John 20:1-14 Two Fires, Two Communities, One Lord

Sermon Audio

Sermon: People of God, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! C.S. Lewis once wrote: that “Symbols are the natural speech of the soul, a language older and more universal than words.”[1] The gospel of St. John is profoundly rooted in symbolic language. Approaching John with an American and Western mindset will minimize the fullness of the resurrection story. We need to embrace a biblical orientation; a way of looking at the Bible that would do justice to the text and its intended purpose. We need to look at the Bible Through New Eyes[2] as our resident theologian would say.

This narrative in the end of John contains two central ideas. The first is that Jesus’ resurrection brings in a new world. When I speak of the new world I am not referring to some ethereal, abstract geographical concept. This is not Plato. The New World is very much physical; it is in our midst. It is tangible. We can see the new world with our eyes and we can even take a picture of it. All things are made new in Christ. You see the new world when a baby is baptized; you taste the new world when you drink and when you eat at the Lord’s Table. The New World affects everything. The advances of medicine and technology are not to be seen as evil in and of itself, they are to be seen as an affect of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In the New World, we have agriculture, but we also have city. In the Old World, there was only agriculture. Now we have both. You can live depending on farming or you can live depending on your stove or microwave. You may be tempted to see one as evil and the other as good, but God sees it all as very good. This is His creation, His world, and according to St. Paul, “God richly provides us all things to enjoy (provided it is enjoyed with biblical lenses).”[3]

The second idea is that of oneness. The gospels make it abundantly clear, and especially through the use of symbols, that Jesus Christ was raised so that His people would be One. There is no longer a Jew/Gentile distinction. In fact, we see that this has always been God’s intention. Even in the Old Covenant when the Jews possessed the oracles of Yahweh, God was already making sure that His message would go beyond the borders of Israel. We see this clearly in Jonah when repentance is proclaimed to the Gentile Ninevites.

The New World and the Oneness of God’s people are affects of the resurrection. We begin to see these affects in our gospel lesson.

In John 21, we see the revelation, the manifestation of Jesus to his disciples. He reveals himself again by the Sea of Tiberias. The Sea of Tiberias is just the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee. They are both references to the same sea. This may not appear to mean much, but using the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee is an indication that something new is happening.

John gives us in verse two a list of the disciples that were there when Jesus appeared. He begins with Simon Peter. He lists Simon Peter first because this text is very much focused on Simon Peter’s encounter with Jesus. But he is also listed first because he is the natural leader of the group. He acts when it seems most improbable. He takes risks; he acts on his convictions. In this list John also names Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee. Now, notice that no other references contain the place of origin. Why does John say that Nathaniel was from Cana in Galilee? What is the importance of Cana in Galilee? You will remember that in John 2, Jesus performs the great miracle of turning water into wine in Cana of Galilee. This is another clue to what is happening in this passage. How much wine: an abundance of wine. There is a lot of wine in Cana of Galilee and lots of fish in the Sea of Galilee. The theme of abundance is prevalent in John 21.

In verse 3, Peter leads the disciples fishing. The disciples are going back to their old trade.[4] They are unsure of their future and their vocation, so they go back fishing. These are professional fishermen, but according to the text they come back empty handed. The text tells us that they went fishing at night. The text is moving us from night to day; from mourning to joy.

Verse 4 sounds very familiar. Jesus appears as the day is breaking and the disciples do not know who he is. Mary Magdelene also did not recognize Jesus. Jesus calls Mary by name and in John 21 Jesus calls his disciples “Children.” Matthew Henry writes: “…he speaks unto them as unto his sons, with the care and tenderness of a father.”[5] It is when Jesus calls that the recognition begins to take place.

There is another element to this question that needs to be answered. Jesus asks: “Do you have any fish?” Is it not interesting that the One who is the Bread of Heaven come down for us; the One who is food for us is inquiring if the disciples have any food?

They have no fish; they have been fishing all night, but there is no fish. Returning to their old trade and vocation is not going so well. They are not doing well, because this is not their calling. This is a picture of their helplessness. Apart from Me, you can do nothing. Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. The result is that there is an abundance of fish. By this miracle, Jesus is saying: “If you listen to my voice, you will find abundance.” Jesus comes so that the disciples may have life and life more abundantly. If you listen to my voice, I will provide for you in the morning.

Then the reactions begin. First, John the beloved disciple says: “It is the Lord!” How he comes to recognize Jesus is debatable. It may have been the miracle of the quantity of fish. John may have remembered the multiplying of fish and bread earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Or, what appears more likely, that John connected the voice of Jesus with the deeds of Jesus.

Upon hearing that it was the Lord, Peter puts on his outer garment and throws himself into the sea. The text says he was stripped for work. This does not make much sense. Why would he put on an outer garment when he could swim with greater ease without it? Some would say[6] that Peter was dressing up to meet his Lord. But that does not satisfy the text. If this was the case, then the text would say something about the other disciples putting on their outer garments when coming to shore to meet their Lord. But St. John singles out peter. There seems to be a symbolic interest in this scene. Peter Leithart thinks that “Peter is about to be re-installed as an apostolic shepherd, and prior to that he puts on a robe of investiture…[7] In other words, Peter is going to return to his old trade as shepherd and instead of fishing for fish, he will now fish for men. This makes perfect sense, because what does Peter do? He throws himself into the sea. “Peter is a Jonah throwing Himself into ministry to the world…”[8] Jonah threw himself into the sea for the sake of the others; Peter throws himself into the sea for the sake of the others. Clearly, this is substitution language.[9] Indeed Peter and almost all disciples will die a martyr’s death for the sake of others and the gospel.

Now when they arrived into the dry land, what was waiting for them? There was a charcoal fire, there was fish, and there was bread. Earlier, Jesus was not asking for food because he needed to nourish himself, Jesus was asking for food so they could realize that without him they were hungry and purposeless. Jesus is the true food. Jesus had provided the food for them by preparing a fire. They were not going to provide anything for Jesus; the resurrected Christ was going to provide for them. But this story is secondarily about the six disciples, and primarily about Peter. This story is about Peter’s redemption. Why do I say this: because Jesus has a charcoal fire ready. Why a fire: because people like to gather around fire. Whether it is our Thanksgiving or our New Year’s party at camp, you get a fire started and people will gather around. Fire has a way of building community. Why is this fire important? It is important because it is not the first fire gathering Peter has been a part of. The only two places where this word for “fire” is used are in chapter 18 and now in this chapter. What happens in the fire of chapter 18? The servants and the officers are warming themselves around the charcoal fire and Peter joins them. The Bible says that Peter stood with them. This is a sign of Peter’s spiritual state. It is around that fire in chapter 18 that Peter denies our Lord. They ask him: “Are you one of His disciples?” Peter answers: “No.” Peter is around the wrong fire; he is around the wrong community. In the second fire where Jesus prepares breakfast for Peter, Jesus is re-creating that scene in which Peter denied Him, but now instead of denying our Lord, Peter affirms our Lord and is restored.

In John 21, Jesus sets a charcoal fire on the beach…He is forming a new community. He wants Peter to be a part of that community. The fire in the courtyard represented the false community. Jesus builds a fire that represents the Holy Spirit who will shortly be poured out on the people in fire.[10]

It was there in that redeemed community that Peter eats with our Lord. He warms himself first with the unrighteous, but now he warms himself with the Righteous One, the resurrected Lord.

What does this text teach us?

It teaches us that the gospel is going to the land, to the Gentiles. Jesus’ resurrection means that Jew and Gentile are one in Christ. The Gospel goes to the whole world; because the Gospel is not limited to Israel, but it belongs to the world.

But this text also teaches us that only in Jesus is there redemption. Only in the community of saints can one find truth and redemption.

How shall we live?

There are only two communities, two fires, two tables; there is only one place you can be. You are either with the high-priests warming yourself with them or you are with Jesus.[11] There is no neutrality. Do you want to be in the right community? Then seek the Christian community. It’s all right to know or even to enjoy the company of unbelievers at times, but they cannot be your friends. This is precisely why gospel living and gospel proclamation is so important. I have said this before, but I say it again for emphasis: Only Christians know how to party! If we are to evangelize the lost, we do it in our terms, not in their terms.

Let me offer two examples:

Certainly there are times when we attend events hosted by unbelievers. But in evangelism, we are the ones who should take the initiative. We host events and we invite them over. The gospel model is that they look at us and see Christ. Jesus says they shall know me when they see that we love one another. In the gospels we call them to join in our feast. To take the example from our narrative this morning, unbelievers should be the minority in our parties. If they want to find comfort, let them come to our campfire. The Psalmist tells us not to sit in the seat of the scornful, but rather in the seat of the godly, in the congregation of the godly. The gospel message is never a message where you are called to compromise your principles in order to save the lost. Be holy at all times and in all places. This “fire” principle is a principle that can be applied in various areas. Think of education. As Christian parents, do we want our children to be receiving the warmth of a secular and pagan state, or do we want them to be receiving the warmth of Jesus, in the community that Jesus establishes?

There is also an apologetic principle. Many Christians today fail to see this principle when defending the faith. When we encounter or engage unbelievers, as we are called to do,[12] we do not compromise our convictions or our Gospel for the sake of dialogue. We live and move and have our being in Christ, which means we also debate and engage unbelieving thought as Christ would have us do. We challenge the unbeliever on the basis of his inconsistencies. We never assume that God does not exist for the sake of common ground. God exists and that is our starting point. We do not pretend to be in fellowship with darkness to make a case to unbelievers why they should be in the light.

There is a vast amount of implications to thinking in these terms, but fundamentally in this Easter Season, we need to grasp that all other gods and all other systems of thinking are still dead, but Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! In the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, 137

[2] Reference to James Jordan’s masterpiece Through New Eyes.

[3] I Timothy 5:17.

[4] As always, helpful insights from Rich Lusk, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian in Birmingham, AL

[5] Matthew Henry, Commentary on John 21:3

[6] Matthew Henry, Commentary on John.

[7] Peter Leithart, thoughts on John 21.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Brief observation made in James Jordan’s Sunday School lesson at Providence Church, see

[10] Rich Lusk, sermon on John 21.

[11] Ibid.

[12] I Peter 3:15

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Audio, John, Sermons/Easter. Bookmark the permalink.

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