When your boat is empty?
In today’s Gospel, from John 21, we read what to many of us is a very familiar story about Peters fishing miracle. I have preached before from this story which has many “gems” or “treasures” hidden away in the text. Today as I uncover some, I am hoping that these treasures will be a real blessing to many of you. My Sermon entitled “When your Boat
is Empty” is about disappointment.
Picture if you will the scene which John so skilfully paints for us. Jesus has been crucified, taken away from those who worked with him and walked with him as his disciples and in the face of apparent failure and loss, Peter decides to return to the familiar, those things that were once a part of his life, …he goes back to the boat, back to the fishing – back to the things he understands. Sometimes when our circumstances change and things become difficult and hard to understand, our human nature reverts back to the comfort zone of the familiar, …we want to go back home, back to our old places, our old haunts, our old and familiar friends.
Just so with Peter here. John 21:3
So Peter goes back to the boat and the other disciples join him.
It seems a sensible thing to do, it seems a natural things to do. But what appears unnatural and somewhat unbelievable about the text is that it says, they “toiled all night and caught nothing” as indeed Luke’s Gospel confirms – Luke 5:5.
This is the odd thing, … here they were Fishermen, all of them,- skilled, qualified, experienced, but the Bible says “they caught nothing.” Can you imagine it, working all night, and
catching nothing. Surely there should have been something, even a frog, maybe even an old boot? … but NOTHING?
What do you do when you have worked all night for nothing?
Some of you know what its like to work all week for nothing,
and some have worked for years for nothing!
Is there any of you listening me today whose boat is empty? You have worked all night and caught nothing. You have worked and studied hard for that degree, but now no job, nothing. You have cooked for, cleaned for, and cared for your family, but now you sit alone, nothing to show for it, no grateful husband, no grateful children – nothing? You have gone in to that office and worked that overtime, but nothing, no one appreciated you, no one ever said thanks? You spent time, effort and invested heavily in that project but today its all gone down the tubes – nothing.
What do you do when your boat is empty, you have toiled all night and caught nothing? The sun is beginning to rise in the eastern sky, by this time you should have filled the boat. By this stage in your life you should have been married – but you’re not. By this time you should have had children, – but you don’t. At this age you should have gotten that promotion, but nothing! At your time of life you should be comfortably off, but you’re not. You have toiled all night and caught nothing. Is there any of you listening and your Boat is Empty today, you have little or nothing to show for decades of service and sacrifice?
If so, then this message is just for you. You see in the Church we are notorious for preaching about a God who is the God of
Opportunity, the God of Open Doors, (He can open a door which no man can shut) the God of Fresh Fields, the God of Green Pastures, and the God of Good Things, and HE IS! But what we have often failed to tell you that he is also the God of CLOSED DOORS. (He can close a door which no man can open). God is also the God who can put you down a well, or into a prison cell, to keep you out of things until the right time. Remember Josephs ordeal – having first been sold by his own brothers as a slave to the Midianites and then as a slave to the Egyptians, he ends up wrongfully imprisoned for crimes he did not commit. Gen Ch 37 & Ch 39. God had to literally lock Joseph away until the time was right for Joseph to come into his destiny and to fulfil his assignment.
Let me remind you that your service, your work, your calling, your labours and your love for your Master Jesus Christ are not your assignment. Of course all of those are essential in your walk with God, but God has an assignment on your life that is not on any others. No other can fulfil your assignment.
No amount of giving money, or helping the hurting or even preaching sermons – can make up for you not fulfilling the purpose and destiny you were created for. God put you here to do something, and that something you’re here to do,
is nothing to do with your Salvation.
Your Saving, is a Free Gift, you can add nothing to it, nor should you try, for adding your efforts to it, diminish it, diminish the finished work of Jesus Christ. Once you have been saved, God has assigned a job for you to do. No-one but you can do it, and your life, your Christian life is all about bringing you to that place of completion, where you get the
job done, and fulfil your destiny. (and your destiny is not doing what you think is best, it is about doing what God says is best for you.) The Apostle Paul’s job was working for Rome and killing the Christians, but that was not his destiny. Moses job was tending his Father-in-law’s sheep but that was not his destiny. Paul spent much of his life in Prison, but his destiny was not to be a prisoner, it was to be a writer, and it seems to me that if you want to keep a man indoors all day writing, the best place to put him is into a prison cell?
(God knew exactly what he was doing) Jesus’ job was as a carpenter with Joseph in a shop in Nazareth, and then as a part-time Preacher, but his destiny was the Cross and the Grave, the Glory and the Throne.
You know what I have found to be the most difficult Cross to carry when things are not going the way I had expected, or God is delaying the blessing until its time? One of the most difficult things to cope with are those Christians who seem to think that if you are doing Gods will, and are in the centre of Gods purposes, then all will be working like clockwork and the blessings will be flowing and the favours will be filling. Those “Jobs comforters” who will tell you that you must pray more, you must fast more, you must give more, you must surrender more, those who have all the answers, but have no help. Those who engage their mouths, before they engage their brains! If you will listen or take the counsel of those who are mere spectators on the game of life, then you will be taking flawed counsel, for a spectator can only see from the perspective of their stand, they cannot see from the perspective of the player. Be careful of those who are just watchers in the Church and are not workers in the Church.
We must never forget that while God has his purposes, he also has his time and God is the “Ancient of Days” he cannot be hurried or rushed into things. In Patience we possess our souls, – in waiting on God our Strength is renewed.
God has a destiny for you, and to get you there, He may have to close some doors or take you down some very dark paths. He may have to delay the blessing, but remember that delay is not denial. (Back to the Word and to verse 4) Now the sun is rising, Peter and the rest are weary and tired, the boat is empty, they have caught nothing … but we read …
v4. “But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus“.
Suddenly, there is a stranger standing on the shore. In the very hour of their disappointment and distress Jesus shows up. When they were down, Jesus came to lift them up. When they were sad, Jesus came to give them Joy. When they were empty, Jesus came to fill them up. Suddenly, without any warning, without any announcement, without any tears or prayers, Jesus shows up. Job 23:v10 says: “But he knoweth the way that I take.“
I have discovered that in the darkest times of my life, I didn’t have to ask God to show up, I just knew that he would. He is a very present help in times of trouble. He knew of their frustrations, he knew of their disappointments, he knew of their fears and he also knew of their frailties. You see sometimes God has to close some doors and lock us up to help us focus and to see and understand our need of him. God wants us to discover that it is in our own human weakness that His strength is made perfect.
What do you do when you have prayed all the right prayers, sung all the right hymns, given all the right tithes and offerings, sacrificed all the right times and seasons, worked all the long hours, and fasted in all the dark days, …
but God does not show up, and there is still no harvest, no fish in the boat, no souls for the kingdom and no bread on the table. What do you do when having done all you know how to do, things are still not working right for you?
v5. “Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No“.
Don’t you sometimes fear coming home to him at the last with empty hands having no harvest? I believe that that night God had locked a door, and there were no fish anywhere near their nets. God was teaching them, as he must always teach us, our utter and absolute dependence upon him. God wants us to see that its not about US it’s about HIM. It’s not about what we can do, but what HE can do through us. Scoring our goal, fulfilling our assignment, reaching our Destiny can only always be achieved by him in us. It will be God that will do it, through us – otherwise it will not be done.
God slew Goliath through David, He stopped the Lions mouths through Daniel, He led the captive of Egypt free through Moses, and delivered the people from the worship of Baal, through Elijah. What God does, he wants to do though us, but he cannot do anything though us until self is dethroned and Christ is enthroned. (otherwise we might take the credit) God has to remove us from the driving seat so that he can take over. Now that you can’t do this yourself, its time for God to do it, now that you have no answers, its time for God to
answer. Now that Peter and the rest have exhausted their own abilities and man-power, now that they can do no more, God steps in and takes over. And what a take-over! …
v6. “And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes”.
Do you see what happened here? Do you see what in fact Jesus told Peter to do? He told him to “try things from the other side”. It seems they had been netting on the wrong side, Jesus knew where the fish were, but Peters efforts were on the wrong side. It’s easy to be on the “wrong side” of God even though everything you are doing is right. These experienced fishermen were obviously doing everything the right way, they were not novices, they were skilled, they were learned, they were experienced – they knew how things ought to be done, but still they were on the “wrong side”.
Jesus was teaching them, and us, that God knows where the
fish are, and God knows all the fish. We may have been struggling all night, “weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning” Psalm 30:5. God may be holding our harvest, holding our wages, holding our answers to prayer, holding our inheritance, holding our healing, holding our promises, holding our finances, but nothing is lost, the nets will be filled, the blessing and bounty will come, the windows of heaven will open and the joy of the morning
sun will arise.
First, though, we must move … it may not be far, a boats width is small, yet we will need to move our focus from our side of things to Gods side of things. Move from being a spectator to being a player, move our view point – from Earths vision, to
Heavens vision, from the natural to the spiritual. Are you willing to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the superficial to the supernatural, from the mundane to the miraculous? We must move to the other side focusing not so much on what we can do, but what God can do through us. Acknowledging that we cannot do a thing apart from him.
When we had no education, God taught us things our teachers couldn’t. When we had no University Degree, God gave us the ability to work for one. When we had no job, God opened a door. When we had no house, God gave us a key. When we had no money, God gave us the favour. When we had no friends, God brought the right people into our lives. When we had no health, God gave us that miracle. … And now that we have no fish, and the boat is empty, God will give us the Blessing. God gave them, not just fish but a “multitude” of fish, so that they had to “drag the nets ashore” v8. Praise God for evermore.
But now with this Blessing, comes another decision for Peter. Does he stay there with the Blessing or does he leave the blessing for the Bless-or? Many want the gift but not the giver, – many want their healing but not the healer, – they want salvation but not the Saviour? So Peter faces a choice.
Verse 7 says:
“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved (John) saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, …and did cast himself into the sea“.
Peter was eager now for Jesus, even though he had earlier denied with cursing and swearing that he didn’t even know the Lord. Now Peter has a change of heart. Peter repents and this time chooses Jesus above any blessing. More than the Fish, Peter desires the “Fisher of Men.” More than the Miracle, Peter wants the Man. Your effectiveness will always be in measure to your proximity (your closeness) to Jesus. Once Jesus had seen Peter make this decision, there was an even greater blessing in store for him. v9. Says: “As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread“.
This is a wonderful picture of the “exceedingly abundantly above” Miracle working God that we serve. They had gotten the miracle of “nets full of fishes” but now before them lay an even greater miracle. Here lay, (all ready and waiting)
a prepared meal of fish, and fresh bread. God was showing them, (and us) that not only can he “prepare a table before us” but that on that table, will be fish we have not caught, bread we have baked, wine from vineyards we have not planted, and so on, … in other words Gods plan in holding us back, was never to impoverish us, but to enrich us. When the blessing comes, it will be with more than enough, “bread enough and to spare”… “exceedingly abundantly and above all that we have asked or even thought”. God can do more for you than you think, more than just getting you a job, more than saving your spouse or your son, more that finding you a new house, more that getting you that new position or promotion, more than healing your body, God can do more – don’t limit him and don‘t be afraid to ask for the best and to ask for more.
The Hymn writer says: “When we have exhausted our store of endurance, when our strength has failed and the day is all done, when we’ve reached the end of our hoarded resources, our Father’s full giving, is only begun. His love has no limits his grace has no measure his power has no boundaries known unto men, for out of his infinite riches in Jesus, he giveth and giveth and giveth again.” Thank God.
Now this Final Word
Moving to the other side of the boat is a move which is all about FAITH. It is about relationship and ownership. It is about functioning in Gods Sovereignty, not in mans Service?
It is about learning to see things from Gods side, and learning to say things from Gods side. It is about “magnifying” our Lord. As long as we magnify ourselves, our abilities, our gifts and talents, our experience and expertise, our training and theologies, then I recon that we continue fishing on the wrong side. We need to stop all that and start magnifying God. When we see that God is our helper, and when we say that God is our helper, and we magnify Him, then surely all things come with Him, and all things are possible with Him.
So cast your net on the other side… do it now!
God Bless You. Amen