Gone fishing (April 16, 2023)

A lesson for April 16, 2023, about disappointment and restoration.

Outlook Standard Lesson for April 16, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 
John 21:1-14

As we continue examining the impact of Christ’s resurrection on his followers, our lesson takes us to the Sea of Galilee, where the disciples have gathered for a time of reconnection and fellowship … and fishing. The problem is they appear to lack the ability to catch fish, which is unexpected as many of the disciples were fishermen. They have lost their effectiveness in the very thing they were most effective.

Does the issue go beyond fishing? Have the disciples lost their way? Even after their recent encounters with Jesus after his resurrection, are they still without position and purpose? Why, after having seen Jesus twice after his resurrection, are they unable to recognize him when he appears to them a third time?

Gone fishing

Years ago, my father-in-law took my husband and me out fishing on the lake. He is an avid fisherman. We were not, but we went out fishing with him anyway because of the fellowship, laughter and relationship-building the fishing experience can provide. Once we were out on the boat, admittedly, the possibility of actually catching a fish or two did pique my interest. I threw out my first cast and reeled it in. Nothing. I threw out my second cast and reeled that one in. Nothing.

Eventually, we went onward into deeper waters. I cast out my line again and reeled it in, only this time my line would budge. It was my moment for sure. Or so I thought. My heart swelled with excitement. “It must be an awfully large fish,” I exclaimed. But it wasn’t an awfully large fish. It was an awfully stuck line — entangled in the brush at the bottom of the lake. I felt so disappointed.

After fishing all night and catching nothing, Peter and the disciples must have felt that way, too. Disappointed. Frustrated. What do we do now? Maybe this was a waste of time? Suddenly, Jesus enters the story, and he is standing on the beach looking out at them, but the disciples, looking back at him don’t recognize that he is Jesus (v. 4).

Jesus asks the obvious question, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” (v. 5). He must have seen their downcast faces and he invited them to cast their net “to the right side of the boat” and they will find some fish there (v. 6). So they did.

Why did they do what he said? They had no reason to believe this person they didn’t know. Maybe they had nothing to lose. Why not try something different? Their way wasn’t working. Why not give it one more try, especially since this man sounds so sure?

My father-in-law is not one for giving up either. We drove out to one last spot on the lake. I made one final cast, waited a little while, then tugged on the line. Something tugged back. My net, albeit a lot smaller than the disciples’ net, was full and so was my heart.

When the disciples obey the man, casting their net out one final time, there were so many fish “they were not able to haul it in” (v. 6). Can you imagine? Then, something clicks for one of the disciples, the one who identifies himself as the “one whom Jesus loves.” He recognizes Jesus and shouts to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (v. 7).

What did Jesus do that caused the disciples to identify him? Had they remembered the miraculous ways Jesus handled fish before? Does it take a miracle for us to recognize the presence of Jesus among us? How do we know when we are in the presence of the Holy One?

Jesus cooks breakfast

On the shore, the disciples see a fire blazing with fish and bread on it (v. 9). Jesus calls out for them to bring some of the fish they’d caught. Peter drags in the net filled with large fish, numbering 153. Much speculation is given to the meaning of the exact count of fish mentioned. Perhaps a large number of fish is indicative of their Christ-given purpose, our Christ-given purpose: to be fishers of people who expand Christ’s church every day.

“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus invites and none of the disciples had to ask who he was “because they knew it was the Lord” (v. 12). You can feel the exhale in the passage. Old friends are back together again, sharing food, sharing fellowship, sharing life. Food will do that, especially food provided by our Savior. Not only does his food provide physical nourishment; it also provides spiritual refreshment that strengthens believers for the mission Christ calls us into with him.

Questions for reflection

  1. When have you experienced disappointment after trying so hard at being successful? How did you handle the disappointment? How did you experience restoration after disappointment?
  2. How have you experienced Christ restoring or strengthening your purpose?

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