Monday, January 26, 2015

John Series: The End -John 21:18-25

Today marks an exciting end to an incredible journey our church has been taking for the last several years. Today we complete our series in the book of John! Throughout this book, John has set out to prove, among other things, that when it comes to Jesus, things are more than they seem. We have learned from His words and His works that Jesus is more than just a man, prophet, miracle worker, or mentor. He is God made flesh! His words tell it, His mighty works confirm it, His resurrection proves it, and His apostles were forever changed by it.

In this final passage, John 21:18-25, John presents three concluding thoughts that successfully call all who read these words to true discipleship in light of Jesus’ divinity.

1. A Prophecy-21:18-19

Immediately following Peter’s public reinstatement into the ministry, Jesus confronts Peter again, only this time, it is with a sobering prediction. However, before Jesus makes His prediction of Peter’s destiny, He takes a brief look at Peter’s past saying, “Truly, truly, Ii say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished” (21:18a). Ultimately, Jesus recollects Peter’s freedom in younger years to live his life untethered to weighty responsibilities.

No doubt Peter’s life as a young fisherman offered its own romantic appeal. A hard working guy spending his days doing what he loved with the wind in his hair and friends to pal around with must have offered Peter with the simple and yet enjoyable life of freedom any blue collar worker in Palestine desired. In earlier years, Peter had not been given the weighty responsibility of sharing the gospel message with the added command of living righteously. However, now that he had been with Jesus, watched Jesus die, and seen Jesus raised, things were different. As established in the last passage, because Peter loved Jesus and not himself, his life was no longer his own and this was no small matter. 

After reminiscing of younger days, Jesus predicts how Peter’s life will end in the second part of verse 18, “but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go’…”(21:18b). Though in days past Peter was able to prepare for and do what he wanted to in his flesh, a day was coming when his flesh will have no say in what will happen to him. Instead, others would control the inevitable outcome of his life. Jesus reveals that eventually, Peter will be taken against his will and forced to stretch out his arms.

Just to be sure the reader is not lost in the careful language Jesus employs, John makes it abundantly clear what this means, “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God…” (21:19a). Peter would, in his death, imitate Christ in two ways: in the way that he would be killed (crucifixion) and in the way his death would glorify God. For both Peter and Jesus, their humiliation in death would be at the same an occasion in which God would be honored and magnified. This is Jesus’ sobering prediction.

 “By the time the Fourth Gospel was written, the prediction had been fulfilled, and Peter had glorified God by his martyrdom, probably in Rome, under the emperor Nero” (Carson, 680). Ultimately, the incredible shame Peter suffered for his public disowning of Jesus on the night Christ was sentenced to death was forgiven by the Lord and subsequently overwhelmed by the apostle’s fruitful ministry and martyrdom (Carson, 680).

After making this difficult and yet sure prediction of Peter’s destiny, Jesus makes this invitation, “And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’…”(21:19b). How is that for an calling! You are going to suffer and die one day like I did against your will…follow me! Not the most seeker-sensitive message nor the sweetest presentation of discipleship I’ve come across. And yet, this is nothing new.

Luke 9:23-“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’”

No doubt these words hung over Peter for the next three decades until they came to fruition. These words connect Peter’s discipleship to Jesus’ initial call (1:43), challenge Peter to consistent maturation until martyrdom, and implicitly invite every reader to the same steadfast pursuit of the Lord in light of the ultimate sacrifice, one’s life.

Though discipleship in our lives may not satisfy Luke’s description of discipleship as literally as it did for Peter, inevitably, if we are not dying to ourselves we are not glorifying God. This prediction of Peter’s life reveals that Jesus is perfectly satisfied in allowing His disciples to die if it would mean God would be glorified as a result. How many of us really want a piece of this action?

2. A Petition-21:20-23

I’m not certain Peter wanted a piece of this action at first. Immediately after Jesus makes His prediction, Pete begins to make sure everyone else is going to get it like he’s been getting it. The text says that he turned around to look at the presumably silent disciples nearby and fixed his anxious gaze on none other than the writer of this gospel, John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays you?’…” (21:20).

Perhaps frustrated that Jesus has spent so much time questioning him and predicting a difficult future for him, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” (21:21). Here, Peter wants to make sure that John suffers like he will. Surely, all of the disciples would suffer equally. Surely, all of them would have to live under the weight of knowing that they too would die as martyrs! That would only be fair. Right?

As only God could, Jesus replies, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’…”(21:22). Ultimately Pete is told, “it is none of your business how John will be asked to obey me and glorify God. You worry about you and follow Me!” Here, Jesus demonstrates where a disciple’s focus should be. In the first thought Jesus revealed that ultimately a disciple’s life is about dying to self and living for God’s glory. In this second thought, Jesus reveals that a disciple’s focus should not be on how others obey God, but on his or her personal obedience to His calling. Peter’s tendency to immediately rush toward comparing himself to those around him is a battle every honest believer must fight and win. To those who are preoccupied with how others are serving, how much others are giving, and to what degree others are sacrificing for the Lord, Jesus says, “mind your own business! You focus on following Me!”

In an editorial note, John makes sure no one is confused about Jesus’ meaning, “Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘if I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’…” (21:23). Obviously a rumor was spread that Jesus said that John would never die until He returned in the second coming. However, this was not Jesus’ meaning. Instead, Jesus was suggesting a hypothetical scenario for Peter to consider. Not all disciples will serve in the same capacity, but every true disciple is dying to self and glorifying God. Your task and my task is discovering how this is best executed in our own lives.

3. A Postscript-21:24-25

John concludes his book with an appeal to his credibility as a literary witness to Jesus’ life and ministry, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true…” (21:24). This credibility is defended in at least two ways. First, John is an eye-witness. This verse reveals that the author of this gospel is the one that “Jesus loved” mentioned in the previous verse. As far as historical sources go, none are more trustworthy than eye-witness testimony. Second, the plural pronoun, “we” in “we know that his testimony is true” suggests that this later gospel account was widely accepted and confirmed among those close to the events surrounding Jesus’ life and ministry.

Though John’s gospel is a trustworthy testimony, it is not exhaustive. In fact, John ends with sort of a cliff-hanger, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they *were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself *would not contain the books that would be written” (21:25). With these words, John concludes his impressive work on the God man, demonstrating that when it comes to Jesus Christ, things are more than they seem—so much more, that not even all the paper in all of the world could enumerate every glorious detail.

So What?

However, this final passage in John’s Gospel has revealed that there is more to something else—when it comes to discipleship, things are more than they seem. Though many in the church want to believe that Jesus only wants one day of the week, a couple of bucks here and there, and for us to behave just a little bit better than those in our general vicinity, true discipleship makes a greater demand—it requires our lives and is willing to suffer so that God may be glorified. True discipleship is less concerned about the obedience of others and more concerned about personal commitment to God’s specific call. How can Jesus make this demand of us? Why should we answer His call to follow Him? Because as this gospel has demonstrated in its short 21 chapters, Jesus is God! Because He created us, died for us, and rose for use, He deserves our lives and every ounce of glory from all that we say and do in return. So what do you say? Will you follow Him? Will you really follow Him?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Do You Love Me?

There are some things that when said, we never want repeated—a childhood nickname that was less is than complimentary, a time when we stick our foot in our mouth, or after repeating a unflattering story in public that your wife or children deem private. However, there are other things that we don’t mind hearing again and again. We never tire of phrases like, “you are looking good today” or “what a brilliant idea!” or “you’re the best!” However, perhaps what we want to hear the most is “I love you.” Entire industries are devoted to this phrase that human beings crave to here from significant others, especially around this time of year. It is one of those phrases that never gets old.

In fact, this phenomenon is not limited to humanity, for God Himself enjoys hearing this phrase more than anyone. This is proven in John 21:15-17 as God made flesh interacts with one of His closest friends.  In their dialogue, Jesus asks the same question three times and appears to never tire of Peter’s important answer. Ultimately from this passage we will learn how important it is to love Jesus in everything we do and how this love is expressed within the body of Christ.

1. Jesus’ First Question-21:15

The depiction of Peter’s public reinstatement into the ministry following his tragic failure in John 18:15-18 is one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture. What made Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus so embarrassing was Peter’s feigned reliability in the presence of his fellow disciples. In fact, Peter boasted of his loyalty on several occasions prior to denying his Lord (climbing higher, thereby providing for a more devastating fall).

John 13:37-“’Lord,’ Peter asked, ‘why can’t I follow You now? I will lay down my life for You!’”

John 18:10-11 –“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear…”

In word and in action, it would appear as though Peter was the least of Jesus’ worries. However, once Jesus was arrested and taken from Peter’s presence, Peter is quick to deny Christ three times. This successfully unraveled any previous pledges of allegiance Peter claimed.

Therefore, because of the public nature of Peter’s failure, Jesus seeks to restore Peter publicly saying, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’…” (21:15). Several interpretations of this question are possible. First, Jesus could be asking, “do you love me more than you love these disciples?” However, this question is not consistent with any theme found in the book of John. Another option is “Do you love me more than you love this fishing gear?” This makes better sense, yet, Peter was not called from his fishing in John 1 nor is fishing given an especially negative connotation in the immediate context. The best option is “do you love me more than these other disciples do?” Peter has always tried to set himself apart from his contemporaries at various stages of Jesus’ ministry (jumping from boats [6:15-21; 21:1-14], insisting on laying down his life [13:37], and cutting off someone’s ear in defense of his Lord [18:10], etc.). In fact, Peter has brought this question upon himself by trying hard to stand out among his peers. However, flamboyant physical behavior and empty promises were not enough to help Peter’s claims and posturing stick. Although Peter was the only disciple to walk on water and the first to claim Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (6:69), he was also the only disciple who publicly denied the Lord three times. Therefore, this painful question asks Peter to articulate whether or not he still believed he loved Jesus more than the rest of the disciples.

But what kind of “love” is Jesus talking about? Many consider varying possible connotations of the verb employed in this verse (agapaw). Though some persons have tried to assign certain distinctions between the verb used here and others (like φιλέω), it does not seem possible to insist upon a contrast of meaning as a rule for all contexts. For example, the usage of the verbs for “love” used in this passage seem to be employed to avoid undue repetition (more on this later). In fact, several words for “love” are used for the total range of loving relations between people, between people and God, and between God and Jesus Christ (especially in the writings of John) (Louw Nida). Therefore, in keeping with the general nature of this verb and the contextual considerations already mentioned, Jesus is simply asking Peter if his high regard and affection for Christ is greater than those around him.

Peter responds to Jesus’ probing question with, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You’…”(21:15b). In Peter’s answer, he does not try to compare the relative strength of his love to the other disciples. Instead, he appeals to the Lord’s infinite knowledge. In essence, Peter says, “despite my bitter failure…I love you—you know that I love you” (Carson, 677). Though a simple answer to Jesus’ question, Peter affirms Jesus’ omniscience, thereby asserting that Jesus is in fact God Himself.

Satisfied with this first answer, Jesus calls Peter to make good on his admission by commanding him to “tend my lambs” (21:15c). “Peter’s love for his Lord, and the evidence of his restoration are both to be displayed in Peter’s pastoral care for the Lord’s flock” (Carson, 678). This image of a flock is appropriate on at least two levels. First, in order to survive and thrive, sheep require tending. The same can be said of the church who requires the constant leadership and care to survive and grow. Second, this image was no doubt similar to what Peter had seen demonstrated in his own life for the past three years. Just as Jesus tended the flock of the disciples, so too was Peter now commissioned to do the same for those he would be given to lead. What would allow Peter to make good on this calling? Love for Jesus Christ.

2. Jesus’ Second Question-21:16

Though Jesus could have made His point with one line of questioning, there are three. In the second inquiry, the very same question is posed, “…He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’…” (21:16), only this time, no mention is made of the other disciples. No doubt, Peter began to wonder whether or not Jesus heard him the first time or had already forgotten what he had said.

Perhaps for clarification and in case Jesus missed it the first time (in Peter’s thinking), Peter reiterates, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You’…”(21:16b). Again, believing that his first answer was perfectly adequate, Peter affirms God’s omniscience in Jesus Christ—the same omniscience celebrated throughout the Psalms.

Psalm 139:1-6-“Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know all about it Lord. You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.”

Psalm 147:5-“Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite.”

Peter’s point is this: if Jesus is God and knows everything then He knows the answer to the question He is asking.

Again, satisfied with Peter’s answer, Jesus responds with another command, “Shepherd My Sheep” (21:16c). Though this phrase is different verbally, in essence this is the same imperative offered in verse 15. However, in the words used here we are given a better understanding of Jesus’ point. To “shepherd” has both a very literal and figurative meaning. Quite literally, Jesus calls Peter to “herd and tend His flocks of sheep.” However, Jesus does not own any literal sheep or livestock. Therefore, the more figurative rendering, “to lead with the implication of providing for,” is preferred. Here, Jesus again calls Peter to look after the sheep of God (His disciples) and help provide for their spiritual needs.

3. Jesus’ Third Question-21:17

By now, everyone present should have known where Jesus and Peter stood. However, Jesus returns again and asks the same question of Peter a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” (21:17a). Many like to read a great deal into the change of verbiage used in this final question. Instead of using agapaw for “love” as has been used in the first two questions, Jesus uses filew, the same word Peter has been using to respond back to Christ. Though the verbiage is different, the essence of Jesus’ question is the same. The fact that Peter has been responding to Jesus’ question with a different word without rebuke or correction and that John uses both words interchangeably throughout His gospel suggests that the same question is being posed, “Peter, do you love Me?” It is obvious by this point that Jesus does not want to leave this issue so quickly.

Once this third question left the lips of Jesus, Peter must have known what this was all about.  As Peter had disowned Jesus three times, so Jesus requires this simple and yet profound confession of love three times, “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’...” (21:17). SPECIAL NOTE: The word used for “love” here is “filew.” However, the first two times Jesus asked Peter “do you agapaV me?” Therefore, technically, Jesus did not ask Peter “do you filew me” three times as John says here. Is this a problem? No, in fact it is further evidence that John is simply using different words to say the same thing to avoid unnecessary repetition.

You can imagine that this was not an easy moment to endure. To “grieve” as Peter does here means to be brought to a point of great sadness or distress. This third question no doubt brought Peter back to that most embarrassing and tragic moment of his life when he felt it more expedient and safe to deny ever knowing his Master (Something he would never want to repeat). The first time Peter was thrice questioned occurred around another small fire in the company of a small group of people. There in the darkness of night while Jesus was on His way to die, Peter broke under the pressure and failed miserably in front of total strangers. Here, in the company of His fellow disciples and friends, Jesus Himself adds to the pressure of the situation by repeating His inquiry in a way that adds to the drama of the moment. However, unlike before, Jesus has by this time conquered the grave and Peter was not hiding under the cover of darkness waiting for Jesus’ crucifixion. Unlike before, Peter was now standing in broad daylight beside the brilliant glory of the Son of God.

For these reasons, Peter answers, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’…” In this repeated answer to Jesus’ persistent question we are made aware of a new kind of confidence in Peter’s life—a holy and sanctified confidence brought about because of Jesus’ resurrected presence. Of all the issues that Peter had before and would continue to have in the remainder of his life, at least one of them was settled—he loved Jesus. He knew it and God knew it!

Because Jesus knows that Peter really does love Him, He commands Peter a third time to “Tend My sheep” (reverting back to the original imperative found in verse 15. This again seems to support that parallelism of verbiage was of little consequence to John in this context. What is more important is parallelism of thought). In each of these cases, once Peter proclaims His love for Jesus, obedience to care for the flock is demanded.

So What?

Though we might be tempted to believe that this situation was unique to the life of Peter, Jesus’ repetitive inquiry of allegiance is something that every disciple faces if they listen close enough. Life experiences, circumstances, and revelation from God’s Word and creation are always calling into question our love for Jesus Christ both in isolated moments and in the grand scheme of things. In each and every moment, Jesus is perpetually asking you and me the same question He asks Peter here, “do you love Me?” Because He is God, He already knows the answer. Therefore, Jesus asks this for another reason entirely. His consistent line of questioning compels us to evaluate our motivations and constantly check our focus.

1 Corinthians 13:5-“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test?”

Are we loving Jesus in our jobs, our families, our daily lives, among our friends, in the midst of pressure, etc.?

We cannot be about the business of serving others in any meaningful ways (tending the sheep) until we are able to answer “yes” to this question. Similarly, only those who answer “yes” to this question are those who are obedient to the Lord’s call to serve His flock.

So, let me ask you, “Do you love Jesus?” If so, tend His flock.  Do you love Jesus? If so, serve His church by supporting your brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you love Jesus? If so, invest in His kingdom building work here in this context and around the world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gone Fishing: The Present Necessity and Future Hope of Jesus Christ

When I was a young boy, our family would make annual trips to the Texas coast to fish and just relax. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting beside my dad and grandfather along the pier outside of the condo we would rent. With ice cold Dr. Pepper in hand, we would catch little perch and croaker that we would feed to the cranes nearby. When we were extra daring, the Dickson men would charter a boat with a guide to take us out into the gulf to fish for redfish and rainbow trout in its shallow waters. Sometimes we were successful and other times we made a trip to the fish market on the way home. On one occasion, we were incredibly fortunate and spent the entire day reeling in large reds and plenty of trout. We pulled in so much that several of us reached our legal limit and had plenty to eat on for several meals! One of the most satisfying dinners I ever enjoyed was as an 8-year-old boy, eating the fried fish that I helped catch (something about knowing I caught these fish made it taste better). Though we would like to take the credit for our success; ultimately, the guide who took us out to his “special spots” on his boat with his bait was responsible for placing our crew at the right place at the right time. His expertise made all of the difference in providing a fun and productive experience.

As we continue to move toward the end of John, more revelations of Jesus Christ are made. The next manifestation of the risen Lord takes place in John 21:1-14 as an unsuccessful fishing expedition is nearing its completion. However, one Guide is able turn things around and in two unforgettable scenes He demonstrates His ability to provide in this life and the next.  

SCENE #1: Jesus Fills the Disciples’ Nets-21:1-8

 “After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias and He manifested Himself in this way…” (21:1). This short introductory note establishes some measure of chronology as it suggests that the following events transpired after Jesus’ meeting with Thomas. However, it is not clear exactly how much time has passed in between the two meetings. Regardless, by this time the disciples have made it back to Galilee in the vicinity of the Sea of Tiberias (otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee) where the disciples enjoyed the some familiarity. Back home in this familiar region is where Jesus decides to reveal Himself for this third time following His resurrection.

Having returned to their home turf, Peter and several of his friends decide to take a fishing expedition, “Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and 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 also come with you.’…” (21:2-3). Returning to a familiar locale instigates this return to normalcy and tells us something about the state of the disciples’ transformation at this point. Such a return to the mundane would be unimaginable after Pentecost (see Acts 2). After the Holy Spirit is sent, there is a certain eagerness for spreading the message of Jesus Christ that seems to be absent here. Therefore, this action taken by Jesus’ disciples suggests that without the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, those who believe are unable to serve as instructed—“there is neither the joy nor the assurance, not to mention the sense of mission and the spirit of unity, that characterize the church when freshly endowed with the promised Spirit” (Carson, 670).

In spite of the clearly repeated instructions of Christ to proclaim the good news, the disciples “went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing…”(21:3). Although there is some evidence which suggests that night time was considered best for fishing in this region, John includes this detail in effort to play on a familiar motif—the theme of light and darkness (see 3:2, 19-21; 13:30; 20:1). Throughout His gospel, light has been used to symbolize truth, revelation, and life. On the other hand, darkness has referred to sin, ignorance, and confusion. At this point, the disciples have not totally come to grips with all that the resurrection means for them and have not learned the profound truth that apart from Christ they can do nothing (15:5)—not even catch fish! (something they were good at before ever meeting Christ). In the darkness of ignorance surrounding these truths, made more dramatic under the cover of night, they are unsuccessful in their familiar endeavor, “…they caught nothing.”  This creates an opportunity for Jesus to teach them an all important lesson.

After their fishing trip proves unsuccessful, the day breaks, casting light onto the sea of Galilee and figuratively providing an opportunity for the disciples to confront the truths they have ignored or forgotten, “But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” (21:4). In the dim light of morning, the Light of the world stands in the distance. However, the fog of the early morning made it impossible for the disciples to identify the figure before them, adding to the drama of this tender moment.

As soon as the outline of the figure appears, it speaks, breaking through the silence of the morning and the melancholy of the disciple’s fishless expedition. This voice says, “Children [boys], you do not have any fish do You?” (21:5). Knowing their answer before they gave it, Jesus is hoping to draw unique attention to the failure the disciples had experienced in doing something they had been used to doing for years.

After they reveal the unfortunate result of their excursion, Jesus turns Himself into a fishing guide and provides some helpful advice, “And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch’…” (21:6a). “Although the right side of anything was widely considered in Greek circles to be a sign of good luck, it would be utterly trivial to think that this is why Jesus gave this command” (Carson, 670). Instead, Jesus (because He is God), must have known that a great school of fish was swimming beneath the starboard side of the disciples’ vessel. What is more perplexing is why the disciples took this Stranger up on His advice. Remember, they did not recognize Jesus at this point. Therefore, if the disciples were not expecting to see Jesus and can’t tell who is speaking to them, they may have assumed that this advice was being given from a fellow fisherman. “I always catch more over there!” “Try casting on the other side!”

Though the specific reasons for the disciples’ obedience elude the audience, these seasoned fishermen, either out of hope or in desperation follow the advice and as a result, “they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish” (21:6a). This is not unlike the result experienced in Luke 5:1-11. There, after following Jesus’ instructions, the disciples loaded multiple nets onto the boat that nearly sunk the entire vessel! Here, perhaps after learning from their previous experience, the disciples keep the net in the water once they notice it is exceedingly full.

Though I imagine that the disciples took advice from other fishermen in the past that paid off, no advice previously received was this productive! In fact, it does not take long for John, “that disciple whom Jesus loved,” to recognize the man on the shore. He quickly tells Peter, “It is the Lord” (21:7a). Who else could have predicted the movement of the fish beneath the surface with such pinpoint precision?

As soon as John makes this connection clear to Peter, Peter covers his near-naked body and throws Himself into the sea, “So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, He put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea…” (21:7b). John’s insight combined with Peter’s characteristically over-the-top response confirm Jesus’ presence before the motley crew. The disciples had thrown the net into the sea to be filled and it was. Following this pattern, Peter threw himself into the sea hoping for the same blessing. 

As has proven to be the case on numerous occasions, the other disciples are not as flamboyant in their response as Peter, “the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish” (21:8). Eventually, all of them make their way to port following another unforgettable fishing trip—a trip that started rough, but ended with quite a splash. What made the difference? Jesus intervened, demonstrating that dependence on Him is appropriate not just for formally “spiritual” endeavors, but all endeavors.

SCENE #2: Jesus Fills the Disciple’s Bellies-21:9-14

In the next scene, the audience is transported from the Sea of Galilee to the shore where the disciples, “saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread” (21:9). Having already provided a miracle on the disciples’ behalf, proving that without Christ, even the most rudimentary actions are fruitless, Jesus now provides something else –a practical service. This was not new for the disciples for in John 13:1-17, Jesus was seen washing the disciples’ feet. Here, as their risen Savior, He meets their tiredness after a night of toil with a hot breakfast. Though cooking and setting the table might seem out of place for Jesus, it should not surprise astute bible students who remember that Christ is the same God who prepares tables for His own in the presence of their enemies (see Ps. 23).

Shortly after the scene is set, Jesus invites the disciples to “bring some of the fish which [they]…caught” to be used for the meal. This spectacle has all of the makings of a very satisfying breakfast. Jesus had made it possible for the fishing expedition to be a success and now provided an opportunity for the disciples to participate in making the meal. There are few things more satisfying for a fisherman than enjoying his own catch.

Peter is the one who takes the initiative to bring some of the fish over (surprise, surprise!). The  text says, “Simon Peter went up and drew the net to the land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn”(21:11). 153 fish is a lot! But why 153? Why give this number so specifically? It should not surprise us that these morsels were counted as these fishermen wanted an accurate survey so that they could divvy them out amongst those present. What is more important to recognize is the sheer magnitude of the miracle—a miracle that is made even more surprising by the nets that have remained in tact. The implication of this detail is that when Jesus is involved in our rudimentary routine, amazing things can happen. 

If perchance some of the disciples were hesitant to join the Messiah beside the fire, Jesus spells out His invitation more clearly in verse 12, “come and have breakfast…” (21:12). As they approached, none of the disciples dared to ask Him if He was their resurrected Lord, “None of the disciples ventured to question Him, ‘Who are You?’ knowing that it was the Lord” (21:12). Following Jesus’ second appearance (to Thomas and the others), the disciples at this point had perhaps come to expect that Jesus would turn up again. Also, by this time the disciples had been given the strongest possible reasons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection (See 20:19-29). Therefore, there was no legitimate reason to ask this question.

With everyone gathered around and breakfast ready, “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise…” (21:13). In this intimate scene, Jesus reassures them, meets their physical needs, and serves them. Having already provided a miracle, Jesus now provides an opportunity for the disciples to adjust to the new situation they now faced. Their Savior was alive! Here was the same miracle worker they had enjoyed before, the same man who had met their needs in abundant ways, and the same servant they had watched for the last three years. A breakfast feast is a perfect occasion to let this all sink in.

In fact, Jesus’ willingness to prepare a feast is not isolated to this occasion. This subtle breakfast in the company of His close confidants no doubt foreshadows a much larger meal that Jesus is preparing for (even at this very moment)—the marriage feast of the Lamb of God. We read about this special occasion in another book written by John.

Revelation 19:9-“Then he said to me, ‘Write Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’…”

It is on this future occasion where Jesus will sit down with His own and enjoy the greatest of all meals. Listen to Jesus’ promise of this occasion in Matthew 26:29 and His description of this event in Matthew 22:1-14.

Matthew 26:29-“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s Kingdom.”

 Matthew 22:1ff-“Jesus spoke to them again in parables saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast,…”

Ultimately, Jesus is making a promise to His disciples and all other disciples in this scene. In providing a breakfast meal; Jesus proves that He is the same Messiah that lived on the earth and died on the cross and reveals Himself to be the one who is going to prepare something even better for those who follow Him after this world passes away.

So What?

These two scenes demonstrate Jesus as the provider in this life and in the next. In providing a miracle, Jesus reminds His disciples that they no longer have the luxury of leaving Him out of their lives, even in the rudimentary and mundane. When a disciple tries to go it alone, all they can expect is an empty net, and unsuccessful journey, and a sad report when asked, “did you catch anything?” In providing a bountiful meal, Jesus suggests that He takes delight in preparing a special place of fellowship for those who respond positively to His invitation, “Come.” As He invited the disciples to bring their fish with them to an intimate celebration on the shore, today Jesus invites His disciples to bring those whom God has placed beneath their boat to the marriage feast—those Jesus will use His disciples to help catch.

Are you constantly inviting Jesus to intervene on your behalf and involve Himself in your day to day life? If not, aren’t you tired of coming to port empty handed with little or nothing to show for your efforts of eternal significance?  

Are you living with the future feast in mind, diligently fishing where God has navigated your vessel in an effort to help others answer Jesus’ global invitation?  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

From Doubt to Faith-The Climax of John's Gospel

A couple of years ago we began a series in the book of John that I affectionately titled, “Things are More than they Seem.” We have discovered in our study that this is true of life, who we are as human beings, and what we know of Jesus Christ. In fact, John’s expressed purpose in writing this gospel has involved demonstrating that when it comes to Jesus, things are more than they seem. Today, all of the pieces come together in John 20:24-29 and in a dramatic and highly personal scene, the climax of this lengthy literary work is presented in all of its glory. In this passage an unlikely individual who is late to the party is used to demonstrate what true faith looks like, and the voice of a skeptic is called upon to vocalize some of the most compelling theological truths. Let us take a close look at this passage by means of three circumstances that work together to make the case John has been working on for the last 19 chapters.

CIRCUMSTANCE #1: Doubt Drives a Wedge-20:24-25

Jesus’ post-resurrection manifestations we took a look at last week would have been life-changing for anyone in attendance. His miraculous appearance had to of had a lasting impact on the disciples who witnessed His presence, observed His scars, and felt His breath. However, not everyone was in attendance in John 20:19-23. In fact, at least one disciple was somewhere else, “but Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). Though we are not told where Thomas was when everyone had the benefit of witnessing the risen Christ, his “coming up to speed” episode allows for one of the greatest Christological confessions recorded and sets the stage for the climax of John’s Gospel.

Once Thomas is joined together with the other ten disciples, all of them share the great news of Jesus’ resurrection with him, “so the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’…” (20:25a). This short testimony lets us know that at least initially, the disciples did share the message Jesus instructed them to publicize (However, as we will soon learn, their obedience only went so far). This news, although simple, is profound and would have been shocking to Thomas. First, the statement necessarily means that not one, two, or three, but at least TEN of Thomas’ closest confidants claimed to have witnessed the same miracle (that is pretty compelling evidence of the miracle’s legitimacy). Second, that Jesus was risen from the dead means that all of their worries and fears about following a man who had just been crucified had no basis. Their most profound grief would have been remedied into vivacious victory if what they said was true. Third, their reference to Jesus as “Lord” means that these men at least claimed to believe that Jesus had authority and that this authority was confirmed in His resurrection. Quite a learning curve for Thomas to navigate through in order to catch up with His contemporaries.

Remember, Thomas did not have the experience the others shared of seeing Jesus and investigating His scars. Though people traditionally give Thomas a hard time, it is healthy to remember that he is a step behind everyone else (exactly where the other disciples were after hearing the initial news from Mary Magdalene). How did they respond when they first heard the news? They locked themselves in a room out of fear instead of proudly proclaiming Jesus’ victory!  Poor Thomas gets a bad rap; however, he is just as doubtful as his colleagues were before they saw Jesus alive.

 “But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (20:25b). Apparently, Thomas thinks the disciples may have seen a ghost (the Middle East during the first century was very superstitious). In fact, this would not have been the first time Jesus was mistaken to be a ghost, nor would it be the last time that people demanded confirmation of Jesus’ identity (see Matt. 14:26; John 21:4, etc.).

Ultimately, Thomas wants concrete evidence, the same kind of evidence that his fellow disciples enjoyed in John 20:19-23. Surely, Jesus, if His body was truly raised would have some sort of physical continuity with the Jesus who was crucified (i.e. scars in appropriate areas) (Carson, 656). However, for the time being, Thomas has not yet seen what He needs to see to make this quantum leap from skepticism to faith. Because of this, I imagine it drove an incredible wedge between him and his friends. Imagine being the odd one out in this situation. All of your closest buddies are enjoying the victory of hope and life and you are stuck wondering by yourself in a corner if any of this is true. Thomas was an outcast in his doubt and would remain this was for no less than 8 days.

Before we continue on this journey it is important to recognize the significance of the disciples’ experience and Thomas’ demand. Shortly after Jesus would ascend, the roots of Gnosticism were planted, saying that Jesus only appeared to be human (the heresy of Docetism, from dokeo, “to seem”) (Kostenberger, Zondervan Illustrated 190). However, John here and in talking about Jesus’ incarnation earlier (1:14) makes every effort to demonstrate that Jesus both “came in the flesh” and rose in the flesh (albeit a glorified flesh). In fact, in later letters to the churches, John continues this theme (1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 7).

1 John 4:2-3-“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

2 John 7-“I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

That Jesus rose bodily from the dead means that our bodies have a future resurrection to look forward to when we are glorified and become “like” Christ. Had Jesus not been risen bodily, this doctrine would be nonsensical and full-blown Platonism is confirmed.

CIRCUMSTANCE #2: Revelation Creates an Opportunity-20:26-27

Interestingly, the very same scenario is created a week later that existed before Thomas emerged on the scene, only this time, Thomas is in attendance-- “after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you’…” (20:26). The time reference of “eight days” is an idiomatic was of saying “a week later” putting this episode on the newly crowned “Lord’s Day.” However, instead of celebrating and sharing openly the news they have to share, it is obvious in this text that they have not done well to keep their new resolutions (see John 20:19-23 –resolutions include 1. Being a person of peace, 2. Being a person of action, 3. Being a person who shares). Instead, there they are hiding out for fear of the Jewish authorities behind locked doors…AGAIN! INSPITE OF THE EXPERIENCE THEY ALL SHARED! You might see why Thomas was unconvinced by the disciple’s message. To Thomas, their fearful behavior may have validated his skepticism.

Regardless of their faithlessness, Jesus, out of sheer grace, appears miraculously again and shares the same message, “Peace be with you” (20:26). I imagine the tenor of His voice implied “I SAID (a week ago) PEACE be with you” (not fear or hesitation). The idea here, again, is that because Jesus is alive, there is no reason to fear, no justification for being idle, and not cause for silence. 

After making His familiar declaration on the whole bunch, Jesus narrows His focus on Thomas and makes an example out of Him, “…Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here you hand and put it into My side;…” (20:27a). Though Jesus did not need to justify Himself in this way, He humbly offers His body to Thomas in this way for Thomas’ benefit, putting obvious revelation on the lowest shelf imaginable.

Here, Thomas is awarded the opportunity he asked for earlier—a thorough examination of Jesus’ wounds. Jesus’ allowance of Thomas’ empirical investigation is His way of reaching into Thomas’ skepticism in an effort to bring Him to a point of faith. In fact, following His invitation to Thomas, He calls for Thomas’ belief. 

“…and do not be unbelieving, but believing” (20:27b). There are several ways to translate this amazing invitation. Some translations render this “do not be unbelieving, but believing” while others render it, “do not be an unbeliever, but a believer.” However, no matter how you understand it, one things is certain, by taking up Thomas’ challenge, Jesus proves that he hears His disciples even when he is not physically present, and removes all possible grounds for unbelief (Carson, 657).

Jesus’ presentation of evidence to Thomas is indicative of what He and the Bible has done on a far more general scale. Thousands of corresponding copies of early manuscripts with no doctrinal differences make the Bible one of the most thoroughly vetted and consistent pieces of literature—even in modern day translations. Similarly, secular historical scholars agree that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most exhaustively evidenced events in all of history. These and countless other proofs demonstrate God’s willingness to offer evidence of Himself in manageable bites for even the most juvenile skeptic on the lowest epistemic shelf. The myriad of presentations all cry out the same message, “and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:24-29)

Ultimately, these two circumstances lay the groundwork for the climax of John’s Gospel.

CIRCUMSTANCE #3: Belief brings Salvation-20:28-29

We are not told whether Thomas actually took Jesus up on His offer to insert His fingers into the Savior’s wounds or not. In fact, the text seems to suggest that the sight of Jesus and His invitation was enough to bring Thomas out of doubt and into profound reverence.  

The entire series we have been working through in this amazing gospel has been called “Things are More than they Seem” and it is here that this principle is realized when it comes to Jesus Christ.  Circumstances in Thomas’ life bring him here to a point of belief that Jesus is not just a man, not just a teacher, not just a miracle worker, not just a prophet, not just a good role model—HE IS GOD HIMSELF MADE FLESH and Thomas’ declaration of this is the climax of this gospel, “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’…” (20:28). In a gospel that has done its best to demonstrate that Jesus is God, here is where we see one skeptic’s journey from disbelief to deep conviction in the face of overwhelming evidence.

His statement is important for several reasons. First, it is an explicit declaration of Jesus’ lordship and therefore His equality to God the Father. Because Thomas calls Jesus “Lord” and “God,” he is claiming that Jesus is equal to God—He is God made flesh. Anything other than this conviction falls short of true Christianity. Second, his statement is profoundly personal, “My Lord and my God!” It is one thing to say that Jesus has the authority of God and another thing entirely to subject oneself to that authority. That Thomas claims Jesus as his Lord and God means that he is surrendering his life to Christ and entering into a personal relationship with Him.

 In this statement we see a beautiful depiction of salvation. Romans 10:9-10 explains salvation this way, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Thomas, after witnessing Jesus’ death personally and coming to grips with His resurrection declares that Jesus is Lord verbally, demonstrating what is already true in his heart. Because of this, Thomas is transformed from a lonely doubter to a faithful follower. Calling him a “doubting Thomas” now is not accurate in the least. Thomas may have doubted before; however, he ended up being a faithful follower. In fact, how is this for “doubting Thomas”—Thomas (Didymus) according to historical accounts traveled further than any other apostle with the news of Jesus Christ, making his way all the way to southern India where he was eventually speared by a pagan priest for refusing worship to an idol. I’d say that Thomas’ life adds to the mound of evidence for the legitimacy of Jesus and the reality of His resurrection. Not many would travel to the end of the world and give up there life for someone they believed was dead, especially if they used to be a skeptic.

Jesus responds to Thomas’ declaration by saying, “…’because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed’…”(20:29). Although many understand the first part of Jesus’ response as a word of rebuke, it is important to point out that Thomas’ faith far exceeded his colleagues at this point. We will discover in the next couple of weeks that the rest of the disciples were not yet where Thomas was. In fact, the one who was lagging behind the others earlier now stood out front! Therefore, it is better to interpret Jesus’ words as a confirmation of Thomas’ saving faith posed as a question in an effort to introduce the main thrust of John’s Gospel (located in the second part of verse 29).

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (20:29). In other words, Jesus says, blessed are those who will come long after I leave the earth and reach the same conclusion Thomas reached—that I am their Lord and their God. With this statement, Jesus breaks the fourth wall and stares down anyone who picks up this book, letting them know how they can have real life. Real life is bestowed on those who in light of the evidence provided in God’s Word, creation, and experiences reach the inevitable conclusion that Jesus is Lord and in response surrender their lives to Him. Blessed are these!

So What?

When it comes to Jesus, things are more than they seem. Jesus is Lord and God! Do you believe this? Those who doubt this (believing anything less of Christ) drive a wedge between them and God, leaving them in a stubborn state of disbelief. These know nothing of God, ultimately have no hope, and enjoy a mediocre and altogether meaningless life.  Perhaps it is time that you examine the evidence and see for yourself. The Bible is the most trustworthy document known to man with the most compelling and exhaustively evidenced events (events that carry with them eternal implications). Its characters (like Thomas) were historical people who were really changed in profound ways and in many cases gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus rose from the grave! If this is true and Jesus really did rise as numerous sources support from secular historians of the first century, then everything Jesus said and did is confirmed. When all Jesus said and did is added up, it leads to one conclusion—Jesus is Lord and God! Is it not about time you recognize the futility of your skepticism and faithfully follow Jesus saying along with “faithful” Thomas, “My Lord and my God?”

For those who have voiced this confession, is it not time we live accordingly? Our Savior is alive from the dead! Why should we not lay down our lives spreading this message? Let us take our cue from the one we call a doubter and put our feet and hands where our mouth is! Do not let you inactivity in the kingdom building project and your silence fluff the pillows in the living room of skepticism. Because things are more than they seem.