Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sermon: John 21: 1-14 It is the Lord!

Our niece was telling me the other day about how she was at the beach over the Easter holidays with her friend. A little further along the beach, coming towards them, was someone from their school. And so she started shouting ‘hiya!’ and waving frantically, and started running up to them. And when they were only a few feet apart, she realised that, actually, she didn’t know the girl at all. Had never seen her before. She looked like someone she knew, but it wasn’t her at all! So, completely embarrassed, had to apologise and walk away rather quickly!

The story stuck with me, as I was thinking about this story - and asking the question, how do you recognise someone you know. In that case, the person looked familiar but it wasn’t actually them. So how do you recognise someone? There was a story in the news over the weekend of how a drug dealer was recognised by a photo of their hand, with a fingerprint being matched through the photo found on a phone. Now, that’s high-tech police work, but how does it work in everyday life? How do you recognise someone?

Normally it’ll probably be their face. And, more particularly, their eyes. A study by psychologists at Barcelona University found that it’s the eyes that have it - you look at them first, followed by the shape of the mouth, and then the nose.

If you can’t see their face, you might recognise them by their voice, maybe, or their body shape, or the way they walk or move or do something - their mannerisms and behaviour. As we look at this story, John tells us that it’s all about Jesus appearing again to his disciples. So watch and see how the disciples recognise Jesus. How do they do it?

John tells us how it came about. We’ve relocated from Jerusalem, where chapter 20 took place, back to Galilee, where it all began. The disciples had been following Jesus for three years. They may not have been fishing for a while, and so Peter decides that he’s going to go fishing.

Was he maybe forgetting about the whole Jesus thing? Going back to his old family business? Giving up and going home? Maybe, or maybe he was just going fishing, after a stressful time in the city.

Whatever the reason, he’s with six of the other disciples, and when he announces that he’s going fishing, they all decide to go too. Thomas is there, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee (James and John), and two other disciples.

So they climb into the boat, and spend the night fishing. Or at least, trying to fish. It was a bit like the guy who went out to the river to fish, and all day he got nothing. So he called into the fishmongers on the way home, and asked him to throw a couple of fish at him. Why? asked the fishmonger. So I can say I caught them!

The disciples have caught nothing. Talk about a wasted night. No fish, to eat or sell. What a bunch of fishermen! Maybe they were out of practice; they’d forgotten how to do it; they’d forgotten the tricks of the trade; how to read the waters and the fish and to get a catch.

Now, John lets us into the secret of who is standing on the shore in verse 4. But remember that the disciples don’t know that it’s Jesus. They didn’t realise it was him - they don’t recognise him by sight from a distance.

And Jesus shouts out at them, probably the worst question to ask a group of fishermen. It’s the question that you want to ask, when you see them sitting on the pier or by the river, or in Hillsborough Forest - well, have you any fish? Caught anything? Only, it’s almost worse the way Jesus asks it: ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’

He’s showing that he knows that they don’t have any! He’s making sure that they know he knows they don’t have any! Haven’t you any fish? Now, there’s only one way to answer that, when you don’t have any. ‘No!’ What sort of fishermen are they? They’re the sort of fishermen who didn’t recognise Jesus’ voice either.

So Jesus gives them some advice. ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ (6) Now we’re not told what they thought of someone standing on the shore telling them how to do their job! Maybe it would be like a backseat driver telling you how to drive the car... But like it or not, they did it. And, as verse 6 continues, ‘When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.’

The stranger on the shore knew exactly where the fish were. He knew how to get a large catch. There was only one person who could do that. And the disciples had seen it happen before. On the same lake. After a night of failed fishing. When someone had told them to put their nets in a certain place for a catch. That same someone was now standing on the shore.

They may not have recognised him from a distance, or recognised his voice, but by his actions, it suddenly twigs. ‘Then the disciples whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”’ John recognises Jesus, tells Peter, and excitement suddenly seizes him.

Now, normally when you’re jumping into the water to go swimming, you take off unnecessary clothing, but here Peter puts on his outer cloak to jump into the water. Off he swims, the hundred yards, as the other disciples follow in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. Peter can’t wait for the boat, he wants to get to be with Jesus. Is that our desire? To want to be with him, no matter what it takes? Or do we only want to be with him when it suits?

When they come ashore, they see ‘a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.’ (9) Do you know, whenever I finish preaching, I can be quite hungry. So when I get home this evening, I’ll get the toaster going, and have some supper. Now if that’s after preaching, then I can imagine that after a hard day’s night, working like a dog; sorry, a night of working hard at fishing, the disciples were starving. So Jesus provides for them. He has the beach barbecue lit, and some food already on it. Fish - which he already had - and bread.

I’m sure it smelled good, and tasted good. Perhaps we should have had a bbq tonight! But even though Jesus has it all sorted, he tells them to bring some of the fish they had just caught. Fish which Jesus had also provided for them.

Peter brings the net ashore. It’s full of fish, large fish at that, 153 of them, to be precise. But even with so many, the net wasn’t torn. That figure, 153, is a detail that shows us that this is an eyewitness testimony. They counted the fish, and remembered the figure, it was so impressive.

When Jesus invites them to come and have breakfast, John writes a strange line. Look at verse 12. ‘None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.’ It’s almost as if they know, but still aren’t sure - they can’t quite take it in that the Jesus who was crucified is now alive, and inviting them to eat with him. They dared not ask, because they know it is him.

Jesus himself serves them, taking the bread and giving it to them, and the same with the fish. He supplies their physical needs, as well as confirming that he is indeed alive. Once again he is known and recognised by his actions, by his servant-heart, taking bread and giving it.

This evening, Jesus invites us to his feast - not a breakfast bbq - but the supper of bread and wine, as we recall his death for us and celebrate that he is indeed alive. As you come to the table, take a moment to recognise that the Lord is here, offering us the sustaining food we need. May we know that it is indeed the Lord that we encounter here, as we look forward to the heavenly banquet, when we will see him face to face.

May we have the eagerness of Peter, an earnest and eager desire to be with the Lord - not just here in this building, but everywhere we go, to know his presence with us, his power within us.

It may have taken them a while to recognise him, not by his body shape, or by his voice, but eventually by his familiar action, the supernatural provision of the catch of fish. But once they knew it was the Lord, they rejoiced, and they went to be with him - the third time he appeared to them, after he was raised from the dead. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 15th April 2018.

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