THE FEAST ON THE SHORE
"Sun of my soul! O Savior dear,
It is not night if You are near;
Oh! may no earthborn cloud arise
To hide You from Your servant's eyes.
Abide with me from morn to eve,
For without You I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh,
For without You I dare not die.
O Framer of the light and dark,
Steer through the tempest Your own ark;
Amid the howling wintry sea,
We are in port if we have Thee.
Come near and bless us when we wake,
Ere through the world our way we take,
Till in the ocean of Your love
We lose ourselves in heaven above."
"Afterward Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the
Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way . . ." John 21:1-14
We are once more summoned in thought, in this beautiful
closing chapter of John's Gospel, to the Lake of Gennesaret. Since we last
followed the footsteps of Jesus there, the great event had been
accomplished. That Adorable Being, whose miracles of love and power had
hallowed its shores, had expired in anguish on the cross, and risen in
triumph from the tomb. The mighty debt of ransomed myriads had been paid;
glory had been secured to God in the highest; peace on earth, and good-will
had been granted to men!
We do not wonder to find that the Disciples have returned
again to their native sea, when we recall the announcement referred to in
the preceding chapter, made first by the angels and repeated by the Lord
Himself, that He was "to go before them into Galilee," and that there they
were to see Him.
We naturally love those localities which have been
specially consecrated to us by early and hallowed associations. No spot is
so dear to a hero, on his return from the scene of his triumphs, as the
village where he was born, or the banks of the stream where childhood, in
its young morning of joy and hope, delighted to wander. More cherished still
is the place associated with spiritual blessings—the room sanctified by a
father's counsels and a mother's prayers—the dwelling where we held endeared
communion and fellowship with Christian and congenial hearts—the House of
God where we first listened to the joyous word which brought life and peace
to our souls.
Might not Jesus, as MAN, participate to some degree in
such feelings, when we find Him now seeking out once more His beloved and
honored haunts on Tiberias before He ascended to glory? Every creek and bay,
every hamlet and mountain slope, had some memorial of mingled majesty and
love. There poverty, disease, demon fury, death itself, had surrendered and
succumbed at His word. The very sea and storm had conceded to His might, and
crouched submissive at His omnipotent mandate.
And if these scenes were sacred and hallowed to the
Master, equally sacred would they be to the Disciples. There they
had listened to His utterances of matchless wisdom—there they had been
summoned by Him to undertake their Great Embassy. Busy as they were now once
more at their old occupation on the Lake, wherever they turned their eye,
its undulating shores must have been fragrant with His name and presence.
Capernaum rose before them with its crowded memories of power and mercy.
Yonder were the bifurcated peaks of the Mount, where the most
wondrous of discourses was uttered—yonder was the plain, flushed now
with the loveliness of spring, where the Sower had sowed—yonder, in the far
north, was the green tableland where the barley loaves were dealt out as
emblems of mightier spiritual blessings—yonder, hiding itself amid sterner
nature, was the scene of demoniacal conquest—there, yet again, the bleak
mountain oratory, where the Lord of all this wondrous Panorama poured out
His soul in the ear of His Father. And when night fell, and the stars looked
down, at one moment, from their silent thrones, and the next were swept from
the heavens by the sudden storm, the Apostle fishermen would remember the
majestic form of Him who walked before on these very waters, and the Voice
that mingled with the moanings of the tempest, saying, "Peace, be
still"—"Fear not, it is I, do not be afraid."
Can we doubt that these solemn and manifold remembrances
would now often tune their lips on their lonely night watch—that day after
day they would be thus interrogating one another, "Where shall we see Him?"
"When shall we again hear His longed-for voice? He is faithful who promised
that He would meet us here again. Even so; come, Lord Jesus, come quickly."
Seven of them—James and John, Peter, Thomas, Nathanael,
and probably Andrew and Philip—have been out on the Lake all night long; but
their toil, as on a former occasion, is unrecompensed. Morning begins to
streak the mountains of Naphtali—distant Hermon is unveiling his diadem of
snow. As they approach within a few cubits of the shore, in the grey dawn of
that morning light, a solitary figure attracts their eye—"they did not know
that it was Jesus!" The first word He uttered might have told them
all!—"Children!" Yet still they recognize Him not! He appears but as a
passing wayfarer whom curiosity has drawn to watch the mooring of the boat
on the shingle. He inquires if they have any fish captured that might serve
for a morning meal? They answer despondingly that they had none!
The mysterious Stranger bids them "cast out on the right
side of the ship." The result was so vast an enclosure of fish that they
were unable to draw it to land. The quick-sightedness of love discerns the
divine Presence—the similarity of the present with a former occasion has led
the Beloved John to scrutinize more closely the person of the Speaker.
Catching up the sweet music of that well-known voice, he is the first to
reveal the joyous secret, whispering it first with half-trembling lips into
the ear of his chief associate—"It is the Lord!" Peter, with characteristic
impetuosity and fervor, wraps around him his coarse fisherman's tunic,
springs into the sea and swims a hundred yards to shore, in order that he
may cast himself soonest at the feet of his Great and Good Master. The other
disciples follow behind, dragging with them the net with its encumbering
Who can describe the profound emotion of that meeting at
that calm hour when all nature was hushed and still? It is simply and
artlessly told in the Gospel narrative. No strong or exaggerated effects are
inserted by the Apostle to mutilate the simple grandeur of the picture. Not
a tear, not a word, not a question is recorded. No, in significant silence
they confront the Holy One—"None of the disciples dared ask him, Who
are You? knowing that it was the Lord!" But there was an unusual—it may be a
miraculous—provision ready for them at that landing place—"a fire of coals,
fish laid thereon, and bread." The feast had been prepared by their adorable
Lord. Before inviting to partake of it, however, He bade them drag their
nets to land. Peter in a moment complied with the request, and it is
specially noted that, as full as the net was, and that too of "large fish,"
it was brought on shore unbroken.
"Come and dine" was the brief invitation given and
accepted. The Master and his seven disciples surround that lowly table.
"Jesus came, and took the bread, and gave it to them, and fish likewise."
Strange and mysterious transaction! We are at once led to
inquire as to its signification and meaning. A feast of the kind did not
seem in itself necessary at that spot or hour. The fishermen disciples were
near their own Bethsaida dwellings, and the risen body of the great
Redeemer, we have reason to believe, was not dependent, as it was before the
Resurrection, on the "bread which perishes" to sustain it. We have already
found that many of our Lord's actions around these shores were symbolic
of some great spiritual truths. We cannot for a moment doubt that the
present is to be classified with these, and that that morning hour and
morning meal were fraught with momentous lessons to the disciple-guests, and
to the Church in every age. Let us seek, with God's blessing, to gather from
this detailed narration some of that SOLEMN INSTRUCTION it was designed to
impart, specially to the disciples and in the main also to ourselves.
I. Before speaking of the Feast, let us, for a moment,
advert to the same general lesson, which a previous similar incident
furnished, that God honors and consecrates daily toil.
The disciples met their Lord while they were engaged with
their nets and boats, prosecuting their former calling. A risen Jesus would
thus teach us, that instead of worldly industry proving a hindrance and
impediment to the religious life, it may rather, if not perverted and
abused, become the very channel through which God delights to meet His
It is a healthful and encouraging lesson in this everyday
working world of ours—to the merchant at his desk and the apprentice at his
counter, the artisan at his hammer, the ploughman at his field, and the
cottager at her wheel. It tells that that tear and wear—that "loud stunning
tide" of human care and incessant toil so far from being incompatible with
the service of God, may be made by Him the very medium for higher and more
exalted revelations of Himself.
There are times, indeed, when worldly work—the grinding
wheels of business—must be hushed, and we are alone with God. There are
solemn seasons when the din of earth dare not intrude; Closet hours—Sabbath
hours—Sanctuary hours, without which the spiritual life would languish and
die. Jesus had met the Disciples lately, in "an upper chamber in Jerusalem."
It was their solemn convocation on the first day of the week—Gennesaret,
with its nets and fishing vessels, was forgotten then—it was the Day and the
Place of prayer and communion. Jesus met them as He delights to meet His
people still in their Sabbath assembly, and "breathed upon them, and said,
Peace be unto you, receive the Holy Spirit!" But having shown us these, His
own disciples, in their Sabbath attire, he would seek to show us them also
in the rough attire of everyday life.
He had left them for a while with the indefinite
assurance—"I go before you into Galilee, there shall you see Me." How,
meanwhile, are they to employ themselves? are they to remain in listless
inactivity at their native village? are their boats to be anchored on the
beach, and their old means of honest industry abandoned? No; if there be no
immediate apostolic work ready for them, like their "beloved brother
Paul," at a future day, when, side by side with the tentmakers of Corinth,
he plied his busy task, they will teach a great lesson, to the world and the
Church, of how God loves honest earnestness in our lawful worldly
callings; and how, moreover, diligence in business may be combined
with fervency in spirit serving the Lord! Jesus tells us He is to meet
us again; but we are not, meanwhile, with hermit spirits, to abandon life's
great duties. We are to carry out these with unabated ardor. Let us never
forget that it was while the disciples were out formerly with their fishing
craft, toiling all night, and returning faint and weary in the morning
light, that Jesus met them and put honor on their laborious efforts by
bidding them, "let down once more for a catch"—and filling their empty net
with a multitude of fishes!
II. The disciples were reminded, by this renewed
miraculous capture, of their former call and consecration as FISHERS OF
Their Lord had put signal honor upon them; constituting
them His companions, and apportioning for them a work of unparalleled
magnitude, responsibility, and honor. But during an interval of time fraught
with momentous consequences to the world, they had proved unworthy of their
distinguished trust—they had become traitors to their Master—cowards in
adversity. Might He not transfer the apostolate to others? How could He
still confide to the trembling band that had cowered in terror when the
Shepherd was smitten (one of their number basely denying Him!)—how could
He still confide to them a vast commission which, in the first hour when
their heroism had been tested, they had basely trampled under foot?
No! they had fainted and grown weary of Him—might He not
justly have grown weary of them? But "the everlasting God, the Lord, the
Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary. He gives
power to the faint; and to those who have no might He increases strength."
The gospel-net is still to be entrusted to their hands. At His word
myriads of immortal souls should, through their instrumentality, be enclosed
in it. He would, moreover, comfort them with the assurance of His continual
presence and blessing—that, in the darkest night of their worldly or
spiritual toil, they might think of a Great and Wise Provider—a wakeful eye
of Heavenly love that would never allow them to toil unowned and
unrecompensed. While, on the one hand, He would seek them to feel their
utter impotency without His presence and blessing, He would also
assure them of the triumphant success which should follow, and must ever
follow, His omnipotent word and prompt obedience to it—that, being
"steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," their
labor in the Lord should not be in vain!
III. Another truth this Gennesaret scene was designed to
teach, is the victorious and safe ingathering of the Church of God at the
On the occasion of the former Miraculous Catch, the
nets had been broken. These nets, on that previous occasion, have
been supposed by commentators, from the days of Augustine downwards,
figuratively, to represent the Church of God in its present condition. The
boats, you will remember, when our Lord then spoke to Peter, were still out
on the deep, they were "ready to sink"—the weight and struggles of the fish
broke the meshes of the net, and many of the enclosed escaped into their old
element. Fit type of the visible Church in its militant state—still
on the stormy sea, often threatening to sink, the net rent with unholy and
unhappy divisions, enclosing indiscriminately both "bad and good"—believers
and professors—saints and hypocrites—those having the form without the power
of godliness, who are arrested for a season only to return once more to
their sinful element.
But in this second miraculous enclosure all is
different—the net is not hauled in, while the boats are still on the sea—the
fishermen are now done with the sea of life, its storms and toils, and
night-watchings; they have planted their own footsteps on the Heavenly
shore, and brought their net along with them.
It is a lovely picture of the Resurrection Morn,
when all divisions and separations among Churches and Christians shall be at
an end—when every fish in the sea of immortal being, "all the children of
God scattered abroad," shall be gathered in. Notwithstanding the vast
aggregate, not one shall be missing. Over the unbroken net the glorified
Redeemer will be able to repeat the declaration of His last intercessory
prayer—"Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost."
IV. Another object Christ had in view, in this morning
feast and meeting, was to demonstrate His own real and undoubted
He wished to convince the disciples that it was no
shadowy apparition which, at that morning hour, saluted them and then
vanished away. It was the Man Christ Jesus—the same Adorable Being
who had been known to them often before on these same shores in "the
breaking of bread."
True it is, indeed, we are fully warranted in believing
that His bodily form had undergone some mysterious change since the
Resurrection. The term here employed is significant—"He showed Himself."
"His body, after the Resurrection, was only visible by a distinct act of His
will." It is possible, too, there may have been some alteration in feature;
perhaps the weary, toil-worn, wasted countenance of the Man of Sorrows,
those furrowed lines of deep woe, which had imprinted themselves on the
disciples' last memories in the Garden—these may have been exchanged for an
aspect of calm elevated joy, befitting the Risen Conqueror.
But one thing they could not mistake—His heart of hearts
was unchanged! They would not wound Him by questioning His personal
identity. This seems to be the meaning of the Evangelist's singular
statement—"None of the disciples dared ask him, Who are You? Knowing Him
to be the Lord." They saw, perhaps, some external alteration (they must
have done so, else why so slow to recognize Him as they were); but they knew
Him from His words, His looks, His loving soul—they knew Him to be the Lord.
He Himself, by the most significant act, confirms the
joyful assurance. He reveals Himself as an unchanged Savior. Though risen
and exalted, and with untold honors in prospect, He still condescends to
lowly offices of love and mercy. He meets His fishermen-apostles in the
chill damps of a spring morning on the Lakeshore. He who, before His
decease, washed their feet, and "wiped them with the towel with which he was
girded," has risen from the grave with the same loving heart which He
ever had! He meets them at the frugal meal—He prepares that meal with
His own hands—He partakes with them—He calls the lowly guests His
"Children!" He would proclaim, as His name and memorial to all
generations—"Jesus in His life of humiliation—Jesus in His state of
exaltation—Jesus risen—Jesus glorified—Jesus crucified—Jesus crowned—is the
same yesterday, and today, and forever!"
V. In this Feast, Jesus would seem to speak, by
anticipation, of a nobler and better festival He was then on His way to
prepare for His Church in glory.
After the night of toil, and the miraculous catch, came
the joyous Banquet. Glad must have been the surprise to these weary jaded
men, after their discouraging labors, to find their Greatest and best Friend
ready to welcome them on shore, with provided pledges of temporal and
spiritual blessings. It told a joyous story of the future—it forewarned, in
the first instance, of a possible (no more, a certain) night
of discouragement—baffled labors—work impeded—souls uncaptured and unsaved.
But all at once, in the hour of utter hopelessness, the Lord gives the
word—the nets are lowered and filled—the elect are gathered in—the great
gospel net with its priceless enclosures is brought safely to the Heavenly
Better than all, Jesus Is There!—the world's long
night-season is over—the eternal morning dawns and the first sight which
catches the eye of the triumphant and glorified Church is—her Glorified
Lord. Faithful to His own promise, He has come again to receive them to
Himself, that where He is, there they may be also. They who have faithfully
and manfully toiled through the night of earthly disaster and
discouragement, shall then "sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob," in
His Father's kingdom.
Let us rejoice in the prospect of this glorious
meeting—May we be among the number of those who "love His appearing!" Some
of you may be out now amid the darkness of the earthly sea—the lights in
your earthly firmament may be dimmed—one star after another, that cheered
you over the waves, may be mysteriously extinguished. But soon shall
daybreak appear; and, standing on the Heavenly shores, in His own peerless
ineffable love, Jesus will be waiting to greet you with the welcome—"Enter
into the Joy of your Lord."
And finally, we must regard this whole scene as an
encouragement to devoted work in the Lord's service.
That Feast was the reward of labor. Had there been no
night of toil, no mutual invitations to "go fishing," that Holy Stranger
would not have met them at day-dawn with so gracious a meal and so rich a
blessing. "God is not unmindful of your work of faith, and your labor of
love;" your services to His people and His cause shall not go unrecompensed
by Him on the Great Day, when "He will give to every man according as his
work has been." Each, remember, has His net of influence and responsibility;
forbid that we should confront our Lord, at last, on the shores of eternity,
with the woeful confession—"My time is done, and my work is not
But while there is a word of exhortation and
encouragement to all, there seems to be a special one for Christ's special
Servants—Ministers of the gospel—for the Apostles of Gennesaret, and the
true "Successors of the Apostles"—successors in their faith and zeal, their
self-sacrifice and devotion, who are "wise to win souls"—faithfully letting
down the gospel net for the catch.
Their work is concluded. Their Lord himself is standing
waiting to receive them at the everlasting Feast of His own presence and
love. The banquet is prepared—shall He issue the invitation, "Come, all
things are ready?" No, something still is needed! the Almighty Provider has
yet some element of bliss to add, before the feast is complete. "Bring," He
says, "of the fish that YOU have caught!"
Oh, wondrous thought! the faithful Servants of Christ—the
"Fishers of men"—are told by their Lord, on that joyous morn, to bring with
them the immortal souls they have captured! Assembled at the heavenly
feast—with the Savior before them, and the white-robed band of immortals
saved through their instrumentality, seated by His side—they shall be
enabled, in Paul's burning words of triumph, to exclaim, "What is our hope,
or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not YOU in the presence of the Lord