After Jesus' death and before his Ascension, Scripture records no less than 12 appearances of a risen God. During those last 40 days on earth, Jesus spent time with the disciples to prepare them “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10 NASB).
In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus met six of his disciples who had been out fishing all night on the Sea of Galilee. “Have you caught any fish?” Jesus asked. “No,” they replied. Six experienced fishermen on the lake all night and not one had caught a fish.
Today, Jesus is asking, “How many people have you brought into the kingdom since you first believed?” For some, thank God, the answer is “a bonnie handful;” for others, only a spoonful, but I suspect for the majority, an empty net.
I number myself among spiritual failures and blush to admit it. Are we like the church at Laodicea who say we “have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” but do not realize that we are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (see Revelation 3:17)?
Our mission from the beginning has been to grow a burning passion for souls. Every member of The Christian Mission, precursor to The Salvation Army, had to sign this statement: We agree to set our hearts on the salvation of souls and put forth constant personal effort to secure the conversion of sinners.
“Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some,” said Jesus. It was a strange and bewildering command, but obedience brought blessings when 153 fish fell into the disciples' nets (see John 21:1-14).
What word does Jesus have for spiritual failures? Does he scold or embarrass them? Does he say, “I always knew you were going to let me down”? Not a single word of chastisement, but a word of hope that no matter how often we fail, Jesus wants to open our eyes to new challenges, opportunities and possibilities. Jesus is the world's champion of encouragement for failures like us. We must never give up trying.
After that miraculous catch of fish, I would have loved to sit around the fire with Jesus to listen to him speak. He had prepared the fire, but the fishermen had brought the fish. We work in partnership with him. That is the message of the Resurrection. A failure without him; a future with him. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” was his promise (Matthew 28:20 NASB). “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7 NASB). “… Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NASB). Together nothing is impossible.
I think around that fireside chat, the disciples were asking: “Master, what in the world happened to us? Why did we leave you when you needed us most? What is our problem? Please tell us.”
Jesus answered the question with a question to Peter and everyone else who was listening, “Do you love me?” (see John 21:15). In the Greek language there are three words which translate our English word for love: phileo (friendship), storge (loyalty and good companionship) and agape (unconquerable, unselfish and unforgettable love).
In essence, Jesus is saying: “Your problem is that your love is too immature, too carnal, too earthy. I want you to love me just as I loved you when I was hanging on the cross; just as I will love you forever.
“I want you to love me enough to take care of my children, both young and old.
Are you willing to love me like that? I want you from this day on, not to be fruitless in your ministry, but abundant in saving more than you can imagine or dream.”
In only a few days, Peter knew what Jesus meant. Three thousand were converted after he preached his first Pentecostal sermon (see Acts 2:14-36). A bonnie netful indeed!
D.L. Moody was a contemporary of William Booth who lived in Chicago. He worked in his uncle's shoe store where his Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball, told him how much God loved him. Moody was converted and became one of the greatest evangelists of the 19th century, founding the world famous Moody Church and Bible Institute in Chicago, which has brought thousands of people to Christ. One small seed sown by Kimball reaped a harvest greater than he could have ever imagined.
“Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 NASB).
That's good news for gospel failures.
Lt-Colonel David Hammond retired after 60 years of service as a Salvation Army officer. He continues to be active in ministry at Toronto's Bloor Central Corps.