When I was a boy, some of my fondest memories were of my father and I “casting a line” together. Fishing has probably brought more fathers and sons together than most any activity. For us, it was no different. My earliest memory was as a four-year old and sitting with my father on a cement embankment along the Arkansas River in Wichita Kansas. He would be patiently fishing for catfish while I dangled a line with a chicken neck as I caught crawdads. This was great fun, especially since it involved spending time with my dad.
Guys are like that, I guess. Most of us aren’t much for sitting and chatting across the table as the fairer gender can do with much grace. However, give us some fishing poles and let us be busy with something like fishing and we can generally have some pretty good conversations. The more I understand this dynamic with men, the more I understand what happened with Peter and six of the disciples after the Lord’s resurrection. Sometimes, there is comfort in doing something familiar when there are more questions than answers.
It is important to understand how the disciples came to this place after Jesus’ resurrection that day by the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee). How the seven disciples got to Galilee and why the other four were not there is not revealed in scripture. In many regards, the circumstances and setting of the 40 days that Christ interacted with His disciples is not much clearer, either. Matthew tells us in his gospel that the journey to Galilee was a command of Jesus directly after the resurrection,
And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus *said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:8-10)
Mark and Luke do not mention a trip to Galilee. Apparently, they did not believe this was important to the story they were trying to tell. Mark, as we know, dealt with a quick summation of the gospel events purely by the sixteen chapter length of his narrative—the shortest of all the Gospels. Possibly he felt that this diversion to Galilee was not important to tell to his Gentile audience. Luke also wrote his gospel to a non-Jewish readership. Possibly he did not feel that the trip to Galilee was something he needed to relate. However, Matthew wrote to a largely Jewish audience and John wrote to both Greeks and Diaspora Jews (Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire). These apparently believed this to be an important detail of their stories.
Very possibly they hesitated in going to Galilee and that is why Jesus appeared to them in Jerusalem. Then, after Jesus tells them to remain in Jerusalem they decide to go to Galilee where Jesus gives them the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Rather than returning to Jerusalem immediately, seven of the disciples may have very well tarried in Galilee rather than returning to Jerusalem and to wait in the city as they were told until they were clothed with power from on high. We know from Acts 1:3 that Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days. After this, the disciples waited for 10 days for the promise of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room. (Acts 2:1)
It is important to understand that the Gospels show a disjointed set of events for a reason. It is clear there were some definite commands from Jesus yet there was questionable obedience. By the time Peter and the disciples had decided to go fishing in John 21, one can surmise they should have probably been back in Jerusalem, in obedience to the Lord’s word. Luke tells us in his gospel that the disciples had an appointment with destiny in the holy city. He writes,
"And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
Instead, we hear by John’s account, how he along with his brother James and the other five disciples were instead fishing. Why were they fishing, of all things, when they had just been part of the greatest miracle of all time and eternity? One might easily assume that they fell back into what they were comfortable doing. The sons of Zebedee -- John and James -- along with Peter are those we know from scripture who were present that day who were by trade fishermen. John’s account is as follows,
After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They *said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. (John 21:1-3)
We know from the subsequent verses of this uneventful night of fishing that the Lord appears to them on the seashore the next morning. He then instructs them on where to cast their nets and fill their boats with a large catch. After they were all on shore and having eaten breakfast, the Lord Jesus asks Peter a series of poignant questions regarding his love toward Him. The implication of Jesus’ three questions is compelling and remonstrative of Peter’s denying His Savior three times. One can imagine after this meeting on the shores of Galilee how Peter and the others reset their faces toward Jerusalem to join their brethren and to obey Christ’s command to wait in Jerusalem until they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some skeptics will take the seemingly disjointed chain of events in Matthew, Luke, and John and seek to show contradictions in the scriptures. However, as I have alluded, these work in concert with one another if one understands how the world of the disciples was turned upside down after the resurrection. Did the disciples go immediately to Galilee after the resurrection as put forth in Matthew’s gospel? One can only assume they did not go immediately to Galilee since Jesus appeared to the disciples the same evening that those who encountered Him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. That very night and in the same chapter of Luke, Jesus tells them to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high. Scripture makes it clear from the other gospels that they do not “remain” in Jerusalem as they are commanded. Thomas we are told was not at this first appearing in the gospel of John. However, in John 20:26 we read that eight days later the Lord appears to all 11 disciples including Thomas. Were they still in Jerusalem, or had they ventured back to Galilee when the Lord revealed Himself? The answer is not clear in scripture.
One thing is clear; the disciples were leaderless. They very possibly may have understood from the instructions they received from the angels that they were to return to Galilee at some point (Matthew 28:7), yet the Lord had told them to remain in Jerusalem. The point is that the disciples were lost without Jesus and His guidance. They had yet to receive the true power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to give them the guidance they sorely needed. So, when they did resort to fishing, this was the most logical thing they could do in their own minds at the time. It took a divine appointment of Jesus redirecting Peter on that day by the sea for them to once again get their spiritual bearings.
I often think the same things about many who give their lives to the Lord, and experience the wonder of His saving power in their lives. They see and understand what God has done by saving them, yet they lack the wherewithal to live it out. They have yet to come into the power of the Holy Spirit through obedient living. Therefore, they are running on emotions or what this preacher says or some other well-meaning Christian might suggest. Some might be saying to go and meet Jesus in their respective “Galilee,” when all Jesus is really saying is to wait in their personal “Jerusalem” until they are endued with the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian life is so much simpler when we are being led by the Spirit. The forty days of Christ’s appearing to the disciples after His resurrection may have been more confusing than comforting in many respects. Finally, when the Comforter came in the Person of the Holy Spirit, then the disciples truly understood their “Great Commission” and how Christ desired them to help build His church first in Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and finally to the entire world. But are we not the same way? Until the Holy Spirit truly has His way with us, are we not confused about our destiny as Christians? Do we not go hither and thither when all He requires of us is to wait on Him and heed His direction? Even as the Gospels have apparent contradictions, we also will have striking contradictions in our lives until we allow the Holy Spirit to rule and reign through us for Christ’s sake. Then, we like the disciples, will fulfill all that He desires for His good pleasure. We will no longer be “fishing” for a feeling of security in our uneasiness, but we will be fulfilling His desire to make us fishers of those around us who He has called for His own.
Heavenly Father, take the confusion that we may sometimes experience and replace it with Your wisdom. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit and let Him lead and guide us. No longer do we want to be going "hither and thither" unless You are the One telling us to go. And, if You are telling us to wait and to be still until Your power comes, give us the insight to understand. We pray this in Your Son Jesus' Name and for His sake, Amen.
Your Barefoot Servant,