kind of special meaning in the number of the fish caught on this occasion, but honestly, I don’t put much stock that sort of allegory or numerology. Still, the counting of the fish in the net that miraculously did not break, 153 of them in all, only argues for the historicity and reliability of John’s account. No, but by something more, I mean a very obvious and practical lesson, one which should make our hearts leap whenever we think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He lives, not that we might exist for eternity, but that we might live for eternity in fellowship with Him.
Think about it! Peter and company did rejoice at the appearing of the Risen Lord in the upper room; first to ten of them [Judas having hanged himself and Thomas having wandered off in a cloud of doubt and grief]. Then Jesus appeared again to the disciples a week following His resurrection, only this time Thomas was present with them. And, Jesus invited Thomas to explore with his hands, the very wounds of His crucifixion. Thomas saw, and perhaps also he touched Jesus, as indeed Mary Magdalene apparently did. What joy filled their hearts to know that their redeemer lives!
But perhaps out of guilt or perhaps out of misunderstanding, Peter and company decide that the Risen Messiah has no need for them, that they are unworthy to follow after Him. So, they go back to their old trade, and resolve to catch fish. But something is wrong, very wrong. The nets are spread out into the water in the dark hours of the night, prime fishing time, but no fish are gathered in. They know the hot spots, they know where the fish are, or at least so they thought.
Then as dawn approaches, a figure on the shore, begins a small charcoal fire. A familiar voice calls out, “Little children [that is what Jesus actually said] haven’t you any fish?… Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” And at that, the run was on! They catch 153 large fish to divide between themselves and their families.
But Jesus already has fish cooking on a small fire and bread. Where did He get those fish and the bread he was baking? No market was open and He had no boat or net. And from the fish cooked on the fire, perhaps also a few fish added later from the net, it seems that Jesus did what He had done before. He fed His disciples. “Come and have breakfast” He said!
You know of course that this story is not primarily about food, don’t you? I imagine, some of us will have a wonderful baked ham or turkey dinner this afternoon with all the fixings, but you know, it isn’t really about the food. It is about the fellowship. It is about the nurturing of relationships between those we hold dear. For well over a decade, I worked professionally with elderly folks, long enough to know that older people who regularly dine with family or friends tend to be healthier than those who eat alone. Why? Because for us, unlike our household pets, dining is for personal interaction and relationship. And, what is compelling to me about this account, is that our Risen Lord desires that kind of intimacy, that kind of fellowship, even with those of us who like the disciples of old, sometimes feel like we’ve flunked the loyalty test.
Think about that will you? Our Risen Lord desires fellowship with those who feel unworthy of it. As Christians, we all blow it sometimes. Big time! If you’ve blown it, I have good news for you. The resurrection of Jesus means that there is a living Savior who wants to share a meal with you. He wants fellowship with you.
I understand that in some Jewish homes at Passover, an empty chair, a cup and a plate is placed at the table for Elijah the prophet, in the event he might happen by. I’m not suggesting we set a chair aside for our Risen Lord at the table today, that is not literally speaking. But, yeah! Jesus our Risen Lord wants a chair next to you and me. He covets intimacy with you and me because He loves and died and rose from the dead to make it possible.
So, how do I go about cultivating a relationship with Jesus, if He is not visibly present with me? First, be sure you are part of the family of God. That requires us to repent of our sins and to receive by faith the salvation Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. Second, we need to carve out time to talk to God [that’s prayer] and for Him to talk to us [that involves hearing Him speak through the Scriptures]. Third, we must intentionally seek Him out. We do not pray wistfully but expectantly. We do not read the Scriptures to be informed, but to engage Him in holy conversation, actively listening for His voice. We pray and we immerse ourselves in Scripture to engage the Risen Christ.
One day, perhaps sooner than you think, the saints of all ages will gather around a table at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. I’m not sure exactly what all will be on the menu, but I expect we might eat some fish, perhaps some lamb and heavenly bread. But remember, Easter and resurrection isn’t really about the food, it’s about the relationship and fellowship with Jesus Christ to which our Risen Lord is inviting you and me.
You might be wondering, how can I respond to Christ’s invitation to a living and vital relationship with Him? It begins by recognizing that Christ died for your sins and mine, enduring what we deserved for our sins on the cross. It means that we turn from our waywardness and embrace the Risen Christ as our Savior and Lord. We do that by faith. The apostle Paul put it this way,…
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:9-10 NIV