We go back to the Sea of Galilee, the beautiful little lake among the hills, where the Lord had been so much with the disciples. Some of the disciples were fishermen, and others had lived near by. Capernaum was by the lake, where the Lord made His home after leaving Nazareth. How many sick people He had healed in and near Capernaum! How often He had walked along the shore and taught the people! He had sailed with the disciples in their fishing boat and had quieted the storms. He had gone with them sometimes to the eastern shore, once to cast out devils and again to feed the multitude.
A little party of the disciples, lonely for the Lord, had come back to the Sea of Galilee where they had been so much with Him. There were seven of them; Peter and Thomas and Nathaniel, James and John, and two others. Peter said, "I go a fishing," and they went out for a night of fishing on the lake. All night they caught nothing. But we must read what happened in the morning. (Verses 4-14) It was another glad surprise. The Lord had told the disciples that He would meet them in Galilee. He met a large company of them in a mountain which He appointed, and He came also to these lonely men by the Sea of Galilee.
Do you remember the beautiful Sea of Galilee, with its mountains and hills sloping down to its shores, and the lovely fertile plain on the northwest? There were the many little fishing boats on the sea, and many people coming and going, for the cities near the sea were busy places in those days. Many of the disciples had their homes near the Sea of Galilee. You remember that Andrew and Peter were casting their net into the sea when the Lord called them to follow Him and become fishers of men; and that James and John were in a boat mending their nets when the Lord called them to be His disciples.
The Lord and His disciples at times entered into a boat and went to the other side to find rest. For you know much of His work was done near Capernaum. Twice you know they were on the sea when great storms arose. Once the Lord was in the back part of the boat asleep, and when they awoke Him He bade the wind and the waves be still. The other time He came to them walking in the sea, and when He went up into the boat not only did the storm cease, but the boat was at the land where they would go.
Another time when the multitude thronged Him, the Lord entered a boat, and pushing out a little way from the shore He taught the people. You remember the time when He sent Peter to catch the first fish that came up, and in its mouth Peter found a shekel, the tribute money for himself and the Lord.
These things and many more the Gospels tell us of the life of the Lord and His disciples on and near the Sea of Galilee.
The Lord, after He was risen, appeared several times, sometimes to many of His followers and sometimes to one or to a few, during forty days before He ascended from their sight. One very lovely meeting with seven disciples was by the Sea of Galilee, all the more lovely for being in this familiar place where the Lord had been so much with them. Do you remember the five disciples who are named? Read the story through the 14th verse. "The third time" probably refers to the two times that the Lord had come to the company of disciples gathered in the room in Jerusalem.
How many memories of days spent with the Lord, of His miracles and of His teaching, must have come to the disciples' minds in this familiar place! Also the Lord's command to let down the net and the miracle of the many fishes must have reminded them of the day when the Lord first called some of them from their nets to be disciples. Read Luke 5:1-11, and see how nearly alike the two incidents are. Do you notice any differences? The filling of the net for the disciples by the Lord on the day that He called them to be fishers of men was a sign of His power which would be with them in their ministry; and now when He gave the same sign after the resurrection, was it not a sign and promise that the same power of the Lord would be with them as they went out on their larger ministry?
Let us make as perfect a picture as we can in our minds of this scene, the last scene that John gives us in his Gospel. The place so dear to them all, so full of precious memories: the waves lapping the pebbly beach, the beloved mountains across the little sea outlining themselves against the morning sky, and all enveloped in the charm of the early dawn, with the sweet familiar sounds of the awakening world. Here the Lord met His loving disciples for almost the last time on earth. The same gentle Friend, and yet so changed, come back to them for the moment, and they partaking of His simple meal listened and wondered.
1. "The sea of Tiberias." What sea is meant? Where does it get this name?
2. "The sons of Zebedee." What were their names? Where had the Lord first called them to be disciples?
3. When was there a similar miracle of fishes? What points of likeness and of difference do you notice between the two events?
4. At what other times since His resurrection had the Lord been seen, when He was not at first known? What in each case made Him known?
The "third time" in verse 14, no doubt has reference to the two times already described by John, when the Lord had come to the disciples in Jerusalem. (John 20:19, 26) It had been promised that He would also go before them into Galilee. (Matthew 26:32; 28:7, 10) Besides this meeting by the Sea of Galilee, we are told in Matthew of a meeting in an appointed mountain. (Matthew 28:16-18; see also 1 Corinthians 15:6, 7) There is special interest in the coming to the disciples in Galilee, when we remember that the districts of the Holy Land have relation to the several departments of a heavenly life, Judea to its interior affection, and Galilee to its outward thought and conduct. The coming to them in Jerusalem gave assurance that the Lord would be with them still in states of heavenly affection and worship; the coming to them in Galilee gave assurance that He would be with them in the labors of daily life. He came to them in the old familiar place, by the shore where they had so often walked with Him. He would still be with them, as He had been, the same faithful Friend. (A. 6516; E. 439, 447)
The coming to the disciples as they were fishing reminds us of their first call from their nets. The miracles of the fishes on the two occasions are very similar. (Luke 5:1-11) Their occupation as fishermen represented the higher work to which the disciples were called. The sea represents the atmosphere of natural thought and life. Catching fish for food is like applying natural truth to the needs of spiritual life. It is also like lifting men up from natural to spiritual states. Toiling all night and catching nothing pictures the ineffectiveness of effort for heavenly life, or of efforts to lead others into heavenly life, made in our own strength without the Lord. The miraculous draught of fishes was a promise of the great power to teach and uplift men, which the disciples would have from the Lord. The miracle was repeated: at the beginning of their discipleship and after the Lord's resurrection. The same power which had made their work effective when the Lord was outwardly with them would be with them now from His inward presence. The net of the spiritual fishermen is the doctrine and instruction by which they uplift. Casting the net on the right side of the ship is teaching with charity, and for the sake of charity. The net in the earlier miracle began to break, in the second miracle it was not broken; suggesting a stronger grasp of truth by the disciples and more effective teaching after the Lord's resurrection than before. (E. 513; R. 405) May it have been partly that they realized now more fully that the Lord's kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly kingdom? While the thought of an earthly kingdom lingered it surely was a weakness in their net. (E. 513; R. 405)
That night they caught nothing, but in the morning Jesus stood on the shore. To be without the Lord is spiritual night; His coming is spiritual morning. (A. 10134)
John was the first to perceive, and told Peter that it was the Lord. So at the sepulchre John had been the first to perceive that the Lord was risen. Do you see the reason, remembering the elements of character for which these disciples stand? We shall think more about John and Peter in our next lesson.
"Come and dine." Eating with the Lord represents the strengthening of the soul by the reception of truth and goodness from Him. The disciples would still receive from the risen Lord their daily life and strength. The fish and the bread which they saw laid upon the coals, like the loaves and fishes with which the multitudes were fed, represent the truth and goodness which the Lord desires to give. The fire of coals represents the Divine love in which He imparts these gifts of life. The disciples were bidden to bring of the fish that they had caught. It suggests that it is partly through the Lord's blessing upon our own efforts that the heavenly satisfaction and strength are given. (E. 513; A. 7852)