“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.” (John 21:6–7, ESV)
At the stranger’s suggestion to try casting their nets on the right side of the boat, something very unusual happens. They catch a whole lot of fish. They catch so many fish that they cannot drag them into the boat (153 to be exact–a beautiful eyewitness detail).
Whether or not John thought immediately back to a similar episode recorded in Luke 5.1-11, or just due to the unprecedented nature of the catch at hand, he immediately recognizes that the man on the shore who suggested such a thing is none other than Jesus! He tells this to Peter who promptly jumps overboard and swims for shore (do we expect Peter to do anything less than this?).
Eventually, all of the disciples get to shore and find that Jesus already has a charcoal fire going and bread and fish cooked for them. “Come and have breakfast,” he tells them.
Out of their own futile efforts, Jesus produces what they need, and in a manner that only he could provide. James Boice has an interesting comment: “Why the right side? Because that was the side they were directed to by Jesus! If He had said the left side, there would have been fish there. They would have swarmed there from every part of the Lake of Galilee, so anxious would they have been to be caught” (Boice, p. 347). I suspect that Boice is exactly correct. Those 153 fish were created for just the purpose for which they were used: to bring God glory by being caught by frustrated, tired disciples. Surely they would have swam from the ends of the earth for that, such do created creatures serve their Creator.
The disciples experienced Jesus’ miraculous provision and it is a lesson that must have stayed with them through the long years and many trials ahead. If God was not in their efforts, they were fishing to empty nets. If they relied upon him, the very gates of hell itself would not prevail against them.
It is a lesson that every follower of Jesus needs to understand. Reliance on ourselves and on our own efforts is futile. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it, labor in vain (Ps. 127.1)