Last week was "Thomas Sunday". I am going to call today's appearance by the Sea of Galilee "Fishing Sunday". It is identified as "This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead" (John 21:14). And it seems that between the Sundays Jesus did not appear on the other week days.
Jesus had said to Mary Magdalene and the two other women "Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him" (Mark 16:7). Because the Jewish celebration of Passover went on for the next week, the earliest the disciples could leave with their families would the Monday morning after Thomas Sunday (Easter 2). It would take them five days to walk the hundred miles to the Sea of Galilee. That suggests they may have arrived the Friday afternoon and would have kept the Jewish Sabbath from that evening till the next day.
I can imagine Peter wondering why Jesus had not come to meet them in Galilee. Perhaps it had all been a bad dream? It was time to get back to earning one's living again. So when the Jewish sabbath ended he announced "I am going fishing" (John 21:3). Five other disciples joined him, and "that night they caught nothing" (21:3). At dawn as they were coming in to land, a stranger told them to cast on the other side of the boat and the net brought in 153 large fish (21:9). My guess is that this was early on the third Sunday morning (Easter 3).
It was John, the beloved disciple, who recognized that the stranger on the shore was the resurrected Lord they had seen in Jerusalem the two previous Sundays (John 21:7). Jesus had a charcoal fire with some fish cooking, and invited them to bring some of the fish they had caught. The expression he "took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish" (21:13) must have reminded them of the feeding of the five thousand. What would Peter and the other fishermen make of this astonishing event?
Sunday Gatherings - If, as seems possible, this resurrection appearance was again on a Sunday morning, this would explain why the early Christians began meeting on the first day of the week, and called it the Lord's day. That this was their practice is clear from several New Testament texts:
"When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1). By this time there were over 500 "brothers and sisters" who gathered in Jesus' name (1 Corinthians 15:6). Since the first Easter was a Sunday the Day of Pentecost fifty days later was also a Sunday (Leviticus 23:15,16).
"On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight" (Acts 20:7).
Luke carefully tells us this gathering was on a Sunday evening, and it was a breaking of bread or communion service.
Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn" (1 Corinthians 16:1,2). This again suggests a weekly gathering of Christians every Sunday.
"On the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and testimony of Jesus, I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Revelation 1:9). Though he in exile on this island, John remembers to worship the Lord on same day as his brothers and sisters were gathering in the churches of Asia Minor.
I like to think that the next Sunday (Easter 4), the disciples went "to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them" (Matthew 28:16). Perhaps it was "the mountain" (Matthew 5:1) where Jesus had often taught what was later recorded as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew tells us that on this occasion Jesus came and said "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always" (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus may have told them to return to Jerusalem for what I call Convention Sunday. In his list of resurrection appearances Paul tells us "he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time" (1 Corinthians 15:6). Perhaps they had gathered, as was now their custom, on a Sunday (perhaps Easter 5). Then I imagine brother James Sunday (Easter 6, 1 Corinthians 15:7) and Twelfth Apostle Sunday (Easter 7, Acts 1:15-26). The day of Pentecost that followed was again a Sunday (Easter 8).
A possible Exception to our guess about Jesus' meeting with his disciples on successive Sundays, there was the Ascension. It apparently took place after forty days of resurrection appearances (Acts 1:3). If the 40 days are taken literally then this would have been on a Thursday, which is when Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated. Another alternative is that forty days is a rough count, and Jesus met with his apostles early on the next Sunday (Easter 7), and took them out to Bethany (Luke 24:50) for the ascension. The apostles then returned to Jerusalem, and the same day (Easter 7) they elected Matthias to be the twelfth apostle (Acts 1:15-26).
Anywhere - If Jesus's resurrection appearances had all been in Jerusalem Christians would have gotten the idea that one had to go up to Jerusalem to meet the Lord. This meeting (perhaps Easter 3) was by the Sea of Galilee. And the disciples were in their fishing clothes and wet from hauling in the net. In the last war, when those who had been taken prisoner arrived in a large German prisoner of war camp, they heard singing the next Sunday morning and sure enough Christians were there to welcome them. If we arrive at a village in an African jungle, or in the Andes, or in south or eastern India, we may not catch the rhythm or the tune but we will recognize the familiar sound of Christians singing.
The fact that Christians very soon learned to gather on a Sunday does not mean that our ascended Lord does not come to us individually, or in groups, on other days. He met Paul at midday on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3, 22:6), in Jerusalem (Acts 22:17), one troubled night in Corinth (Acts 18:9), in a Roman guard room (Acts 23:10-11), and in the middle of a terrible hurricane (Acts 27:20, 23-24).
Restoration - When Jesus appeared by the sea of Galilee Peter was still feeling ashamed of himself for the awful events of the Thursday eighteen days before. He had said "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you . . . Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you" (Matthew 26:31, Mark 14:29-31, Luke 22:33). Immediately after the last supper in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus had asked Peter for his prayer support, but instead of praying he went straight off to sleep. And when he followed the temple guard, who had arrested Jesus, into the high priest's house he denied he had ever been a Christian, and swore he had never known Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62).
The ascended Jesus carefully set up every detail of the meeting by the sea of Galilee to make sure Peter knew he was loved, forgiven, and appointed to continue his leadership of the new churches that would sprout in all directions. This location on the Sea of Galilee was the exact place where Peter kept his boat, and he had been called to become a fisherman of men and women (Matthew 4:18-20, Mark 1:16-18). It was also the same boat that Jesus had used as a pulpit. And there had been a previous large catch of fish when the nets began to break (Luke 5:1-11).
The breakfast Jesus was cooking on the beach consisted of fish and bread (John 21:9). That was what the people were given to eat in the feeding of the 5,000. And Jesus characteristically took the food, and probably said a blessing (John 21:13), as he had done on that occasion (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:11-17). Taking, blessing, and giving the bread was also a reminder of the last supper (Matthew 26:26, Mark 26:26, Luke 22:19). Peter had denied his Lord by a charcoal brazier, and he may have noticed the coals burning exactly as they did on that occasion.
In the remainder of the chapter there is the very tender account of Jesus' words to Peter appointing him to tend and feed the Lord's flock. We can imagine the apostle would have been awed at being welcomed back after being such a failure. Many years later Peter would write "I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly . . . not for sordid gain but eagerly . . . be examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:1-3).
This third resurrection appearance still speaks to us today. When we
have failed disastrously, and when we wonder if we are fit even to be called
Christians, one of our favorite hymns is "Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
who like me his praise should sing."