Jesus’ final miracle, before His ascension, tells us how He works with us to make our secular labor into sacred living.
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples three times, according to the gospel of John. The first two were on Sundays, in the midst of “church” gatherings (John 20: 20:19, 26). (See Note 1 below). But the third time was a workday, when Peter, John and a few of the other disciples had been fishing—their occupation even before they met Jesus (John 21:1-14).
On their own, the disciples’ work was fruitless. They fished all night and caught nothing. But then Jesus called to them from the shore, telling the disciples to let down their net one more time.
Miraculously, the disciples pulled up a net overwhelmed by 153 fish. Yet, also miraculously, the net did not break as they dragged it to shore. There the disciples found that Jesus already had everything He needed for a meal—fish, bread, a charcoal fire. And yet Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
This story tells us how and why Jesus works through our work.
Jesus works through us not because He needs us. As “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36), Jesus already has everything He needs. But He uses our work as the usual means of His work. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
As I've written elsewhere, Jesus does miracles through our mundane tasks. Without Jesus, our work would be fruitless. But with Him, He uses us to, literally, keep the world going.
Jesus works to keep the world going to make it possible for Him to build His church. We see that reality in this story as well. Immediately after breakfast on the beach, Jesus had his famous conversation with Peter — their first recorded conversation after Peter had denied Jesus three times. That conversation restored Peter to fellowship with Jesus, and sent Peter out to his life of church ministry.
Some may read this story in John as a spiritual metaphor — that the catching of fish and the sending of Peter is all a picture of Christ building His church through the disciples. That could be. But even if it is, it’s an incomplete reading of this passage.
Others may read this passage and conclude it’s a promise that Jesus will bless our labors and give us material abundance — like the 153 fish overflowing from the net. But that is clearly not John’s point in this passage.
No, Jesus showed up on the beach that day for one purpose: to have breakfast with His disciples. This is why He does everything He does: to have a close relationship with us.
God created the world to be with people — not because He needed to, but because He wanted to. Our sin ruptured that relationship, which is why Jesus had to come to earth to pay the penalty for our sin and then rise again to lead us back to relationship with God.
The breakfast on the beach with the disciples shows us that Jesus establishes, re-establishes and deepens His relationship with us. Even on frustrating workdays. Even in the most mundane of all tasks, eating breakfast.
“The resurrected Lord that he was, he could have done something noticeably ‘religious’ for them, like baptism or the Eucharist. He could even have preached to them or prayed for them,” wrote vocation scholar Steven Garber about this passage. “What he chose to do was honor their work and then eat with them.” (Note 2)
Church is critical to have a relationship with Jesus. John shows that by recording Jesus’ first two appearances to His disciples happening when they were gathered at “church.” But this story of Jesus’ third appearance shows that He also desires to — and does — connect with us outside of church.
There really is no secular-sacred separation in our lives. Worshiping God at church should be first and of foremost importance. But if we have eyes to see, Jesus will show us miracles at church and at the office. He will talk to us in a sanctuary and in a shed. He invites us to labor with Him both on Sundays and on Mondays.
Garber, summing up this passage, wrote this: “He reveals that he is Lord of heaven and earth, of every square inch of the whole of reality, even the depths of the Sea of Galilee. And then he invites them to respond with their labor and their lives, seeing even the most ordinary things of life as sacramental, made new as they are by the reality of the resurrection.” (Note 3)
Note 1: John 20:19 records Jesus’ first appearance “the first day of the week.” Then John 20:26 says “eight days later.” But John uses “inclusive” counting, so that the eight days include both the Sunday of the first appearance and the Sunday of the second appearance.
Note 2: Steven Garber, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 129.
Note 3: Garber, 129-30.