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Cast the Net

John 21:1-14



Who are the fishermen here?  How do you do it?  What is the secret?  Have any of you ever tried just posting a sign on your boat that reads, 'Fish welcome'?

        Most churches today have completely stopped actively evangelizing.  It's like we just have services and put out a sign that says, 'Sinners welcome.'  We are to be fishers of men!  It's what Jesus said at the beginning of His ministry as he called His disciples, and it is how he ended it in our text.  He is about to leave earth and He gives His great commission saying, This is the main thing.  Now make it YOUR main thing.  And the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing!


The setting of today’s scripture takes place a week after the resurrection on the Sea of Tiberias (the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee). The disciples have gone to Galilee and returned to what they knew best: fishing. They have to make a living and so they spend the entire night out on the lake. Early the next morning they are headed to land, but a voice calls to them from the shore, asking if they have any fish. Perhaps moisture hangs in the air or thick fog makes it difficult to see who is calling to them. Maybe they are ashamed to say that they have not caught a single fish all night, but they admit the truth. The voice calls back: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” It seems dumb. They have been fishing all night and the fish are just not there for whatever reason. They still have the nets in the water on the left side of the boat and nothing is happening. What possible difference could it make to put the net in on the right side? They are professional fishermen, and they have no idea who this stranger is. But for some unknown reason they unquestioningly take out the nets and throw them into the water on the other side of their boat. And the Bible says, “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” They are stunned at what has happened and it suddenly dawns on them who it is who has been calling to them. It could be no one else. The Bible says, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”

They recognized Jesus not only because no one else could do this kind of miracle, but because it had happened before. Luke tells the story which happens as Jesus’ ministry is just beginning, before these men actually knew him. [Luke 5]


Jesus’ relationship with the disciples begins and ends with a miraculous catch of fish. They meet him in the miracle. There are several lessons to be learned from this story, and the first is this: It is important to obey Jesus. I have a friend whose life motto is: “Listen to Jesus, and do what he says.” Good advice. But in both stories it must have been difficult for fishermen to listen to the suggestions of a carpenter/stranger. After all, fishing was their profession, not his. They knew about fishing, and were perhaps some of the best fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Besides, what Jesus was suggesting did not make any sense. What possible difference could it make to put the net on the other side of the boat?

Sometimes God puts us in situations where it seems like there is no answer. We have tried everything. We thought we knew what needed to be done. It worked before, so we think we already know how to do it, and now someone is telling us a simplistic answer that drives us up the wall. Perhaps God is asking us to do something beyond what is simplistic, it may even seem like something foolish. It is counterintuitive. We’ve been fishing on the left side and now you think fishing on the right side of the boat will make a difference? We have been working all night and you think one more cast is going to change anything?

Besides, this raises other questions. Couldn’t Jesus have made the fish swim into the net while it was on the left side of the boat? Why go to the bother of having them take the nets out and put them in on the other side? For that matter, couldn’t Jesus have made the fish jump into the boat? That would have been pretty spectacular! But it wouldn’t have involved the aspect of obedience. Jesus did not do it all for them. He tested their obedience so that they could learn that blessings follow obedience. In your relationship with God, success follows obedience, even when what He is asking you to do seems ridiculous to you. You are not smarter than God. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. You can’t rebel against God, go against what He is telling you, and expect success. You can’t do all the wrong things and expect good things to happen. It doesn’t happen that way. Success comes as you are willing to listen to Jesus and do what He says.

This involves humility. The disciples were professional fishermen. They knew all about fishing, so they had to be humble enough to do what Jesus said rather than trusting what they had personally learned about fishing. It was not just what they had learned through experience, it is what their fathers and grandfathers before them had learned and taught them. What He was asking them to do did not seem that different from what they had been doing all night. It was not so much something different as more of the same. But when it comes to following God, you can’t give up. And you can’t always rely on your knowledge and training. Jesus wants us to have a teachable spirit. I am convinced that having a teachable spirit is one of the most important characteristics that you can have in life. There are some people to whom you simply can’t tell anything, because they think they already know it all. They don’t want your advice. They don’t want to hear it and so they never learn. You have to have humility and a willing spirit.

The second lesson in this story is: We meet God when we come to the end of our resources. The disciples had been fishing all night. They had done all they could do. They knew the best fishing holes. They knew how to use their tackle. They were experts at their trade, but they still had no fish. They were at the end of what they could do. Their resources were spent. That’s when God shows up. At the point where we give up is often when God shows up.

Simon Peter was certainly at the end of his resources. He had boasted that if everyone else left Jesus, he would still be faithful, but he wasn’t. He had failed. He played the coward. He fell when he boasted he would stand. He failed Jesus. When he first met Jesus he was very aware of his sinful heart. Before Peter had been called to be a disciple, at the first miraculous catch of fish, the Bible says, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8). At this second miraculous catch Peter would have liked to have said the same thing, but he was too ashamed to say anything.

It is interesting that the Greek word for charcoal fire is found in only two places in the New Testament. Here in this story where Jesus is cooking fish for the disciple’s breakfast, and the other is when Peter stood warming himself after the arrest of Jesus in the courtyard. It was there that Peter denied the Lord and saw Jesus look at him as the cock crowed. As he smelled the charcoal fire on the shore this day, he must have been taken back again to that shame filled moment in the courtyard. Peter realized that he was at the end of his resources. It was good for him to give up thinking that he was someone special and realize that he could fail like everyone else, because that is when he really began to understand his weakness, the forgiveness of God and the power of a new life. It was in his brokenness that he experienced Jesus in a new way.

It is good to come to the end of our resources and realize our weakness, so that we give in to God. We just turn the control completely over to him, and forget about personal success. We realize we can’t do anything on our own anyway, so we ask him to completely take over, and determine that we will do whatever it is He wants us to do. We stop trying to make things happen and let Him have His way. And, amazingly, that is when things begin to happen. When we come to the end of us, we come to the beginning of God. When we come to the end of what we can do, that is when we are ready to see what God can do.

When the disciples came to the end of their resources, that is when they had a miraculous catch — 153 to be exact, and all large fish. Wait ‘til you hear their fish stories in heaven!  The catch was so large that they could hardly get the net to shore. But in spite of the pressure on the net, it did not break or tear. And when they arrived on shore, Jesus already had breakfast for them on the beach. You have to wonder where Jesus got the fish. They were already on the fire before the disciples came to shore. And there was bread as well. Did Jesus go to the market, or did he miraculously create the bread and fish as he did when he SUPERSIZED that kid's little happy meal? Jesus was always making something out of nothing, and He has not changed. He is still the same today. When everything you have tried in life turns out to be nothing, He can make something out of it. He creates fish and bread. He gives health where there was only sickness. He gives strength when there was only weakness. He gives life where there was only death. He gives hope where there was only despair. He gives forgiveness where there was only shame. He is the God of new beginnings. When we reach the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of Him.

The third lesson we learn from this story is: You have to put the net in where the fish are. The point is that the answer is often closer than you think. The fish were not on the other side of the lake, they were just on the other side of the boat. The answer is often as close as your willingness to obey and do what God is asking.

ill.—Naaman the leper.  The answer was closer than he realized. It was humbling, but it was the thing he needed to do. It did not make sense at the time. He thought he had better water where he lived in Syria, but the answer was closer than that.


If you are going to fish, you have to put down your net where the fish are. If you are going to receive the answer God has for you, you are going to have to do what He says, when He says it and where He says to do it. I have known many people who have prayed for an answer to their problems, but when the answer came they didn’t like it. They already had it fixed in their head how God should do it. They did not want to humble themselves and would not accept what God was asking them to do. They did not want to look foolish. They did not want to do the difficult thing God was telling them to do. They wanted God to do it all for them. They wanted Him to wave His hand and make it all go away. They wanted a supernatural, exciting answer. They would do a great thing, but not the small thing, the humble thing. But God is not asking you to do a great thing that will get lots of attention, He is only asking you to do the simple thing of obeying what He says, and do it consistently. Eugene Peterson calls it “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Wade Hughes, Sr. tells the story of a weak and sickly man. His condition grew worse, but he could not afford a doctor. He lived in the deep back woods in an old log cabin, and out in front of his cabin was a huge boulder. One night he had a vision. God told him to go out and push the massive rock in front of his home all day long, day after day, until he told him to stop. The man got up early in the morning, and with great excitement, he pushed on the rock as long as he could. After a rest he pushed some more. The night vision was so real that it inspired the man as he pushed against the rock. It gave him meaning. Each day he pushed a little harder and a little longer. Day after day he pushed. Days rolled into weeks, and weeks into months, as he faithfully pushed against the rock. After 8 months of pushing the rock, the man was getting tired of pushing the rock so much, and in his tiredness he started to doubt his dream. He measured from his porch to the rock, and after pushing the rock, he would measure to see how much he had moved the rock. After two months of pushing and measuring, he realized he had not moved the boulder a fraction of an inch. As a matter of fact, the boulder was in the same place as when he started. The man was so disappointed, because he saw his work had accomplished nothing. He was tired and his dream seemed dashed upon the rock. He sat on his porch and cried, because he had invested so much time for nothing. But as the sun was setting in the west, Jesus came and sat down next to the man as he was sitting on his porch. He said, “Son, why are you so sad?” The man replied, “Lord, You know how sick and weak I am, and then the vision you gave me built up a false hope. I have pushed with all that was within me for many months, and that old rock is right where it was when I started.” Jesus said to him, “I never told you to move the rock, I told you to push against the rock.” Jesus told the man to step in front of the mirror and look at himself. As an act of obedience the man stepped in front of a mirror. He was amazed. How could he have missed this? He had been so sickly and weak, and what he saw in the mirror was a strong muscular man. He also realized that he had not been coughing all night. It dawned on him that he had been feeling better for weeks, and it was all because he had been pushing — not moving — the rock. Then the man realized that the plan of God was not to change the position of the rock, but to change him. God’s plan was not for the rock, but for him. Understand the plan. Trust what he is saying to you. Listen to God. Do what he says. Do the work of obedience. It is not nearly so important that the rock in your life be moved as it is for you to push against the rock.

It is when you push against the rock that you become strong — whether the rock moves or not. It is when you obey and cast your net on the other side that the net is filled, and a way is opened up for deeper fellowship with Jesus.


Cast the net for souls...this is what Jesus told the disciples from the beginning of His time with them to the end.  Yes, we’ll have more success when we obey Him and listen to Him, and when we rely on Him more than on ourselves.  And certainly we’ll catch more when we fish in the right places and in the right ways.  But the big point is that even when we don’t feel we’re successful at all...we actually are, if we’re doing right...doing our job...and being faithful to cast the net!


No 'fish welcome' sign needed.

        We are to be fishers of men!  It's what Jesus said at the beginning of His ministry as he called His disciples, and it is how he ended it in our text.  He is about to leave earth and He gives His great commission saying, This is the main thing.  Now make it YOUR main thing.  And the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing!


[courtesy Rodney Buchanan]






All Sermons and PowerPoint Slideshow Presentations ©Copyright Jerry Shirley and Grace Notes Ministries® unless otherwise credited.  These resources are yours to use freely, but only in public worship services or private study groups and devotions.  They may not be sold, republished or retransmitted in any form without written permission.