On a fresh spring day a few years ago, my children and I made our way down to a friend’s farm in Mississippi. We unpacked our fishing gear and their faces twisted in disgust as I baited the slimy worm on the sharp hook. Disgust quickly gave way to delight as they reeled in one brim after another. But revulsion returned when we had to clean the fish to prepare them for supper. The whole scene reminded me that fishing teaches us about the incarnation.
Charcoal, Beaches, and Breakfast
John records one of the most fascinating scenes of Jesus’ ministry. Shortly after His resurrection, the Apostles had gone back to their work as fishermen. Then they saw Jesus on the shore. “When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread” (John 21:9). As if that weren’t stunning enough, Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast” (v. 12).
This episode is breathtaking for two reasons. First, in order to cook the fish, Jesus had to clean them. Think of the hands of God incarnate, freshly scarred from the nails that purchased our redemption, sooty with charcoal. Consider Jesus rinsing the black dust from His hands and proceeding to split open the fish, their insides getting stuck underneath His fingernails.
We can scarcely take in the humble drama unfolding before our eyes. In this scene, we have the truth of the incarnation in miniature. The Creator of water and molecules and pescatarian anatomy and wood got His hands dirty. How emblematic of His mission. He was soiled with our sin on the cross that the blood of His substitutionary death might wash away all that defiles us.
Second, Jesus made breakfast. Not only did the God-man get His hands dirty for our sake, but He also came to serve. His service for sinners like us found its apex in the awful tree. But even after He had secured our release from the bondage of sin, He continued to serve, to the point of preparing a meal for the tired workers, His friends. Let that sink in: God made breakfast.
No Other God Like Him
These events take us to the very heart of Christianity. At its most basic level, the gospel is about God’s stooping down to become one of us, to save us from Himself. It offers us the creator God who relates to His creation in all of its earthiness.
All the deepest longings of mankind’s spirituality—for a God who is transcendent enough to have the ability to solve our problems, yet near enough to understand those problems personally-—are satisfied in the gospel and the gospel alone. No other world religion offers us a God who makes charcoal fires and fixes breakfast. At the heart of the Christian story is the God who became one of us and who came to give Himself to us in loving service—fish guts, charcoal, and all.