Fish frying over a fire, the sort of breakfast that began with an invitation from Jesus in John 21.

The Epilogue and the Invitation

My church has been studying John’s Gospel together for more than a year. Every week, we’ve explored how this book lives up to its purpose: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, NET).

I almost wish the book ended with these words. After all, they carry a powerful weight. But if the book ended there, we would miss out on something else, something beautiful in John 21. This chapter serves as the epilogue of John’s Gospel. It is also an invitation, one that begins with breakfast.

An Invitation to Breakfast

In verses 1-6, Peter, John, and several other disciples decided to go fishing. They stayed up all night, but their efforts were fruitless. Then, as the sun rose, Jesus arrived on the beach and called out to them, telling them to throw their nets off. Sure enough, they caught so many fish that they could not haul the nets back onto the boat.

This is what clues John in that this was Jesus they were talking to. After all, it wasn’t the first time he had done this (Luke 5:1–11). When he told Peter that the Lord was on the beach, Peter did what only Peter would—he jumped out of the boat and swam right to shore, despite only being about 100 yards away (John 21:7–8). He couldn’t wait to get to Jesus, even if it meant returning to the boats to pull the nets to shore. And then, after getting the fish unloaded, Jesus said, “Come, have breakfast” (12a). Which is when things get interesting.

The Fine Balance of Uncertainty

In the second half of verse 12, John offered one peculiar detail: “None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.” Why would they do this? Why would they want to ask “Who are you?” when they already knew it was Jesus?

This event occurred after Jesus had already appeared to the disciples twice. Thomas, who was among those on the boat, had been invited by Jesus to touch the wounds in his hands and his side, and when he did, he declared that Jesus was “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). So it wasn’t that they didn’t know who they were talking to. There was something else at work.

D.A. Carson described this verse as being “finely balanced;”1 it carries a tension. The disciples were afraid to approach him, even as they were eager to be with Jesus. They found it hard to believe that it was really him—even though they knew it was.

The disciples were trying to figure out what it meant for the Messiah, their promised rescuer, to have died and to rise again from death. Despite all they had seen and all that had happened, the whole concept was still foreign to them.

They didn’t have it all figured out, and I don’t blame them for it. I don’t think any of us can say that we have, either. But it didn’t matter at that moment. Jesus had invited them to come to him, to join him for breakfast, and so they did.

The Grace We Don’t Believe

The same is true for you and me. Just as Jesus didn’t need the disciples on the beach to have it all figured out, he doesn’t need us to either. Jesus doesn’t need you to understand complex theological truths or the great mysteries of the universe before coming to him, and he doesn’t need you to fix yourself up, clean up your act, or deal with all your sins, either.

Most Christians would read that and say, “yes and amen” to all of that. At least, when we think about the gospel’s invitation to people who do not yet believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for them. But we don’t think this also applies to us after we have believed.

See, we have this problem as believers: We think God’s rules change after we profess faith. It’s as though God’s grace is freely given before we become Christians, but it doesn’t apply after. After we believe, we’re always teetering on the brink of eternal damnation. Every time we fail or fall short, we risk being cast into hell.

We seem to believe that after God saves us, suddenly, God hates us.

The Invitation in the Epilogue

And that’s not true. It’s not just that it’s no way to live—it’s a lie. It isn’t the gospel. It’s not what Jesus offered these disciples on the beach—the very same ones who abandoned him the night he was arrested, beaten, crucified, and killed.

What did Jesus offer them on the beach? Breakfast. More than that, Jesus offered them grace. Restoration. Friendship.

And that’s what he offers you and me, too. Jesus doesn’t need us to have everything figured out or our acts together. He just wants us to come to him, to experience his grace and find hope in restoration, to embrace friendship with him, the one who calls you his friend (John 15:15).

That’s Jesus’ invitation to you and to me.

Photo by Victoria Kure-Wu on Unsplash

  1. D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 674. ↩︎
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