Imagine a breakfast of fresh, grilled fish and warm bread on the beach after pulling an all-nighter at work. You’re watching the sunrise, surrounded by your closest friends, and your host is none other than the newly risen Savior. This is one of my favorite scenes in the Bible, and I dream of one day having breakfast on the beach with Jesus.
Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples and imagine the emotions you must be experiencing. You’re emotionally and physically exhausted. You have already encountered the resurrected Jesus twice, who, after somehow walking through walls, comforted you by saying, “Peace be with you.” He also gave you a vision for your next steps in life: “Just as the Father has sent me, so am I sending you” (John 20:19,26). You are certain Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and has risen from the dead, but you are not certain what to do next. So, you do what makes the most sense—go back to work.
What can we learn from this passage in John 21 and why is it such an appealing encounter with Jesus?
It’s Time to Eat (John 21:1-14)
At Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes Conference this past week, Mandy Arioto, president of MOPS International, told a moving story about a couple of horses who had been left in their stall for three months. They had been fed, but no one had cleaned out their stall or let them out. When the stall door was finally opened, the horses refused to exit.
These were horses that just months before loved to run, chase each other, buck, roll around, and play in the pasture. But after being left alone for so long, they had forgotten who they were designed to be. They preferred to stand in their own dirty stall than experience freedom.
Slowly, after days of being led to take incremental steps inside the barn, they regained trust to leave the barn. As soon as they saw the pasture, they bolted through the gates and returned to their joyful, frolicking selves.
People are sometimes like this too. We lose sight of who we are and whose we are. We come to believe that this is “as good as it gets” and resign ourselves to a life without much hope.
Just as the horses needed new life breathed into them, so the disciples needed encouragement. Our souls and bodies need to be refreshed. We need true rest. That may include something very tangible, like enjoying a wonderful meal with friends, or withdrawing from activity in quiet and solitude. Jesus knew that what the disciples needed most at that moment was simply to eat.
For me, I have a steady and conscientious personality and being refreshed looks like having more fun and being spontaneous—to see life not as a series of tasks to complete but as a journey to enjoy. Taking time to smell the roses is a gift of God in which he breathes new life into me, which gives me new energy and creativity for the mission he has for me.
I love the fact that Jesus himself cooked the meal for his weary disciples. This isn’t the first time that God provided food or drink to those who needed encouragement (e.g., Hagar and Ishmael in Gen. 21:8-21; Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-8). God cares about nourishing his children spiritually and physically, especially those who have lost sight of his grace.
Restoration Comes Before Commission (John 21:15-19)
It had only been days since Peter denied Jesus three times, and this is the first time we learn of them having one-on-one time to discuss their relationship.
Much has been written about the significance of this conversation in which Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves him. What is notable is the connection between Peter’s restored relationship with Jesus and his commission to shepherd God’s people.
Everyone loves Peter because he so enthusiastically follows Jesus. In this scene, he jumps out of the fishing boat fully clothed and swims ashore to greet Jesus! We also appreciate Peter because we can identify with how quickly he grew fearful and hid from his calling. Jesus’ intentional restoration of Peter was an integral part of Peter’s commission to “feed My lambs.” Peter needed to personally understand that Jesus died for all our sins, even those we are deeply ashamed of, as Peter must have been of his denial of Jesus.
Many Christians truck through life without a deep sense of their forgiveness in Christ and believe that they must work to earn God’s favor. Jesus’ conversation with Peter teaches us that our work must be fueled by a wholehearted understanding of our forgiveness in Christ and flow out of love for him, not guilt, shame, or duty.
Avoid the Comparison Game (John 21:20-25)
Jesus tells Peter that part of his loving relationship with him will involve Peter’s persecution and death. We are not told what Peter feels about this, but we do know that he immediately starts wondering what kind of life the other disciples will have. What about John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”? What does he get? Jesus tells Peter that what he has planned for John is not to be his concern: “If it is my will for him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22).
Like Peter, we can be hesitant in following Jesus because we are not sure that what he has planned for us is good. We compare ourselves and our lot to others. If they have received or achieved something we desire, we are tempted to hold back on completely trusting and obeying Christ.
In instances where I’ve struggled with this, God has put me in positions to serve and bless the very people whose lives I sometimes envy. He reminds me, like Jesus did for Peter, not to always be looking over my shoulder. God is in control, and he has loving, distinct, and perfect plans for each of our lives. Releasing control of our lives to God frees us up to love others, not play the comparison game with them.
As you reflect on the days Jesus spent on earth after his resurrection and before his ascension into heaven, consider having “breakfast on the beach” with Jesus. May he refresh, restore, and free you up to love and serve him with a glad heart.
Editor’s note: Peter’s life was transformed through this encounter with Jesus. Read more about personal transformation and calling in the upcoming booklet by Art Lindsley, Be Transformed: Essential Principles for Personal and Public Life, scheduled for release May 6, 2019.
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