Imagine being the Master Teacher to a group of 12 men who, in any other setting, would unlikely be each other’s friends. Great teachers ask well-intended questions, especially when their students are in extreme need of learning things beyond their limited paradigm. During a personal study of the questions Jesus asked, my relationship with Jesus has grown deeper and more authentic. See what you think.
Jesus utilized His prerogative as His disciples’ “Rabbi” to ask questions of His students and others. Have you ever stopped to notice how they responded to those questions? Consider the tone of voice in which Jesus asked questions. Was He exasperated, frustrated, and short-tempered? Was He arrogant or haughty, demonstrating His limitless knowledge? Were His questions corrective or redemptive? Did they draw people nearer to Him, or drive them away? Why and how did Jesus ask questions? Let’s look at just one of His questions to discover the power of a simple question that draws us nearer to Him.
After the Resurrection
Three and a half years of being Jesus’ chosen disciples and growing accustomed to signs and wonders had left its impact. Yet living through the demonic surge of Jesus’ crucifixion and the dark night of terror before the bright reality of His resurrection was a massive amount of trauma and dynamic change for any human to absorb.
Solution? “Let’s go fishing.” That was familiar. Safe. Imagine the conversation that flowed from one end of the boat to the other. Imagine a few of them casting the net again and again, hardly aware of that rote action.
Listen in as each one tells their personal stories revealing their ignorance that Jesus had a totally different agenda than what they had once dreamed. Would they have retold the horror and dismay of Judas’ betrayal and suicide? And what about the unfathomable fact of His resurrection? Were they wrestling to absorb events that no humans on earth had ever known? The night must have held some of their most vulnerable conversations.
The water, glassy calm in the early dawn, amplified the voice of a Stranger calling out, “Men, . . . you don’t have any fish, do you?” (John 21:5, HCSB).1
I come empty-handed. I work as hard as I can, and I still end up with nothing.
In this case, Jesus knows the answer to His question. So why ask? What is He attempting to accomplish? What need was He helping them to recognize? Do you need something you don’t recognize? Did the disciples need fish? Or did they need evidence that Jesus was forever going to attend to them, their earthly needs, and all their needs to fulfill His calling?
Depending on the translation you use, this question addresses the sleepless fishermen slightly differently:
“Men,” Jesus called to them, “you don’t have any fish, do you?” (HCSB)
Or, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (NIV).
Or, “Children, do you have any fish?” (ESV).2
Three translations offer different aspects of the Greek word Jesus uses with these men in the boat: “men,” “friends,” and “children.”
A night of fishing, casting their nets and waiting for the drift of the wind to help them scoop up the lake’s bounty—and nothing! Not one fish! Empty nets. This is a difficult admission. Doesn’t it feel disappointing to work so hard and have nothing to show for it? Aren’t we likely to quickly blame or analyze your failures? We might do anything to keep our minds and emotions distracted from the obvious fact: there are no fish in the boat. Period.
Some translators consider the appropriate translation of Jesus’ call as “Men,” showing respect for their efforts; their manly push to provide for their needs or to distract their confusion over recent events. Jesus gets it that they are men!
He also is their Friend. They are not strangers to Him. God is revealing His initiative to relate to them. By calling them friends, Jesus expands all options for a mutual relationship. This is profound when we stop to consider that the God of the universe wants to be our Friend and wants us to be His!
I smile when I think of Jesus calling His disciples “children.” Really? They were, and I am too, so utterly immature in my faith. We are all “little ones,” mere children. Possibly we think we’re helping our heavenly Father. Have you noticed the “help” of a child often creates more work for the parent? Yet, as parents, we overlook those inconveniences and encourage our children’s efforts so they can grow into capable adults. “Children, any fish?”
Show and Tell
Do you have any fish? No, I come empty-handed. I work as hard as I can, and I still end up with nothing. All of my accomplishments are only because of God’s life-giving creativity and calling in my life.
What Jesus is really looking for is a net full of people. My net is empty. Many of those who had been in my net have tumbled out to the waters again. I’m so sorry and sad. Help me, Lord, fill my net.
“Cast again from another perspective,” we hear Jesus say. Yes! Give me another perspective to freely throw my net again, again, and again, for as long as it takes.
These men had honestly answered without pride, pretense, or facade. “No,” they replied when Jesus asked if they had any fish. Now Jesus could respond to their admission. He could meet their need. Without argument back to the Stranger on the shore, with no excuses or blaming, these men simply follow through.
It took only one more faith-filled, obedient toss of the net, and it happened. From out of nowhere fish swam directly into the net. This “sign” of an overflowing net of fish that doesn’t sink the boat revealed immediately that the One on the beach is their Savior! Their Friend! Their Father!
Having already supplied their immediate needs with roasted fish over a fire, Jesus demonstrated the power of His question. This “sign” was evidence that would always remind them how He would ever supply their needs.
Men, friends, children, do you have any fish yet?
1 Texts credited to HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.
2 Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.