4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.”
6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.
7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.
8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.
9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”
“Providence” is a word that has somewhat fallen into disuse. We hardly use that word any more, and when we do, it is most often used as a synonym for foresight or dumb luck. We rarely use the word “providence” for what it literally means: nourishment or needs that are provided for us, most often by someone other than ourselves. In archaic usage–e.g. in the Declaration of Independence–“Providence” (capital “P”) was used as a synonym for God, primarily in His capacity as provider of our spiritual and physical well-being. While God is most certainly our Righteous Judge, He is also our caring Provider, our source of life. And if God Himself does not directly provide our daily needs, He will at least lead us in His way so that we find the providence we need.
In today’s verses from the Gospel of John, we see a wonderful example of Jesus guiding His disciples to their providence. The scene takes place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee–called here the “Sea of Tiberias”–some short time after the Resurrection and Jesus’ first appearances among the disciples. Simon Peter decided to go fishing, and some of his fellow disciples accompanied him. (John 21:2-3) On their own that night, they caught nothing, but the next morning, while they were still a few hundred feet from the shore, Jesus appeared and called from the shore and directed them where to cast their nets.
This is almost a mirror image of a similar scene in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus first calls Simon, Andrew, James and John. (Luke 5:1-11) In that scene, the fisherman are similarly discouraged by a night without a catch, but when Jesus goes out in the boat with them and directs them to a catch too big to haul in, they are immediately convinced of Jesus’ divinity. Simon Peter prostrates himself, worshipping the Lord Jesus on a pile of fish in his boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. It’s quite a scene.
Here in the Gospel of John, we similarly see the fisherman unable to catch a thing on their own, but this time Jesus is not in the boat, He is on the shore. He directs their catch, and when they come to shore, He already has fish on a small fire, and bread beside it. (v.9) Nonetheless, although He has already made a meal for the men, He tells them to bring over their own catch, too.
There is much to learn from this scene on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
First of all, although Jesus is not in the boat, He is still directing the way, still helping them find the best place and the best way to have the biggest catch. These disciples are to become fishers of men, and so their work must be directed by the Lord Jesus or it will not be fruitful. Jesus will direct us to the right side (literally and figuratively), so that we will reap great bounty for His kingdom. We need to be open to following His leadership, knowing that even though He is not physically “in the same boat,” He will direct us with His Word and by His Spirit.
Secondly, we see that Jesus provided for their basic needs. Jesus asked them if they had any food, seemingly because He Himself was hungry. But as we see, He was easily able to provide for Himself. Instead, Jesus was asking if THEY had any food, if their own work had provided them what they needed. The lesson is, of course, that God will provide. Our task is to be obedient and not worry about providing for ourselves. And whether we come ashore with a great catch or a small catch, we will find Jesus waiting for us with food and warmth and fellowship.
Finally, we must look at what Simon Peter did and how Jesus responded to that. When John pointed out that the man on the shore was Jesus, Peter got excited, jumped out of the boat, and swam to the shore to see Him. But instead of welcoming the disciple with open arms, Jesus reminded him to bring in the catch. You see, as much as we love the Lord Jesus, we must not abandon our obedience just to spend more time with Him. Yes, we ought to fellowship with the Lord, worship God in Spirit and in truth, but we must not abandon our commission to share the gospel with all creatures. (Mark 16:15) As the apostle John wrote, the gospel was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) The gospel is worthless if it is not shared. God Himself has breathed His holy Word and caused it to be written down so that we can share it, use it as the net to catch more men and women for the kingdom of God. We cannot abandon the gospel just because Jesus is now in our lives. Jesus brought us the gospel, now we must bring it to others.
Abraham knew God as “Yahweh Yireh” (or “Jehovah Jireh”): “God-Will-Provide.” (Genesis 22:13-14) Our Lord and Savior will provide us with guidance for our faith and our work for His kingdom. If we seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, then He will provide for our basic needs. And if we are obedient to God’s will for our lives, we will reap a great catch–and others will be there to help us with it.
As I am writing this in the early morning, the birds are providing a joyful chorus. It is, after all, Resurrection Sunday, and all Creation celebrates the risen Lord Jesus–the One whom God provided to bear the burden of our sin, the One who provided the life which we in our sin had abandoned. Let us today join in the chorus of praise for the God who provides, the God who is always asking us if we have enough, the God who will, if we are but obedient to His will, always provide all we need to serve and to live. Praise be to God, our Providence!
Father In heaven, our Provider and our Redeemer, praise be to Your holy name! We on our own cannot always find the best way to serve You. So, please, Lord God, direct our ways. Lead us in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake, and provide for us just our own daily bread–no more, no less. Feed us on Your Word, but also feed our bodies so that we can be strong for Your service. Bless this people, O Lord, as we praise Your Son, our Savior, Christ Jesus. Amen.