After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself.…
I. "SIMON PETER SAITH UNTO THEM, I GO A-FISHING" (ver. 3).
1. We are inclined to wonder at the smallness of this memorandum. The very same thing might have been said yesterday by many a simple trawler at Teignmouth, or any other fishing station, yet this has been made an organic part of the Book of books. The writer leaves out the momentous events that were stirring millions at that moment, and puts into it this! Some critics have thought the thing too trivial, but we believe that so small a thing could not have been set down unless it held some great significance.
2. Notice a remarkable slowness of spiritual apprehension. "I go," says Peter. Well, whither? to "the mountain in Galilee" whither Christ commanded His disciples? "No, to the sea, of course." Call to mind that when Jesus instituted the Supper, when every word should have been taken to heart with double distinctness, He said, "After I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee." The angel at the sepulchre said, "Go quickly, and tell His disciples... that He goeth before you into Galilee, as He said." Then He followed up the angelic message with one to the women on the road; still they were slow to move, but still He had compassion on their infirmity, and appeared to them in Jerusalem on the two first days; then his manifestations ceased for a while. At length they came to Galilee, but only to their old station, and, as it appears, with no thought of seeing Jesus, otherwise all would have been on the spot at the earliest possible moment. But we only see seven, and Peter says, "I go!" not to the mountain, but to the sea.
3. The announcement seems to have been made in a fit of despondency. Christ had told Peter and his companions to give up fishing when they became His disciples, and they instantly left all and followed Him. Peter made emphatic reference to this when he said, "Lord, we have left all and followed Thee!" And Christ's reply taken with the words of the disciple, seem to speak of the forsaken fishing-boat as the sign of a final and consummated act. We never hear of them working at their old craft for a living again. We picture the apostles as waiting at Jerusalem for another Divine visit, but this had not been granted. Then, solemnly and sadly, they came back to the familiar place, and there they waited. Every night Peter's heart would say, "He will come to-morrow;" but to-morrow, and to-morrow came, and no Jesus. Then that heart cried out, in a burst of passionate sadness, "I give up, for He will not come any more."
II. "THEY SAY UNTO HIM, WE ALSO GO WITH THEE." Certain men seem to be naturally and unaccountably influential. When your spirits touch theirs, you feel a fascination that holds or moves you like a hand. Peter had this kind of electricity. We can imagine the exchange of such words as: "I go to the mountain." "We go with thee." "I give up." "We give up." "I go a fishing." "We also go with thee." Great leaders have a "going" power peculiar to themselves; but more or less, for good or evil, every man must be influential, and what he does others will do. We can imagine such interchange of language between a parent and his children: "I am going into the ways of the world." "We also go with thee." "I believe, and am going to cast in my lot with those who believe." "We also go with thee."
III. "THEY WENT FORTH, AND ENTERED INTO A SHIP IMMEDIATELY; AND THAT NIGHT THEY CAUGHT NOTHING."
1. Here is one instance, out of many, of Christ not allowing His disciples to prosper while in a wrong course. It is an evil omen when Christians prosper while in a course of practical unbelief. This omen is not seen in lives that are to reach a high standard. In such cases love blights prosperity and tangles schemes.
2. On the other hand, sensitive consciences will need to be reminded that want of success is not in every instance from something wrong. A ship may be manned by good Christians, yet founder; a concern in which none are embarked but disciples may toil all night, and catch nothing. And so, faithful heart, losses will be gain to you. In the darkest hour of outward affliction there may be the dawn of a morning of rich discovery. "The Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended."
IV. "BUT WHEN THE MORNING WAS NOW COME, JESUS STOOD ON THE SHORE," &c. Weary and dispirited they saw a shape that was dim in the mist; they "knew not that it was Jesus." His voice pealed out, but it woke within them no answering echo of memory. It was like Him to come after them when they would not go after Him, and to call them His children after all! "Have ye any food?" He asked. Where-ever disciples toil the Lord looks on; if they suffer failure, let them know that the watchful eye sees, that the great heart feels. He has taught His children the prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," and therefore is not likely to let them starve. In answer to this inquiry they only said "No;" the short word of cross, aching, disappointed men. Then said He, "Cast the net on the right side," &c. It was the advice of One who was slow to take offence, and whose precept usually implies a promise; of One whose infinite grandeur does not keep Him from interest in our commonest callings.
V. "THEY CAST, THEREFORE, AND NOW THEY WERE NOT ABLE TO DRAW IT FOR THE MULTITUDE OF FISHES."
1. This startling wonder was to remind them that they had been consecrated "fishers of men." The Divine Symbolist delighted to clothe the spiritual work of His servants in language borrowed from their worldly employments. Obviously, it suggests —
(1) Downright hard work. The word "minister," like the word "fisherman," is not simply the name of an office or dignity, but of a toiler.
(2) "Diversity of operations." It is a mediaeval notion that the only way of taking the fish is by the net, which is understood to be the one true Church; but when Christ appointed His followers to be fishers of men, He specified for their use no particular mode. A fisherman has to go through great varieties of experience; he may be out on a stormy sea, or he may have to creep, or hide, or watch in the leafy covert or reedy river. Some kinds of fish are to be taken by spear, some by line, some by net — hand-net, or draw-net, or basket-net. He must never angle for a whale, or harpoon a trout. "You must," says Izaak Walton, "be the scholar of the fish before you can be his master."(3) And the work of the spiritual fisher is rather one of skill than of violence — he must draw, not drive.
(4) That our spiritual work must be done by ourselves, and not by proxy. When, for instance, a man is called to be a preacher, let him preach his own sermons — "Fish with your own hooks."
2. The act may also have been in tended to cheer them, and all desponding workers, by foreshowing the final success of all work done for Christ. Regarding the two miracles as signs, the scene of fulfilment in the one case is earth, in the other, heaven. In the first miracle the "nets broke"; the fishers did not therefore take all the fish, and there was no attempt to count the number taken. In the second case no nets were broken, and when the toilers reached the land they brought their richly-laden nets with them. Soon shall we strike upon the eternal shore; then all who have laboured in the great cause shall rejoice in the sea-harvest of souls; then, for the first time in all history, will the statistics of the Church be complete and trustworthy — "one hundred and fifty and three."
VI. "THEREFORE THAT DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED SAITH UNTO PETER, IT IS THE LORD. It was owing to a mysteriousness of look, perhaps, that Jesus was not at once identified. The Greek verb used in the account of His first miracle is used also in this. In the first, it is said that He "manifested forth His glory"; in the second, "Jesus manifested Himself," &c. Two things are taught by the use of this word —
1. That the discovery was the act of Jesus, not that of His disciples; they did not of their own will see Him, hut He, by a distinct act of His will, showed Himself to them.
2. It was a spiritual manifestation, and He was seen not so much by the eyes of the body as by the eyes of the soul. John was the first seer. Even in human friendship, and not less in the Divine, love has the quickest ear, the sharpest eye, and the surest faculty of interpretation. Then there was a plunge. "Steady, Peter," we cry, if no name had been given, we should have known that it could be no other.
IV. "JESUS SAITH UNTO THEE, BRING OF THE FISH WHICH YE HAVE NOW CAUGHT." Soon as they had touched land there was a new wonder. "The beach had been bare a moment before, but now they saw a fire burning with a little fish on it, and bread at hand. They seem to pause, unable to obey; and so "Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes." When these were counted, Jesus said, "Come and break your fast." All knew Him now; but not a word could they speak, Formerly they would have asked many questions. Taking first the bread, and then the fish, He divided them just as He had done while He was yet with them. He who marshals in their sweep the grand army of the stars, and who holds in His hand this globe, stood there in human form waiting on these tired boatmen.
(O ,Stanford, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.