Apart From Jesus We Can Do Nothing


Sermon Text:  John 21:1-8
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Sermon Script:
       Main Points:
       I. Fishing all night catching nothing
       II. Jesus stood on the beach
       III. Casting the net by Jesus’ word
       IV. Simon Peter threw himself into the sea

Some people can do really amazing things. Noah built an ark so huge that it could saved the human race and the entire species of the animals of the air and land. David established a kingdom that could be called as the closest earthly model of God’s kingdom. Peter and Paul were the apostles of the Jews and the Gentiles respectively, and expanded and strengthened the fledgling NT church. Martin Luther and John Calvin restored Christ’s Church back on the track of believing and following the Lord and His word alone. It seems that some people’s capability is almost limitless.

In fact, that’s what we hear from Phil. 4:13. Being inspired by God, the apostle Paul says, “I can do all things.” But that’s with a condition and that condition is, “through Him [Christ the Lord, the Son of the living God] who strengthens me.” With Him, in Him and through Him, we can do all things. Of course, ‘all things’ mean ‘all things’ God wishes us to do in glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever. So, without the Lord, apart from Him, we can do nothing, as Jesus teaches in Jn. 15:5. It doesn’t mean, however, that Jesus is a power booster. Rather, it means that the Lord Jesus is the One who does all things with His power and wisdom, and we’re His blessed beneficiaries.

Our text passage for this morning teaches us this truth that we can do nothing without our Lord Jesus; apart from Him, we achieve nothing. Through this story of seven disciples’ encounter with the resurrected Jesus by the Galilean Sea, the Lord teaches us to trust Him as we wait for His time. This is because we’re often impatient, and being anxious, go forward leaving the Lord behind, thinking that we would get what we want by our own hands.

This important lesson given to the Lord’s disciples was quite timely because they were about to go out to the ends of the earth with the gospel message and continue the work of their Master now entrusted to them. So, the Lord was training them for their coming tasks. Likewise, every Christian and church must remember this lesson, this truth, that with the Lord, we can do all things, yet, without Him, we can do nothing.

So, let us listen to the Lord’s teaching for us and His church of all generations, following the story of the seven disciples gone fishing.

We begin from what happened to those disciples who spent all night fishing, yet, caught nothing at all. All seven disciples were there together at Galilee. By the way, why were they at Galilee? That’s because the resurrected Lord had commanded them to wait for Him there. So they came to Galilee, waiting for the Lord. We don’t know how many days they’d waited for Jesus.

Consider that you were one of the seven disciples in this situation in Galilee. Consider that you used to be a fisherman like some of those seven disciples. You know all about fishing, especially there at the Galilean Sea. And you have nothing to do other than just sitting and waiting for the Lord to appear. I guess it would be quite natural for you to think about going fishing. If not for going back to your old job, then, maybe just once for some pocket money or for killing boredom.

So, Peter says, “I am going fishing.” Hearing him, six others quickly think about that idea. It could’ve been late afternoon, maybe around sunset, a good time for going fishing. To call it a day at such a time wouldn’t do any harm for their business of waiting. And, they might’ve needed some money for their living expenses. So they say, “We will go with you.”

They’ve gone out into the sea. I believe they would’ve discussed and decided where to fish, what to do with their net and what each one would do as a team. After all, quite a number of them were former fishermen. Throwing the net into the water and pulling it back, what do you think they might’ve thought? ‘Oh, yes, this makes my heart beating!’ ‘Oh, yes, I love fishing!’ I guess they did, expecting a good catch. If you’re good at something and you haven’t done it for years, and one day you’re engaged in doing it again, then, you discover that you haven’t forgotten it at all but still are able to show some expertise. And you’d feel wonderful, wouldn’t you? And these disciples must have thought, ‘Oh, yes, this is exciting!’ Otherwise, they would not have thrown the net all night.

I wonder whether any of them happened to think that fishing was better than waiting for their Master. I wonder whether they forgot about their calling as ‘fishers of men,’ not fish. And I wonder whether you and I are like these men, forgotten about our call in Jesus Christ, forgotten about our blessed duty in the Lord, thinking what we do for ourselves in the world is far better! Occasionally, if not often, Christians readily forget about all their blessings and privileges in the Lord, and indulge in temporal delights of our worldly engagement. But the reality is that we’re of the eternal kingdom of Jesus, and the business of His kingdom gives us true comfort and joy.

Coming back to the disciples engaged in fishing, what’s the result of their toil? Nothing – they caught not a fish! That is really strange. Because, having some expert fishermen like Peter, John and James as their foremen or skipper, who had spent almost all their lives catching fish, they caught nothing. How come? There was no storm, no big waves, nothing to prevent a good catch. Fishing at night was the best way at the Galilean Sea and it still is. Catching none is not a usual thing. Traditionally as well as nowadays, the Sea of Galilee has always been known for its abundance of fish. There must be a reason for this. And that is, to teach them and us also the Lord’s truth, that is, ‘Apart from the Lord, we can do nothing!’

Hear the Lord’s voice recorded in Jn. 15:5. He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’! It’s not ‘Apart from Me you can do LITTLE,’ but ‘NOTHING’! So, we wait for the Lord; let Him lead us; let His word lead us; let His Spirit inspire us through His word, rather than following our own initiatives, rather than adopting man’s way. From the Lord alone do wisdom, power and success come and will our toil see its reward! Apart from Him, we can do nothing; but through Him, we can do all things!

As these disciples get tired and disappointed with their empty net, the day is now breaking. And the Lord is standing on the beach. Interestingly and sadly, these seven men do not recognise Him whom they might’ve been waiting for some days, if not weeks. Some of them would’ve noticed that there is a man standing on the shore which is about a hundred yards away – that is, about 90 metres. But no one has noticed Him as their Master and Lord. How shameful it is for these disciples! They are so busy drawing and pulling their empty net.

Similarly, how many times have we missed our Lord as we are busy with our own things? How many occasions have Christ’s churches missed the Lord’s teaching and guidance, simply being busy following the ways of man and of the world? In a sense, we’re like Martha of Lk. 10, busy with daily, sundry chores, and forgetting the preciousness of listening to and taking the heavenly treasures that come from the Lord’s mouth; or Mary the Magdalene of Jn. 20 who was busy by the tomb, searching for a ‘corpse’ rather than the risen Lord! Mary the Magdalene thought the resurrected Jesus who had spoken to her was the gardener of the tomb! Being busy ourselves with our worldly things, we might have also reckoned Jesus as a mere teacher among many teachers, His words as an option among millions of options to choose and follow.

Once again, the truth of ‘Apart from Him the Lord, we can do nothing’ is clear here. Jesus stands on the beach, not in the midst of these disciples. He used to be in their midst. He used to tell them, ‘Let us do this,’ and ‘Let us go there.’ His presence was always among them, not apart from them. But here, in this scene, Jesus stands about a hundred yards away, on the seashore, while these men are in the sea.

Moreover, Jesus calls them ‘children’ in v. 5. Compared to other times, Jesus used to call His disciples, ‘little children’ or ‘My little children,’ this is a term with less intimacy. ‘Children’ sounds more like ‘guys’ or ‘boys.’ This is an important change, not a thing for us to quickly ignore. Jesus, not standing in their midst but away from them, not even trying to walk on the water to come to them, calls them ‘Excuse me, guys,’ rather than ‘Hello, My dear!’ This further explains the fact that the disciples’ going out for fishing was not what the Lord was pleased with. They forgot about their task. They wanted to do things according to their own will rather than God’s will – that is, fishers of man. So, Jesus calls them here, ‘guys,’ not ‘My dear ones.’

Moreover, He inquires of the reward of their toil in the negative sense. His question in Greek is a question that expects a negative answer; so He asks, “Do you have ANY fish?” NASB renders it better than ESV, putting it as this: “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” He means something like this: ‘Do you know what’s happening with your self-initiative work? Do you get any lesson from your failure?’

I believe that many of you, if not all, have heard this Lord’s question from your experience, haven’t you? Having begun things of your initiative, you fail and see no reward for your sweat, then, lifting your spiritual eyes, you find Jesus not beside you but behind like this case by the shore of the Galilean Sea. And you hear this question, ‘Do you have ANY fish?’ The Lord expects, ‘no,’ as your answer because He knows. And He continues, asking, ‘Have you learnt the lesson that with Me, you can do all things, but apart from Me, you can do nothing?’

But our Lord is gracious; He is full of compassion for His beloved. So, He immediately tells them to cast the net. Here, either right-hand side or left-hand side, that doesn’t matter; whichever side doesn’t really matter. What takes count is ‘the right side’ Jesus the Lord tells them and us. Do you think these expert fishermen were throwing their net on the left-hand side all night? No, they’ve been throwing it both sides and front and back – all directions. It might’ve been that right-hand side they just pulled their net out of water just a few seconds ago.

And right here in this sixth verse we see a beautiful picture of the Lord’s grace! “Cast the net …,” says Jesus, and the disciples cast it immediately by His word! How come they responded quickly to that ‘suggestion’ of a stranger? Do you remember that the disciples have not yet noticed that it is the risen Lord Jesus? So, it is the power of God worked in His grace that caused them to obey and move! Do you also remember that Jesus was about a hundred yards away from them and they heard Him clearly and vividly?

What is the result? They are not able to pull the net because of the great number of fish. All night’s toil, casting after casting, there was no result. But immediately, the net is filled with fish, to a number unable to pull out of water. What does this say to you and me? What does this say to the failures we’ve experienced? What does this say to the failures many churches have faced? The message and lesson is simply; ‘listen to the Lord; obey in faith what He says.’ To do so often seems to be boring, unproductive, mistaking, but the result is always great, so different from what man’s wit would gather, because it is not our work but the Lord’s. So, once again, ‘through Christ, we can do all things, yet, apart from Him, we can do nothing.’

In v. 7, John suddenly remembers, probably what happened earlier to him, especially at his calling recorded in Lk. 5. On that occasion, Simon Peter and John with James fished all night catching nothing. Jesus appeared to them and told them to cast the net into the deep water. Interestingly, Peter replied to Jesus at that scene and said, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.” What happened then? They caught so many fish and the net began to break and their boat started sinking. Remembering that amazing miraculous calling, John tells Peter that it is the Lord.

Let me ask you a question: when you get a good result from your work, whatever that is, what do you say to yourself? ‘Oh, well-done; I’ve done it again’ – is that what you say to yourself? The Bible says that is the attitude of every man. But here in v. 7 of our text, John recognises it as the Lord’s work, not his; so he says, “It is the Lord!” ‘It is the Lord who made me along with others to cast the net; it is the Lord who drew fish into the net; it is the Lord who has been doing it in my life!’ So, John says, “It is the Lord!” I pray that you could recognise the Lord’s hand from all successes you have in your life. I pray that you could see the Lord’s hand and be greatly encouraged and rejoice, saying, ‘It is NOT I, but the Lord! Through Him, I can do all things!’ I also pray that, by the Lord’s wisdom in your experience, you could confess and say, ‘Surely, apart from Him, I can do nothing!’

If John was the one quick in recognising the Lord and His hand in this, Peter was the one responding quickly in action. Hearing John, he almost instantly reacts. He grabs his outer garment and jumps into the water to go to his Master as quickly as possible. What would you do if you were him in this situation? Everyone differs in nature and temper. Peter was always quick in action. He confessed that Jesus is the Lord and the Son of the living God. Then, just a few seconds later, Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!” On the night of Jesus’ arrest and suffering, Peter denied Him three times but hearing the rooster he immediately went away and wept bitterly, in other words, deeply repented of his sin. He was the first one here in our text said, “I am going fishing.”

Now, he jumps off the boat into the water for his heart aims only one thing, that is, to be with the Lord. A hundred-yard was too far from the Lord; he wants and needs to be right next to the Master. Suddenly, his mind is lit, and all he sees and desires is to be with the Lord and that as quickly as possible. I believe that he instantly repented in his heart. For that reason, he simply abandons everything behind and throw himself into the water.

Previously, a similar thing to this happened once to Peter. In Mt. 14, Peter asked Jesus to allow him to walk on the water to approach Him. Jesus said, “Come!” And you know what happened. He walked on the water. But soon, becoming frightened he began to sink. This time, he hasn’t requested anything but jumps right into the water. Whatever we do wrong, I pray that we turn back to the Lord immediately and wholeheartedly. Turning away from sin, we jump to cling to the Lord, like Peter here in v. 7.

With this story of the disciples going fishing rather than waiting for the Lord, let us remember this truth, ‘apart from Jesus the Lord, we can do nothing,’ absolutely NOTHING! At the same time, we must remember that ‘through Him our Lord, we can do all things.’ You and I are called to be fishers of man. And the Lord wants us to work with Him and alongside Him. What a great privilege we have in the Lord Jesus!

I began today’s message with some peoples of the Bible and their amazing works. But without Jesus, all are counted as nothing, like the way Paul says that he regarded all his achievements as ‘nothing,’ even as ‘rubbish.’ But with and through and in Christ Jesus, we can do all things as His blessed children, as His privileged co-workers of the gospel and His coming kingdom! So, wait for the Lord; listen to His word; and follow the Holy Spirit! And may God’s name be glorified in us! Amen. ***

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