Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (John 21:1–14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You know, lot’s of times when I read about the disciples in these accounts, I get to feeling sorry for them. I mean, often in these lessons they come off pretty much like failures. How many times have we heard of how they didn’t do what Jesus wanted? How often have we heard about how they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying or what he was doing? Like when they misunderstood what Jesus meant when he said that Lazarus had “fallen asleep.” “Lord, if he sleeps he’ll get better!”
“No guys,” Jesus answered, “you’ve missed the point again. When I said he was sleeping, I meant that he is dead.” I have this image in my mind of the twelve standing around with a puzzled look on their faces. “Lazarus is dead.” Jesus finally says in response.
“Oh!” they answer, “I guess we missed that.” They had failed again.
It has always amazed me that the gospels, even though they were mostly written by the disciples, they often aren’t very flattering for the authors. They failed often and they failed big. Especially when Jesus was in the most danger. As Jesus waits in the garden for the betrayer, they fail to stay awake. When the guards show up to arrest him, they fail again. All Peter can do is cut off a servant’s ear. Not only has he failed to protect his master, he’s a failure at wielding a sword, too! All the disciples run away in fear, and let Jesus be taken. And again Peter failed when he is accused of being Jesus disciple. “I told you before, curse you, I don’t know that man! He’s nothing to me! Now leave me alone!” And he ran out and wept over his failure.
Later, after Jesus was crucified, they gather together in a darkened room, huddled together afraid. Even when Jesus appeared to them, they had their doubts. Thomas speaks for all of them when he says, “Unless I see him, and touch him. I refuse to believe!” They had all failed to remember what Jesus said to them, they had all failed to believe in Jesus.
And that brings us to the account for today. After so many failures… so many misunderstandings, they are about to fail again. Not only had they failed to be good disciples, but when they try to go back to fishing… “that night they caught nothing.” Failures again. Do you think that maybe they were beginning to develop a complex? Even after Jesus had risen from the dead they were failures. They couldn’t do what Jesus wanted, and they couldn’t go back to their old life. There they sat early in the morning looking at their empty nets wondering if they ever would ever again be successful at anything.
“Boys,” came a voice from the shore, “Have you tried the other side of the boat?” Now, I don’t know of many professional fishermen who will take instructions from a stranger on how to fish. But the disciples did on that morning. Maybe it was the sense of failure that led them. Maybe they didn’t have the energy to dispute it, but they took the criticism. And when they did… 153 large fish jumped into the net. John was the first to realize that it was Jesus. “It’s the Lord!” he said. Peter put John’s words into action, and leapt into the water to make the hundred yard swim to shore. Jesus had turned their failure into success. He gives them what they needed. Fish in their nets, and besides that he feeds them breakfast.
Are we failures too? We don’t like to think of ourselves that way. But I think that if we look honestly at ourselves we can see that we are. We know the resurrected Jesus, but it doesn’t really seem to have a great impact on our lives. We fail at what Jesus would have us do all the time. “Love your neighbor,” he says. There are many times when we don’t even seem to love our family. How easy is it to hurt our parents, or our children, or even our spouse? A quick spoken word cuts them to the bone and we can see them wince in pain. And sometimes we even mean to do it. We fail to love.
How often have we stood in Peter’s sandals, denying Jesus? Maybe we don’t outright say that we don’t know him, but what about when we act as if being a Christian doesn’t mean anything, or when we make light of our faith. We know the failure of Peter very well.
And as far as being successful fishermen… we fail there too. When there are people right next door who don’t go to any church, when we have friends and neighbors who don’t know Jesus, and we let them alone ashamed to speak to them about the most important thing in the world.
The truth of the matter is, the disciples were failures, and we are failures, poor miserable failures… poor miserable sinners. That’s the real problem isn’t it? Our sins threatened to separate us from the God who created us. Our sins are the real problem. In the eyes of a God who demands perfection, we are utter failures because we aren’t perfect.
But, Jesus is perfect. It is perfect Jesus that gives us success. When the disciples listened to advice from the shore they knew it was Jesus because they had success. They ended up with a net so full that it should have broken; it was too large to fit in the boat. It wasn’t only success it was SUCCESS! It wasn’t just a good day fishing; it was an amazing day fishing. In my first church one of the members told me a story about a day of fishing. He thought he would just throw a quick line into the water. He caught so many fish after that that he didn't even realize that he forgot to turn off his truck, hours later. It was the best day of fishing they had ever had! And it was because of Jesus. They couldn’t wait to get to shore. And Jesus was there waiting to feed them.
That’s what Jesus does; he changes human failure into success. I’m not talking about a plastic Jesus on the dashboard to bring good luck; I’m talking about turning our sinful failures into success. I’m talking about a way to solve the problems we cause because we don’t love one another like we should. I’m talking about reaching out to our community with the love of Jesus. I’m not talking about success fishing on the lake; I’m talking about success fishing for men.
What Jesus Christ has done makes a difference for your failures. In his great love he paid the ultimate price for your failures. He suffered pain and death. He hung on the cross and endured the punishment that we failures deserved. Even though he was treated as a failure, he changed that awful event into success. On Easter morning some 2000 years ago, he turned what seemed like the failure of his death in to the success of life. The tomb was opened and he breathed again. He lived and walked, smiled and laughed again. He met with his disciple, he met them on the road, he met them in the darkened room, and he met them on the shore of the lake. He was alive. Death had failed! Jesus succeeded!
But, the most important thing to remember is that Jesus success wasn’t just his success. Everything Jesus did, his whole life, his whole horrible death, he whole glorious, successful, resurrection; everything he did, he did for you! He did it to make you a success. He did it to remove the failure of your sin… to make you perfect in God’s eyes, to make you a success.
It’s funny though. We really know all this. Most of us have been hearing it all our lives. And you know what, we don’t really feel very successful. There are those days when the love just isn’t there, days when we don’t really want to risk exposing ourselves as a Christian, days when we just want people who don’t fit here in this church, to stay out. Day when we wonder what in the world our children are thinking when they do the things they do. We wonder what happed to all that stuff we thought we taught them. That’s the failure in us poking out his head again. That’s the failure in us trying to take control again. That’s when it’s important to remember the success that Jesus has won for us. That’s when we turn to him and cry out, “Jesus, help me!” And he says, “I’ve died for that failure already. You don’t have to live with it any more. My success is yours.” And sometimes, just sometimes, we can love, even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes words come out about Jesus, even when we’re afraid. And we can even ask people to come to church that we really don’t want to sit by. It isn’t because of us, because our failure only gets us empty nets, just like the disciples. It’s all because of Jesus. Jesus brings success.
The disciples enjoyed breakfast that early morning. Jesus brought them success in their fishing. There would be many more successes, bigger nets to drag ashore, more fish to count. But they wouldn’t be fish from the sea; they’d be people that would be brought into the church of Jesus Christ. They’d all be failures that Jesus died to save, failures he died to make successes. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.