When I first laid eyes on the sparkling blue Sea of Galilee, I was amazed at how beautiful it is. This body of water is actually a freshwater lake with a circumference of 33 miles and an area of 64 square miles.
This is the same sea Jesus walked on and stilled with a word when a storm churned up fearsome waves. Gazing in its depths invited me to see these events in my imagination.
Our tour guide took us to Tabgha, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and less than two miles from Capernaum, the homebase for Jesus once He left Nazareth.
After Jesus was crucified then resurrected, He appeared to the disciples several times. One of those times was at this location, and His purpose was to restore Peter.
Restoration was required because the night Jesus was arrested, Peter denied Him three times before the rooster crowed. This is the same Peter who earlier in the evening drew his sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest who’d come with Judas and others to take Jesus into custody (John 18:10). Once Jesus was captured, Peter’s bravado vanished, no doubt out of fear.
Then Jesus was crucified, and His body was placed in a tomb. Peter was one of the first men who ran to the tomb after Mary Magdalene told John and him it was empty (John 20:2-3). I wonder if Peter was burdened by guilt. I can imagine how overjoyed he was to see Jesus when He appeared to them later that day.
Days later, Peter and other disciples had been fishing all night in the same area they’d fished when Jesus called them to follow Him years earlier. Despite their efforts, they were unsuccessful in catching any fish.
Jesus, from the shore, asked them if they had food, and they told Him they didn’t. These disciples didn’t know they were talking to Jesus. I imagine they were exhausted and frustrated. What Jesus next said to them changed all that.
And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and
you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw
it in because of the multitude of fish.
That’s when the men realized who they were talking to. Peter put on his outer garment, jumped in the water, and dragged the net full of large fish to shore once the boat landed. There are two details of note, both contained in verse 11 of the same chapter.
Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish,
one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many,
the net was not broken.
Experience told them this large number of fish should have broken the net, but it remained whole. The other detail is the specific number of fish, which is 153. The Hebrew language has a numerical value for each letter of the alphabet. That number in Hebrew is the numerical equivalent of the phrase Ani Elohim, which means I am God.
Another significant detail has to do with the fire Jesus built to cook fish for the disciples’ breakfast.
Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there,
and fish laid on it, and bread.
When Peter denied knowing Jesus, he stood by another fire. Notice the description of this fire.
Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there,
for it was cold, and they warmed themselves.
And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.
Both fires were made with coal, which would produce a particular scent. Think about the power of smells to connect us to different times, places, people, and holidays. Did the smell of coal compel Peter to recall the night of his shame?
Over this fire Jesus then asked three times, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). Peter’s response each time was, “You know that I love You.” The fervency of Peter’s response could indicate his confidence that Jesus had forgiven him.
What’s the difference between forgiving and restoring? Consider a broken relationship. Forgiveness can take place, but if the relationship doesn’t survive, restoration doesn’t occur. When we ask God to forgive us, we can rest assured our relationship with Him is restored, even if we have natural consequences to pay for our sin.
Following the conversation over the fire, Jesus told Peter to follow Him. Again. There was still work to be done, and Jesus had a purpose for Peter. His position was restored.
We have the same purpose that was given to those men fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Follow Jesus. Let the peace and joy He gives be a light in this dark world. Share the hope we’ve found in Him with others.