(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

The story of Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish is one of my all time favourite gospel stories. It illustrates so many of the most endearing characteristics of the Master. This exposition is built around three telling but brief phrases found in the chapter.

(B) The best example to follow:"Follow me." v19.

Jesus, appearing for the third time to his disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee, sets us an example to follow. We see this in the:

(1) Interest he took. Early in the morning Jesus stood on the shore. v4.
True friends are interested in us. When I was a young man I would call each evening at the village shop for a packet of small cigars on my way home from work. I used to sit on an old wooden crate, polished by many bottoms, and chat to shopkeepers Albert and Kath. Every day I would recount some of the incidents that happened at school and they would listen because they had known me since I was a small boy and they were my friends. Almost every Friday Tommy Bamber and I go bird watching. We always share what has happened in our lives during the previous week. It is what friends do.

Jesus was interested in what his disciples were doing. He came to the lakeside as dawn was breaking to see how they were getting on. His concern was a hallmark of his love for them. I like to think that Jesus continues to take an interest in every thing his friends get up to.

There are some Christians who only talk about them selves. Several years ago my brother Paul, then the Baptist minister of an inner city church in London, was stopping with me. During my brother's stay I had a visit from a well-known pastor in Suffolk. During his conversation, mostly about him self, he never once asked my brother how he was getting on at Clapham. If Jesus takes an interest in us we should take an interest in others. We should be good listeners!

It is encouraging when others take an interest in the work we are doing. Each summer term fourth year pupils at Debenham High School went on two weeks work experience. Staff were allocated three pupils each to visit. I know the pupils looked forward to those visits and took pride in telling their teacher about their achievements. It is very discouraging when fellow Christians don't want to know anything about the work you are engaged in for Jesus.

(2) Inquiry he made.
I think Jesus' cheerful, colloquial greeting may have reminded his disciples that they shouldn't take failure too seriously. "Friends, haven't you any fish?" doesn't really do the Greek justice. Jesus said something like: "Hi lads! Nothing for the pot!"

The disciples had experienced a number of set backs in the recent past and here they were failing at what they did best - their special sphere of expertise. They replied, like most fishermen who have failed to catch anything, with a very brief and disgruntled: "No." But they were beginning to feel a bit better. There is nothing like a cheery, light-hearted, friendly greeting to raise the spirits.

I can recall turning up to watch Brockley play cricket one Saturday afternoon. This was a very rare event as I usually played. Indeed, there was little I would miss a cricket match for! I could tell things were not going well by the way the village blacksmith, Len, was sitting in his chair. He was hunched up and pensive. I glanced at the scoreboard and said, a lot more brightly than if I had been playing, "Not many runs on the board, LP!" "No JR," he replied, "Not many, not many. We're finding it a struggle." I cannot say he was ecstatic about the situation - but he was beginning to cheer up. A smile, a friendly face and a bit of good-humoured banter does lighten the gloom.

We can help our fellow Christians when things are getting them down by being cheerful and positive. We can introduce a sense of proportion when a brother bemoans his failure in Christian service. For a time I had a mature student working with me at Debenham High School. After one lesson, during which I collected homework from a rather indolent class, I grumbled to her, "What a lot - fully one third of them had not done it." She smiled at me and said softly, "Be thankful that two thirds had."

Success in Christian work is not all down to us. Even Jesus - that greatest of teachers - thanked God for the disciples he had given to him. The twelve disciples had been prepared by the Father to follow Jesus.

(3) Instruction he gave.
Jesus gave his disciples some good advice: "Throw your net on the right side of the boat." v6. It was natural for right-handed fishermen to throw the nets to the left of the boat. But on this occasion habit and custom were standing in the way of success. I wonder how often this is true in Christian service!

Sound practical instruction is invaluable for success. When I was at school I used the Microsoft program 'Publisher' with my pupils. I didn't know how to use it properly and we all struggled! But after I retired I found a small, slim book in the public library entitled, 'Publisher', and all was revealed. I got on like a house on fire and am able to produce newsletters for the church and cricket club with the minimum of trouble. My practical instruction came too late, though, to benefit my pupils.

I wonder how much practical advice you have received and accepted regarding Christian service? I haven't been given much. My father used to tell me after listening to my fiery sermons, "Boy - be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove." I didn't pay him much attention and as a consequence have very few preaching engagements! I am not enthusiastic about giving advice but have told a few long-winded speakers to be briefer. I also advised a very youthful pastor to use more illustrations in his sermons. I am thankful that my guidance was accepted and all benefited from following it. Yes - they did!

Jesus gave his disciples a word of encouragement: "And you will find some." They were told to persevere - to try again - just one more cast on the other side of the boat.

It know from my many years as a schoolteacher how vital encouragement is to achieving anything worthwhile. I like the story told about John Clare, the nineteenth century, Northamptonshire, peasant poet. He was in the Dolphin Inn at Stamford passing round the prospectus of a book of poems he hoped to publish. No-one showed the slightest interest. John Clare felt more and more depressed and embarrassed. Without much hope he gave a sonnet to another customer. After a while this man invited John Clare over for a drink. He told Henson the publisher to put his name down as a subscriber to the new work saying that he felt the book would be a great success. John Clare took heart. In later years he said that the few words of the Rev. Thomas Mousey, master at Stamford Grammar School, did more good than all he ever met with before or after. He was encouraged to go on and produce such masterpieces as the 'Shepherds Calendar'. Here are a few lines he wrote about April:

            Young things of tender life again
            Enjoys thy sunny hours
            And gosslings waddle oer the plain
            As yellow as its flowers
            Or swim the pond in wild delight
            To catch the water flye
            Where hissing geese in ceasless spite
            Make children scamper by.

I love the last two lines! Thank God for the Rev. Thomas Mousey!

Jesus words of advice and encouragement brought the disciples success: When they did, (cast the net on the other side) they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. v6.

A good teacher will bring his pupils success. I was only able to produce this website because I received clear instruction from Mr Peter Peddlesden. I am pleased that he taught me how to do it from first principles.

Jesus said to his listeners: "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." Jn7v17. If we apply the teaching of Christ it will bring us success in God's service.

(4) Insight he showed.
Jesus put his disciples at their ease. Since his resurrection they had been in some awe of him. He did so by calling out: "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." v10. Jesus gave them something to do. Peter took the opportunity to pull the net ashore. What a catch! 153 big fish and the net wasn't so much as torn.

Wise church leaders will find jobs for their members to do. New folk to the fellowship can feel a bit useless and unwanted unless they are involved in the work. Some of the happiest times we have in my small church occur when we labour together. In the spring a gang of men join forces to trim the tall yew trees that surround the chapel. We chat, laugh, co-operate and gain much satisfaction in getting the job done.

(5) Informal meal he prepared.
Jesus showed love by graciously cooking his disciples breakfast and humbly serving it to them. "Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. v13. This act illustrates:

    (a) Love is generous. My brother Philip often says that one of the best ways to show love for friends is to cook them a really nice meal. I always appreciate the effort my brother and his wife make at Christmas to prepare the truly splendid feast to which I am invited.

    One of the things pupils studying Home Economics did at Debenham School was to prepare a meal for two. They were then encouraged to ask a member of staff to share it with them. No pretty girls invited me to dinner for two but on one occasion Jonathan Imri did. I suppose it was better to be loved by Jonathan Imri than by no-one at all!

    I shall never forget the first meal Mrs Segawa cooked for Tommy Bamber and me during our visit to Japan. We sat in her kitchen while she deep-fried in batter asparagus, prawns, scallops, halibut, onion-rings and fern fronds. It was a great treat and such a gracious demonstration of hospitality. I am not used to being made such a fuss of and it touched my heart.

    We can show love for our Christian brethren by cooking them a meal for Christ's sake. (See also Tom Havers anecdote.)

    (b) Love is humble. Jesus did not object to doing menial tasks - roasting the fish and serving breakfast.

    One year I went and spent some time at the church camp my brother Paul organises. The day I spent at camp Paul had to clean up a nasty mess in the men's toilet, unblock a filthy drain, cook and wash up for the entire company. These are jobs not many pastors would volunteer for! I'm not sure I would!

    (c) Love can be shown in small things. A good illustration of this is found in the story about the gracious publican. I spent hours without a break refereeing sports matches and contests during my many years as games organiser at a Christian camp. I remember with gratitude our cook, Freda May, coming out with refreshing and revitalising cups of tea on hot sunny afternoons. No-one else did - just Freda - who loved me a little! And I shall always remember her for it. My friend Jesse invariably entertained one of our visiting speakers - David from Chelmondiston. She heard him say on one occasion how much he enjoyed a steak and kidney pudding. Every time she had him for lunch, for love of the preacher, she cooked such a marvellous, luscious pudding - fit for a king!

I don't expect the disciples of Jesus ever forgot that breakfast he prepared for them by Lake Galilee. It would be a fragrant memory to the day they died. I wonder how many fragrant memories we will leave behind when it is our turn to be called home.

(C) Recognition and response: "Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." v7.

The disciple's response was praiseworthy for its:

(1) Activity.
The disciples did what Jesus advised. It wasn't easy. They were the experts. Fishing in Lake Galilee was their life. The 7 men had fished all night and caught nothing. When Jesus addressed them they were very close to land. They had probably had enough and were returning to shore. What difference would it make to cast the net on the other side of the boat?

There are times God's servants feel like giving up. Plenty of the heroes of faith in the Old Testament had much to discourage them. Moses needed to be the meekest man on earth to put up with the undisciplined Israelites. Jeremiah never received an ounce of gratitude for the messages he brought from the Lord. Paul entered Corinth with fear and trembling after bruising encounters in Macedonia and discouragement in Athens. Yet men of faith do not give up!

I get very little feedback about the chuch newsletter I distribute round the village of Brockley and not much response from those who access my website. I feel very much like the disciples. I have cast my net into the deep with little success. But, then, perhaps, one more cast will bring me a net full of fishes!!

(2) Awareness.
It was a wonderful moment for the disciples when they realised that the one who gave them such help and success was Jesus. "It is the Lord," said John.

I wonder when you have said that? I said it at the end of my career after surviving relatively unscathed for 37 years in state schools. It was the Lord who kept me from temptation and delivered me from evil. I said it after falling asleep at the wheel of my car, waking up after a couple of seconds and finding myself still on the road. It was the Lord who preserved me. I said it when my father died in his own bed after I had been able to care for him for the final four difficult years of his life. It was the Lord who helped me through. I have said it several times after listening to a moving testimony on BBC TV's Songs of Praise. It is the Lord who has changed that person's life. I said it on my fiftieth birthday when a lady at church entertained me for the day and her children gave me presents. It was the Lord who put it into Carolyn's heart to show love to a middle-aged bachelor.

(3) Appreciation.
The disciples, most of whom must have been fishermen by profession, were uniquely qualified to appreciate what Jesus did for them. John records the net was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. v11.

We should not be slow to express our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us both in providence and grace.

          Thank You for ev'ry new good morning,
          Thank You for ev'ry fresh new day,
          Thank You that I may cast my burdens
          Wholly on to You

          Thank You for grace to know Your gospel,
          Thank You for all Your Spirit's power,
          Thank You for Your unfailing love
          Which reaches far and near.

We should also be prepared to gladly express our appreciation for what those that love us do for us. Last week a car mechanic I know celebrated his sixtieth birthday. He had a very special meal awaiting him when he got home from work - bread, cheese and pickles!! Yet I know that this man is at the beck and call of his family and always doing one or the other of them a favour.

(4) Abandonment
The disciples had their priorities right. Peter abandoned boat, plunging into the shallows and wading ashore, to be with Jesus. The other disciples did row to land but they were ready to run up the beach to Jesus leaving behind the net heaving with fish. Jesus had to call out to them, "Bring a few fish with you."

There is a time to lay down our nets. It is a pity to be so busy with our work that we do not have time for family and friends. Whenever I went to see my friend LP in his workshop he would lay down his tools for a chat.

It is possible to be so busy, so preoccupied with our careers, interests, friends and family, that we make little time for Jesus. On his return to earth the acid test of discipleship will be if we joyfully abandon what we are doing and look to him. On that day no-one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside should go down to get them. Likewise, no-one in the field should go back for anything. Lk17v31.

(5) Acceptance
The disciples accepted the hospitality of their Lord. Once again they let him serve them. It would have been churlish to have refused.

Some Christians find it hard to accept a favour. There are certain very independent ladies in my church who are very reluctant to ask for help. It is more blessed to give than to receive but to receive requires more humility!

We will never receive Christ's gift of eternal life if we are too proud to ask for it. Salvation is not something any of us can earn. It is something we have to beg for.

(D) A word to inform all all our service: "Feed my sheep."

These words were spoken to Peter but they are relevant to all Christians. One little word used by Jesus is of critical significance. Jesus did not say: "Feed the sheep." or "Feed your sheep." or "Feed our sheep." but "Feed MY sheep." Jesus said, "If you care for me you will care for mine. If you love the Shepherd you will love his sheep."

A few years ago I watched a report on our local news program about a visit by Nelson Mandela to Bedford, England. Why had Mandela come all the way from South Africa to this East Midlands town? He was an old man, over 80, and increasingly frail - so why had he made the effort? Nelson Mandela had come to unveil a statue to Father Trevor Huddleston who campaigned so vigorously against apartheid. He had come because he believed he owed it to Father Huddleston.

Jesus said to Peter and says to all who follow him: "If you owe me - extend all round care - spiritual, emotional and material - to my sheep." His flock contains all sorts: delightful, frisky lambs, mature, sensible ewes and more than a few disagreeable, cross-grained rams. Those that love Jesus are under an obligation to care for all his sheep - both the loveable and the unlovable. Cross-grained rams are more likely to respond to love than anything else!