Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” “We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat but they caught nothing all night. At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?” “No,” they replied. Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right hand side of the boat and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. John 21:1-9
This unusual post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and His disciples is one of my favorite New Testament stories.
Seven of the disciples were hanging out one night when Peter suddenly announced, “I’m going fishing!” Scripture doesn’t give us the details of why, although it’s not hard for me to imagine a sense of restless energy in Peter. The resurrection had occurred, Jesus had appeared to them twice (briefly), and they may have been wondering, “What now?” as they waited further instructions. It quickly turned into a group expedition; perhaps the others had nothing better to do, or perhaps they were motivated by a financial need.
At any rate, they ended up fishing all night, and caught nothing. Nothing at all! The fishermen of Jesus’ day used large nets that were thrown over the side of the boat and repeatedly hauled in to check for a catch. It was very labor-intensive work that took a team of men to accomplish. By the time morning dawned, I imagine that the boat contained seven weary, grumpy, frustrated, hungry men!
It’s at that moment of first light, as they were giving up and heading back, that they heard a voice calling to them from the shoreline. Jesus is there (though at first they don’t know it’s Him) shouting advice to try dropping the net on the other side of the boat. When the net instantly filled with a huge catch of fish, however, their doubt of the Stranger’s identity vanished. Impetuous Peter couldn’t wait to get to Jesus; he abandoned his companions and the work of hauling the fish in, and dove into the water to swim to shore. There he found Jesus beside a charcoal fire, cooking breakfast.
We don’t know what occurred between Peter and Jesus during those moments before the others arrived, but somehow I feel it was very significant. This appears to be the first time Peter was alone with Jesus since the resurrection; and the last time we saw Peter beside a charcoal fire he was in the courtyard of the high priest, vehemently denying his Lord (John 18:18). It seems likely that Jesus engineered this fireside encounter to help Peter with unfinished business. N.T. Wright puts it this way:
“And it all happens beside a charcoal fire. Think back to the smell of that fire, wafting through the chilly April air. Think of Peter going out in shame, angry with himself, knowing that Jesus knew…And hearing the next day what had happed to Jesus. Not even the resurrection itself could wave a magic wand and get rid of that memory. Nothing could, except revisiting it and bathing it in God’s own healing.” *
In place of the shame of that earlier fire, Peter here finds warmth and welcome in the light of a fire that Jesus built with those nail-scarred hands. I don’t know what Peter may have expected in this encounter. Perhaps a disciplinary discussion; perhaps the pain of facing disappointment and loss of trust in Jesus’ face. But…
Surely he never expected that! As the friends gather on the beach, Jesus Himself serves the food He has prepared for them. The prideful Peter at the Last Supper had at first loudly resisted the service of Jesus in washing his feet. The newly humbled Peter utters not a word of protest this time.
Oh, the goodness of Jesus! Who in response to failure builds a fire of compassion, and grills fish with His own hands. Who breaks bread to give to the one who denied Him because His body, the Bread of Life, had already been broken to cover the sin.
His purpose today is the same. Jesus still stands ready to offer warmth and welcome, compassion and reconciliation, to all who come to Him for forgiveness.
“Though He didn’t sin, He knows the feeling of shame that comes from sin because on the cross He absorbed our sins and our shame, and the sins and shame of the world. No matter what it is you’re going through, Jesus understands because He has been through it and He stands with you in your pain, tribulation or hardship. God took on skin so that He might more fully know us through human experience. And God also took on skin so that we might become like Him.”—Ken Shigematsu
*N.T. Wright, “John for Everyone, Part 2”