Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 17, 2013

Sermon on John 21:1-14


 Text: John 21:1-14


He is risen! He is risen indeed!

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. This sermon has stumped me. This morning we are slated to study the third resurrection appearance of Jesus to a group of his disciples, recorded in the Gospel for today from John 21. When a Lutheran pastor takes a look at a Scripture selection that will direct his sermon, he looks for a couple of things. One thing he looks for is a specific sin or problem in the reading that will address a specific sin or problem in the lives of God’s people today: How does God’s law condemn us and call us to repentance in this reading? The other thing the pastor looks for is a specific or direct way in the reading that the good news of Jesus’ saving and forgiving work is presented: How does the gospel of Jesus comfort us with Christ’s peace and forgiveness, even (and especially) for the sins that this reading points out in our hearts and lives?

As I looked at this reading all week, I can’t say that I saw any specific sin or problem in this account that needs to be addressed, confessed, and forgiven through this reading. Like I said, this sermon has stumped me. But we also know that the Holy Spirit doesn’t waste his words. If the words about this post-Easter breakfast with Jesus and his disciples were recorded for us in Scripture and preserved for us today, they must have a purpose for us, especially in this Easter season. This Easter breakfast account with the risen Lord surely has something to say to us. So maybe the best thing for us to do is to work through this account together and discover not only what happened in John 21 but what this account has to say to God’s people who have gathered here for worship today.


 The Gospel for today begins, Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘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.” Chapter 20 ends with Jesus’ disciples gathered together one week after Easter Sunday. Now John adds another account to our list of post-Easter appearances of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples have gone north to Galilee, and for a while they return to their previous lives as fishermen. Maybe that’s the “problem” in this reading. Why did they leave Jerusalem? Why did they go home? Why are they out fishing? Are they slacking in their work as witnesses of the risen Jesus? 

Actually, on the morning of his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the women who left his tomb and told them that he would meet his disciples in Galilee, so we cannot assume that they are shirking their apostolic duties at this point. That doesn’t seem to be the problem here.

Fishing didn’t go well. The most excitement they had fishing that night came at sunrise. “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered.” At sunrise, Jesus called out to them, but they didn’t recognize him. Maybe that’s the problem. They had encountered Jesus twice before as a group. They knew he was risen. Had they forgotten so quickly? How could they have missed the fact that he was appearing to them again?

But that might be assuming the worst about the situation. The disciples were about the length of a football field off shore. The daylight isn’t all that bright. It’s hard to imagine that they would have been able to clearly identify anyone on shore. Failing to recognize Jesus doesn’t really seem like the problem here, either.

I’m not sure what they thought when this apparent stranger told them to toss their nets on the other side of the boat, but we do know what they thought after they took his advice. “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. 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. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.”

This miraculous post-Easter catch of fish led John to realize that the stranger on the shore was no stranger; it was Jesus! And as soon as John said that Jesus, “the Lord,” was on the shore, Peter, typical of his personality, immediately jumped out of the boat and headed toward shore as the rest of the group followed him with their miraculously large catch of fish. Jesus appeared to be preparing an Easter breakfast for his disciples, who after a night of fishing were probably tired and hungry. He invited them to bring some of their freshly caught fish in and add them to the fire. “Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

So often the disciples showed a great lack of trust in Jesus. Luke’s Gospel tells us that some of them still had doubts right before Jesus ascended into heaven. Maybe that’s the disciples’ problem here. Maybe they doubted Jesus. Maybe they didn’t fully trust him or fully accept his resurrection. But we have no indication of that here. They obeyed him even before they knew it was him! And once they realized it was him, could they have been more eager to come ashore and interact with him directly? There are no signs of doubt here; John said, “They knew it was the Lord.” Despite their past track record of doubt, I don’t think we can accuse them of that here.

I don’t see any kind of specific problem on the part of the disciples. Our reading concludes rather matter-of-factly: “This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” I find it interesting that the word translated “appeared,” is the same word used way back in chapter two of John’s Gospel in the account of Jesus changing water into wine. There the same word is translated, “reveal.” “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” This resurrection appearance of Jesus did the same thing for his disciples: It revealed his glory and power as the risen Lord, and it left no doubt in their minds that Jesus had, in fact, risen from the dead.


And as soon as I said that, I think I saw where the problem was. The “problem” is not a problem we see in the disciples in this reading, but it is a problem we see in our world and in ourselves through this reading.

There is a good segment of our population that doubts and denies that a resurrection from the dead is possible. There are lots of people in our world who argue that the Easter accounts are religious fiction. And in order to stand up for our faith, it is good for us from time to time to study the way the Bible has come down to us today. The best place to do that is probably a Bible class and not necessarily a sermon. But when we embark on a study like that, we quickly realize that the New Testament Easter accounts are written as fact, that the once cowardly disciples of Jesus defended Jesus’ resurrection as fact even when it cost them their lives, and that the transmission of the New Testament is so incredibly accurate that even highly acclaimed but unbelieving scholars of our day have admitted that there is no better preserved document from the ancient world than the New Testament. I have no doubt that the “majority report” here is that the resurrection is real and that our forgiveness before God and our hope of heaven is attached to our faith in Jesus’ resurrection.

The problem is not recognizing the facts. The problem is putting our faith in those resurrection facts and in our resurrected Savior. If Jesus claimed to be God who took on human flesh to die as the payment for the world’s sin and who would rise to conquer death for us—and then if he actually rose from the dead as he promised, then you’d think we would have all the reason in the world to trust and follow everything else he has to say to us. If someone predicts his own resurrection and then keeps his promise, doesn’t that suggest that everything else he has to say is reliable and trustworthy?

The guy who rose from the dead said to rid ourselves of every sinful influence. Jesus once said, If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30). But how often don’t we flirt with the very lusts Jesus told us to flee from, and entertain the very sin Jesus told us to stay away from?

The guy who rose from the dead said to trust that God watches over us and takes care of our needs just as he cares for the lesser creatures of this world “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26). And yet when times are tough or when life doesn’t go our way, we doubt that Jesus’ words are true or that he even cares for us.

The guy who rose from the dead said to always be on watch for his return, when the dead will rise at the final judgment. Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13). But we have so many other cares and concerns. “I wake up and I’m already 15 minutes behind. Who has time for a devotion? Who has time for prayer?” And if the snooze button is more attractive on some Sunday than an hour of time in God’s Word, well, it’s no big deal, right?

As much as we believe the facts of Jesus’ resurrection, you’d think we’d take the words and warnings of the man who rose from the dead more seriously. But, oh, how our sinful nature gets the best of us! Oh, how we can recite “On the third day he rose from the dead” after the sermon, but then live like he never rose after the service. Oh, how we need a rescue from the sinful nature within us that keeps fighting against the faith God has given us.

And that is precisely why we need this resurrection account, and every account of the risen Lord that the Holy Spirit has placed inside the covers of Scripture. Every time we encounter the risen Jesus in his Word, the words of St. Paul are emphasized: “[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The risen Jesus who appeared to his disciples assures you that your fleeting lusts and sinful worry and spiritual apathy have been replaced with the “Not guilty!” verdict he gave you through his resurrection. The risen Jesus who dispelled the doubts of his disciples by his resurrection dispels any doubts of his love for us by extending his nail-scarred hands to us and saying, “You are forgiven.” The risen Jesus who conquered your grave assures you that in Holy Baptism you have been connected to his resurrection and because of that connection, heaven is in your future.


Our two biggest problems are the guilt of our sin and the reality of our death. But Jesus has solved both of those problems for us. His death has paid the penalty we should have experienced because of our sin, and his resurrection proves that the worst result of sin—death—has been defeated on our behalf. And so to have one more concrete testimony of Jesus’ resurrection in this “Easter breakfast” account is exactly what our souls need to hear, because you can I cannot receive enough assurance of this central truth: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.



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