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Another Ordinary Easter: a sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

May 4th, 2007 by isaac · 8 Comments

Title: Ordinary Easter
Date: April 22, 2007
Texts: John 21:1-19; Acts 9:1-20; Revelation 5:11-14.

153. John tells us that the disciples caught 153 fish after Jesus told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. It’s completely amazing to me that John tells us exactly how many fish were caught on that day. I think it’s safe to say that John usually doesn’t worry himself with getting the details exact—the story he tells is much too interesting to get bogged down with too much of we might call “history” or “reporting the fact.”

But, for some reason, he tells us that there were exactly 153 fish; he doesn’t say, “there was about a hundred”—that would have been fine. Or even, if he wanted to be more exact, he could have said, “there were about a hundred and fifty.” But no… 153. What a strange detail.

You can rest assured that many keen minds throughout the history of the church have contemplated this fact John gives us. Jerome, that famous 4th century translator of our Scriptures, said that the number is significant because there are 153 kinds of fish—so, the fish represents all the people of the world. Another approach is the mathematical: Augustine is the first to notice that if you add up the numbers from 1 to 17 we arrive at 153. But, why is that important? Who knows.

One of my friends offered me a great way to understand the story, at least it made sense to me. She asked me how sermon preparation was going. I told her that it wasn’t going too well. So she asked me what the passage was. And I told about the 153 fish. She said that it made complete sense that they would count and remember all the fish. Sometimes there are those moments in life when you remember everything, you don’t want to forget anything, everything is so perfect.

So, my friend offered an example: She went to Las Vegas with some friends—it was someone’s 40th birthday celebration. And she remembers exactly how many cigarettes she smoked, and what brand they were. She wasn’t a smoker at that time; but she remembers smoking a pack plus two, and they were American Spirits—every detail mattered, nothing could be forgotten. It was a perfect day, everything must be remembered—even exactly how many cigarettes were smoked.

On that shore of the sea of Tiberias, the disciples experienced a perfect day—and everything must be remembered, even the exact number of fish. Their risen Lord “comes as One unknown… by the lake-side” (Schweitzer), at daybreak. The disciples don’t recognize him at first. But they listen to him; they cast their nets on the right side of the boat.

Then they knew it was him. And Jesus made them breakfast, and they ate with one another. Everything was perfect; they never wanted to forget the smell of the charcoal fire, sitting and eating with their Lord, enjoying his presence—they had to remember every detail so they could replay the memory again and again. 153 fish—it was a perfect day.

But it was also so ordinary, so unspectacular, so usual. And for that reason, it’s so strange. It was an incredible weekend: Jesus is killed, and if that isn’t unthinkable enough, Jesus is resurrected after that. Just before the story we heard this evening, we find the disciples gathered in a locked room, and Jesus appears and shows them his hands and side—we heard that story last week. And now the resurrected Jesus appears again. But what’s so funny about the story is that after all those life-changing experiences, we find the disciples fishing, going about their daily business, working.

I want to grab them and shake some sense into them, to wake them up and say, “hey Jesus is risen, the world if different now.” But I can’t. And it’s interesting that John, the writer of the Gospel, doesn’t fault them for fishing. In fact, that’s exactly where Jesus shows up—while they are fishing; Jesus appears in their ordinary lives. It’s a strangely ordinary Easter appearance.

But the story of Saul’s encounter on the Damascus road is not ordinary at all. An intense light breaks through the sky and leaves Saul blind; and Jesus tells him where to go—to Ananias and the disciples in the city.

One thing that we can learn from the story of Saul’s blinding light on the Damascus road is the way individual spiritual experiences are not enough in themselves. Jesus doesn’t strike Saul down, convict him of his evil ways, and tell him privately what he must do now on his own.

Instead, Jesus tells him to go to Ananias, who lays hands on Saul and says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). Then they baptized him, and he fellowshipped with the disciples in that city. After all this, he begins to proclaim the good news.

I think we can learn from this story that our personal spiritual experiences are not ends in themselves. Like Saul, our profound, or not so profound, experiences direct us to the fellowship of the disciples. And it’s there, among those followers, that we receive the confirmation of the Holy Spirit.

In a world where personal and private spirituality is the catchword, we are a community that communally waits for the Spirit of God to confirm or correct our visions and beliefs about the divine. One of the reasons why I think this is important—other than that’s how the New Testament stories of Jesus’ resurrected appearances work—is that we recognize that we lie to ourselves, we deceive ourselves, we can’t trust ourselves. We need to open our personal convictions and beliefs and experiences to one another and find confirmation or reproof.

Church is the place where this happens. We listen to the Scriptures, listen to one another’s voices, and we fellowship—and in all these things we open ourselves, we release our private spirituality, and offer what we think God is saying to each other. And the point of all this is our hope that God will knit us together into Christ’s body, and that we might feel the intimacy of God’s embrace, stitching us together.

And for us, this happens in the mundane. Remember, Jesus finds the disciples as they go about their ordinary lives, as they fish. It’s not like we need to make ourselves profoundly spiritual in order to find Jesus. He comes to us as we get together with our fellow disciples, each other, and do ordinary things, like sit and talk and eat and listen and laugh and work together. But the point is that they are together, the disciples are in one another’s presence. Who knows what might happen when we get together: we might find another ordinary Easter.

Tags: sermons

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jason // May 4, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    I’ve always been interested in the different “153 theories” since Telford made the point in class that given John’s attention to symbolism and narrative detail it likely has some sort of meaning (this when I thought John was just “reporting the facts”). Just googling “153 numerology” shows that there are no end to the theories of this seemingly innocuous number. Anyhow, I find your thought of capturing a perfect moment in perfect detail a viable alternative and certainly brings some more color to the writer of John when I think of him seeking to capture a perfect moment in words.

  • 2 isaac // May 4, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Jason, there’s this great book by David James Duncan called The River Why. You should read it. It takes place in Oregon, which is sorta your neck of the woods now. Anyhow, Duncan offers one of the best readings of the 153 fish. (It may be helpful to know that the book is all about fly-fishing). Here’s the quote:

    “This is, it seems to me, one of the most remarkable statistics ever computed. Consider the circumstances: this is after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection; Jesus is standing on the beach newly risen from the dead, and it is only the third time the disciples have seen him since the nightmare of Calvary. And yet we learn that [the fish numbered precisely 153]....How was this digit discovered? Mustn’t it have happened thus: upon hauling the net to shore, the disciples squatted down by that immense, writhing fish pile and started tossing them into a second pile, painstakingly counting ‘one, two, three, four, five, six, seven…’ all the way up to an hundred and fifty and three, while the newly risen Lord of Creation, the Sustainer of their beings, He who died for them and for Whom they would gladly die, stood waiting, ignored, till the heap of fish was quantified. Such is the fisherman’s compulsion toward rudimentary mathematics!”

    That’s great. It’s just because fishermen care about that stuff.

  • 3 Paul Remlinger // May 5, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Jesus actually pointed at “17” on that day when He gave the 153 large fish sign (e-mail me about how this is the case); “one” reason Jesus pointed at “17” is because the 17th triangle number, as has been stated, is “153”; another reason is because “17” points at “Resurrection” (e-mail me about this); and, still, another reason is because the reflection of “number_17” plus “17” points at “GOD”; let me explain … in English gematria the value for “number”=73 (where “a”=1; “b”=2; “c”=3; etc.); so, side by side, “number_17” is “73_17” -> “7317”; the reflection of 7317 is 7137 (this number has a special meaning other than that which I am about to show you); do note that 7137+”17”=”7154”; the letters in “GOD” are “G_O_D” -> “7_15_4” -> “7154” ... !!

    E-mail me if you would like to know other information RE “17” on that day, secrets RE why there were “7” Disciples present for the fish sign; why cast on the right side of the boat; secrets about why “John” was selected to write about the 153 large fish; why Jesus chose this event for his “3rd” time to appear since His Resurrection; the actual “DATE” that Jesus gave the sign; and many other things that God has shown me about His fish sign (depends on how deep you might want to get into the matter).

    I had a “sign experience” (=153) on 5/23/96 … the day I deliberately sat down to ponder the significance of the 153 large fish discussed in John 21; I was not into numbers or gematria at the time; I “SAW” something on that day, and I knew I needed to investigate, but, I did not know how; I believe that God eventually lead me into English gematria (or, isopsephia); since that date, I have found thousands of things to verify/ validate/ substantiate/ corroborate that which I “SAW” on that day …................. again … when I wasn’t even into numbers.

    God Bless …

    Paul

  • 4 isaac // May 5, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    Paul, all that sounds strange to me. For one thing, I don’t understand what you mean when you say that “Jesus actually pointed at ‘17’ on that day when He gave the 153 large fish sign.” That’s not what happens in the story, at least as far as I can tell. Jesus doesn’t tell anyone how many fish there are. Rather, John let’s us know that fact in the narrator’s voice. According to the story, Jesus has nothing to do with counting the fish.

  • 5 Paul // May 6, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Isaac,

    When you say, “Jesus doesn’t tell anyone how many fish there are”, it kind of sounds like you may think that the “153” large fish catch was just as big a surprise to Jesus as it was to the 7 Disciples. I hope I’m wrong about that (by the way, the value for “Big Fish Harvest”=153).

    Jesus, of course, “knew” exactly the number that would be caught, as he set up/ was in charge of the whole fish sign miracle (“a fish sign miracle”=153; “numbers miracle”=153). Jesus is God and The Bible tells us that God is “ONE” -> “1”, and, besides, He stood alone on the shore when He gave His Fish Sign; He stood there as “1” Person; there were “7” Disciples fishing a short distance from the shore; this presents a “1_7” association pointing at “17” (it also points at “71”, but, that’s another discussion); people fail to see this “1_7” -> “17” association; they may, or may not, recognize that there were “8” present, but, again, they will not make the “1_7” association (by the way “8” being present is also numerically significant; can’t go there, now).

    Jesus also stood on shore as “2” ... i.e., He is The “Second” Divine Person in God; so, there were “7” (Disciples) ... “away” from “2” (i.e., Jesus); by the way, before I go where I’m going … realize the value for “on a clock”=74; “Jesus”=74; everything seems to be based off of 12 and 60 … numbers in life (Jesus is “LIFE”), and, numbers certainly having to do with a clock/ with ‘time’; ... now, what time is it when it is 7 (minutes) ‘away’ from 2 (o’clock) ... ?? It is “1:53” (7 minutes away from 1:00 is, likewise, significant, but, presents another discussion; do not want to make this post too lengthy). By the way, “17_Secret” is “17_70”; 17:70=18:10=”6:10” p.m. (6/10, is my birthday); then, 18’-10”=18.833 ft.; 1:53=1.833 hrs. ... note the association (I’m sorry; there are many “other things” that I cannot tell you, at this point, as it would take way too much lead-in information).

    Now, the value for “The Number of God”=153; “The ‘Time’ Number”=153; “Appearance Number”=153; and, “Prime Numbers”=153. If we are to believe that “153” is, indeed, “The Number of God”, then, we should, very well, pay attention to these other 153 values, as well, as they must hold special significance (it is, likewise, interesting to note the value for “God by a charcoal fire”=153). Recall that this was Jesus’ 3rd ‘time’ to Appear since His Resurrection (again, “The ‘Time’ Number”=153); ... now, the value for “third”=”59”; Jesus actually gave the fish sign on “5/9” (please, do not think that I’m basing this date solely off of the value for “third” being “59”; ... there are many, many, many other reasons as to why the fish sign date had to have been “5/9”); since “Appearance Number”=153, then, this, too, must be significant; side by side, “Third_Appearance” is “59_80” -> “5980”; the 153rd sequential prime number (i.e., SPN) is 883; add “883” to 5980 and you get “6863” which is the “883rd” SPN … very amazing … 6863 is “291” short of “7154”; “one hundred and fifty-three fish”=”291” (the value of my full name is “291”); “The Third Divine Person in God”=291; “The Study of English Gematria”=291; “The Secrets of English Gematria”=291; “Ponder the Fish Sign of Jesus”=291; “Christ Jesus’ Sign on May 23”=291 (recall “my” fish sign on 5/23/96; “May 23 Fish Sign”=”153”; “sign experience”=”153”); “Messenger of Jesus’ Fish Sign”=291; “The 153 Messenger”=291; “The Secret in Jesus’ Fish Sign”=291; “Jesus Revealing The Fish Sign”=291; “153 Fish Sign of God”=291; “Secret Theme of Fish Sign Two”=291; “Revelation of Fish Sign Two”=291; “Jesus’ Numbers Mystery”=291 (many, many more 291 values); even the value for “May 9”=291 … where the letters in “May” are “m”=”thirteen” (=99); “a”=”one” (=34); “y”=”twenty-five” (=149); and “9”=”9”; ... so, 99+34+149+9=”291”; it is also interesting to note the side by side value for “Jesus’_Fish Sign” -> “74_91”; 74:91=”2:91” on the 4th day; “fourth_day” is “8830” -> “883” (=”153rd” SPN); “on_day_4” is “29_30_4” -> “2934” -> “291”, as “one”=”34” ... !!

    “7” Disciples were present; the “7th” SPN is “17”; the “17th” SPN is “59” (again, Jesus gave the Fish Sign on “5/9”, and, Jesus pointed at “17” on “5/9”); and, the 17th triangle number=153 (interesting to note the value for “prime number 17”=151; “Jesus Christ”=151; “prime number seventeen”=243; 24’-3”=291”; “two hundred and forty-three”=291); ... 5/9, is the 129th day (non-leap-years … NLY); 12’-9”=153”; “May Ninth Sign”=153; “May_Ninth” is “39_65” -> “3965”; recall there was attention drawn to the “net” for both fish signs; “net_net” is “39_39”; 39:39=”39.65” hrs.; the reflection of 3965 is 5693; 56:93=”8:93” ... “on the third day” (=151; “Jesus Christ”=151); but, realize 8:93=”7:153” ... note “7153” ... “1” off of “7154”; recall “7” (Disciples) caught “153” (large fish); note the “7_153” association (there is a great secret in “7153” ... cannot go there now; too lengthy); ... 56:93=”3453” min.; now, recall “one”=34; so, “34_53” is pointing at “1_53” -> “153” ... !! Then, 34:53=2093 min.; 20:93=”8:93”=”7:153” (kind of takes you in a big “circle” ... can’t go there, now); ... recall that the net in Jesus’ 2nd Fish Sign was not torn; “Net_2” is “39_2”; ... 39 hrs. and 2 min. is expressed as 39:02 … note 3902 the reflection of “2093”.

    “Number_7” is “73_7” -> “737”; 73’-7”=883” (=153rd SPN).

    We express 73 hrs. and 7 min. as 73:07; 7307-”7154”=153.

    There is much, much more to be discussed RE all of the above, as there is definitely a (hidden) “big picture” to what is going on with all of this. There is much more to be discussed RE the numbers that have been “mentioned” in this post.

    Enough for now; I hope you recognize that the 153 large fish that were caught was no fluke, or no accident; if you would like additional information, perhaps, we should figure out some way of exchanging e-mail addresses.

    Blessings,

    Paul

    P.S. I might, at least, address ‘something’ RE “71” (mentioned in this post); 71 is ‘said as’ ... “70_1” pointing at “701”; 7:01 p.m.=19:01; 1901 is the “291st” SPN; “two hundred ninety-first”=”291”; ... 70 hrs. and 1 min. is expressed as “70:01”; 7001+”153”=”7154”; the reflection of 7001 is 1007; there is “1:53” left in the day at 10:07 p.m. ... “Ten”=39; so, “10_07” is “3907” -> “397”; the value for “the number 291”=397; ... 3×97=291.

  • 6 Paul // May 6, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    “Hidden Seventeen”=153; “The Number 17 Revelation of God”=291; Jesus pointed at “17” on day “9” (of May); 17×9=153; some Bibles actually state that The Disciples were about “200 cubits” from shore when they caught the fish; “200 cubits”=274; ... 274+”17”=291.

  • 7 Paul // May 6, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    The “59th” triangle number is “1770”; recall “17_Secret” is “17_70”.

    Blessings …

  • 8 isaac // May 6, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    I’m sorry Paul. I have no idea what you are talking about.