John 21:1-7, After this, Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and He revealed Himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered Him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.
Churches will often put up signs with catchy or punny phrases in an attempt to show people their need for God. Unfortunately, they tend to be legalistic. For example, I’ve seen signs that have said, “TURN OR BURN,” “SMOKING OR NON-SMOKING,” and “CHOOSE THE BREAD OF LIFE OR YOU ARE TOAST.” These are certainly creative and catch peoples’ attention, but that’s not the right side of the message to get people to develop a relationship with God. Telling people they’re damned to Hell won’t turn them to Jesus. Only Jesus can turn them to Jesus, and this is through the Gospel.
In order to draw people to God, we need to listen to Jesus’ words here, “Cast the net on the right side, and you will find some.” Jesus promised His disciples that He would make them fishers of men. We do not become fishers of men when we cast the net on the wrong side—the left side of the Law that accuses and condemns. We become fishers of men when we cast it on the right side—the right side of the Gospel that brings forgiveness.
Yes, people need to know they are sinners and indeed deserve God’s wrath, but if we merely leave it at that they miss the point of the Gospel—that Jesus is the one who has appeased God’s wrath for us and frees us from sin, offering forgiveness in His justifying blood. If bringing people into church with the Law worked, then they would bring in masses of people, but they don’t. Instead, people are left not wanting to come to church, developing a false understanding of Christianity thanks to the legalism of these churches.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples this third time, He didn’t rebuke them or yell at them for their failures. Instead, He called them to Himself to be fed. At the realisation that this man was Jesus, Peter put on his coat and immediately jumped into the sea so he may be the first to meet Jesus! I’ve been on the Sea of Galilee, and that water is not warm. Peter was so excited to see his Lord that he jumped in the cold water and swam to him. The Law doesn’t make us eager to meet Jesus; it makes us want to run away from Him because the Law introduces us to God as Judge and we’d rather not face the reality of our sin. The Law is applicable, yes, but it need not overshadow the Gospel, for it is the Gospel that draws us to Jesus.
Perhaps a better church sign would be, “GOD FORGIVES YOU—EVEN FOR THAT!” You still have Law in that sign, “even for that,” which suggests the worst thing you did is sin that needs forgiving. And the Gospel part of the sign is that God forgives you even though the sin may be huge in your eyes. When we cast our nets, we need to use the Gospel that comforts and forgives us, not the Law that accuses and condemns us. For with the Law, we are prone run away; and with the Gospel, we run to Jesus.