April 15, 2018
There are a number of living trees present in our back yard. I engage with their presence on a daily basis when I am in the back yard and am present with them. When I am at the church those trees are not present with me although I can think about them if I want to. I can think about how they need to be pruned. So those trees impact my life while I am at church, but only as I bring them to mind.
This morning we want to think about the presence of Jesus. Is Jesus present with us? Or is Jesus localized in heaven at the right hand of the Father? Is he only present to me as I think about him or is he actually with me whether I think about him or not? We are looking at Jn.21:1-14. It is the epilogue of John’s Gospel. As we consider these verses I want to point out that in our life with Jesus Christ, He is always present.
I. JESUS IS PRESENT IN LIFE’S MUNDANE DISAPPOINTMENTS. Jn.21:1-4
John recounts three post resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. The first appearance took place on Easter Sunday. In that appearance Jesus said that in the same way that the Father had sent him into the world, so he was sending them into the world. Jesus was commissioning his disciples to take the gospel into the world. The second appearance occurred a week later when Thomas was with the disciples. And the third appearance took place in Galilee.
In the Synoptic gospels we learn that after his resurrection Jesus told his disciples they should go to Galilee and that he would meet them there. So here in Jn.21:1 we find seven of the disciples in Galilee. Why did Jesus tell them to go to Galilee? There are a number of good thoughts about this. I just want to note that the disciples were largely from the area of Galilee. They had just been through a very stressful time as they saw Jesus betrayed and crucified. They were living in a state of fear of the Jewish leaders and so returning to Galilee was a welcomed respite. They were home.
Think about it. For the previous three years they had been traveling around, doing ministry with Jesus. They had been busy. But now what? Jesus was not physically present with them all the time. They didn’t really know what to do. So Peter decides to go fishing.
And why not? I have heard preachers suggest that Peter was going back to the old life of fishing. He was despondent and felt guilty for denying the Lord. “I’m going fishing.” It may have been like that, but not necessarily. They all may have felt unsettled. They lacked clarity about what they were supposed to be doing. Have you ever felt that way? Maybe you are between jobs and weeks are turning into months and you just don’t know what you should do.
That is not a time to sit around and do nothing. Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” Nothing like fishing to clear your mind! So they get into the boat and they fish all night and catch nothing. These men were experienced fishermen. They knew what they were doing, but they caught nothing.
I imagine they were tired and a bit disappointed. If they had caught some fish they could have at least sold them in the market and gotten some money. They would have food. But there were no fish. They had nothing to show for their effort. It was time wasted.
It is not uncommon to feel this way as we live our lives. We begin a career or a job and years later we wake up and we wonder, “What have I even accomplished in my life?” What do I have to show for my efforts? And if we were successful in one area of life, we may feel that we neglected other important areas and we have regrets.
But I wonder if there isn’t more going on here. They had pretty much lived in the presence of Jesus for those years. I imagine that in his absence there was a sense of being alone. They were fishing but not with Jesus. I wonder if they thought back to the time recorded in Lk.5 when after they had fished all night, Jesus told them to let down their nets. Peter had protested, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." A large number of fish were caught. At that moment, Peter fell to his knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
I believe that during the days immediately following the resurrection, Jesus was beginning to teach his disciples something very important for the years to come. His disciples would have to learn how to abide in the presence of Jesus when Jesus was not physically present with them. They would have to learn how to do their work with an ongoing confidence that even though they could not see Jesus, he was with them and they could trust him. In their work of making disciples there would be many more days of fruitless effort and response, just like their empty nets. They would have to trust in Jesus.
In v.4 we read, “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” Jesus was present; they didn’t know it. Now we have never experienced the physical presence of Jesus with us. We are followers of Jesus but we live on this side of the Ascension. We have only known the indwelling Holy Spirit. Sometimes we wish we could see Jesus because even though we have the Holy Spirit, we are not always living with the confidence that Jesus is with us. But he is with us. He is with us in all of life, even in life’s most mundane and disappointing moments. And we need him. This is why it is important to seek to cultivate an awareness in our minds that Jesus is present with us.
II. JESUS IS PRESENT TO ORDER OUR STEPS. Jn.21:5-8
The disciples may not have been able to clearly see the person standing on shore. But Jesus calls out, “Guys, do you have any fish?” The answer came back, “No!” And Jesus yelled back, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” And Peter said, “Who is that guy?” Only kidding! And so that’s what they do. And indeed, they don’t just find some fish, they find more fish than they can handle.
In v.7 we read, “That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" Most think this is referring to John. You remember that at the tomb John saw the grave cloths and the folded face cloth and he believed. John seemed to have an intuitive sense about spiritual things. Seeing the miraculous catch of fish, John knew it was Jesus. He tells Peter and Peter immediately puts on his outer garment, girding it up so he can swim. He jumps in the water. Did he swim for shore? The text doesn’t say, but we presume so because in v.8 we read that “the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish.”
In Lk.5 when Jesus told the disciples to let down their nets for a catch, he was in the boat with them. In Mk.4 when the disciples were in the boat on the stormy sea of Galilee, Jesus was in the boat with them and he said, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind and waves grew calm. We have that little chorus, “With Christ in the vessel we can smile at the storm.” But this time, Jesus was not in the boat. In fact, the disciples did not think Jesus was anywhere near them. But he was! Not only was he near, he knew what they needed to hear in order to catch some fish. He gave the guidance they needed. And he gave the guidance they needed after they had come to the end of their night of fishing.
Now if there is a lesson many of us need to learn, it is the importance of recognizing Jesus as a person to whom we can confidently go to for guidance and wisdom. The other day I was skating at noon skate and saw some of my hockey buddies. One is pretty much of an agnostic. We were talking and I mentioned that I believe Jesus is the most brilliant, up-to-date person alive today. He said, “Is that what you believe?” I said, “Yes.” Certainly we get that sense when we read the gospels, and since Jesus is alive today, he is still the most brilliant, up-to-date person. So if that is the case then doesn’t it make sense that we would consider Jesus worthy of consulting on just about any and every matter? Dallas Willard used to say, that when you pray, “Jesus will come right up to you.” Willard believed deeply in the living and present reality of Jesus Christ.
But the fact that Jesus waits until the disciples have expended themselves in their fishing is also instructive. I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus always waits until the last moment, but it does often seem that way. We ask our questions in prayer and then we wait. But we are not much good at waiting and so it is not uncommon for us to go ahead anyway. Jesus was present and he initiated the conversation. And he gave the needed information.
And Jesus still does the same thing today. He is interested in seeing us thrive as his followers in this world. In 2Pt.1:2-3 we read, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
It is never too late to begin learning to listen for the Lord’s guidance. In prayer we present our requests and concerns and we ask for his guidance. And then we listen. Now if you do this and you don’t hear anything and you need to make a decision then commit it to the Lord and make the best decision you can. But continue to practice bringing your concerns to the Lord and listening. Ask him to order or direct your steps. He has the guidance you need to flourish as his follower in this world.
III. JESUS IS PRESENT TO PROVIDE FOR OUR NEEDS. Jn.21:9-14
The disciples made it to shore dragging the fish. When they landed they saw a charcoal fire already lit and they could smell some fish being grilled and they saw some bread. That must have been a welcome sight. Jesus was providing breakfast.
But then Jesus says, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” That statement is suggestive of an important truth for Christian living. Jesus invites us into the work that he is doing. He invites us to bring our labor, our talents, our abilities and skills in order that we might participate with him. Every day we live, every place we go, Jesus is already present and at work. He call us to come and bring what we have to join him. He is working from within the invisible kingdom of God that is all around us and we serve as the visible expression of his kingdom work in the world.
What would you think if the disciples pulled up on shore, unloaded their fish, started their own fire, and grilled their own breakfast? Would that not have been a rejection of Jesus? As followers of Jesus Christ we are not in this world to do our own thing. Ideally we do not have a thing of our own to do. We are doing the work of Jesus in all that we do. Everything we do and have we bring under the rule of Jesus.
Peter hauls the net ashore. Jesus says, “Come and have breakfast.” “Breakfast is served!” This had a profound impact on the disciples. Remember, this was only the third time they had seen Jesus. It seems to me that the familiarity which they once enjoyed with Jesus had taken on a deep sense of wonder and awe. This is profound! And yet, notice that Jesus is still serving his people. He is Lord of heaven and earth and he is still serving you and me.
In fact, when Jesus sent his disciples out he said to them, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” When Jesus was teaching on prayer, he told his disciples, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Later the apostle Paul would testify to God’s faithful provision in Phil.4:19. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus gives us his life in the kingdom of God. He calls us into his work to make disciples of himself. He promises to give the guidance we need to live as his disciples in this world. And he shows that he is more than able to provide for our needs as we live for him in this world.
The trees in my backyard have a presence, but my ability to perceive what they might communicate, if they communicate at all, is pretty much nonexistent. Jesus, on the other hand, is a living human being who is God and who has no limitation in his ability to be present to us and to communicate with us. He dwells in us. As we daily make ourselves available to him he will provide what we need to live life with him in this world. Amen