As the disciple John closes his gospel, he notes that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in a particular way. The story of the great catch of fish is not just a filler between the resurrection and Jesus’ restoration of Peter, it is a deliberate act of revelation from Jesus to his disciples. And it is a revelation that happens through a simple, but consequential, act of obedience.
None of us are naturally tuned to happily and consistently obey the will of God. We naturally obey ourselves and the easy inclinations of the flesh, and learning to obey Christ is work that cuts against the grain of our nature. We often misunderstand obedience to God as a wearisome and life-destroying task, so we are wrongly prejudiced against it before we begin. But this fish story teaches us that obedience is in truth an amazing thing. Obedience is revelation about God, it is the entrance into his will, and it is the source of his power and the work of his kingdom. In all, the call to obedience is God’s invitation for us to join in his work and his will.
They fished all night and caught nothing. Like everywhere else in John’s gospel, work in the dark is fruitless. But just as the morning begins to dawn and light strikes the seashore, a stranger becomes visible and tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Amazingly, these frustrated and professional fishermen do it. And as soon as they do, an empty net becomes full and a fruitless night becomes a fruitful morning.
As soon as the fish are in the net, John sees something. He cries, “It is the Lord!” (vs. 7) They didn’t recognize Jesus until after an act of obedience. And the revelation here is the result of an act of obedience – obedience shows us God.
Obedience is a teacher. When we obey God rather than our own ways, we learn through experience that his ways are higher than ours and his power is greater than ours. The professionals were failing under their own power on the sea. Disciples brought in a net full of fish by obeying a simple command.
After Peter swims to shore and the remaining disciples pull in the catch, they all stand before their risen Savior. He has already prepared them breakfast: “When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.” (vs. 9) The disciples caught 153 large fish, and Jesus didn’t need a single one of them. This causes me to wonder, why the great catch of fish? Did they catch fish to provide Jesus with something he didn’t have? Were they bringing him something he couldn’t get on his own?
Was their act of obedience an act of giving Jesus something he lacked or something they lacked? Was their obedience about what he needed or what they needed?
We obey God because he is our Lord and we are his people. But we also obey God for our own sake – to fill our lack and to meet our need. Our obedience is God’s way of filling us with himself and bringing us into his work in his kingdom. He had already caught the fish he needed to feed them. They needed to learn that obedience brings them into the work he is already doing.
Obey the word and will of God today and you will find a Savior ready and waiting to fill you with his abundance.