Week of August 21

Learning Our Gospel Language

Read: Jeremiah 45-47; Psalm 105; John 21
“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.”
John 21:12, ESV


Life’s little moments often hold large and lasting implications. If ever there was a forever moment, it was found in John’s chapter 21 epilogue. We all know that a great fire often erupts from one tiny spark, but the after-cross-and-burial events had doused thoroughly any last ember of hope in the minds and hearts of Jesus’ disciples. Have I depressed you enough? I’m smiling because hope bursts forth from death into glorious new life (cf. Ephesians 2:1:1-10). So, let’s receive God’s word for our hearts in this passage.

Understanding the Bible Context

Background to the narrative
Without overplaying the symbolism in John, a Bible scholar believes that the night/day image that is used here fits the overall pattern in John’s Gospel (21:3). Whether this is accurate here is uncertain, but there certainly was at least a cloud of sorrow that had darkened the skies of hope for Jesus’ disciples. They had witnessed the brutal miscarriage of justice in Jerusalem, and they also were very likely fearful of the Jews that were on heightened alert for any of Jesus’ followers.

Peter and the others had determined that they would go fishing; after all, this had been their lives before Christ had called them to follow Him (21:3, “I am going fishing”). That group of successful fishermen met with failure, however, which had to compound their utter despair. After all, just a short while before, Jesus, the one in whom they had placed all of their messianic hopes, seemed to have failed in His mission as well.

Oh! There is one other walking catastrophe in this narrative—Peter. He had denied the Lord, and it seems as though everything was standing still in his life. The leader of the disciples was simply going through the motions. Have you ever failed profoundly and found yourself simply wandering aimlessly from one moment to the next? If so, then read on.
Jesus feeds all of our needs
John writes the most curious thing. He records that Jesus was cooking fish on a “charcoal” fire (21:9). Now, why would that be important? John uses this narrative as the scene where Peter’s denial and his reinstatement are linked together before the Lord. I know that you are in a hurry to begin your day but take time to read John 18:8 and then read, again, chapter 21, verse 9. Jesus did not hold the past against Peter—nor does He hold ours against you and me. After all, He had died on the cross for such sin (Romans 3:3; 5:8). He instead throws open the future possibilities for this lead disciple.

Notice also, that the fiery, outspoken disciple Peter, so often burned by his own words, would soon become consumed by another fire—one that would be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4; 2:13-41). I certainly do not believe that this event was simply a “campfire moment” much like you and I have experienced on any number of occasions. This was a gospel-fire moment.
Team meeting to prepare their hearts
for the upcoming global mission
Gospel mission. Jesus was laying the foundation for gospel expansion in this event. Our Lord paid too great a price for our sins to leave us scattered and forlorn. When you and I fail, we should repent and seek His restoration to service. Why do I believe this is the case? Look what Jesus focuses upon in our focal passage. There are two places in all the Gospels where there is a miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11; John 21:11). Bible scholars have provided a considerable number of opinions on the significance of the number “153,” but I’ll leave that pursuit up to each one of you (begin with Borchert, NAC). John, in my view, is tying up all the loose ends to his account of the life and ministry of Jesus, the Christ. These followers were being prepared for their global commissioning service (Acts 1:8).

Abiding presence. Secondly, scholars also focus on the significance of Jesus eating the bread and fish and some draw parallels with the Lord’s supper (NAC). However, while this idea is intriguing, I think that perhaps John was showing simply that Jesus was not a mere ghost since He was eating bread and fish (cf. Luke 24:30-31, 35; Luke 24:41-42). Whether we see eucharistic or simple practical implications in this moment, the truth of Christ’s abiding presence is our encouragement (cf. Matthew 28:18-20, “Lo, I am with you always”). The lesson for you and me seems obvious. Our healing is to be followed with our going, and we are enlivened by His abiding presence. Healing. Going. Abiding. Got it?

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

The Kusunda people, a tiny indigenous group scattered across Central Western Nepal, are unique in that there is only one remaining person who fluently speaks the native language. The dialect has no known origin and contains a number of quirks, like the absence of “yes” or “no.” The language is not related to any other language in the world! Several factors have caused the numbers of this people group to dwindle to 273, so having a personal language is critical to their identity and longevity. You may well imagine how important it will be for the one person who speaks the language to inspire and equip others to do the same.

Here is a campfire reminder which provides us with our words and identity and enables us to flourish. Jesus helps successful “fishermen” to find success at “fishing” (Lord over creation), reminds them that their primary mission to catch people is still operative (Lord of their call), and that they need to labor in His strength or they will fail miserably in the enterprise (Lord of the consequence; 21:6, 11). We all do well to heed this lesson in our own callings and church communities as His disciples.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Take some time to jot down the place(s) where you denied the Lord. Rather than linger in the cold and darkness, meet Him at the fire of forgiveness and commissioning (cf. Isaiah 6:1-8). Secondly, perhaps some upheaval in your past—a failed relationship or tragic death or bitter loss—has left you in the dark about your next steps in life. You need Christ to equip you to share His gospel language. Invite Him to teach, and then send, you to minister to others.

2. For Families: If we are attentive parents, we are able to observe the events that make our children sad or break their hearts for a period of time (especially our teens). It may be a broken relationship, or a feeling of loss or abandonment, or loneliness that they experience. It could be a series of perceived “failures.” There is nothing more painful for a parent than to see our children hurting and not be able to “fix it,” right?

Perhaps, with school starting, this might be a good passage to tuck away for such a time. As your children adjust to a new academic year, with new classrooms and mates and teachers and sports teams, watch for how their hearts respond to these adjustments.

Be ready to share about this fish barbecue on the beach, Jesus’ profound love and forgiveness, and Peter’s reconciliation. Jesus longs for us to bring all of ourselves to Him—the sin, the doubts, the grief, and our sadness. Have a family fish night, and share this story at supper. Celebrate together this post-resurrection-picnic-by-the sea, and the promise of hope it offers for new chapters in our journey of faith!

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock