A Starboard Suggestion: Red Letter Year 12/30

John 20.30 – 21.14

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by trusting him you will have life by the power of his name.

21.1 Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. 2 Several of the disciples were there — Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

3 Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”

“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

4 At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. 5 He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”

“No,” they replied.

6 Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

7 Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. 8 The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. 9 When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them — fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.

10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

12 “Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. 14 This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.


This is such an interesting passage. The disciples are together, it seems like they were sitting around doing nothing, so Peter decided to go fishing. I have heard some sermons treat this as Peter giving up and returning to his prior career. I think that reads too much into Peter’s action and reads it through the lens of vocational ministry, which is a rather recent phenomenon. The text doesn’t suggest anything negative by Peter’s decision to go fishing. When Jesus appears, he does not rebuke them, he helps them succeed, so he couldn’t have been too offended that they were fishing. We shouldn’t be either.

Jesus says four things to the disciples in today’s reading. First, he asks how they are doing (v. 5). Jesus shows real interest in their activities, he wants to know if they are succeeding. When they tell him that they are not doing well, that despite working all night, they have nothing to show for it, Jesus makes a second statement, a “starboard suggestion” as commentator Dale Bruner puts it. They take Jesus’ advice and then things go very well, so well the net can’t contain all the fish they have suddenly caught (and I love how the specific number is given, 153 fish in all).

I hardly ever talk about this because in our culture too many pastors make way too much of it. But, success does matter to Jesus. He didn’t call us to sit around twiddling our thumbs, he called us to make disciples, to love neighbors, to convince the world that God loves them and Jesus is here for them and that we care for them. We can get too wrapped up in a worldly definition of success, but at the same time every fish gets counted, every person who comes to Jesus matters. We should be counting, we should be growing, our nets should be bursting. If that is not the case, we should expect Jesus to make a starboard suggestion to us, a “hey, try this,” that will in some ways be the opposite of what we are doing. We can get stuck in the status quo, we can resist what Jesus tells us, or we can take his advice and catch a net full.

What can keep us grounded and safe from how our culture can run too far with success and counting is what Jesus says next. The disciples get to shore to find a fire already hot enough to cook on, and both fish and bread ready to eat. Jesus invites them to bring some of their fish too, but the meal was not dependent on them catching anything. Their provision was already secure and waiting for them. We can get caught up thinking that growing our churches or ministries is about providing for ourselves (again this is tied to the idea of vocational ministry, getting paid to pastor), but our provision does not come from our own effort and is not the point at all of making disciples and loving neighbors.

Then the last thing Jesus says is, “come eat.” He serves them the food (once again) and the implication there is that Jesus shared the meal with them. The resurrected Jesus cooking breakfast and eating food. John takes this one last opportunity to stress both the humanity and divinity of Jesus – here that these are both still in tact after the resurrection. We are specifically told that these things are presented so we will trust Jesus, trust him as Messiah, trust him as the Son of God, trust him as the Word made flesh, trust him as fully God and fully human. We can trust Jesus when he makes starboard suggestions. We can trust him to care about and assist in our success in growing his kingdom. we can trust him for provision. We can trust him to be present with us like one sharing a meal is present to his friends.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.