There are some numbers that stick in your head. My wife wishes there were other numbers that would do that for me – like birthdays; anniversary, that sort of thing, but they don’t seem to. I could never retain that sort of information but with him it was different. I could remember all the numbers – the 12 he called – and the 11 that were left, 5,000 men and a whole bunch of women and children that he fed with just 5 loaves and 2 fish; and the 12 basketfuls of loaves left over – now that was incredible – and 153. That was the number of fish we caught the day he changed everything – again.
Jesus did that, you see, changed lives completely, turned them upside down. That’s what he did for me, ever since I met him out fishing and he called me to drop everything and follow him to fish for people – and I did, and never regretted it – after all, he was the Messiah, the anointed Rescuer of Israel – the one who had the words of eternal life and his words and actions were full of such power, until he was arrested and everything fell apart. I struck out that night, took off a man’s ear. I couldn’t leave Jesus behind though, not completely, so I followed the soldiers at a safe distance all the way into the place where they were holding him while he awaited trial. Despite my best efforts I was recognised. I think my accent gave me away. They asked me if I knew Jesus. To my shame I denied ever having known him. Three times. That’s another number I remember, much as I try to forget that one. I fled then and disappeared into the shadows, leaving Jesus to face whatever laid ahead of him alone. I didn’t sleep that night and was in agony the next day, that Friday when I learned he had been sentenced to be crucified and then, finally, awfully, that he was dead. It was over.
But then, two days later the women came back from the tomb saying that Jesus was alive. We didn’t believe them – of course we didn’t – dead people don’t rise from the dead. But I went to the tomb to check out their story and indeed, the tomb was empty just as they said, but there was no sign of Jesus. And then Jesus did appear – to me. I met with him face to face! He appeared right in front of me. Out of nowhere. It was really him. I could see the scars and everything. At first, all the feelings of shame and guilt came flooding back. I couldn’t look him straight in the eye – how could I – I’d let him down so badly. But then he spoke to me. Words of love, words of forgiveness. I simply cannot describe how that felt.
He appeared to us again – twice – erasing any residual doubt that this incredible miracle had taken place and that this was always part of God’s plan – but after that we were left with so many questions. It wasn’t clear what should be happening now. Staying around in Jerusalem seemed too dangerous, so some of us went back to Galilee, where the adventure began. Lots had happened since we were last at the shore of this lake. We didn’t really know what to do. We were a bit lost. Since Jesus, their leader, had been taken away from us, we felt like we’d been left like a ship without a rudder. What should we do now? No one was coming up with any decisions and I simply couldn’t bear this hanging around, so I decided to do something – to go fishing. We’d been told by Jesus to wait to be clothed with power from on high; I didn’t have a clue what that meant – I hate waiting for anything anyway, so I decided I was going to do something. I wanted to get on with life, and it seemed sensible to go back to the old life – after all, we all had responsibilities and families to look after, money to earn, people to feed. Catching fish seemed like a good idea. After all, that’s what we were – we were fishermen. We knew the sea, we knew know where to find fish.
But, you can guess what happened next, given that this was all my brilliant idea – it didn’t go to plan at all – we went out into the boat, stayed out in the water all night, but caught absolutely nothing. Not even a tiddler.
All night, no fish. Such a waste of time. We were experienced fishermen. We know that you have the best chance of catching fish in the night time. No one had told the fish that!
Now, by this time it was early morning and we had had enough. It was time to give up and go home. We we were weary, and not a little bit frustrated. We were definitely ready for food and rest. We started making our way back to the shore and a man was standing there. He could probably tell the frustration we were feeling – he probably heard the grumbling coming from the boat.
He called out to us, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” we replied. Personally, I was wondering why he was asking – was he just making polite conversation?
Then he said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
On the right side of the boat? We’d been fishing off the left side all night. That’s what fishermen always did. We grumbled a bit, were about to object and ask him what he knew about fishing, but something stopped us. It was John who said, “There’s no harm in giving this a shot – we’ve got nothing to lose.” I shrugged, looked around, the other blokes nodded, and so we threw the nets over to the right side of the boat as the bloke on the shore had suggested, and it was incredible! The water was teaming with fish, the net filled up – so much so that we were unable to haul the net in because there were so many fish in it.
We were looking at each other, utterly gobsmacked, exhilarated, and then John piped up, nodding his head towards the shore. “It is the Lord!”
I can’t quite describe how I felt in that moment. A whole lot of things. Anxiety and guilt bubbled up in me. I had a flashback to those moments in the Garden when I struck out with his sword and then fled; those moments in the courtyard when i denied ever having known Jesus and when our gazes met before the cock crowed and I ran out weeping. I remember the disciples in Emmaus telling us that Jesus disappeared the moment they realised it was him; and part of me was hoping that he might do that again, but I looked again and he was still there, standing there on the shore, waiting for us. I could have tried to hide so I wouldn’t have to face Jesus again, after all I’d let him down so badly, but I knew that wouldn’t do. No, there was one thing for it.
As soon as I heard John say, “It is the Lord,” I wrapped my outer garment around me and jumped into the water.
I longed to see Jesus again. We had some unfinished business to sort out. The other disciples followed close behind me, towing the net full of fish behind us.
When we landed there was a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus had breakfast. We stood there around him, utterly dumbstruck. He smiled and said to us, “Why don’t you grab some more of the fish you’ve just caught.”
So, I climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full to bursting of large fish – 153 of them – we had to count that miracle catch, but even with that many the net somehow, was not torn.
Then he beckoned and said to us, “Come, sit down, join me, and have breakfast. You must be starving.”
None of us dared ask him, “Who are you?” We knew it was the Lord. We sat down on the beach. He came, took the bread, and gave it to us, and did the same with the fish. It was the most wonderful breakfast we’d ever had. We were with the risen Lord Jesus who, even though going fishing was probably a stupid, impulsive idea, simply seemed to want to bless us with lots of fish and then to cook us breakfast. In that moment, whatever I’d done, I knew, somehow that it was ok, and that I was loved. And then, on that beach he gave me fresh purpose. There was no going back to the lives we had before. Jesus had changed my life forever and I knew then that all I want to do, for the rest of my life is to follow him, wherever he may take me, to fall in line with his plans and purposes for me, and that his risen presence with me and in me will make everything more than ok.