by Samantha Shrauner
Have you had the experience of racing through a terrific read? For the first time in years, I recently found a book that I found difficult to put down. Engaging characters, elements of danger, and ingenious problem solving combined to weave a riveting tale. Good narratives build to a tense and exciting climax with a dramatic resolution. It’s a great moment when the victory is won and the enemy has been defeated. But as enjoyable as it is to reach the resolution, the most satisfying stories don’t finish with a moment of high-stakes drama, but a quiet scene of life returned to equilibrium. Readers get to enjoy a few more moments with characters they have grown to love, any lingering questions are answered, and we get a sense of what comes next.
Good epilogues build on what has come before to point forward to the future.
In the drama of Jesus versus sin and death, the resurrection has provided a resounding victory. Our greatest needs have been met: death has been defeated, relationship with God has been restored, and we are no longer slaves to sin. For those who have trusted in Jesus’ death and resurrection, our lives are forever changed. The events of Easter Sunday have brought a dramatic resolution to the story of Christ’s earthly ministry. But the question lingers… what comes next? We’ve celebrated Easter, we believe in the resurrection, and we know that we have new life in Christ. What does it look like to build our lives on this truth that we celebrate?
As we come to the end of John’s Gospel, John seeks to give his readers a glimpse of what comes next for the disciples and all those who believe in Jesus. (1) After glorious Easter appearances and the explosive excitement of the resurrection, Jesus appears to seven disciples after a long night of unsuccessful fishing. In John 21:1-14, we see the reality of life in a broken world, the power of the risen Saviour, and the compassion of our Servant King.
When we wonder what life between the resurrection and eternity holds, we can come to this passage to see how Jesus cares for his people between here and there.
Life After Easter
1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 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
Everything has changed, and some things are exactly the same. The disciples have seen Jesus raised from the dead, and they have been sent to tell the world what they have witnessed. After Jesus ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost, they will give their lives to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. But real life means that hunger is a daily reality. Samuel Ngewa points out that “hunger comes to everyone, even a disciple of Jesus!” (2) The disciples have physical needs with physical solutions. Simon Peter leads six other disciples and they get on a boat to fish.
John provides enough detail for us to picture the scene in our minds. Seven men, disciples of Jesus, are on a boat fishing throughout the night. Every time they throw the net in the water it comes back empty. Readers know that Jesus is about to appear, but for the men in the boat the long hours must have been a discouraging experience.
Just like the disciples, our lives are full of daily needs and disappointments. In light of the resurrection, the big questions of life are settled and secure. Christians need not fear eternity or wonder if they are loved; in Christ we have eternal life and have been adopted as children of God. But the realities of life are never far away. We live in a world of hunger, fatigue, and empty nets. We know that God cares about our eternity, but does God care about our daily needs as well? Is Jesus present with us in the gap between eternal life and shopping for groceries? In the following verses, John will show how Jesus cares for his people in the ordinary grind of life between Easter and eternity.
A Present and Powerful Saviour
4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. John 21:4-8
Jesus’ generosity extends to the disciples even when they do not recognise that he is present with them. He did not wait for them to ask him for help or realise who he is. In the presence of Jesus, an empty net becomes so full that the disciples are not able to bring it into the boat. After a night of failed fishing, Jesus comes to them in their need and offers provision. Throughout the Gospel of John we have seen that Jesus has power over heaven and earth. In our world, power is often used as a means to control, oppress, and intimidate. Jesus uses his power to bless his disciples and care for their needs. He uses power to serve, never to exploit.
John, the Beloved Disciple, recognises Jesus and tells Peter. Upon hearing that the man on the shore is Jesus, Peter rushes out of the boat - still one hundred yards from the shore - in his haste to be with him. Peter’s mind is not on the fish that Jesus has provided but on Jesus himself. Jesus gives good gifts, but Peter desires his Saviour’s presence above everything else. This is not to suggest that the other disciples were in error for staying with the boat and dragging the net to shore. They honour Jesus by stewarding what he has provided for them. The disciples show that there are many ways to bring glory to God.
When we come against the daily difficulties of life, we can turn to a Saviour who is present and powerful.
Our lives and circumstances are different from this night on the Sea of Tiberias, but Jesus is the same. The epilogue of John shows that Jesus is not only concerned with our greatest spiritual needs, but our daily cares as well. After the resurrection he continues to minister to his disciples and provide for them in abundance. Ngewa says “Jesus wanted to remind them that he would provide for their daily situations and needs.” (3) In every need, from the trivial to the life-threatening, we can come to a Saviour who is near and cares for us. When your needs are many and life is heavy with disappointment, bring your cares to our compassionate Saviour.
A King Who Serves
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:9-14
In John 10:10 Jesus tells his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” In the post-Easter epilogue we get a glimpse of abundant life: breakfast with Jesus on the beach while the sun comes up. One of the members of my Sunday care group reflected on how tangible this scene is, with Jesus and the disciples on the beach with a warm fire and tasty food. There are few things in life more splendid than a good meal in a beautiful place with people that you love. Evangelist Glen Scrivener describes resurrection hope this way: “it’s country walks and heartwarming talks, mind-blowing preachers and breakfast on beaches, feasting and family and peace and grace, and Jesus, our battle-scarred brother face to face.” (4) Jesus is not a stern and cold Saviour, he comes to welcome his disciples with a meal and a celebration. The world is still a place of trouble and distress, and Jesus also told his disciples that they would have trials and tribulations. There is no promise that life will be full of idyllic scenes, but in the midst of a broken world we walk with a Saviour who is generous and kind. In the present we can have glimpses, and in the future with Jesus we will know abundant life in its fullness.
In this passage Jesus the resurrected King is also a servant. He has prepared a fire with fish and bread, and in verse 13 Jesus hands out food to the disciples. The Anointed One— full of power and glory, the one who defeated death and will reign eternally— serves his friends breakfast. Jesus in his glory and victory is not far away, aloof and distant. Jesus is near, full of compassion and generosity. Follow your Saviour’s example of humble service. See the needs of those around you and care for them in Jesus’ name. And when you feel the weight of a broken world, do not hesitate to carry your burdens to the servant King. Jesus reigns in glory, and he also has compassion for our needs. He did not leave us in our sin but came and died to reconcile us to God. Do not fear that Christ’s glory means he is far away.
When needs and disappointments weigh you down, bring your cares to our compassionate Saviour.
John 21:1-14 is the start of a satisfying ending, one that points backward to what has come before and forward to what comes next. In this passage we see how the disciples have moved into life after Easter. The reality of the resurrection has changed the world forever, but the realities of life remain the same. In their need and disappointment Jesus comes the disciples and cares for them. He is present with them and provides for their need with his great power. Jesus invites them to a meal and humbly serves. In Jesus we find a Saviour who cares for our greatest needs and our smallest cares. When life feels far away from the joy of Easter Sunday, bring your cares to our compassionate Saviour and know that he is near.
(1) Edward Klink provides a good explanation of John 21 as an epilogue. Edward Klink, John: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 890-894.
(2) Samuel M. Ngewa, “John” in Africa Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1322
(3) Ngewa, 1322
(4) Glen Scrivener, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tomb,” (Speak Life: 23 March 2018), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4OPhR9Pq34, accessed 5 May 2020