Date: May 16, 1943
Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, we also go with thee. They went forth and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore; but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No. 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. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now, when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him (for he was naked) and did cast himself into the sea. – John 21:3-7
God, Our Merciful and Heavenly Father:
We have indeed done nothing to earn Thy favor and compassion, for we have been thankless, unholy, disobedient. Yet across the land today we beseech Thee in Thy Son’s name and by the promise of His blood-bought pardon: forgive us our many transgressions, cleanse our lives through Thy Holy Spirit, comfort us in all sorrows and weaknesses! If we have no confident faith in Jesus and His power to save to the uttermost, we cannot triumph over life’s many afflictions and death’s heavy struggle. Therefore we pray Thee, put the full, triumphant joy of salvation through Christ into our souls! Daily let us experience how deeply He loved us since He willingly suffered the shame and agony of the cross for us! Show us what a faithful Friend He is to all the discouraged and forsaken who put their trust in Him! May this rejoicing in the risen Redeemer sustain the millions of Thy children in our fighting forces throughout each dark hour and every peril of death! O Lord of hosts, for whom nothing is too great, stop this war! Grant us a true victory, and give all nations a just peace! We ask it in Thy Son’s blessed name. Amen!
ON a bright, moonlit night during the blitz on Britain, a German bomber made a direct hit on an English church and left it a hopeless mass of rubble. The fact that the toll of war took another sanctuary would hardly have found newspaper mention, for in England alone about 4,000 churches have been damaged or destroyed. What made this bombing unusual? Workmen, searching the debris for hidden time bombs, found on top the stone and steel wreckage a sailor’s prayer book blown open to a page containing this sentence: “We had fainted unless we had believed.”
A striking truth for our whole war-racked world! We would faint in our weakness if we had no faith in God and our Savior. What strength and comfort for the violent months ahead, to know that if we take refuge in Christ, our hearts never need falter! We must guard against overconfidence now that the Lord has granted us extended victories! These are only the foothills. Mountains—high, steep, snow-covered—must be climbed before peace comes, and these are still before us. Unless the Almighty Himself intervenes to stop this bloodshed, many more American lives may be demanded before the last shot is finally fired. Millions in our country require faith, not faith in themselves, in production power or military might; not faith in our allies, in statesmanship, or in diplomacy; above all, not faith in an unknown and unknowable god, but simple, penitent, confident trust in the Lord Jesus, Redeemer of the race.
Let America turn to God in Christ and this nation never need faint; from on high it will receive courage with which to overcome every difficulty. If you, with your failures and disappointments, losses and adversities, trials and sorrows, truly rely on the Savior (with unquestioning, childlike, victorious confidence, not merely with a head knowledge, but a soul-deep assurance; not a family creed, but your own contrite conviction that Jesus Christ, crucified for you, is your God, your Redeemer, your Sovereign), you, too, will learn that the risen Lord keeps His word. Accepting His invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!” you will find the shadows of sorrow removed, the heaped burdens of affliction lightened, the tears of anguish stopped, and all depressing discouragement banished. For no matter how completely you may be encircled by opposition, adversity, and affliction, you can have
CHRIST’S COMFORT FOR THE DISCOURAGED
How faith triumphs over failure is shown in our text from Saint John (chapter twenty-one, verses three to seven), the record of one of the Savior’s post-Easter appearances to His disciples, where we read: “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore; but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No. And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right ride of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved 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 (for he was naked) and did cast himself into the sea.”
WE OFTEN FACE REPEATED DISCOURAGEMENT
Several weeks after the Savior’s Easter triumph we find the disciples back in Galilee, without their Lord. When the news came that Jesus was risen from the dead, these men again began to cherish dreams of worldly greatness. The living Christ, so they thought, would soon establish a mighty kingdom on earth, in which theirs would be a prominent part. The risen Redeemer had other plans, however; for He is never interested in pomp and power. Mighty churches, wealthy congregations, in themselves do not impress Him. He delights in contrite, grief-crushed hearts, in humble, yearning faith. Instead of making His followers princes and rulers over men, He sent them back to discredited Galilee and told them to await Him there. Perhaps they retraced their steps to the very place at which Jesus called them to His discipleship, so that among their kinfolk they could testify to the miracle of His resurrection. Often men and women who accept Jesus—as I hope many of you will today—are so thrilled with the new joy of knowing their Savior that they immediately expect to take active part in world-moving programs for their Lord, only to find that nothing startling happens. They simply return to their homes. Yet Christ may have mighty tasks in store for them there. What could be more blessed and helpful than to bring one’s own family and community the message of His redeeming love?
The disciples had been in Galilee only a short time, when Peter declared, “I go a fishing,” and the others echoed, “We also go with thee.” The Lord’s followers were middle-class people, to whom the loss of a day’s income was serious. Rather than wait idly, Peter proposed that they resume their old occupation until Jesus came. We should show the same spirit. During the dark days of 1780, many people in Connecticut thought the end of the world had arrived, because the sun refused to shine. Candles were lit in broad daylight. The State’s lawmakers were in session at Hartford; and when it was proposed that the legislature adjourn, Colonel Davenport objected: “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, then there is no cause for adjourning. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought.” Today, too, when the Lord’s second coming is closer than ever before, He does not want us to be fanatics who spurn our daily tasks. More than ever we must redeem the time and by honest work help ourselves and others.
When evening fell on the Sea of Galilee (fishing was best at night), seven disciples took their boat, perhaps the very craft in which some of them had been called to the Savior’s service, and sailed out on the lake to let down their net. A short time later they drew it in, only to find it filled with mud and weeds, but without a single fish. Once more the net was lowered; yet again—and this was unusual for Galilee—not one fish was caught. So the long night wore on in weary, exhausting toil; the seven men did not make one catch. Exhausted and discouraged, they felt they had labored in vain.
In their failures we find a picture of the disappointments which assail men’s hearts today. Many of you have slaved and saved, hoping to have money in reserve for a rainy day or for old age; but you have lost your funds through falsehood and fraud. Frequently a Christian worker, eager to secure a more responsible position, toils overtime and with unquestioned loyalty, only to learn that someone else through dishonesty or favoritism has received the advancement rightly his! Many of you parents in this audience have placed your hopes on a promising child. You toiled for it; you sacrificed for it; but death took it away; or your son grew up into manhood, married, and promptly forgot you; or your daughter brought you shame instead of honor. Now you are weary and worried, like the disciples after that long, fruitless night of labor. Some of you women have given your best years to help a weak husband. Through poverty and sickness you struggled at his side, yet now that he is wealthy and successful he has deserted you, run away with another woman. Unnumbered invalids in our audience have tried every recommended cure; yet they realize that they are losing their health. Even in our religious life the best efforts often seem to receive no reward. Not a few of you pastors have given your career to your congregation; yet because of neighborhood changes and other difficulties the membership is not increasing. You courageous men and women in the laity have repeatedly worked and pleaded for the conversion of your helpmate, parents, or children, only to see that they remain steeped in their unbelief. You try hard, you pray sincerely; but it seems that you have failed.
Is the mark of failure not written over our entire age? Is the whole world not toiling through a discouraging night? Do not tell me that we are making remarkable progress, for example, in aeronautics; that our planes can now fly to India in four and a half days; that American capital is planning seadromes in the Atlantic 800 miles apart, so that large numbers of passengers can cross the ocean in a day! Of what good is all this speed if ultimately it helps to kill people more quickly? Do not claim that medical science has recorded remarkable achievements in saving lives when increasing multitudes are mowed down on battlefields and the list of suicides constantly grows! Do not praise the progress of our colleges and universities when we have to fight two world wars in twenty-five years! Do not exalt our mechanical advancement when it is often directed to promote mass destruction, to make blockbusters that blast innocent noncombatants to pieces! How much true progress can there be in a system which rains bombs on schools and hospitals? We used to regard Babylonia and Assyria as among the cruelest of peoples because of the torture they inflicted on women and children. I doubt whether in their worst and most gory years those militarists along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers took as many innocent lives as this war will crush out. With hundreds of billions paid for purposes of killing, with millions of workers producing the weapons of death, with our own high officials concerned about the possibility of World War III, our age has indeed labored through a long, black night, and too often we have labored without reward. Tired and discouraged, many are asking, “What’s the use anyway?” Selfishly men try to drug themselves against this feeling of failure. If they still believe in a God, they charge Him with cruelty and favoritism.
WE CAN ALWAYS FIND STRENGTHENING COURAGE IN CHRIST
The disciples were not to remain discouraged, however, for Christ came to them there on the pebbly shores of Galilee. The Easter angel had promised that Jesus would meet them, and our Lord kept His word. His pledges never fail. Marriage vows, business agreements, financial obligations, international treaties, peace conferences—all these may prove deceptive; but you can rely fully on every syllable Jesus has uttered. Even His bitterest, bloodiest enemies have not been able to prove a single statement of His unreliable. Rather do we know that all the “promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him amen.” Therefore, when Jesus gives you this consolation, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you,” cling to His assurance and prepare to receive Him as your comforting Savior! When He declares, “All things are possible to him that believeth,” build your hope on the full, sweeping strength of these words! When He asserts, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” then bow before Christ to receive His uplifting grace! You need not fear the punishment of sin, because His unbreakable Word promises that “whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” You need not be terrorized by the thought of sudden death, for does He not pledge, “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”?
Note that Jesus came to Galilee to visit seven simple fishermen! How different His post-Easter appearances would be if men were to arrange them! They would put the resurrected Redeemer in the Temple, in Pilate’s and Herod’s palaces, before scholars in Athens and emperors in Rome. But our Lord is a Friend of the lowly and the laboring classes. Without fanfare and parade, as the first rosy hues of dawn began to streak the horizon, He suddenly stood on the shore. His followers were in a small, scaly, smelly fisher boat; yet to the Savior that was far better than the sanctimonious synagogues which had spurned Him.
Look more closely at the seven disciples who were honored by the Savior’s presence! Two of them were great sinners. Simon Peter had denied Him, and Thomas had doubted His resurrection; nevertheless both had confessed their transgressions, and the Lord had graciously welcomed them. Some of you have denied Christ. You have led blasphemous, brutal lives. Yet if you repent of your wrong, realize that your unforgiven iniquities are driving you away from heaven and into hell, besides causing unspeakable misery here on earth, and if then you penitently trust Christ as the all-sufficient Redeemer of your soul, no matter how deeply you may have fallen, how repeatedly you have sinned, how cruelly you have made others suffer, know that Jesus has forgiven you and will put peace into your heart.
Like Thomas, some of you have doubted. You want proof, you say. “Show me, and I will believe,” you demand. How unfair! Every day you unhesitatingly accept a hundred miraculous occurrences in your own body and the world about you; yet you question the intangible truths of the soul. Nevertheless, the Christ of endless compassion loves you, despite your doubts. He wants you for His own. He pleads with you even now to trust Him. What marvelous mercy!
Two of the other fishermen were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, the men who would have sent destruction on the Savior’s enemies. They were overzealous disciples who had to learn the lesson of love. Yet Jesus had a place for them among His earthly followers, just as He has room for you who are eager to throw yourselves into work for His kingdom.
Another of Christ’s followers there on green Galilee was Nathanael. We know little of him except that the Savior praised him for his simplicity and sincerity. He shows the calm and quiet Jesus often grants. You need not be a heavy sinner like Peter to experience the Savior’s grace. If God has kept you free from criminal acts, you owe Him double thanks.
Finally, two of the fishermen are unnamed. They may have been disciples in the wider sense, everyday, average people with no brilliance or achievement worthy of mention. Jesus has an important part in His realm for those whose names are never featured in the newspapers, yet who serve Him humbly, without recognition by men, just as many of you have given Christ the best you are and have without a syllable of public recognition and reward.
We should discover a blessed lesson also in the fact that the Savior came to His disciples on a workday—when they were busy at their daily task. Read the four Gospels, and you will look in vain for any passage in which Jesus demands that His followers approach Him on certain days or at specific places, only on Sunday or in church. The earth, the land, the sea, the air are His; He will draw near to you wherever you are, if your heart trustingly asks, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Mothers, you can meet the Savior in your kitchen or beside your baby’s bed. Fathers, Christ can be with you on your way to and from work, in the office, factory, or store. Airmen testify that the Lord accompanied them on high flights. Submarine commanders have felt His presence on the ocean floor. Soldiers have been converted in foxholes and baptized in trenches. No place is too remote, none too large or too small, to be blessed by the Son of God, provided He is not completely banished by sin and unbelief.
We read that when “Jesus stood on the shore . . . the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.” Perhaps they saw Him from too great a distance. Perhaps in the misty twilight of early dawn they could not recognize His form or features. Similarly in our times many who oppose the Redeemer behold Him only from far away, never face to face. They view Him in a haze of their own error, and consequently they do not find in Him the Savior of their souls.
Our Lord was not ready to depart without helping and comforting His disciples; so He called out in a commonplace question, “Children, have ye any meat?” or, as we would say, “Have you caught anything?” You see, Christ is personally concerned over the everyday affairs of His redeemed. He does not want His followers to hunger. The tragedy that in a warring world millions, notably in China, are again on the verge of starvation, that other millions in occupied countries exist on bare necessities, does not please Him. He has no delight in the hunger-pinched faces of babies, their rickety limbs, their piteous cries for food. He created a world with bounteous supplies, more than sufficient for all humanity; but selfishness, greed, disregard of His Word, have kept the necessary nourishment from masses of fellow men; and those responsible for these food shortages will not escape His judgment.
When the disciples shouted back across the water that they had caught nothing, Jesus, as always, was ready to answer with divine direction. Although it was morning and certainly not the best time for fishing, although His followers had worked all night without any results, He promised, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find!” The disciples obeyed, and they made a startling catch: 153 unusually large fishes.
The Savior who thus miraculously turned failure into success is the same Christ who provides for His own today. We ought to recognize clearly the decisive part He has in granting our country blessing and victory. America is not famine-proof; it has no charm against crop failure. If the Almighty would completely hold back His winds for one month, our agriculture would be doomed. If He loosed the fury of these same winds, our cities would be leveled. Guard against endorsing a mechanical philosophy which entirely eliminates the Lord! Every American family should humbly offer grace at meals and in Christ thank God, from whom all our national and individual blessings have flowed in unparalleled measure. Other countries have been swept by hunger; and we have no divine guarantee that our heavenly Father will continue to shower His supplies on us simply because we are Americans, if we receive our daily bread without thanksgiving.
How happy the disciples must have been when, having toiled through the dark night without any success, they drew in that record catch! So it is often in our life. After everything appears lost, God gives His surprising, surpassing benediction. This period of war indeed is a dark, destructive time for Christ’s Church. On our knees we ought to pray that out of these difficult days may come the light and power of a stronger faith.
A hundred and fifty years ago, when Europe was torn by the French Revolution, mighty Gospel-spreading movements had their beginning. Some of the first American missionaries left our shores in 1812, the year of our second struggle with Great Britain. Amid the hardships of World War II may God give us the courage to make far-reaching plans for the Savior’s kingdom! May He grant you, friends of this radio mission, the strength to believe that if we take God at His word, we shall be privileged, under His grace, to use this crusade for Christ, now broadcast in two dozen countries outside our own, as a mighty means of leading men all over the earth to their Redeemer! Scores of nations need our message. Vice President Wallace declared: “Nearly half the people of the world live in Eastern Asia. Seven eighths of them do not know how to read or write, but many of them listen to the radio, and they know that the world is on the move and are determined to move with it.” Should we not be determined that they are to move onward and upward with Jesus, and not downward and backward with atheistic Communism? Help us now, so that after the war we may reach in their own languages China’s 450,000,000, India’s 350,000,000, Russia’s 200,000,000! Supply us with means by which we can radio the Gospel to Africa, bring the Savior’s message into war-sick Europe!
After the disciples had made the miraculous draught, they must have remembered the day three years earlier when Jesus, calling them to be His followers, performed the same wonder. As they recalled this repeated marvel, they began to recognize their Lord. Today likewise, when people actually take the time to study the Savior as He is revealed in His Word, banishing their own ignorance, prejudice, error, and misunderstanding of His blessed work, they often recognize Him as their God and Redeemer. One of Europe’s famed legal leaders of the last century, Victor Strauss, also an authority on Chinese and Egyptian literature, graduating from law school, read the notorious The Life of Jesus, written by a man who bore his last name, David Strauss, the skeptic and infidel. Victor Strauss studied David Strauss’ blasphemous falsehood and was tempted to agree with him in part; yet, because he wanted to be objective, he examined the Bible itself. Being a thorough scholar, he enrolled for a complete theological course and learned even the Hebrew language—all in the attempt to discover the truth. As he immersed himself in the inspired record of God’s grace toward sinful men and met the Lord Jesus face to face, his doubt vanished. He gave up his skeptical opposition and clung to the Savior.
John Moser is still regarded by many as one of the most learned attorneys and judges in his day. During his youth he, as many others, read Voltaire’s scurrilous assaults on Scripture. His training had convinced him that both sides of a question should be heard; so he decided to scrutinize the Bible before accepting Voltaire’s slanderous attacks. The more diligently he studied, the clearer God’s plan of salvation grew. Soon he said of Christ, “Yes, Thou holy God, he that seeth Thee seeth the Father.” He recognized Jesus as the one Mediator between Heaven and earth.
All these instances of doubters and unbelievers finding the Savior by acquainting themselves with His works—like this incident on the Sea of Galilee, when the disciples realized that no one but He could perform such miracles—have a personal, direct appeal for every one of you who are outside the Church when you should be inside, questioning the Gospel when you should confess it. Neither I nor anyone else can argue you into Christianity. To acclaim Jesus your Savior, you need the Holy Spirit’s help, and this divine aid is given when you read the Bible and see what Christ has actually done. If some of you would throw off your prejudices, remove your ignorance, be convicted by the actual evidence of our Lord’s power; if you could take the time required to understand that the best in life today, the blessing of labor, the benefits of education and culture, the happiness from good government, the agitation against crime, the opposition to unjustified war, the impulse to true charity and love for our fellow men, all come not from schools and universities, not through laws and legislation, not by force and police measures, but from Christ; if you would see how He has changed history, above all, how in this moment He pleads that you accept Him as your Savior; if you would recognize how destructive and damning your sins are, but how endless and eternal His mercies—the scales would fall from your eyes and you, too, would find Him your risen Redeemer. God grant that you will be fair enough at least to read what the Bible says about Jesus! Start today and study the twenty-one chapters of Saint John’s Gospel! It will take little more than an hour to read them thoughtfully, prayerfully. Before you finish, you may be brought to Christ.
The first to recognize Jesus was Saint John, who in our text calls himself “that disciple whom Jesus loved.” Since that day those who loved the Lord have always been among the foremost to receive Him. Men of learning and letters who are not willing to confess themselves lost sinners and who feel no need for Christ’s atoning mercy, have a hard time to humble themselves and find the Savior. But simple folks, those who know what He paid to free them from hell and eternal death, find Him throughout the Bible.
When he saw Jesus, Saint John said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Only the Savior, he knew, could be powerful enough to perform such a stupendous miracle. Whenever we find anything good or helpful for our lives, we, too, should acknowledge “It is the Lord!” If you believe that your transgressions have been forgiven, that you are reconciled to your heavenly Father, then go back to Jesus and say: “‘It is the Lord!’ He has done all this, not I.” If you have been saved from accident, healed from sickness; if a child of yours that hovered near death has been restored, do not forget to recognize the Savior and declare thankfully, “‘It is the Lord!’ He helped us and not we ourselves,” When we envision peace—and may it not delay in coming, O God of grace!—then, discerning on the horizon of a better tomorrow the figure of Jesus, we should declare, “It is the Lord!” Above all, when in eternity we stand before the heavenly throne to worship Him whom angels adore, the mighty, magnificent Ruler of eternity—and, O God, grant every one of us this glory!—may we see Jesus and, joining in the celestial chorus, sing, “‘It is the Lord,’ our Lord and Savior!”
The reunion of the risen Redeemer with His Galilean disciples must have been unspeakably joyous. To them it was additional assurance that the crucified Christ lived and that He loved them. Every one of His post-Easter appearances should bring us added conviction that through our Savior’s triumph over the grave we, too, shall be blessed with resurrection after death, heavenly glory after earth’s suffering, a pure and painless, sure and stainless, true and endless heavenly life.
After the disciples had recognized Jesus, they started toward Him on the nearby shore. I pray God that some of you, seeing Christ in spirit, this day will also start toward your Savior. More than ever before, postponement is dangerous. Approach Him now! Peter, the leader of His fishermen followers, found the ship too slow in reaching Jesus; so he jumped into the sea and swam toward His Lord. May the Almighty give you that holy desire to draw near your Savior quickly, in these moments! Why lose a single second of the joy that can be yours, an unnecessary minute, a wasted hour, a neglected day without the Son of God? The faith He gives you is precious beyond price. Why hesitate and delay? O my beloved, in this decisive moment the risen Redeemer stands before you eager to assure you of your soul’s salvation. As you see His arms slowly raised in invitation to you, come to Him and cry out in the full joy of faith, “‘It is the Lord,’ my Jesus, my Christ, my God, and my Savior!” May the triune and almighty God grant you this blessing for your risen Redeemer’s sake! Amen!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.