A Word of Grace – October 8, 2012

Monday Grace

Dear Friends,

This is the eleventh and last message in a series on the sea stories of Jesus. The series started on the beach and it ends there.

There is a saying that “God is in the details.” The Gospel stories of the Sea of Galilee and Jesus’ experiences with the fishermen there contain many details of the place and the culture that can be verified from extra-Biblical sources, validating and enlivening the Gospel accounts.

From way before the time of Jesus, fishermen have used nets on the sea of Galilee. There are three basic types of nets in use.

The oldest type is the dragnet a long tall net that is stretched out from shore to boat and back again, and then a team of men drags the net and its contents in to shore. This is the best technique for catching fish hiding out on the bottom.

The cast net is a circular, weighted net about 20 feet in diameter. It has to be cast (thrown) from shore or boat , a skill that requires great strength. The envelope of the net is closed by the weights coming together as the net sinks. The fish are encircled and caught. The fishermen sometimes have to jump in the water to retrieve the net. Because of this need to dive in and the fact that they were fishing at night, the fishermen in Jesus’ time would take off their clothes to fish. That explains why Peter is stripped down in this week’s message.

The trammel net is really three large nets layered together by finer nets.These are used in deep water free of snagging rocks. The net is deployed by one or more boats sailing or rowing in a circle trapping the schooling fish.

As I have noted previously, the fish would be sorted and counted for purpose of Roman taxation. The sorting served a more basic function. Fish with scales and fins were considered clean under Jewish law, while catfish, eels, frogs and salamanders and the like were considered unclean (Lev 11:9-12). Counting also allowed allocation of the catch to the fishermen according to their pre-agreed share. This combination of Mosaic and Roman legal requirements is what accounts for the very specific number of 153 big fish that John cites in John 21:11 that were likely caught in a cast net.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,* Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake.But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (John 21:1-14).


It is a good hundred miles or more to walk from Jerusalem to Capernaum depending on whether or not you go through or around Samaria. It is not clear how the disciples got there or when. I can imagine that it was just one foot after another, moment by moment, as they staggered under the weight of grief, fear, exhaustion and the unknown.

We’d call it something like “flying on autopilot,” 2,000 plus years later, or “operating at the default setting.” What is the default setting of your life?

Computers and other kinds of electronic devices have default settings. When advanced programs and functions fail or aren’t adequate to the task, a default setting is what allows the device to continue to function.

A human default setting is an activity that we have previously mastered that we revert to in times of extraordinary stress, grief or anxiety. We may seek solace in cooking, baking, exercise,  sports, or work.

My instinct when tragedy or sorrow threatens to overwhelm me is to work harder and longer in an effort to restore normality to my life. Most people have something they do to try to “reboot” their emotional and physical systems.

Seven disciples are gathered in Capernaum where they had lived and worked before they left with Jesus. The arrest and crucifixion of Jesus has shattered their dreams. They are grief-stricken, struggling to understand the events that had cost them their Master, and trying to figure out what to do next. They have talked, argued and wept until there is nothing left to say. The inaction is more than Peter can bear.

Peter announces, “I am going fishing.” His six companions say as one, “We will go with you.”

Fishing was what most of them had been doing when Jesus called them. Peter, Andrew,  James, John and Philip were all fishermen. Matthew had been the  tax  collector for  the  Capernaum fishing industry. They know fishing. It is understandable that they return to what is familiar to them to try to regain a grip on their lives.

There are commentators who harshly criticize the disciples for going out fishing at this time. Hadn’t Jesus told them that from now on they would fish for men? Where is their faith?

It is not fair to hypothesize what another person’s reaction should be to suffering or grief. Solomon wrote, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy” (Pr 14:10). Faith often amounts to simply doing the best that you can do under the circumstances and not giving up while you wait for the way ahead to open.

The disciples fish all night and catch nothing. Life is progressive not cyclical. Returning to the old haunts and routines will not necessarily lead to the same experiences. As Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” After we have suffered the disruption of intense pain and loss retracing old patterns won’t bring us the peace that they once did.

They don’t know it yet, but Jesus is waiting for them. He’s always there, you know — waiting and watching nearby us, but we don’t always recognize him. He is gracious and doesn’t butt in.

When Jesus does introduce himself, he does so  with a question that points out that their best efforts are coming up short — “Children, you have no fish, have you?”

They don’t recognize the questioner, but the answer is inescapable. “No,” they call back.

He proposes doing things differently. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

Are we willing to do something different, to surrender our will and way to Jesus when our attempt to work things out is bringing us no return? That question is evergreen and real. Until we do surrender . . . well . . . what are we doing with our default activity?

The first step of surrender is to stop whatever it is that we our doing now. Jesus doesn’t tell us, “You need to be doing more.” He says, “Come to me, you overworked, stressed, broken people and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28, my paraphrase).

The second step of surrender is to let Jesus take the lead as we follow. We need to do what he tells us to do.

They did cast their net and the immediate result was stunning. They caught so many fish that they couldn’t haul it back in, but their net held and didn’t tear.

What do we look for from Jesus? We have a tendency to wrestle with him when things are going badly. “Where are you? What are you doing? Why won’t you help? What will it take, Lord, to get your attention?”

John knows what it is like to be loved by Jesus. He had started out as a combative “son of thunder,” ready to “nuke” an entire Samaritan village for rejecting Jesus (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus love has transformed him into the “disciple Jesus loved” as he now refers to himself.

The assured instruction from the man on the shore that comes despite the futile effort, and empty net reminds John of the day they first went fishing with Jesus. He had them put out their net after a night in which they had caught nothing, and the resulting catch was so large that it tore their nets and almost sank their boat (Luke 5:4-7). Jesus speaks a solution to their immediate need and frustration. John knows that such love has only one source, “It is the Lord!” he exclaims to Peter.

Peter is a broken man at this moment. His own betrayal of Jesus was obscured by the lethal perfidy of Judas, but was no less shameful. Peter is exhausted from a hard night of casting the net. He is desperate for redemption.

Peter had stripped down to make it easier to plunge in and swim to retrieve the net. On hearing John’s recognition that the Lord is standing on the shore, Peter pulls on his clothes and plunges in to swim to Jesus. This is the moment that Peter goes all in for Jesus and leaves his old life behind him. Putting on his clothes means he intends to stay with Jesus.

The other disciples follow Peter in the boat, dragging the overweighted net behind them.

They find that Jesus has a charcoal fire burning on the beach. He is baking bread and broiling fish on the coals for their breakfast.

I grew up on the coast and know that there is something special about a fire on the beach. There is something hypnotically beautiful about the flames and the fragrance of the smoke. The chill of the damp night air is relieved by the warmth. The transformation of driftwood and debris into fuel and flame and the possibility of hot, nurturing food demonstrate forgiveness and grace.

A beach fire is a blessing of comfort and sustenance to those attracted to the fireside for fellowship and warmth. The use of the charcoal which would have to be carried to the beach, and the baking bread and broiling fish shows preparation on Jesus’ part. He cares that his followers are hungry, tired and brokenhearted and looks out for their immediate physical needs.

“Bring some of the fish that you have just caught,” Jesus tells them. They caught those fish by following his instruction. He wants them to enjoy the fruit of their obedience. He intends a life of blessed communion with his followers sharing what he brings to us and what we bring to him from the gifts he has given us.

New life is breathed into Peter. Six men had not been able to pull in the net full of fish. Now, Peter runs out and does the job himself.

“Without me, you can do nothing, ” Jesus had told them (John 15:5). But if Christ is brought in the struggle changes. Paul later described this timeless truth: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

With the additional fish cooking on the fire, Jesus invites them to “Come and have breakfast.” By this time, all of the disciples recognize that the Lord is with them. They don’t have to say a word. He is looking out for them.

They are finally starting to get the message. At Jesus’ first encounter with them recorded in Luke 5:1-11 and discussed in the second message of this series, he told them to put down their nets after they had fished all night and caught nothing and the resulting catch tore their nets and threatened to sink their boats.

This morning at Jesus’ word, they have experienced another overwhelming catch — 153 big fish by the count they made for the tax collector, but this time there was no torn net. It is time to believe “the riches of his grace that he lavished on us” (Eph 1:7).

But the real message of this sea story and this entire series is in Jesus’ invitation to come to breakfast. “Are we willing to let Jesus into the ordinary places of our life, into the most basic things we do, like our breakfast, our work, our daily routine with family and friends, and our recreation?

If we can’t sit down with Jesus for breakfast, we are never going to sit down with him at the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).

“Listen!” he tells us. “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me” (Rev 3:20).

We wait in vain to sit down with Jesus until after we’ve done the “big stuff” — closed the deal. achieved the shining success, entered the “right” relationship, survived the storm, completed our list of things to do. All that means is that we don’t have Jesus in our lives as the years slip by and we gain nothing of eternal worth. That’s escapism, not surrender or sacrifice, and it leaves us with restless nights and days of empty nets.

Our lives are 99% lived in ordinary circumstances. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing — that’s where you need Jesus Christ; that’s where you need a Savior; that’s where you need the transformation of grace; and that’s where he is waiting for you.

This is the life of Jesus lived out in us that we are talking about (Gal 2:20-21). His grace is either sufficient for us or we have nothing to go on except pretense (See 2 Cor 12:9). Lost at sea or frantic with busyness on shore, there is no part of our lives exempt from his reach and no condition of the heart that is immune from his blessing.

Jesus breaks the bread of life with these tired, disillusioned men and feeds them. He does the same with the fish that they’ve caught. This is the Son of God caring for them in their work — feeding us, loving us, restoring us in success and in failure.

The junction where our ordinary circumstances are transformed by his extraordinary grace is at the cross where Jesus did for us what we can’t do for ourselves. He is the answer to our empty nets.

Like the disciples we shuffle around the fire of his love, anxious that the light will expose our inadequacies, afraid of what he might think of us, stumbling for the right words, unable to call him, “Lord.”

He says. “It’s enough that I am here with you. Let’s start the day together and take it from there. Come to breakfast.”

Afterwards, he will walk and talk with us like he does with Peter on the beach this day. We are never done with each other. Our relationship is for eternity.  The beach is only a transition point. From  that place he will either send us back out to sea or inland.

Like Peter, we will be tempted to hold back, look around and ask for clarification, but his answer is always the same across the sea, up the mountain and on the flats, “What is that to you? Follow me” (John 21:15-23).

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,




Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.


Kent HansenKent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.

Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.

One thought on “A Word of Grace – October 8, 2012

  1. Paul McGuire

    Thank you for this message. Nicely done and a comforting encouragement. You address the Father’s desire for all to come to Him, regardless of their heart-condition. He, alone, knows how to repair our broken lives. Please, keep sharing that message.

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