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Jesus the Outdoorsman

Jesus the Outdoorsman

The night was still, as if holding its breath.  The moon spotlighted the calm surface of the lake, exploding in a brilliant shimmer of white light on blue-green water.  The fishing was slow.  On such a night as this the fisherman must be stealthy.  He must know the 10 percent of the lake where 90 percent of the fish hang out.  He must avoid the other 90 percent of the lake where the remaining 10 percent of the fish live.  The right location improves his odds of putting a fish in the skillet, and such was the objective of the bearded outdoorsman who had an early-morning lakeside breakfast on his mind.  

His friends were unaware of his presence only one hundred yards away.  They were in the boat fishing the river channel where it ran into the lake.  He was fishing from the shore.  These friends were some of the best fishermen in the country.  They had figured out how to make a living catching fish.  Many little boys in the region had grown up dreaming of the great catch, the legendary “boat filler.”  These men were no different.  The dream drove them to learn the trade, to hone not only hooks but also their skill, to seek the great catch that would land them on the cover of the regional news, turn them into living legends, and pay for the boat upgrade.  

The professional anglers in the boat had experienced the “boat filler” only one time before, precisely three-and-a-half years earlier.  Maybe they were even thinking of that incredible moment as they threw the nets out for another try, hoping to change their luck.  They tried all the hot spots.  They pulled out every trick, all to no avail.  The fish simply weren’t cooperating.  

The fisherman with the huge calloused hands and the loudest mouth made the announcement, “Let’s call it a night boys.”  His voice couldn’t conceal the disappointment.  For the next two hours they reeled in and folded their nets, careful to clean the weeds from every strand of netting.  

Meanwhile, on the shore and out of sight in the darkness, the lone outdoorsman was also reeling something in – several fish.  He, too, had grown up within a few miles of the lake.  He had some secret fishing holes of his own.  He quietly cleaned and prepped the fish for cooking, then started a fire to finish the task.  He had brought additional breakfast foods that compliment fish, and he retrieved these as the fish broiled over the hot coals.  Then he turned his attention to the fishermen in the boats.  

“Done any good?” he yelled.  

“No,” came the reply skipping across the surface like a rock.  “We’ve fished all night and haven’t caught a single fish.”  

They were probably thinking more than what was said – “the moon’s wrong” . . . “the barometer must be falling” . . . “we’re not holding our mouths right.”

Then they heard the words that would make any professional angler laugh in such a moment, especially when the words were spoken by a spectator standing on the shore without a boat;  “Try casting back out on the right side of your boat and you will catch some.”  

For some reason, the men who made their living at fishing listened to the man who didn’t.  They may have been ushered back by the words to an earlier occasion when similar words were spoken and they caught so many fish their boats were about to sink – the day they experienced the “boat filler.”  That was the day that they became household names in all the fishing villages.  That was the day that so many fish flopped in the boats that every mortgage among them could have been paid off.  Yet that was also the day that four fishermen walked away from their miraculous catch and their flopping fortune.  That was the day that Jesus had called them to leave everything behind, follow him, and be “fishers of men.”  He certainly knew how to pick up on a guy’s interest, they had discussed among themselves.  But then after three-and-a-half mind-blowing years, he had gone and got himself killed down in Jerusalem about 90 miles away.  They, too, had even experienced close calls.  So, disheartened by all that had happened, they had returned to what they knew best – fishing.  Yet, here again is a stranger telling them to try one more cast on the other side of the boat.  What could they lose except time, and they certainly had plenty of that on their hands now.  

Out went the nets.  In went the fish.  Tight went the ropes.  Open went the mouths.  Gape-jawed.  Eyes wide.  Knuckles taut.  Biceps burning as the fishermen struggled with 153 of the biggest fish that have ever been pulled from Lake Gennesarat.  

The big man with the loud mouth became very quiet.  He recognized the great fisherman on the shore, and he was so in awe that he dove out of the boat and into the water and began to swim the 100 yards to the rocky beach.  As far as we know, the burly fisherman Peter didn’t say anything to the man on the shore when he arrived.  For once in his life he was speechless.  

The other six fishermen were rowing the boat and pulling the heavy net that was loaded to the brim with huge fish.  The bearded campfire cook, noticing that Peter was looking at the fish smoldering over the open fire, probably realized that Peter was thinking of a different fire – the one around which he was standing a few nights before in Jerusalem when he had denied Jesus three times.  Rather than allow Peter to dwell on this failure in his life, he made a simple request of such a huge man; “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.”

As if to pay penance for his sins of denial, Peter didn’t just bring a few.  He grabbed the entire net full of hundreds of pounds of flopping fish and drug the whole catch to Jesus.  This action fits Peter’s personality so well – it’s all or nothing.  

The fisherman chef then invited the seven fishermen to join him for breakfast.  He tore the bread into pieces and passed them around, no doubt to remind them of the last supper he shared with them when he had instituted the Lord’s Supper the night before his crucifixion.  He then dished out the fish he had caught and prepared.  

It was a breakfast that these disciples would not soon forget, for with this breakfast Jesus proved to them that he was the real deal . . . the same man that they had known before who was now doing the same things he had always done with them.  This just proves the point that Jesus must have been an outdoorsman who loved to catch fish and even cook them.  That’s why this breakfast was so important not only for Peter, as Jesus later took him on a walk and restored his spiritual passions through forgiveness of his denials, but also for the other disciples who had seen his dead body with their own eyes.  They had to be convinced that he truly was resurrected.  They were probably thinking, “This has to be him!  He has the same mannerisms and cravings for fish!”

Jesus may have earned his living as a carpenter, but he lived his hobby as a fisherman.  You might say he had fish on the brain.  

Jesus the Fisherman

Consider all of the other Bible verses that associate Jesus with fish:

  • Jesus also ate fish on his very first post-resurrection appearance to his disciples while they were still in Jerusalem. (Luke 24:42-43)
  • Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men, plus women and children, with a boy’s lunch of fish and bread (Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9: 12-17; John 6:5-14, )
  • Jesus repeated the miracle by feeding fish and bread to 4,000 men, plus women and children. (Matthew 15:32-38; Mark 8:1-9)
  • Jesus sent Peter to the lake to catch a fish and look in its mouth where he would find a coin to pay for taxes. (Matthew 17:27)
  • Jesus tells the fishermen to try their nets on the other side of the boat, and they catch enough fish to almost swamp the boats. (Luke 5:1-11)  
  • Jesus calls the disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him and be “Fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17)
  • Once again Jesus tells the fisherman to try casting on a particular side of the boat, and they end up catching 153 large fish. (John 21:6 & 11)
  • Jesus cooks a breakfast of fish for the disciples. (John 21:12-13)

The more I realize that Jesus was God in flesh walking and living and fishing and eating and cooking on this earth, the more real he becomes to me.  He was a man’s man in every way.  

Jesus the Outdoorsman

Jesus loved the very creation that he had made at the beginning of time.  He invested himself in the creation.  He shaped and sculpted the mountains with his powerful words.  Then he became a man and climbed them.  Consider the following verses that either blatantly or remotely connected Jesus with the outdoors:

  • He was familiar with the nature of wolves. (Matthew 7:15; 10:16)
  • He referenced snakes, and evidently didn’t care much for them. (Matthew 10:16;  23:33; Mark 16:18)
  • He understood the ways of foxes. (Matthew 8:20; Luke 13:32)
  • He often referenced birds in his teachings. (Matthew 8:20; 10:16; 10:29; Luke 12:6-7, 24; 13:19; 34)
  • He referenced wild animals. (Mark 1:13)
  • He knew that green wood doesn’t burn well, and how to use dry wood to make a fire. (Luke 23:31)
  • He knew how to get a charcoal fire glowing and cook fish on it. (John 21:9)
  • He had an appreciation for wild flowers and grasses.  (Luke 12:27-28)
  • He made a reference to fishing lines and knew how to use them.  (Mathew 13:47-48)
  • He probably spoke with a country accent [distinguishable dialect].  (Luke 22:59)
  • He was familiar with all types of trees and foliage. (Luke 6:43-44; 13:18-19)
  • He understood the use of light to help one in darkness. (Matthew 5:15)  
  • He was familiar with food plots. (Luke 8:4-8; 14:35; John 12:24; 15:1-2, 5-6)
  • He mentioned a backpack and a weapon [being prepared/having the right equipment]. (Luke 22:35-36)
  • He understood the importance of having a good guide. (Matthew 23:16, 24; Luke 6:39)
  • He gave a three-step plan for following a guide. (Luke 9:23)
  • He experienced the danger of being on a boat during a storm. (Matthew 8:23-27)
  • He knew the unpredictable nature of the wind. (John 3:8)
  • He was familiar with gnats [pesky bugs!]. (Matthew 23:24)
  • He encountered hogs. (Mathew 7:6; Luke 8:26, 32-33)

The most compelling to me were all of the verses that portray Jesus’ love for hiking and camping in the hills.  He seems to have loved the Galilean hills around the lake.  I can understand why, having personally spent some time there.  The lake (known as the Sea of Galilee in the Bible) is beautiful, and the surrounding countryside is lush with green grass and colorful flowers.  Reforestation is taking place to restore the forests as they were in Jesus’ day.  The fishing is good and the river flowing into and out of the lake is much like a California stream winding its way lazily through the hills.  The atmosphere is laid back and casual, far different from the fast pace of Jerusalem ninety miles to the south.  I even saw a deer grazing in a field just a few miles north of Capernaum on the northeast end of the lake.  

Being familiar with the terrain helps me understand why Jesus was constantly seeking the solace of nature in the Galilean hillsides.  Understanding how important it is for me to have quiet for hours at a time in a deer stand (my prayer time), I understand how Jesus must have felt about getting away from everyone so he could pray.  Consider the following verses that portray Jesus spending time in nature:  

  • Matthew 9:1; 13:1-2; 14:13, 22-23, 25; 15:29; 24:3
  • Mark 1:35; 2:13, 23; 3:7, 13; 4:1; 4:35-36; 5:21; 6:46; 9:2
  • Luke 4:42; 5:1-3, 16; 6:12; 8:22-23; 9:28, 37; 11:11-13; 21:37; 22:39
  • John 3:22; 4:5-6; 6:1, 3, 15; 7:53; 10:40; 11:54; 18:1-2; 21:1

In two of these verses it appears that Jesus even camped out:  Luke 9:37 and 21:37.  I believe it’s safe to say that Jesus was an outdoorsman.  I can only imagine what it would be like if Jesus had come to earth today as a man. 

 Where would he go?  What would he do?  

Naturally, he would fulfill his mission just as he did in the First Century AD.  He would sacrifice himself for mankind.  

But during his years on earth, I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Jesus might be found fishing for bass or trout, or hiking in Alaska, or setting up a tent camp in the Sierra Madres.  

He might spend a lot of time sitting in a deer stand praying.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he would love coming across a patch of morel mushrooms during turkey season.  

He would probably own a well-built backpack filled with gear.

I think he would be familiar with the outdoor magazines and TV shows, would probably love going in Bass Pro Shops, and would know the best guides and probably use them as analogies in his teaching.  

He would likely fit in well at a wild game supper hosted by a church.  He might even get mad and throw over a few tables if he sensed that vendors were trying to milk people for personal gain at such events.  

Make no mistake about it – Jesus was a man’s man.  He wouldn’t even back down when the most feared and powerful being of the dark world challenged him.  He kicked Satan’s forked tail.  Yet he was gentle enough to hold a child in his hands and say, “Unless you become like this little child, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  

He is my hero.  He is my companion whenever I head out on an adventure.  I am proud to call him my traveling companion.  And I am honored to call him my Lord.  Are you?

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Jimmy Sites follows both the call of the Lord and the call of the wild. He holds the Doctor of Ministry degree from Abilene Christian University and has pastored churches for many years from small to mega-church. He was named "American Outdoor Sportsman of the Year" by the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame in 2014, and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018. Jimmy produces and hosts the award-winning Spiritual Outdoor Adventures with Jimmy Sites TV series that is currently entering its 20th season on national and international television.