Have you ever experienced déjà vu? If you don’t know what it is, it’s the psychological phenomenon in which you have an uncanny sensation or feeling that you’ve already experienced something, even when you know you never have. Research suggests that between 50-70% of people experience a feeling of déjà vu regularly. This is because memory is stored in the temporal lobe of the brain which helps us recognize familiar experiences.
Today as we look John 21, we find the disciples have a déjà vu experience with Jesus. At this point, Jesus has been crucified, resurrected, and has already appeared to the disciples, but has left them again. In the opening of this chapter, Peter makes the statement, “I am going fishing” in verse 3. Now that Jesus has left the disciples, Peter goes back to what he’s always known. He goes back to what he’s comfortable with. He makes the statement “I am going fishing”.
We have to ask ourselves today – what’s my “I’m going fishing”? What it is it that tempts us to go back to what we’ve always known? Maybe you’ve been praying and you feel like God isn’t answering, so you’re tempted to throw in the towel and give up. Most of us believe we could never do this. But we’re wrong. Peter would’ve said the same thing! But remember he denies Jesus three times the night of his arrest. There’s always going to be the temptation to turn back on what God is doing in our lives. We put ourselves in a dangerous spot when we think we could never turn our back on our faith.
The story continues in John 21 with the disciples going fishing all night, without catching anything. As the next day’s dawn is breaking, the disciples head back to shore defeated, without any fish to show for their night’s work. Jesus was on the shore waiting for them, but while they were still far enough out that they couldn’t recognize him, He asks the disciples if they have caught any fish. They tell him no, so Jesus tells the disciples to cast their net on the right side of the boat. The disciples do as He says, and scripture says that they caught so many fish, they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many in it. It’s in this moment, the disciples realize the man on the shore who had told them where to catch fish was Jesus. Peter hops into the water, swims to shore, and the others rush the boat to shore to have breakfast with Him.
The disciples had a déjà vu moment with Jesus. Remember in Luke’s gospel, in chapter 5 that the disciples have a similar experience. When Jesus is calling the first disciples to follow Him, He finds the men back on shore with empty nets after fishing all night. Jesus tells them to go back out into deeper waters, to let down their nets again and to fish one more time. Scripture records that they come back to the shore with nets ripping they’re so full, and Jesus calls them to follow Him and become fishers of men.
But not only did they have a déjà vu moment because of the fish. Something interesting to note from John 21 is that scripture records the breakfast they shared with Jesus was cooked over a charcoal fire. Jesus wasn’t a gas grill kind of guy, I guess. There’s only two times in the New Testament that a charcoal fire is mentioned. In this passage, and earlier in John 18 when Peter denies knowing Jesus. Jesus used the very thing that Peter had denied Him in front of, to remind Him of what his life was like without Jesus. Jesus reminded Peter of what it was like to be empty, so He could fill him again.
He does the same thing for us today. We have to remember what it’s like to be empty, so we can be filled again. Not only does Jesus do this practically with the fish when He reminded the disciples of their empty nets when He filled them, He does this spiritually with Peter when He shares breakfast with him over the charcoal fire. Today maybe you’re struggling with a feeling of emptiness. Maybe you feel like God is distant, or doesn’t care, and isn’t answering your prayers. I want to encourage you to continue in your faith. Like the disciples, maybe God is asking for you to go fishing one more time after fishing all night and catching nothing. Today I believe that God wants to take that feeling of emptiness and replace it with fullness.