In the wake of Easter celebrations, I find myself reflecting on and dwelling in the post-resurrection stories told to us through the four gospels. What was it like to feel absolute and utter despair on that fateful Friday? What was it like to walk away from the cross crushed in spirit + empty of hope?
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” seems to be an offensively weak description of what the friends of Jesus would have felt on that dark, silent Saturday. But that was surely not the end! Pure glory must have overcome them when their broken hope turned to promise and Christ appeared to them once again.
John wrote that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples” (John 20:30) and Luke tells us that these appearances occurred over the course of forty days (Acts 1:3).
Those forty days must have been hard. Though beautifully exciting and full of wonder and joy, there was the overwhelming reality that things had changed. Having Jesus back wouldn’t look quite like it did before.
It’s always hard when things change, particularly when its unexpected and undesired. But we can learn tremendously from Jesus’ friends. We’re so much like them. Separated by centuries, but lovers of Christ just the same, and desperate to walk freely as we fight for hope and faith in His coming Kingdom.
Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other disciples were together. Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.” They replied, “We’ll go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
They went fishing.
These men were fishers by trade and by training. It was the heart of what they did in the days before Jesus wrecked them for ordinary living. It was their familiar, their go-to. And when Jesus came He called them out of it. He spoke worth and glory and vision over their lives and called them to walk into so much more. Healing, deliverance, and insight into Scripture like no one had ever known. Jesus had come, lived with them, died before them, and appeared again to them.
Fishing was a thing of their past. Fishing is what they used to do, who they used to be. It seems foolish and nearsighted for them to regress back into this way of living. Did they think Jesus was gone again? Did they get caught-up in town chatter about the man they thought would be King? Did they forget that Jesus had already overcome death? Doesn’t it represent an inkling of what they must have felt without Jesus around like He used to be?
I read Peter’s words with a heavy heart, with an at-the-end-of-my-rope kind of heart. The last three years of his life had been marked by adventure, miracles, and unending truth. Post-resurrection days must have felt so empty, so worthless. And so with nothing else to do, Peter suggests the one thing he knows he can count on: fishing.
What’s worse is scorecard John tacks on to the end of verse three: and they caught nothing. Can you imagine the frustration, embarrassment, and emptiness of this moment? They stay up all night long waiting for even an ounce of affirmation that everything will be okay…
And this is supposed to be their thing! Their reliable Plan B. Their trusty back-up plan. And they caught nothing.
Up to this moment, it’s a sad story of confused identity, broken hope, and empty nets. But don’t we find ourselves doing the very same thing?
Maybe not in occupation, but in the way we identify ourselves. We’ve been set free from so much – anxiety, depression, fear, and the pressure to be like everyone else. We’ve been called out of pride, anger, and self-righteous thinking. And we’ve been called into so much more.
And yet somehow, we find ourselves backsliding right back into our old way of thinking. No matter how great our encounter with Christ or how deeply we feel the Spirit of God. We get stuck one morning and go back to being what we used to be – the Perfectionist, the Pharisee, the Addict, the Sinner.
Our confusion is compounded by the reality that we live in a culture that defines us by what we do, far more than by who we are. We are waitresses, accountants, students, and baristas. We are musicians, athletes, and graduates. We are readers and writers; dreamers and thinkers and doers.
The disciples were fishermen. But they were so much more! And don’t we remember them as more? It’s surely says so by the way we describe them as disciples and not fishermen.
And yet, they went fishing. They went back to what they used to do.
When I think of the disciples I skip right over this in between. I go straight from the resurrection to Pentecost, and I don’t think twice about it. I forget so easily that this time in between left them confused and empty. And though Christ should have been the surest thing they looked to, they looked instead to fishing.
I find such comfort in the way Jesus graciously approached them on this empty-netted morning. It wasn’t condescending or mocking, but graceful and gentle. He didn’t walk to the sea and tell them to stop fishing. He didn’t wait for them to return to the shore empty handed.
Children, do you have any fish? Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.
This strikingly resembles Luke’s account of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John (Luke 5). Another night when they caught nothing and Jesus instructs them to put the nets out again. How offensive to tell a fisherman to “just cast the net out.” As if they had been trying other tactics. As if they didn’t know that to catch the fish you need to cast your net out.
Perhaps it was this command that alerted them to the identity of the mystery coach on the beach? Perhaps Jesus spoke in this very way to subtly ask:
What’re you doin’ out there?
Why are you fishing?
Jesus doesn’t get angry when we go back to those sure-fire, comfortable, reliable things. He blesses the fishing and he fills the net. Hear me, friend – it’s okay that you’ve gone back to fishing. But you must know that Jesus loves you more than to let you stay there. Can I tell you something?
You’re not a fisherman anymore.
You don’t have to do what you’ve always done. You don’t have to retreat in fear and distress and confusion. You don’t have to settle for how it used to be. You don’t have to be who you were.
Jesus knew that the disciples were days or weeks away from witnessing the ascension, receiving the Holy Spirit, and beginning the second greatest adventure of their lives.
You’ve been called out of fishing, and there’s grace upon grace when you go back to it. But be sure of this: Jesus will call you out of it again and He will restore every ounce of broken hope as you endure the dread of the in between.
What has Jesus called you out of? What has He called you into? What do you do on the days where you want nothing more than to get back in that old boat and do the things you used to do?
Lastly, and most importantly, are you listening to the voice on the shore that calls you out of it again + again + again?