“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” (John 21:3)
Easter and the lead up to it is perhaps the most exciting season of the church, and the most emotionally draining for those of us in ministry.
The first Easter was similar for the disciples – exciting and exhausting. This little passage at the end of John is one of the most interesting in scripture, to me, because it presents the eternal reality of the risen Christ – that changed everything – and plays it against the backdrop of the disciples who seemed to seek to return to what had been normal.
A return to the familiar
When we are emotionally exhausted we often long for the familiar. The disciples were largely, if not exclusively, from Galilee, and after the resurrection and initial appearances of Christ to them in Jerusalem and Judea, they apparently made their ways back north to Galilee. And Peter decided to return to fishing. Those who were with him included James and John, his former partners in a fishing business, and three other disciples.
They had no other means of livelihood, so far as we know. While Christ lived on earth, they received donations from loyal followers but now that He was crucified and risen, in this in-between time, they had to find other means of support. And, we should remember, Judas Iscariot had been the treasurer of the group, and following his betrayal of Christ and suicide, who knows what happened to whatever funds they had had.
So rather than being idle, Peter, being a man of action, preferred to fish and earn his living the old way. There is nothing wrong with this, and the scripture never condemns their action. Christ had called them to be fishers of men and they had left all to follow Him, but they were not beggars. And besides, what is a man to do except to earn his living the best way he knows how? (See Eph. 4:28.)
Their former boats had been sold, most likely, but using their old contacts, Peter and perhaps James and John, secured another and off they set, onto their old familiar fishing grounds. The sun and the water, as well as the night sky later that evening, conjured up familiar and comfortable memories – they knew how to do this.
Have you ever been emotionally exhausted? Have you ever been in circumstances where everything seemed to be changing around you so fast that you felt you just needed to find something familiar? I read their story and I think about the way most pastors feel the Monday after Easter.
But the old would never be the same again
Despite their best efforts they caught nothing, at least not until Jesus showed up the next morning. The old life, if they had held illusions of how great it used to be, was not as super as they remembered.
After the cross and the resurrection the old life could never be returned to, at least not in its entirety. Nothing would ever be the same again. But, truthfully, it had all changed for Peter and the others once they had decided to follow Christ. They had a purpose that could never be fulfilled through fishing for fish alone.
Can’t we imagine how Peter would have changed had he been left to work as a fisherman for the rest of his life? Before Christ he simply talked about fishing with his colleagues and those he hired. After Christ, though, he talked about Christ as he fished. Pre-Christ life was never about Christ, but post-Christ life was always about Christ.
Christ did not leave Peter working as a fisherman the rest of his life. He was an apostle and a missionary and a pastor-teacher in the church. His life from that point on would be given as a witness to the Lord. He was a preacher of unparalleled opportunities in those early days of the church, and God used him greatly. On that day the words of Christ to Peter simply prepared him to refocus his life for Christ.
He would be imprisoned, beaten, and threatened by men, and anointed and used by God to perform miracles and bring the gospel to the Gentiles. In the end he would be martyred for his faith, and ultimately his life and ministry would be the framework upon which Christ would build His church – as Paul wrote, the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20).
The difference between the Spirit of Christ and our emotions
But on that morning on Galilee, Christ was there and helped them catch a large amount of fish, served them breakfast which He Himself had cooked for them on the shore, and comforted Peter about His forgiveness over his denials on the night of Christ’s arrest. Jesus let Peter know that his life was not yet over, that his race of faith had not yet been fully run.
It was all simple, straightforward, and Jesus talked to Peter in a way you should talk to a man who had witnessed so much in such a short time, and who had fished all night as well. No inappropriate pressure, no mind games, just Jesus and six of the disciples on the beach having breakfast and a chat.
We have physical and emotional needs. We are physical and emotional beings. We need exercise, rest, food, sleep, as well as friends, encouragement, challenges, peace, and purpose in life. And God knows this, of course, and provides these things for us.
Yet we are also spiritual beings – especially is this true for those who trust in Christ. In a short while, after this conversation with Peter, Christ would ascend on high and the Spirit would descend upon the church. The Spirit of God brought back to life the dead spirit of people – that which was dead in the unsaved became the very center of the Christian. But the Spirit is not the same as our emotions.
Christ said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 1010). He did not say, “I have come that you might have emotion and have it to the full.” Some have compared the filling of the Spirit to some sort of emotional experience that lifts us off the ground in excitement and enthusiasm. But the fullness of the Spirit is not about how high we jump in the air when God gets ahold of us, but about how straight we walk when our feet hit the ground.
To all those who are tired and weary
Let me end this little devotion with reminding us that the Spirit does not demand emotional enthusiasm from us. To be filled with Him does not mean that we must be leaping and shouting on some emotional high. We can relax and be calm and still enjoy the filling of the Spirit. Remember Christ said: “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).