“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ ” John 21:5
We are learning some valuable lessons from the risen Lord Jesus Christ in John 21:1-14. Yesterday we learned that failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3). While waiting for Jesus to meet them in Galilee, Peter and six other disciples decided to go fishing as they waited. John tells us that they fished all night and “caught nothing” (John 21:3b). God uses our failures and discouragement to accomplish His purpose in our lives. Jesus used the disciples’ failure to catch fish during their all-night expedition to prepare them for what He was going to do next.
We then read, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” (John 21:4). The dawn had now come when Jesus appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. John notes that, like Mary Magdalene (John 20:14), the disciples did not realize it was Jesus at first perhaps because they were preoccupied with their failure to catch any fish or they could not see Him clearly because of the distance between them or the morning mist hanging over the water.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ “ (John 21:5). Jesus addresses the disciples as “children” (paidia) which refers to those who are treasured in the way a parent treasures a child. 1 This is an affectionate fatherly term toward spiritual children (cf. I John 2:13, 18; 3:7). Like a loving father, Jesus was very fond of His disciples and He wants to bless them. So He asks them, “Have you any food?” The form of Jesus’ question in the Greek text assumes a negative answer; Christ expected, based on the fact that He knew, that they had not caught any fish. Why does Jesus ask them a question to which He already knew the answer? Most likely He did this to elicit a confession of failure from them so they would see their own inadequacy and their need for Jesus’ help. 2
Since the disciples did not realize this was Jesus yet, they may have thought His question was from someone who wanted to buy some fish. Jesus’ question “serves to heighten the disciples’ frustration and sense of need before the miracle occurs.” 3 We can sense the disciples’ discouragement and mild embarrassment in their “No” answer. 4 Unsuccessful fishermen never like to be asked this kind of question.
We learn from this exchange that SUCCESS IN OUR RISEN LORD’S EYES IS NOT IN TRYING HARDER (John 21:4-5). The disciples had been casting their nets again and again all night long. They are thinking the way a lot of us think: “I am going to keep trying the same thing until it works. I am deeply committed to this. I know if I try hard enough and I try long enough eventually I am going to be successful.” Isn’t that the American way? Isn’t that how most of us feel in America? We may get some limited, tiny success that way.
But there is a big problem with this approach. What if we are trying hard at the wrong thing? What if we are using all our energy and all our efforts to do the wrong thing? No matter how successful we are, there is no lasting joy in it. The secret is not trying harder. We could be working for the wrong thing or for the wrong motive. I think a lot of times we think there are only two options of something we really want in life. We think it is either option number one, “Try Harder,” or option number two, “Give Up.”
Some of us have been trying so hard at some things in life that it is wearing us out. We may be trying hard to get a job or to get married. We may be trying hard to get people to like us. We may be trying hard to make a difference in our spouse’s life or in our children’s lives. Perhaps some of us are trying to overcome a bad habit or a past hurt without success. We may be trying hard to grow in our spiritual lives. We are trying to pray more and read the Bible more and go to church more often. But the harder we try the worse it gets.
Then we suddenly realize Jesus is patiently standing on the shore asking us, “How is that working for you, My child?” We hang our heads down and reluctantly say to our risen Lord, “Not so well.” Jesus permits us to try hard for a season. He lets us come to the end of ourselves so we are more prepared to listen to His advice.
God has given us a special gift that makes us open to change. It is called pain. The Lord will let our pain increase until it exceeds our resistance to change. We call this “hitting bottom.” When we hit bottom we are ready to listen to what our risen Lord has to say to us. Next time, Lord willing, we will discover a better option for success that has nothing to do with “trying harder” or “giving up.”
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, many of us have been up all night casting our nets again and again and again without anything to show for it. We think that the key to success is trying harder. We have been working hard to overcome our habits, hurts, and hang ups. We are doing everything we can to get people to like us. We are striving to grow spiritually by praying more, reading the Bible more, or going to a place of worship more often. And it seems that the harder we try, the worse things get. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for asking us how this “trying harder” option is working. You already know the answer, but we need to discover it for ourselves. We need to come clean with You and admit that our way does not work. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for caring enough to ask us this question. Thank You for showing us our need for You. We are ready to receive Your advice now, Lord. We are listening. In Your gracious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 749.
2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 389.
3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 567.
4. Constable, pg. 389.