Surprising Places ("It is the Lord!")

Text: John 21:1-14
Date: Easter III + 4/14/13

As we noted last Sunday John 20:30-31 was clearly meant to be the conclusion of this apostle’s gospel. The addition of another resurrection appearance by Jesus in chapter 21, therefore, makes us ask why he was originally planning on leaving this out. And, if he originally planned on leaving out this resurrection appearance, it makes us wonder further if there were even more resurrection appearances of which we’ve never been told. Think of St. Paul’s mention of the risen Jesus appearing “to more than five hundred brothers at one time” (1 Cor 15:6). What are we to make of this additional resurrection appearance by the sea of Tiberius, that is, of Galilee?

Unlike the other resurrection appearances of which we’ve been told, this one includes the performance of miracles—the miraculous catch of many large fish and Jesus’ supplying a breakfast out of nothing for these seven disciples. Just His post-resurrection appearances are miraculous in themselves. You may recall another time Jesus did something similar to today’s miracle during His state of humiliation, when He provided a large catch of fish and then said to Peter and the others, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10-11). The differences in today’s text are interesting and point to a different purpose. In the first miracle the disciples are told to change their location, “putting out into the deep” (Luke 5:4). Here they change only the side of the boat they’re fishing on which you wouldn’t think would make any predictable difference. In Luke 5 Peter is afraid and repents and requests some distance, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Here Peter immediately seeks to be closer to and with the Lord. The first miracle served to recruit the fishermen as disciples. Here the Lord demonstrates how it will be Himself that acts and gives success through their service as apostles and ministers in the future.

This resurrection appearance of Jesus clearly shows His divine power and authority. This is crucial for individual faith and especially for the work of the ministry as the familiar psalm says it, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). As the disciples were catching nothing all night on their own, it was only at the word and direction of Jesus that they caught these large fish. So it is in the ministry of the Word. It seems that new programs, techniques or stunts promising greater success in evangelism or stewardship or even worship betray a certain lack of faith, unbelief in the Lord’s means of grace. Do the Word and Sacraments “work” or don’t they? It seems that nothing unusual or very important, frankly, is happening during a sermon or a Bible study. In the same way people can view the Sacraments of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper or Holy Absolution either as unimportant and even meaningless or some turn them around and “give” the sacraments meaning by making what we do the main thing in “making” them meaningful.

“That disciple whom Jesus loved” recognized Jesus and said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” So it is not your own wisdom or knowledge, “reason or strength” that produces faith through hearing the Word, “It is the Lord!” So it is not just water or personal feelings of dedication that gives Holy Baptism its power, “It is the Lord!” working through the word of God in and with the water. So it is not your outward preparations or any “magic words” that make the body and blood of Jesus present and the forgiveness of sins they deliver, “It is the Lord!” So it is not merely a pious wish or any authority we may think we have in ourselves that actually forgives the sins of another, “It is the Lord!” as the pastor says, “I, by virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, and by His authority forgive you all your sins.”

Remember that it was not the disciples who came to Jesus that day. They went fishing! But Jesus came to them to continue His fellowship with them as those called and sent out by Him. That “none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord,” their silence demonstrates their awareness of the “wholly-otherness” and mystery of his presence. So has the worship of the Holy Church throughout the world been marked not only by music and preaching, singing and teaching and sound, but also by frequent times of silence, likewise to demonstrate our awareness of the mystery of God’s presence in His Word and Sacraments and the reality of the prophet Habakkuk’s word, “the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20). The silence in worship, in prayer and meditation, and even the short, silent breaks in music or speaking, speaks powerfully of the reality that Jesus, the Living One, still stands among the lampstands of His Church on earth (Rev 1:12-13), still preaches, absolves, baptizes, communes in the fellowship of His altar. It is the Lord!