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Stephen R. Clark
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Delivered October 29, 2017 | Huntingdon Valley, PA | Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church
You can listen to the sermon here: http://www.hvpc.org/sermons/sermon/2017-10-29/jesus-brings-the-casserole

Jesus Begins the Casserole

The Gospel of John

Call to Worship -- Psalm 23, ESV

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.

 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

 5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

First Reading -- 1 Peter 1:8-9, 4:7-9 ESV

1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

===

4:7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen

Second Reading -- John 21:1-14, ESV

Our second reading today is John 21:1-14. You can find it on page 1078 in the pew Bibles and it will be up on the screen so you can follow along:

1. 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.

This is the Word of the Lord.

=====

I’ve heard more than one sermon on this passage. On the surface, it’s a really nice scene. Seven men having breakfast on the beach with Jesus. The end. Let’s move on.

After all, what people are more interested in is what comes after this passage. But I’m not going to give up any spoilers {maybe one} and jump ahead. Dan will take care of that next week.

The reality is that what happens in these fourteen verses is critical for setting up what comes next. While what happens next involves {spoiler} restoration, what happens in today’s passage is acceptance and healing.

What’s here is an example of the great lengths to which God goes to minister to each of us in a very personal, intimate, attention-to-the-details way. It shows how far God will go to draw us to himself and transform us to serve him and others.

It’s also a model we can use when facing our own challenges and when we are ministering to others in need.

There’s actually a lot here. So, as Peter might say, let’s dive in.

=====

If you read the passage closely, odds are questions will pop up. Like, Where is this taking place? Why are they here? Where are the four missing disciples? Why did seven go fishing? Where did they get a boat and gear?  What’s the meaning of 153 fish? And, where did Jesus get the food he was cooking?

Some of these questions are answered here and elsewhere in the New Testament. Others are not. I’m going to share with you my take, blending the known knowns with my thoughts on the unknown knowns.

=====

John states plainly they are “by the Sea of Tiberias” which is another of the several names for the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee features prominently in the ministry of Jesus as well as the lives of the disciples.

They are at this location because all 11 are headed to a pre-determined meeting with the resurrected Christ. Just before Jesus went to the cross, in Matthew 26:32, while they were on the Mount of Olives, he told them, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Later, in Matthew 28:16 it states, “Meanwhile, the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain Jesus had designated.”

While it’s not specified, I believe these men are on the northwestern shore near Capernaum, near the Jordan, and near where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. This is also near where Peter and his brother Andrew first encountered Jesus.

Jesus is drawing the 11 back to the beginning of their journey together, bringing them full circle.

Of the 11 only seven are present in this passage. John tells us these are Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and the sons of Zebedee, which are John and James, plus two more unnamed disciples.

I’m guessing the unnamed two are Andrew, who is Peter's brother, and Philip, who is likely a fisherman. As for the others not there, this leaves Matthew, Jude and his brother James, and Simon the Zealot.

So why the two groups?

The disciples traveled from Jerusalem, a three to four day journey. This meant that each night they had to find lodging.

Think of what they are going through. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

They have just witnessed the arrest, beating, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. They are in fear for their lives so have to keep a low profile. Things are tense.

Emotionally, mentally, and physically they are exhausted. There’s a good chance they weren’t sleeping well or eating regularly.

As they reached this area near Capernaum, maybe it was the night before they were supposed to meet up with Jesus. Four of the disciples had perhaps finally “hit the wall” and collapsed in their beds.

Everyone processes stress differently. For some, sleep is their primary healer.

The other seven hung out after dinner discussing all that had happened. With their emotions knotted up, they are restless.

Have you ever been so tied up emotionally that you didn’t know what to do with yourself? You felt you needed to do something to get your mind off things?

This is Peter’s situation. He can smell the lake and hear the waves. He needs to do something physical, familiar, and safe. Something that will distract him for a time, allowing him to process all that has happened. They could all use a diversion.

Since they are back in Peter’s old stomping grounds, finding a boat is no problem. When he and his brother Andrew left everything behind to follow Jesus, they most likely left everything in the hands of relatives, friends, or their fishing business partners.

All they need to do is borrow a boat that had once been theirs. Or, perhaps the plan is to pay for the use of the boat with whatever fish they are able to catch.

This brings up another point. While John doesn’t mention other people present, there are others there. Other fishermen are getting ready to go out to fish. Fishing at night was a common practice. The goal was to have a fresh catch to sell at the market first thing in the morning.

This meant, too, that later as the day is breaking, merchants in the village will be setting up their shops and stalls.

What John is doing is giving extreme focus only to those elements and people essential for this retelling. It’s similar to a recent commercial for a phone which is really a camera that features a couple in love. As the man takes the woman’s picture while in a crowded city, the people around them drop out. It’s as if they are the only two people alive in the world. This is the kind of tunnel vision John is casting on this story.

Also, while discussing this passage by email, Pastor Dan pointed out that John 21:1 uses an interesting word or two to describe how Jesus appeared to the disciples. The Greek words, which I’m not going to attempt pronouncing, translate that Jesus showed himself, or revealed himself. As Dan explained, “This is an active unveiling. John doesn’t say, ‘And we saw Jesus.’ but rather, ‘Jesus put on a show of displaying himself to us and we caught the show.’ With Jesus, there is no seeing if there’s no showing.”

D. A. Carson in his commentary on John adds, “The implication of the wording seems to be that this resurrection appearance (undertaken, like all the others in the Fourth Gospel, at the initiative of Jesus) is itself a revelatory act.”

This helps explain how Jesus got the food he was cooking. Before he revealed himself to the disciples, others he walked among did not “see” him as more than just another man. Kind of like today when many don’t see him at all.

Avoiding drawing attention to himself, Jesus likely did not just make the fish and bread appear out of nothing as he did when he created the world. He didn’t need to. It was a simple matter to go through the village and buy the items, or ask the other fishermen at their fires for the few things he needed. Then, when it was time, he revealed himself clearly to his disciples.

But make no mistake. The big miracle in this passage is that the fully God and fully man Jesus, who came into the world as a child, born of a virgin, grew, was crucified and died, rose again, and now was walking on the earth he created, is focusing his time, care, and attention on Peter and his six fellow disciples.

For us, this truth, that Jesus was God, is God, was man, is resurrected man, is almost commonplace. “It is what it is,” so to speak, and therefore less impactful than it should be. For the disciples at this moment, it was nearly overwhelming. On one hand they wanted to ask, “Is it really You, Lord?” But on the other hand, they knew and were dumfounded and awestruck.

Now, two sticking points for some in this passage are (1) Why did they so easily agree to put their nets on the right side of the boat if they didn’t know it was Jesus, and (2) What’s the significance of 153 fish?

As to the “right side” net issue, I like what D.A. Carson says. He writes, “[I]t’s hard to see how Jesus’ exhortation to throw the net on the starboard side greatly differs from advice sports fisherman have to endure (and occasionally appreciate): ‘Try casting over there. You often catch them over there!’ (If there are some fisherman who have not yet experienced this delight,” says Carson, “I recommend they take my children with them on their next trip.) Whether in hope or tired resignation, the men in the boat heeded this advice.”

And as to the significance of the 153 fish, Carson states, “If [John] has some symbolism in mind connected with the number 153, he has hidden it well.”

I agree. My thought is that, since they are fishermen, and will take this haul to market or hand it over to someone, they wanted to know how many fish they had. It’s simply what fishermen did. Plus, it’s John’s way of indicating that this encounter took time.

 ====

Okay, let’s take a little creative liberty, pull all of this together, and imagine ourselves into the scene. Smell the sea air, hear the waves lapping at the shore, feel the rocking of the boat.

Imagine with me...

In a small Galilean fishing village, in the wee hours of the morning, just before the sky begins to let go of the darkness, a man walks among the merchants setting up their stalls. He stops at a couple, convinces them to sell to him what he needs even though they aren’t officially open. He buys some matzo dough, a few fish, some oil and spices. Then he heads to the shore of the sea of Galilee.

Meanwhile, the night before, a group of 11 men took rooms in a local lodge. Doing the next right thing, they are on their way to a pre-planned meeting, a meeting of intense importance.

Seven who are familiar with the lake, unable to sleep, decide to go fishing. They return to what is familiar to temporarily divert their minds from struggling to get a grasp on what they can barely understand.

Out on the lake, the only thing keeping these seven men warm against the wind and the wet spray is the heat of their effort. This is no pleasure craft. They aren’t fishing with rod and reel, sitting and waiting. This is work.

A couple man the oars. Another the rudder. One manages the sail. The others work the large, heavy net. They drop it down into the dark water, wait, then pull it up.

All they catch, if there is anything, is occasional seaweed, pieces of sodden driftwood, a handful of too small or otherwise undesirable fish, and other useless detritus.

All through the night they labor. They catch nothing. The darkness begins to give way ever so slightly as the earth turns toward the sun. It is time to head toward the shore.

There, in the grayness of the emerging day, stands a man. A dark non-descript form, he calls out to them through the light fog, “Guys! Do you have any fish?”

They assume he must be a buyer looking for something to sell at market. “No!” they shout back in near unison. Undaunted, the form on the shore replies, “Drop your net on the other side! On the right side. There will be fish there!”

They look at each other, tired and wet, shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Why not?”

As they pull up the net and let it down on the other side, in the depths of the memory of each, something stirs. A sense of déjà vu begins to well in their hearts as they suddenly feel the tension on the net change. The right side of the boat dips.

Fish! Dozens! Big ones!

All at once the small boat is full of activity. The men struggle to pull up the net, fish are flopping all around their feet, and then John recognizes the man on the shore and exclaims, “It is the Lord!”

Instantly, grabbing his garment, Peter jumps into the water and swims to meet Jesus on the shore. His heart beats hard from effort and anticipation.

At once eager and anxious, Peter moves toward Jesus.

====

Now, Peter is an interesting guy. In the book, The World of the New Testament, authored by J.I. Packer and others, it states, “[Peter’s] mannerisms identified him as an uncouth native of the Galilean frontier. [His] volatile, unpredictable temperament often got [him] into trouble.”

Like at the transfiguration when he exclaimed they should pitch tents. Or when he walked on water, and then didn’t, and then did. Or, when the woman touched the robe of Jesus and was healed, and Jesus asked who touched him, and Peter said, “How should we know?” Or when Jesus rebuked Peter by saying, “Get behind me Satan!”

Just days ago in the garden he took out his sword to defend Jesus, cutting off the ear of the high priest’s hapless servant. Then Jesus, in front of the others, rebuked Peter and told him to sheath his sword.

Before that, in front of everyone, Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times. After vehemently saying this would never happen, again in front of the others and in sight of Jesus, with the servant’s blood still on his sword, it’s exactly what Peter did. He denied Christ three times.

Peter failed. Spectacularly.

Now, here he was back at the Sea of Galilee where it all began, where he first met Jesus.

I can only imagine the knot of emotions Peter was experiencing. Guilt, doubts, hopes, fears, self-accusation, and more must have swirled in an awful mess inside him.

Peter climbs dripping from the water. He sees and smells the charcoal fire where Jesus is preparing some fish and bread. He recalls that on the night he denied Jesus, there was a charcoal fire in the courtyard.

Without saying a word, Peter sits by the fire to warm himself. He doesn’t know where to begin.

=====

Okay, I need to wrap this up and get to the point, or points as it were.

What can we glean from this amazing scene?

Quite a bit, actually.

We could be here for another hour at least!

But, for the sake of brevity, there are two major takeaways, with sub-points of course, that I want to focus our attention on.

First, we are shown disciplines for how to respond ourselves when we are faced with pain, adversity, or a difficult challenge.

And second, we are shown how we can minister to others who are in the midst of pain, adversity, or a difficult challenge.

=====

First, when we are facing our own challenges or pain we need to:

  • Do the next right thing

  • Find our familiar

  • Move toward Jesus.

1. Do the next right thing. The 11 disciples were deep in the pain of grief, a place where it’s often hard to know what to do next. Often in pain we exclaim, “I don’t know what to do!” We feel frozen.

But Jesus had given the disciples an instruction. He told them to meet him on the mountain in Galilee. Going to Galilee, for them, was the next right thing to do.

For us, the next right thing could be as simple as getting up and going to work or school. Cleaning the house. Preparing dinner. Taking out the trash. Going to church on Sunday morning. Telling our spouse or a friend, “I love you,” “I forgive you,” or, “I’m sorry.”

If we’re sick, we can go to the doctor and then follow the doctor’s instructions. If we’re in severe emotional distress, we can find a good therapist and seek guidance. Or, at the least, confide in a trusted friend.

The point is that we move forward, making simple, good choices, living out our calling in Christ even in the midst of problems and pain. We simply do the next right thing.

2. Find our familiar. Peter needed a safe distraction -- something he could do with his eyes closed, so to speak -- and what was familiar was right there. So he and six of his companions went fishing.

When tied up in emotional knots and needing some down time to work out the kinks, we need to find our own familiar, and turn to a safe, non-risky activity.

Maybe you like to knit, or do crafts, build things or restore cars. When I’m stressed, sometimes I’ll go for a walk, or doodle in Photoshop on the computer, or even clean the house. Maybe mow the lawn -- just do something mindless and distracting to give my head and heart a break.

We can find relief and comfort when we find our familiar, something we can do on auto-pilot, that takes our mind away from the pain for a time.

Note, this “familiar thing” needs to fit with doing the next right thing. We want to avoid anything risky, unsafe, damaging, sinful, or destructive. The goal is healing not spiritual dissipation. After all, we want to ....

3. Move toward Jesus. Peter was conflicted. Given his failures, he probably wanted to run away from Jesus, to hide in his shame. Yet, despite his anxiety, he knew the better choice was to move toward Jesus. When John said, “It is the Lord!” -- with apprehension but without hesitation, Peter jumped into the water and Michael Phelpsed-it to shore. Then he sat there.

I’ll confess that when BethAnn and I have a tiff and she is at work during the day, even as I’m stewing, I look forward to her coming home. I want reconciliation. But, sometimes, once she’s home, we continue to avoid the issue. Like Peter, we just sit there. It can take a little time for us to reach that place where we can forgive each other. But we always move toward each other just as we should always move toward Jesus.

=====

Next, when we are ministering to others facing pain, a challenge, or adversity, we must:

  • Refrain from condemnation

  • Extend practical care

  • Apply patience.

First, Refrain from condemnation. Jesus knew that Peter especially, but also his six companions, all needed to be ministered to. They needed some hands-on practical care and nurturing. What they didn’t need was a good talking-to or any form of condemnation.

When we or someone else is in pain, acceptance without judgment is essential. When someone is down, this is not the time to lob them with guilt, second-guessing, shoulda-coulda-woulda, or anything critical. We need to be safe with and for each other. Wounds don’t heal when someone keeps picking at them.

I can just imagine Peter sharing this whole story later with the Apostle Paul and exclaiming, “Paul! There was no condemnation from Jesus! None!

Think about it. You can read Romans 8 later.

If any correction is needed, it will be better received after healing and acceptance has happened. When ministering to others, we must refrain from any condemnation.

Second, Extend practical care. After being out all night, they would be wet, cold, and hungry. So, Jesus was there with a fire and food.

This detail is important: He went to the trouble to obtain and prepare a few fish ahead of time -- some appetizers if you will -- so they could quickly slake their hunger as soon as they came ashore. Then he cleaned and cooked more fish from their catch.

Jesus makes sure there’s enough fish prepared so all seven men can have a hearty, restorative meal.

Think of it like this. Jesus brought the casserole, the hot dish, the comfort food, to those who were hungry and hurting. Those who were confused. Those who just needed to be loved.

You can’t teach a hungry kid because all they’re thinking about is being hungry. You need to feed them first.

You can’t give advice to someone who’s exhausted. All they want to do is sleep.

If someone is broke, get them some cash and help them make moves toward a better job. Find them assistance. Meet their needs. Don’t send them away with a “God bless you!” and empty pockets.

When ministering to others, we must extend practical care, even when it’s not directly related to the problem needing fixing.

Third, Apply patience. I really love what Jesus does in this scene. There is no rushing, no heavy discussion, no agenda. There is no push to get to the point or get it over with!

As the men sorted and counted their haul, cleaned the nets, dried out by the fire, Jesus patiently prepared more fish from what they caught. The men have time to do their work, get warm, and be fed. They are together on the shore for hours!

This is an incredibly intimate and personal scene. The resurrected Jesus -- the embodiment of God -- is patiently demonstrating in a very visible manner the great lengths he is willing to go, to care for our needs exactly as we need to be cared for.

I don’t know about you, but when someone shares with me a problem they are experiencing, I want to go straight for the fix. Let’s figure out what we can do and git ‘er done. Now!

Often -- or probably always -- this is the worst possible response to someone who is hurting. Jesus shows us a better way.

When ministering to others, we must apply patience. Liberally.

 =====

Once more, to sum up, when facing our own pain, challenge, or adversity, we need to do the next right thing, find our familiar, and move toward Jesus.

When we are ministering to others, we must refrain from condemnation, extend practical care, and apply patience.

=====

Two more things. I said there was a lot here!

First, many look at this passage and wag their fingers, claiming all 11 were in the wrong place. That they should have made a beeline for the mountain and just waited. Some go further claiming that the seven who went fishing were denying their faith, turning their backs on Jesus, and decided to just be fishermen again.

I guess that’s one way to view this passage. But I don’t see it that way at all. Not once are they reprimanded by Jesus. Not once.

And think about this. What they experience on the mount in Galilee, as we’ll see in a second, Jesus could have told them in Jerusalem. But he -- Jesus -- told them to go to Galilee, where he knew they’d go fishing. Because Jesus knew that’s exactly where they needed to be at this point in their lives. Back where they first heard him declare in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Second, whether addressing our own needs or the needs of others, we must rely on the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 28:16-20, we learn what happened when the eleven finally met Jesus on the mountain:

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Some still doubted, which as Dan explained last week, is not a bad thing. Maybe these doubters were the four who didn’t go out fishing. We don’t know.

What we do know is that Jesus was patient with his disciples, ministered to their needs, and gave them time to come around. And then he sent the Holy Spirit to apply the finishing touches and give them sustaining strength.

We know, in the Holy Spirit, that the volatile, impetuous, failure-prone Peter was transformed from a mere fisherman into a rock solid fisher of men, a dynamic leader of the early church.

We know that all eleven of these multi-flawed men went on to bravely serve Jesus and faithfully carry out this great commission -- bringing many more men and women as messed up as they were into the Kingdom.

Denials, doubts, missteps, failures, guilt, sin --  Jesus redeemed all of it, extended grace with no condemnation, and drew these eleven into great things.

Just as he wants to do with you.

Just as he wants to do with each of us.

=====

 

Let’s pray.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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