John 21:1-14 (NIV) 1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Dear Salem members, friends, family, and especially you, the Confirmation Class of 2019,
Everywhere the disciples went, they couldn’t avoid it. Jesus wasn’t there. He had been with them every day for the past 3 ½ years. Jesus had eaten with them, taught them, laughed with them, fallen asleep telling stories under a starry sky. During those 3 ½ years Jesus had done incredible signs. They remembered the first one—changing water into wine. Peter and the others could still see the look on the master of the banquet’s face when he tasted Jesus’ miraculous vintage: “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (John 2:10 NIV).
They had spent all kinds of family time together, especially meal time. Mary Magdalene and the other women prepared wonderful meals for everyone to eat. Before anyone could dig in, Jesus would always stop them. “Blessed are you, O LORD our God, maker of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.” Once Jesus had thanked his Father for the food, then they would eat. Conversation filled the air as they passed around the food and drink. It was time to eat, a time to be together, a time to laugh and a time to debate. It was family meal time.
Now one of the seats was empty. Jesus wasn’t there. That’s hard to handle, isn’t it? Today is a day for family meals. Your parents and family members have been working like crazy all week to get things ready. When you go back home for your confirmation party, the tables will groan under the weight of all the food. Mom didn’t want anyone to go hungry so she planned enough food to feed the whole family twice over. You’ll be eating leftovers for days, if not weeks! Your grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, cousins and classmates are all there. They’ll fill the seats around the table. Conversation will be unstoppable. Laughs and stories and jokes and debates—it’s all there, and it’s all incredible. Then you’ll remember—someone isn’t there. On your confirmation day maybe it’s grandpa. At the next family gathering maybe it’s mom. At your wedding maybe an uncle. When you celebrate your 25th wedding anniversary maybe it will be your sister. There is always a seat empty at a family meal, and when it’s empty, it hurts.
How do we deal with the sadness and the hurt that come along with that empty seat? The disciples came up with a pretty good idea. They went fishing! They all piled into a boat and spent the night with their nets in the water. How did they do? John recorded that night’s catch. “They caught nothing” (John 21:3 NIV). The sun was beginning to rise over the Sea of Galilee. As they pulled up their nets with no fish and no food for breakfast, were they reminiscing? “Do you remember the last time we fished all night and didn’t catch anything? Jesus told us to put out into the deep water in the middle of the day and drop our nets to catch some fish. We thought he was crazy, but he told us to do it, so we did. As soon as we dropped the nets, fish were everywhere. We had so many fish that our nets began to tear! Do you remember? Peter, your face was priceless! You were the first one to drop to your knees and confess that you were a sinful man. That’s when Jesus told us we would start catching people instead of fish.” (Luke 5:1-11 NIV).
Ah, the stories they could tell! As they finished stowing their nets and fishing gear a voice from shore called out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” The right side of the boat? These fishermen knew it wouldn’t make a difference. At the same time, once a fisherman, always a fisherman. If there’s even a hint that they could catch fish on the other side of the boat, they would try! “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” (John 21:5–6 NIV). John figured it out immediately. He knew it was the risen Lord Jesus. As soon as he told the others, Peter jumped into the water and swam to shore, overjoyed! When the rest made it to the beach, they found breakfast ready for them—fish and bread prepared over hot coals. Jesus even cooked up some of the large fish they had caught on the right side of the boat. Time for the family meal—a shore breakfast! This time, Jesus’ seat wasn’t empty. He filled it!
Jesus could fill that seat because he conquered death. He is there to help when there’s an empty seat around our tables, too. First, he promises to be with us, and we even invite him to join our family meal when we pray, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.” Our risen Savior promises to join our family meal. He fills our tables with good food. He gives us health and strength to eat. He is worthy of our thanks and praise. Even when there’s an empty seat? Even when there’s an empty seat. Our loved one who isn’t here anymore isn’t gone. They have received the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25–26 NIV84). We have hope even when our family meal is hard to swallow because of an empty spot that wasn’t there before. We know that because Jesus lives, our loved ones live too. Jesus is celebrating an eternal family meal with them!
That’s what makes today, your confirmation day, so important. It’s not important because you’re going to eat all kinds of ham and cheesy potatoes and cake and ice cream. You have been filling up on Jesus’ words and promises for a long time. It all began when you were baptized. For many of you it happened at this baptismal font. I poured water over some of you and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus got you ready for his family meal. He washed you clean—not your hands, but your hearts. I made the sign of the cross over your head and heart to mark you as a member of Jesus’ family. Your parents made sure you joined in Jesus’ family meal. They brought you here to church as they filled up on Jesus’ words and promises. They read Bible stories to you and sang songs about Jesus’ love. Jesus’ words taught you the difference between right and wrong, beginning with the words, “No,” and, “Yes.” As you grew older, you learned more and more about living for Jesus.
Jesus has filled you up with good things at his family meal. Then you came to confirmation class. For 3 years you sat down at a family table filled with rich food. You dined on the 10 Commandments and learned what it means to love God and love your neighbor as yourselves. You feasted on the truths of the Apostles’ Creed. God filled you up with what he has done for you—created you, redeemed you, and sanctified you. You indulged in the Lord’s Prayer and delighted in learning to talk with your heavenly Father about any and every thing. You nibbled on the Ministry of the Keys and got a taste of what it means to forgive sins along with the work your pastors do in the congregation. You gobbled up the precious truths of Baptism and then polished off Jesus’ family meal with the Lord’s Supper. You know that Jesus promises his body and blood for you for the forgiveness of sins. In just a few moments you’ll hear me invite you to come and share in this precious meal. Come join your family. Jesus has reserved a spot for you. Come share in a meal that will satisfy you forever!
Today that’s all fresh, new, and exciting. Never forget that right now, as you make your promises, your enemies are also making theirs. The devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh are poised to attack. When you promise to be faithful even to the point of death, they promise to attack your faith. Your enemies will do everything they can to separate you from Jesus’ family meal. The goal—that you spend eternity locked out of your heavenly Father’s banquet hall. These enemies are real, and they are powerful. It breaks my heart to say this, but if we go look at the confirmation pictures in the narthex, there are many who don’t take advantage of the family meal Jesus provides. Each one of them studied the same Bible truths you studied. Each of them memorized the same passages and parts of the catechism. Each one of them could say, “I believe that Jesus is my Savior from sin and death.” What happened? Remember Jesus’ story of the Sower and the Seed? Jesus planted his Word in their hearts, but something prevented it from growing. Some hearts are hard and don’t want to hear it anymore, so it bounced off. Some hearts are really excited when they first hear about Jesus, but the excitement wears off and their faith withered. Problems and questions from the people around them at school and work choked out their faith. It’s sad but true—sometimes people fall out of love with Jesus and walk away from his family meal.
How can you keep your promises and remain faithful to Jesus your whole life long? The best advice I can give you is to show up for dinner. When I was an 8th grader, I didn’t like to miss a meal (still don’t). My dad had an old metal triangle hanging in the garage. We’d be playing way across the street at the playground, or in the middle of a baseball game when we’d hear that triangle clang out its message. Time to eat!
Jesus calls us to his family meal with these words from the prophet Isaiah. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live” (Isaiah 55:1–3 NIV). Come to Jesus’ family meal and fill up on the good things he has for you. Come to the family meal on Sunday mornings and feast at the banquet Jesus prepares for you every week. Stuff your souls with every promise Jesus makes when you open your Bibles and read them. Savor the delights you find in teen Bible study. Jesus prepared a gourmet meal and it is free!
All of this food talk is making me hungry! That’s okay. I pray it makes us hungry for the good things Jesus offers. Don’t forget, as we fill up on his family meal here, he’s also preparing a family meal for us in heaven. John wrote in his Revelation, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9 NIV). We are blessed indeed. Fill your souls with Jesus’ words and promises. Enjoy the family meal he has prepared for us here, and look forward to the family meal waiting for us in heaven! Amen.