“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.” (John 21:1-3)
There is not one believer who has never disappointed the Lord by either failing to do what was right or doing what the Lord declares is wrong. Peter is my favorite apostle. He always has been. I can identify with Peter on so many levels. Peter had a lot of rough edges of which the Lord Jesus sovereignly smoothed. Rough edges such as arrogance, self-assurance, and independence which ultimately were refined to become godly humility, assurance and dependence upon the Lord.
John 21 provides us with a wonderful scene of restoration and recommitment following Peter’s three-fold denial of the Lord Jesus (John 18:24-27). The gracious restoration comes from God. The resulting recommitment comes from us based upon God’s gracious restoration.
Today’s text begins with the Apostle John recounting a post-resurrection appearance by Jesus to some of the eleven disciples. It occurred at the Sea of Tiberias, otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee. The disciples involved include Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee (James and John himself), and two others which John does not identify by name.
As usual, Peter announced what he is going to do and the rest followed. What Peter decided to do is revealed when he said, “I am going fishing.” What did Peter mean by this statement? Was he simply going to spend a leisurely afternoon with some of his buddies? Or was there something more significant by his words?
There are some who comment that Peter and the other disciples went to Galilee out of obedience to the Lord’s command to meet Him there (Matthew 28:16). Fishing, which was there former occupation, was a way in which to occupy their time while they waited for Jesus to appear.
However, when we look more closely at Peter’s words which John records, something more is contained. Peter said, “I am going fishing.” The phrase, “I am going” is one word in the Greek (Ὑπάγω; Hypago). It is a present active indicative verb. The meaning behind this statement is that whatever Peter intended to do, he was going to be doing it continually. What was it that occupied Peter’s thoughts?
He said that what he intended to do was to go fishing. The verb “fishing” (ἁλιεύειν; halieuein) is a present active infinitive verb. It expresses a declared purpose. Is it possible that what Peter now intended to do was to return to a life and livelihood of fishing? We cannot be sure. However, it would seem understandable for Peter to return to the occupation he had known, and in which he had been successful, in light of his recent failure as one of Jesus’ disciples wherein he denied the Lord Jesus three times.
What we do know is that the other previously mentioned disciples accompanied Peter. We also know that after a night of fishing, they caught nothing.
Puritan commentator Matthew Henry writes, “That night they caught nothing, though, it is probable, they toiled all night, as Luke 5:1-5. See the vanity of this world; the hand of the diligent often returns empty. Even good men may come short of desired success in their honest undertakings. We may be in the way of our duty, and yet not prosper. Providence so ordered it that all that night they should catch nothing, that the miraculous draught of fishes in the morning might be the more wonderful and the more acceptable. In those disappointments which to us are very grievous God has often designs that are very gracious. Man has indeed a dominion over the fish of the sea, but they are not always at his beck; God only knows the paths of the sea, and commands that which passeth through them.”
John Calvin writes, “God often tries believers, that He may lead them the more highly to value His blessing.”
How have you attempted to move on from when you disappointed the Lord? How has He chosen to restore you? Take heart, God has a way in which He mends broken vessels. Even fishermen.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!