After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself.…
As St. John alone records the "beginning of miracles" in Cana, it is fitting his Gospel should close with this idyllic scene of more than human beauty. The open-air picture, the morning freshness, the naturalness of the incidents and characters, the simplicity of the narrative, stamp it with an incomparable grace.
I. THE MANNER OF HIS COMING. How like themselves are both these disciples. John is the first to perceive Jesus. The eagle-glance of faith is quick to see the Divine. With instinct of the loving heart, the bosom-friend is first to detect his Divine Friend's presence. He imparts the calm, quiet recognition to his brother apostle. How precious this faculty to note and point out the Divine in life, though it may be others that act. John is the seer, the lover, the teacher; but Peter is the doer. It is Peter that plunges into the waves and gets first to Jesus' feet. So it always had been between these two. John was the first to reach the sepulchre, Peter the first to enter it; John the first to believe that Christ is risen, Peter the first to greet the risen Christ. Thus ever have we these two classes — the men of faith, the men of action; the men of thoughtful wisdom, and the men of loving zeal. The Church's eyes and the Church's hands, — all helpful to one another and needful for the body. John says to Peter, "It is the Lord," which Peter would not have perceived. Peter casts himself into the sea, which John could not have done. Well! the others get to the beach too in time, in such slow way as men in general do get in this world to its true shore, much impeded by that wonderful dragging the net with fishes. "None durst ask Him, Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord." But why wish to ask Him? Where was the need? Plainly because the mere bodily sense cannot identify Him. His comings and goings, His interviews with them all through the forty days, are not according to the ordinary laws of body. Consequently it is upon the evidence, not so much of the senses, as of the mind and heart, that they know Him to be their risen Saviour. His words, His actions, and the love that shines through all, tell them it is Jesus, and no one is so faithless and blind as to say, Who art Thou that appearest thus in the guise of a stranger? And this is all significant. He is preparing them to live by faith in a world where Jesus shall no more be with them in the flesh.
II. THE MEANING OF THE MIRACLE. It is easy to see that the purpose is different from that, for example, which appeared in the raising of Lazarus. After His own resurrection there was no need of any mere act of power to convince the disciples of His Godhead. That would have been taking the less to prove the greater.
1. It proved in a very striking way that their own Jesus it was who rose from the dead. He addressed their memory and their faith: You may be sure I am your own Lord, when I do again exactly as I did before, on this very lake, the works none other man could do. To repeat the miracle of the Draught of Fishes was to prove His identity in the most convincing way. Some great tone-poet comes to you, and performs one of his masterpieces, and goes his way. The composition, let us suppose, has never been written out; no one could repeat it but the composer himself. Vainly would any pretender appear and say, "I am he," for he would not produce the proof you would be sure to seek. You wait years, perhaps. A stranger comes. He says, I am your former friend; do you not recognize me? Time and travel have changed his countenance, the senses refuse to identify him in the usual way. "I will prove it," he says, seats himself at the instrument, calls out the marvellous and well-remembered strains. No other could so thrill you but himself. Yes, you say, it is beyond a doubt. I know him by his work. This must be Jesus; no phantom in His likeness, no delusive appearance, but the same Christ of God, at whose command are all the treasures of nature and providence, and under whose feet are also the fish of the sea, for He is head over all things, to His body the Church.
2. It was not only a seal of their Lord's resurrection, it was also a symbol of their future work. Henceforth He would stand upon the heavenly shore. Many a night, dark and dreary, they would have to toil profitless; but as oft as He should command, the net would be filled. At last they would draw it to land, the success of His kingdom would be complete and glorious beyond all expression. His faithful servants would share His triumphs, and inherit the fruit of their labours, enter into their rest followed by their works, and on the resurrection morning they would sit down to meat with Him in His everlasting kingdom. One is tempted to dwell on this attractive allegory a little longer, there are so many things suggested by the details of the charming story.
(1) Here are seven fishermen, well equipped, well acquainted with the waters they fish in, toiling all night, and nothing caught. The servants of the kingdom may be well furnished, well placed, well acquainted with their work outwardly, yet not thereby is their real success secured. It is the Lord's presence and the Lord's command that makes it sure. An activity based upon mere human impulse and sympathy — "I go a fishing, We also go with thee" — was fruitless. That which drew its inspiration from the word of Christ had immediate success.
(2) A conversation about non-success opens the way for better things; so the Lord oft begins the blessing with His Church and servants when He makes them feel and be concerned about the want of blessing.
(3) The blessing and the success come by casting the old net in a new way, in a new direction. It is the unchanging gospel that we are to preach; but in each age and time it needs new castings, fresh forms, and it is the ever living Spirit that will keep us right with His progressive indications. The meal on the shore, too, is suggestive of many things besides the final feast of heaven. It is, indeed, more strictly suggestive of "times of refreshing" upon earth, for it is early in the day, fitting for more labour. Where Jesus got the fish and bread and fire of coals we are not told, but there it was ready; and how like the gracious surprises He prepares for His faithful servants! Surprising success followed by surprising satisfaction and soul comfort.
(J. Laidlaw, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.