There is a question all of us ask in life that needs to be answered. We ask it when we are at a crossroads like graduation or a wedding or maybe the birth of a child. We ask it during times of tragedy like the loss of a job or the loss of a relationship or the loss of someone we love. We also ask this when we are feeling dissatisfied in life like or when we are searching for something more and new and fresh that will bring joy or meaning or energy to our lives. It’s a simple question but a profound one because it is the question that often leads us in a new direction – that question? Now What?
This is the question the disciples asked themselves daily after Jesus rose from the dead. What did the resurrection mean for their live? What did it mean for their world? What were the disciples supposed to do now that Jesus was alive but not leading them the way he had for the past three years? I’ve been struck recently that while Jesus was alive, he was not with the disciples like he was before and he was not leading them the same way. Jesus was no longer walking with the disciples – literally. Sometimes Jesus was with them, but most of the time he was not. Jesus was not publically teaching and preaching and he was not leading his friends the way he had in the past. Some of the confusion or uncertainty the disciples faced during this time is found in the story we are going to look at today from the end of John’s gospel. John 21:1-14.
Some background here… Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead and first appeared to his disciples in Jerusalem but here we find at least 7 of the disciples back in Galilee. Galilee was 70 miles from Jerusalem and without any means of transportation besides their 2 feet; it would have taken them 6 days to get there. So it was a big decision to return to what was home for the disciples. The question is, why did the go there? And why did they go back to fishing? In Matthew and Mark’s gospel we hear that told his disciples that he would meet them again in Galilee so maybe after seeing Jesus in the upper room in Jerusalem they felt like they needed to go back home to see him again. Maybe they just didn’t know what else to do. Why they went back to fishing, we don’t know.
They may have needed the food or the money, or it could be that they just didn’t know what else to do so they returned to what they knew best. The death and resurrection of Jesus literally rocked their world and so during this time of uncertainty when they didn’t know what their future held, maybe the disciples just went back to what was known and comfortable for them – fishing. But what happened to them while they fished tells us what we need to do whenever we get to a place where we are asking God, Now What?
The first thing we see here is that on their own, the disciples are pretty helpless. They went back to fishing but they hadn’t been able to catch anything. On their own they weren’t getting anywhere. On their own they were coming up empty. Does that sound familiar? How many times do we struggle to do things our way only to find we are getting nowhere? We rely on our own wisdom or strength and come up empty? When we are looking for direction or needing strength to make it to the next day or looking for healing, hope and new beginnings, the first thing we need to do is admit that we can not make it on our own. We need to confess our own insufficiency and weakness so that we can begin learn to lean into and trust God. God wants to be our strength but He never can be as long as we trusting in ourselves.
The apostle Paul was a man who throughout his early life trusted in his own strength and ability. He trusted in his family history that gave him power and position. He trusted his own education that had gotten him far in life, but now, all that he once trusted, is coming up empty and it is from this place of emptiness that Paul hears God say, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. God’s power can not enter our lives as long as we are trusting in our own power to see us through. God’s wisdom can not lead us as long as we trusting in our own knowledge and insight to give us direction. God’s presence can not lead us as long we are trusting in our own ability to make our way in life. Paul said he would boast and delight in his weaknesses because when we are weak – God is then able to be strong in us.
It is when we can boast in our weakness or at least acknowledge how much we lack on our own that we are then able to turn to God and begin to find God’s strength and power and grace to help us move forward. When the disciples could no longer find fish on their own – Jesus showed up and told them to fish off the other side of the boat and when they did they got everything they needed – and more. But the disciples only got more because they were willing to follow what Jesus told them. They only got a huge catch of fish because they listened to Jesus and did what he asked them to do.
Now let’s be clear, this miraculous catch of fish did not answer all the disciples’ questions, it wasn’t meant to. The fish were to open their eyes so they could see the one who does have all the answers. They didn’t know what more Jesus would be asking them to do, but they were faithful in that one step and that opened the door for more. What this means for us is that we need to follow God one step at a time. If we are searching for anything in life, the answers don’t usually come down from heaven in a manual with all the steps laid out, it usually comes from being willing to take one step at a time.
Look at Philippians 3:12-16. Let us live up to what we have already attained. Let us obey what we already know of God because when we do that – God will lead us forward. Abraham was one of the first people called by God so in many ways he is the prototype for all of us who want to follow God and what God told Abraham was to leave his home and go to the land that I will show you. Abraham didn’t know where that land was so all he could do was leave his home and trust that God would lead him to a new home. In many ways the disciples are learning that they too are going to have to trust Jesus to lead them one step at a time into a new life and that only happens if we will listen and obey.
Several years ago I went hiking in Acadia National Park and the top of many of the mountains there it is all exposed rock and so the trail is marked with cairns. If it is clear out, you can see all the cairns and your destination, but I when I got to the top there was a dense fog. All I could do was make my way to the next cairn and then look for the next one. When we are uncertain about our future and asking now what?, we need to stop and say, how can I be faithful and obey God today? What do I know of God that I can follow today so God can lead me into tomorrow? Trusting and obeying God today will lead us into the future and obedience really is the key. We don’t have to have all the answers, we just need to obey one step at a time.
Once the disciples obey Jesus and throw their nets over the other side of the boat, they haul in a catch of fish so large that it starts to sink the boat. As soon as this happens, Peter is convinced that it is Jesus on the shore because it was Jesus who provided a catch of fish just like this years earlier. When Peter knows it is Jesus it says he jumps in the water and quickly makes his way to Jesus. Peter is eager for fellowship. Peter runs to be in the presence of Jesus and this is a powerful picture of what we need to do when we are uncertain and confused and looking for God’s direction in our lives. We need to run to Jesus. We need to let nothing stand in our way of being in the presence of Jesus.
We live in a culture where everything tries to keep us from the presence of Jesus. We are distracted by 24/7 news, sports and entertainment which can be tailored to meet our specific tastes and interests. This means there is always something somewhere that we can watch or listen to and if all else fails, we can turn to social media and see what things other people are doing. With all this distraction and with jobs and demands that hound us all through the day and night, being in the presence of God takes some intentionality and work. This is why worship is so important in our lives and why we seek to make it a priority. Worship together as the church is at least one time a week where we can intentionally put ourselves in the presence of God and set aside some of life’s distractions. Worship is important not because I am going to say something profound that will answer all of life’s questions, it is important because it is here that we might experience the God who can provide direction and give us all answers and all his love and power.
More importantly, it is in the presence of God that we are given courage and confidence to take that next step of faith and it is in the presence of God that we can receive the love and grace that can bring healing or hope or the assurance that we are loved by God and those are things that can take us to the next step in life.
Being in the presence of God is not just someplace we go once a week, however, it needs to be a place we run to every day. Listen to how David talked about this during his life.
I run to you, GOD; I run for dear life.
You’re my cave to hide in, my cliff to climb.
Be my safe leader, be my true mountain guide.
Free me from hidden traps; I want to hide in you.
I’ve put my life in your hands.
You won’t drop me, you’ll never let me down.
I hate all this silly religion, but you, GOD, I trust.
I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love;
you saw my pain, you disarmed my tormentors,
You didn’t leave me in their clutches but gave me room to breathe.
Be kind to me, GOD— I’m in deep, deep trouble again.
I’ve cried my eyes out; I feel hollow inside.
My life leaks away, groan by groan; my years fade out in sighs.
My troubles have worn me out, turned my bones to powder.
Desperate, I throw myself on you: you are my God!
Hour by hour I place my days in your hand,
Safe from the hands out to get me.
Warm me, your servant, with a smile;
Save me because you love me.
What a stack of blessing you have piled up for those who worship you, ready and waiting for all who run to you
(From Psalm 31 – The Message)
Something happens when we run to God, God welcomes us and God feeds us. When Peter and the disciples finally get to shore, Jesus feeds them. Jesus provides for them and cares for them.
We talk a lot about ministering to others and yesterday we were out serving and that kind of love in action is vital to our faith, but before we can do that consistently with our lives we need to first allow God to feed us. Before Jesus sent the disciples out into the world – he fed them. Before we can go and do anything and before we can fully live into the future God has for us we need to allow God to feed us and we need figure out how to consistently eat at God’s table. This is so important because if we do not learn how to do this, we will eventually be running on empty. What was the first thing we talked about today? On our own we are nothing. We are ineffective until we can learn how to be nourished by God.
One of the greatest truths we need to learn in life comes from a very unlikely and today somewhat unpopular place – the airlines. During the safety instructions we are told that when the air masks drop from the ceiling we are to attach our own first and then help others. It is important to make sure we are being fed and cared for a nurtured ourselves before we can live a life of helping others. We need to learn how to eat first before we can feed others. This isn’t being selfish, it is the reality of life. We need to make sure we are getting all we can from Jesus so that we can effectively love and care for others. While times of worship, prayer and the study of God’s word can fed us, we are also fed through times of fellowship. When we come together to talk and eat and serve and eat, we are encouraged and spiritually and emotionally fed by God This is when we know that we are loved and cared for which then helps us go out to love and care for others. Fellowship feeds us and if there is food involved –even better.
There are times we all get to that place in life or in faith when we stop and ask ourselves, Now What? While those can be frustrating and confusing moments, God shows us how to make it through and find what we need. This needs to be the core of our faith:
• Confess our weakness
• Obey what we already know
• Run to be in the presence of God
• Eat all we can of what God provides
If this can become the core of our lives and our life of faith – step by step God will lead us into the future that he has for us.
Now What? – FISH
1. Where have you seen your own strength, wisdom and ability fail and let you down? Take time at the beginning of each day this week to acknowledge your own insufficiency.
Almighty God, too often I am trusting my own strength to get me through, my own wisdom to lead the way and my own ability to provide for my needs. Forgive me. Show me the futility of that thinking and teach me to live depending on you alone. For it is in the powerful name of Jesus I pray. AMEN
2. Obey what you already know of God. Every day, review and/or write out what these basic teachings of God tell us and commit to following them this week.
• 10 Commandments – Exodus 20
• Greatest Commandment – Mark 12:28-34
• Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (part 1) – Matthew 5
• Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (part 2) – Matthew 6
• Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (part 3) – Matthew 7
• Great Commission – Matthew 28:16-29
• Rejoice Always – Philippians 4:4-9
3. Spend time in the presence of God every day this week. Set aside intentional time to pray and worship God. Commit to being in worship next week. Make worship a priority for you and your family this summer.
4. Allow God to feed you and love you.
• Read John 21 and identify all the ways Jesus showed his love to the disciples
• Acknowledge every day that God loves you.
• Read a psalm every day this week.
o Psalm 8, 18, 23, 27, 42, 46, 121