John 21:1-14

The 3rd Sunday of Easter (May 1, 2022)

How many of you ate breakfast this morning?  Many nutritional experts agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  It is not hard to understand why.  After all, it is the first meal after a long night of sleep. Our overnight fast is no doubt the longest period of time any one of us goes without food during the course of average day. Hence the most appropriate name for the first meal after such a nightly fast is break-fast.  This meal indeed breaks the fast!

Those of us who were here on Easter morning had the opportunity to enjoy the breaking of our nightly fast with a wonderful meal prepared and served by our elders and some of the youth of our congregation.  They broke our fast in high style:   ham, scrambled eggs, pancakes with loads of butter and syrup, fruit, juice.  If any of us went away languishing from our nightly fast, it was truly our own fault!

As we see in the text before us today, the tradition of serving an Easter Breakfast was actually begun by Jesus. Although it was not the first Easter morning, it was one of those most important occasions when the Risen Jesus manifested Himself to His disciples.  John frames the whole account, both before and after with the phrase: Jesus revealed Himself.” In other words, Jesus was not just showing up to be with His disciples.  He was purposely revealing Himself to them; that is, making Himself known to them as their risen Savior and God. 

As John carefully notes, this occasion was the third time that Jesus revealed Himself to His apostles.  As we heard from John’s Gospel last week, the first time occurred on that first Easter evening, when the Eleven, minus Thomas who was off somewhere else, were all huddled together in fear behind locked doors. Jesus came and stood in their midst and revealed Himself to them as their Risen Savior. 

The second occasion was exactly one week later, when the apostles, including Thomas this time, were once again gathered together behind those locked doors.  Again Jesus made Himself known to them. On both of these previous occasions He manifested Himself to them through His wounds.  Jesus purposely allowed them to touch the nail scars in His hands and the spear hole in His side.  He made it clear to them that it was truly Him, the very One who had paid for their sins, and now through His still visible wounds was alive to bring them His forgiveness.

Jesus’ means of manifesting Himself, however, changed somewhat on this third occasion.  This time Jesus made Himself known to them through the power of His Word and through His serving them an Easter breakfast, a meal of fish and bread.

In so doing Jesus truly breaks the fast of His apostles.  On the surface their fast consisted in having no fish and nothing to eat.  Jesus miraculously brings an end to this fast.  But on a whole different level, a spiritual level, Jesus breaks the fast of their souls by serving them the real Living Bread that brings them eternal salvation!

Our text finds the disciples back in their hometown region of Galilee along the Sea of Galilee.  They had returned there as per Jesus’ instructions.  When He first appeared to Mary and the other women, He had said to them, “Go and take word to my brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me” (Matt. 28:10). 

But as these apostles waited for Jesus to arrive they got a bit antsy.  Simon Peter piped up:  “I’m going fishing!”  (My kind of guy!  Why just sit around when there are fish calling your name?)  Without any persuasion, six of his comrades eagerly joined him.  They boarded a boat and set out to make a big catch.  I think we can be quite certain, however, that this fishing trip was not just for their recreation.  At least for three of them, Peter and the Sons of Zebedee (John and James), fishing was their vocation, their livelihood. Their families depended on what they caught. 

But, alas, the fishing was horrible.  In fact, even though they fished all night, their net was totally empty.  They were having a true fast of fish!  But all was not lost.  As the morning light was beginning to break the darkness, a man, standing about 100 yards away on the shore, called to them.  He asked them a rather unusual question.  It was not the customary, “Have you caught any fish?”  Instead, He, in a rather intimate way, asked, “Children, have you any fish to eat?”  The fishermen, of course, responded, “No.” He then instructed them to throw their nets on the right side of the boat and promised that they would find some.

The fishermen did as they were instructed and immediately their fast of fish was broken in a most spectacularly fashion!  So many fish filled their net that they couldn’t even haul it into the boat. John records the magnitude of the catch by totaling for us the number of fish. There were 153 large fish! 

At that moment morning truly broke in at least one the disciple’s head and heart.  The one whom Jesus loved, that is, John, yelled out at the sight of the net bulging with fish,  “It is the Lord!”  This was a true confession of faith that this man on the shore was none other than the LORD God Himself;  the very One who had not only lived among them for three years, but was their Messiah, their Savior!  Jesus revealed His true identity through the power of His Word to provide what they lacked!  Just like He had on at least two occasions before.

But Jesus was not finished manifesting Himself to them quite yet.  After impetuous Peter swam ashore and the others rowed their boat ashore, towing the net bulging with fish, they were greeted with the wonderful savor of baking bread and grilled fish.  Astonishingly, Jesus had not even needed any of the fish they had caught. Breakfast awaited them atop a bed of fire-hot charcoals.  “Come and have some breakfast,” Jesus beckoned them.  

How characteristic of the Jesus they had come to know and love. Throughout His whole ministry on earth among them, Jesus was always graciously supplying everything His followers needed. It was His nature to serve them so generously.  Jesus had girded Himself with a towel and washed their feet.  He had fed them His body and blood the night He was betrayed. Jesus once said of His whole mission: “I did not come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” 

There was absolutely no doubt in these fishermen’s minds who was serving them breakfast.  It never even occurred to them to ask, “Who are you?”  John writes: “They knew it was the Lord.” Who else could so marvelously break their fast but their Lord… their Resurrected Savior… their God!

Every detail of this Easter breakfast simply screams to each and everyone of us also who it is that also breaks the fast in our lives. “It is the Lord, Jesus Christ!” 

It is not mere coincidence that Jesus chose this most remarkable way to manifest Himself to His disciples. Even though bread and fish were the staple foods of the people in Jesus’ day and even though their most customary meal, especially quick meal, was bread cakes and a prepared fish relish, both the fish and the bread point us to the very One who satisfies the hunger of our souls.

Interestingly enough, when John reports that Jesus had already had breakfast cooking and that He had bread and fish on the fire, the words he uses for bread and fish are the very words John had used earlier in chapter six to refer to the five loaves of bread and the two fish that the young lad had in his lunch basket from which Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 plus people. In neither account does John use the common term for fresh fish, but rather the word for prepared fish. 

And wouldn’t you know it, this Easter breakfast was in the very same location as Jesus’ feeding of the multitude, along the shores of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee).  The food all pointed to Jesus as the supplier of all we need!  But the fish and bread also pointed to the person of Jesus as the Savior as well. 

The early Christians, who were under persecution in the Roman Empire, found it necessary to develop a secret symbol to identify themselves to each other.  They chose of all things the symbol of a fish.  Why a fish?  The fish, of course, put everyone in mind of Jesus’ wonderful miracles; twice feeding multitudes from a few fish and few loaves of bread and twice causing the disciples to catch a bounty of fish. 

But there is more.  The use of the fish as a symbol didn’t have so much to do with the creature we call a fish, but rather with what could be done with the name for fish.  For, you see, the letters in the common Greek word for fish (ichthus) made a perfect short hand for Jesus’ person and mission.  In acrostic fashion, each of the letters in the word ichthus could be used as the first letter of another word spelling out the very confession of the faith upon which the church is built. It spells out, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”  Like the fish Jesus supplied to feed His people, Jesus gave up His life to save His people.  He became their staple to give them life!  Jesus as true Fish breaks the fast of people’s souls!

And then there is bread! Bread itself takes us all back to the fall into sin.  God told Adam that because of His rebellion, now he and his descendants would have to labor for their food.  The Hebrew word is literally the word “bread.”  Unlike the fruit of the garden which was free for the picking, bread was a product of sweat and toil.  Not only did one have to first prepare the soil, plant the seed, harvest the seed, but he also had to grind it into flour and bake it into bread.  Bread is a reminder of our affliction brought upon us by our sin.

Bread is also a reminder of God’s gracious providence. It was bread (Manna) that God daily supplied His people in the wilderness. This bread was a true wonder bread.  It had the nutritional value to sustain the people in the wilderness for 40 years! 

But in referring to Himself, Jesus has said, “I am the true Bread that has come down out of heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread he shall live forever.”  Unlike worldly bread that we must work for, unlike the Manna that had to be picked up, cooked and made into loaves, Jesus is the Bread for which we don’t have to work.  He supplies Himself to us freely.  In His own body Jesus has endured the punishment for the sin of the whole world.  He is the bread of affliction broken for us.  But also in His body He has broken the back of sin’s curse upon us.  “He was put to death for our transgressions and raised to life for justification” (Rom. 4:25).  When Jesus broke out of His tomb alive, He ended the fast of our souls.  The flesh He gives for food, for bread, is alive. It is life-giving bread for all who eat it in faith.  No longer are we doomed to fear or to languish in eternal torment for our sins. 

By what means does Jesus reveal Himself and His salvation among us today, breaking our fast? He manifests Himself to us right in the midst of ordinary life through His powerful Word which He brings to bear in our lives and as He serves us in His sacred meal of His body and blood.

You see, right when the hour looks the darkest in our lives... when the situation looks the most impossible... when we are frazzled and tired... when we have discovered to our dismay just how weak we are, Jesus sends forth His Word and manifests that He as our Living Lord is actually with us to save us.  In fact, by the power of His Word He doesn’t just meet our needs, He exceeds them... our nets bulge ... “our cup overflows” … our fasts end. 

When fear of God’s eternal wrath grips us because of our sin, the Word of forgiveness from our Crucified and Resurrected Lord Jesus is there to bring us eternal comfort and peace .... When struggles at home or work have us ready throw in the towel, the living Jesus speaks His Word of deliverance: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble... and I will rescue you.”  ... When death steals in and robs one of our loved ones, the One who conquered death is there to say to our troubled heart: “I am the resurrection and the life, he who lives and believes in me shall live even if he dies...”  When temptations to do evil seem to have the best of us, we hear the living and victorious Lord assure us that we don’t have to give in to them for we are no longer under the law, but under grace (Ro. 6:14).  “...having been buried with Christ through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised form the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life...presenting (our) members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

This same risen Jesus also brings this living bread from heaven to us in a most tangible form by preparing a table before us in the presence of our enemies (Ps 23).  The Easter breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias has given way to the Holy Supper of the Lord, wherein the crucified and risen Jesus graciously meets us and serves us with His body and blood to bring us forgiveness and life.  Here as both our host and our meal Jesus manifests Himself to us as our salvation and our God. 

Look closely, dear friends, at the One on the shore of your lives. This Jesus is not simply standing in the shadows of obscurity watching you fish and come up empty handed.  But right in the midst of everyday, mundane things, even sometimes stressful things, He is revealing Himself to you as your Savior by calling out to you in His Word of the Gospel, the proclamation of the forgiveness of your sins, and in the Holy Supper of His body and blood. He is graciously serving you His salvation.  Rejoice!  Be at peace! It is the Lord Jesus Himself breaking your fast!!

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