Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label The Risen Christ. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Risen Christ. Show all posts

Monday, April 25, 2022

Beautiful Scars, part 2

There are actually seven Sundays of Easter.  The resurrection is so powerful, it takes Seven Sundays to express it fully.  In addition, every Sunday of the year is considered a “little Easter”, the Lord’s Day, the day we worship the resurrected Christ.

However, Eastertide is seven Sundays and 50 days from the first Sunday of Easter until Pentecost Sunday.  Eastertide is like Lent, which is a time of repentance and spiritual preparation, except Eastertide is filled with more wonder and excitement and joy than Lent, which tends to focus on penitence.  Eastertide is a time of anticipatory waiting and expectant prayer and reveling joy that Christ is risen indeed.  Recall that the resurrected Jesus told his followers to stay in Jerusalem and wait until the Holy Spirit came to fill them with power (see Luke 24:49).  Today, I want us to consider the beautiful scars of Jesus and what we could gain by rediscovering the practice of the Eastertide tradition as many of found in the Lenten observance.

John 20:19-24
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 

Christ is Risen, and He Appears to Many
One of the key things that happened during Eastertide, the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, is Jesus appeared to many people.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:5-6 – “He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.” 

What would it be like to see the risen Christ?  I know we can see Him in many different ways However, what was it like to seem Him in bodily form?  Perhaps that is something you could strive for during Eastertide.  Let’s examine what it was like for the Disciples to see Him.

Behind Locked Doors
The disciples were afraid.  Even after we’ve walked with the Lord for a long time, we can still experience fear.  So, the Disciples we hiding behind locked doors.  Christians were never meant to meet behind locked doors.  We don’t need to be afraid of rejections, persecution, intimidations, sickness or tribulation.  In Christ, we have nothing to lose.  We’ve already won.  In Christ, we are accepted, valued, and protected.  Even if we die, we’ve lost nothing.  This world has nothing for us and when we die we are raised to new life, true life, eternal life in Paradise.  Therefore, we don’t need to hide behind locked doors.

Jesus is Here, in the Flesh
The Disciples plainly see Jesus is alive!  Even though He is a physical being, He can somehow still come to be among them.  No matter where you are or where you try to hide or what experiences you feel separate you from Christ, nothing can keep Him from you. 

Furthermore, Jesus is the first fruit.  That means, His resurrection is the example of what our resurrection will be like.  We will have bodies like Jesus had a body.  But our bodies will be new and improved.  You think the next version of yoru smart phone will be something great?  Wait until you see the second version of your physical body in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Apparently, if Jesus is the example, locked doors will not be able to hinder your passage. 

We All Have Wounds & Scars
Jesus had scars, but His scars were not shameful or disfiguring.  Jesus’s scars were glorious because they tell the story of who He really is.  He can show them to us and prove that it’s really Him.  He’s the one who loved us so much He laid down His life for us and won our freedom from sin and death!  And so, the sight of His scars brings us joy!

 What stories do your scars tell?  It could be that they tell the story of foolish choices.  You did something stupid and have scars (whether physical or emotional) to prove it.  I hope more of my scars will show how I sacrificed for others.  A few weeks ago, a Christian came from Pakistan to tell how He runs a Christian school in Pakistan, a country that is 97% Muslim, where Christians are persecuted and even killed for their faith in Jesus.  The man told me, “Chris, real Christian love always hurts, because it means you must sacrifice like Jesus sacrificed.” 

To love like Christ means being vulnerable.  Sometimes when you love others, they will use or abuse your love and it hurts.  You will be tempted to withhold love next time, but don’t do it.  Real love hurts sometimes.  It may even leave you wounded and scarred.  But don’t’ give up.  Jesus will heal you and empower you to love again.  And the scars you bear will tell the glorious story of how you loved like Jesus loves.  Your scars will be a beautiful crown of glory!  So just keep loving!

Peace & Forgiveness
At first, it puzzled me that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit.  I always think of the Holy Spirit coming to the Disciples at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, which happened 50 days later.  However, then the Lord reminded me, the Holy Spirit comes at many different times for many different reasons.  In this instance, the Holy Spirit was given to impart peace and the ability to forgive.  In Acts 2, Spirit imparted the power to speak boldly in ways that everyone everywhere could hear and understand the Good News about Jesus Christ.  God gives us His Holy Spirit when we believe in Christ to help us overcome any obstacle.  If you ever feel inadequate to complete a task God gives you, do not fear.  God is about to show His power through His Holy Spirit! 

The Disciples need to be able to forgive.  Even though it was an amazing revelation that Jesus was alive and not dead, the Disciples still had a lot to be angry about.  The were angry at the Romans and the Jewish leaders for crucifying their Lord.  They must have been hurt and angry that one of their own number—Judas Iscariot—betrayed them and Jesus and then committed suicide.  They were surely also angry at themselves for their own shameful behavior, fleeing in terror, abandoning their Lord, and Peter denying he even knew Jesus right after boldly telling Jesus he was willing to die for him.  The Disciples need the Holy Spirit to help them forgive others and even themselves.  So Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and gave them the power to forgive.

Have you eve considered what a tremendous privilege it is to be able to forgive?  One of the reasons the religious leaders criticized Jesus was he forgave people’s sins.  They scoffed, “No one, except God, can forgive sins!”  So to prove that He had the power to forgive sins (and that He was God), Jesus did something dramatic.  In Luke 5, a some people brought their paralytic friend to Jesus for healing.  Jesus told the man, “Your sins are forgiven.”  When the Pharisees scoffed, Jesus said, “Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”  25 And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. 

So you see, Jesus is God and has the power to forgive sins (and heal a paralytic).  And now, Jesus has given His followers the power to do something that formerly only God had the power to do.  When you forgive, you are doing God’s work by the power of His Holy Spirit.  It is a tremendous privilege.

Poor Thomas missed out on this whole episode.  Apparently, he was away doing someting else.  We don't know what.  Thankfully, Jesus came back another time so that Thomas wouldn’t be left out.  no one gets left behind in God's Kingdom.  We will look at Thomas' the story next time. 

I want to challenge you to devote yourself to spiritual renewal as we lead up to Pentecost on June 5th.  Pentecost is six weeks away.  Pray each day about how God wants to transform and empower you.  How might God want you to serve Him this summer?  Pray about it and let Him tell you.  And I also challenge you to read the Book of Acts.  If you read one chapter per day Monday through Friday (taking the weekends off), you should finish the 28 chapters of Acts by Pentecost Sunday.  Acts is the story of the earliest believers going out to tell the world about the risen Christ.  As they did, they transformed the world.  And the cool thing about Acts is, it is an unfinished book.  It’s unfinished, because we are writing the last chapters today.  We are the people of Acts and we are continuing their mission—sent by Jesus Christ to tell the world God’s Kingdom has come.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Jesus Appears to Stephen and Saul

            There is a show on the History Channel called Ancient Aliens.  Have you heard of it?  During the show experts supposedly "investigate" ancient instances where aliens from outer space might have visited the earth.  For instance, one episode investigated the possibility that aliens visited the Earth and helped the ancient Egyptians build the great pyramids.  The main point was it would have been impossible for the Egyptians to build such massive, technologically advanced structures without the help of a more advance species.  Thus, aliens must have visited.  Perhaps I'm oversimplifying their thesis, but you get the gist of it.
            Maybe you like the show.  It's just not my thing.  I like history, but that's just not real history to me.  However, there must be quite a lot of people in America that like the show, because it's been a success and they keep making new episodes.  Well, we have such a thing we call "fake news" so I guess it's only natural that we would have such a thing as "fake history."
            The success of shows like Ancient Aliens is possible because a large portion of our population believes it is quite plausible that aliens exist somewhere in our universe.  A Newsweek article reported that 52% of Americans believe alien life exists.  The reasoning usually goes that our universe is so infinite with so many solar systems, that there must be a planet somewhere that has the conditions necessary to support life and, therefore, alien life must exist somewhere.  And if it does, there is a good probability it is intelligent, maybe far more intelligent than us, maybe intelligent enough that it can travel the universe.  And this reasoning is not limited to fringe groups and conspiracy theorists.   Even intelligent, highly educated NASA scientists argue in favor of the existence of alien life on other planets.
            And yet these same rational, intelligent, scientific people often will be the same ones who cannot accept the supernatural occurrences reported in the Bible.  They may believe in aliens or even that aliens crashed in the Nevada dessert at a place called "Area 51" as perfectly reasonable, but reject the idea that Christ rose from the dead as totally ludicrous.  They accept aliens as rational science, but reject a risen Christ as superstitious nonsense.
            I'm not saying that aliens do not exist.  Maybe they do.  My point is this.  There is absolutely no definitive evidence that aliens exist.  In fact, one could argue there is far less credible evidence for aliens than many of the supernatural miracles we find in the Bible.  So, it is not that aliens are more rational and reasonable than the Son of God rising from the dead.  Both ideas are really based on faith supported by a certain amount of mental reasoning.  However, in the end, it's what you choose to believe that makes the difference.  And it would seem that in our modern culture, it will soon be more fashionable and acceptable to believe in aliens than to believe Jesus Christ rose from the grave.  What do you choose to believe?  Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
            Those who are Christians, who are truly saved, believe that Jesus lived and died and rose from the grave.  True Christians believe Jesus is alive and has appeared to his followers and may still appear to us today (in one way or another).  I have discussed several stories about Christ appearing to his followers in bodily form during the first forty days after his resurrection.  But then Christ ascended to heaven and is no longer on the earth in bodily form the way he was in those first forty days.  Since then, the risen Christ is present with us in spiritual form, through the Holy Spirit.  And so today, I want to share two stories from the Book of Acts in the Bible.

Jesus Appeared to Stephen and Saul             The resurrection appearances we will examine today were witness by two very different people--Stephen and Saul.  Let me give some brief background on each before we read their accounts from the Book of Acts.
            First there is Stephen.  Stephen was one of the first deacons of the early Church.  The Church was growing and the Disciples had a problem.  There were so many new people joining the Church who needed nurturing and assistance it was consuming too much of the Disciples' time they couldn't focus on teaching, preaching, and leading the Church.  So they decided to select a few godly men to serve as deacons who would focus on caring for the needs of people in the church--especially assisting with outreach to widows.  Stephen was one of the godly men they chose.  We will also see Stephen became the first martyr of the church recorded in the Bible (a martyr is someone who loses their life for the sake of the Christian faith).
            The second person we will see who witnessed the risen Christ was a man named Saul.  Now, this is not the King Saul of the Old Testament, but you probably have heard of Saul, but by a different name.  This Saul in the New Testament is usually known by the name Paul, the Apostle Paul.  Paul has been called the most influential Christian figure of the New Testament (besides Jesus) and the greatest evangelist of the church.  The Apostle Paul wrote nearly half of the New Testament and he traveled all over the known world converting people to Christ and planting churches.  God used Paul to spread Christianity so it grew from a small Jewish sect to a world-wide religion (and the largest world religion today).  Saul and Paul were the same man, but before Saul became Paul, he was a very different man.  Before Saul became a Christian, he tried to destroy Christianity.  The Saul of our story was Jewish religious fanatic bent on wiping out Christianity, which he saw as a perversion of true religion and a rival threat to the Jewish faith.
            But first, let's read Stephen's account of seeing the risen Christ.

Acts 7:54-58
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Jesus Appeared to Stephen
            First of all, we see Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit.  People could tell there was something special about Stephen.  He was humble, giving, selfless, caring, and willing to serve others.  That's why he was chosen to be a deacon who would serve the widows and others in need in the early Church.  Stephen didn't need the spotlight to be on him.  He was a servant leader. 
            Wouldn't you like to be more like Stephen--to be full of the Holy Spirit?  Well, you can't be full of the Holy Spirit if you are already full of yourself!  If you want to be full of the Holy Spirit, you've got to empty yourself.  Get rid of your selfish attitudes, your selfish desires, your ego, your need to be the center of attention.  Then you will be empty and there will be space for the Holy Spirit to fill you.  You will be filled with the Spirit to the degree you are willing to empty yourself.
            According to Acts 6:5, Stephen was also full of faith.  And his faith helped him to see Jesus and to serve him, even when it was difficult, even when the stones were crashing down on him.  The reading makes no mention of him being afraid.  No. We have this sense that Stephen was at completely at peace and willing lay down his life.  And even as he was dying, his faith helped him to see Christ.
            Faith is so important to us.  It is essential.  Faith helps us to see the risen Christ--especially when we need it most, when everything is crashing down around us.  Faith helps you endure for Christ when serving and loving others us hard, when you are frustrated, when you don't seem to be getting anywhere.  Do you have faith?  Couldn't we all use a little more?  The time to strengthen our faith is now, especially before the trials and tribulations of life come.  Better to build that faith when everything is at ease, and then you will have a large store of faith to draw from when troubles come.
            There are ways to build your faith.  Ways that surely helped Stephen.  Prayer is essential to strengthen your faith.  Talking to Jesus everyday helps us  know him and trust him more.  Then when we need to cry out to him because of trials, we already have a relationship to draw upon.  Study and worship are also essential to strong faith.  This is not just going to church and going through the motions, but actually pouring out your heart to Christ and honoring him through your study and worship.  Fellowship is another key ingredient to strong faith.  It is more than just being around other Christians.  Real, vital fellowship is intimately sharing your life and struggles with other believers--trusting them, confiding in them, encouraging and being encouraged by them.  And finally serving others is a tremendous and indispensable way we build our faith.
            Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit and it helped him see the risen Christ in the glory of Heaven even as he was being murdered because of his beliefs.  And the man mentioned at the end of the story, who was complicit in Stephen's murder, was the second man we will read about who had a very different encounter with the risen Christ-.  His name was Saul. 

Acts 9:1-9
1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

            Saul was bent on destroying the Christian faith.  He was a very religious person, but his religion--which was supposed to lead him closer to God--actually blinded him to the truth and made him fight against the very God he claimed to serve.  Saul would do anything to destroy the Christians he supposed were threatening his religion. 

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

            The voice speaking to Saul is Christ. Christ asks Saul why he is persecuting him.  But Saul was not persecuting Christ; he was persecuting Christians.  Yet Christians make up the body of Christ.  So persecuting Christians is the same as persecuting Christ.  This is a clue for us if we want to see the risen Christ on earth.  Whenever Christians gather together as the Church, we are the Body of Christ in a very real sense.  One way we can see the risen Christ is through his people, the Church.  And if you turn your back I the Church, you are turning your back on Christ.

“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

            Notice, Saul doesn’t know who is speaking to him, but he calls the voice lord.  Saul doesn’t know the Lord, but he knows enough to see if this powerful person can knock him on his butt, he is a lord.  But Saul doesn't have a relationship with this Lord yet.
            The lordship of Jesus Christ is a central theme in both of the stories.  When Stephen saw Jesus, he saw him in a Kingdom. Stephen describes Jesus & God in glory and honor.  They are in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven.  Stephen knew Jesus was Lord and he knew the Lord.  What a contrast to Saul.  Saul is religious, but God is not really his Lord, let alone Jesus. Religion is Saul's lord. Religion is his idol.  He is willing to do anything for his religion, even murder.  But his religion has blinded Saul to the very presence of God.  He doesn’t even recognize Jesus when he appears.  He doesn’t even know he’s been persecuting Jesus, the Lord of lords, this whole time!  What about you?  Have you let religion become your god?  Your lord?  Your idol?

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

Jesus Appears to Saul
            This story tells us something very important about the risen Christ.  Jesus doesn’t just appear to good people.  He will appear to a murderous, evil man like Saul too.  It’s far safer to be spiritually hot or cold than to be lukewarm.  There is hope if you are going down a very bad road; you can always change when Jesus convicts you.  It's even better if you are fervently racing down the right road.  But the truly dangerous path is indifference, complacency, and apathy.  These are the attitudes that lull us to our doom without us even knowing.  It is when we say, “Yeah, I go to church, but I don’t get all serious about it.  I'm not one of those fanatics.”  Or, it is when we say, “Well, I don’t go to church, but I’m a good person.  I'm just as good as the next guy.  I just don't think I need to go to church.”  These kinds of attitudes seduce us into thinking everything is just fine when really it is not, because we are really just not that interested in a genuine, heartfelt relationship with God.
            Saul was a Jewish zealot bent on destroying Christianity, but at least he was not indifferent.  And Jesus appeared to Saul and changed everything.  We find in Saul a man who experienced the risen Christ in a dramatic way and it completely changed the course of his life.  The change was so dramatic, he even changed his name.  Saul became Paul and he became a Christian Apostle, arguably the greatest of all the Apostles--not because of his ego, but because of his willingness to serve the Lord with everything he had and was.

Do You Know the King?
            The Kingdom of God is all around.  It’s everywhere.  But do you know the King?  You know, it amazes me to think we still have countries in this world who have kings and queens.  And it's not backwards, third world countries.  England still has a monarch!  So you can travel to England ans say you have seen the "kingdom."  But it would be really neat be in England and to see the king.  That's a whole new level.  But suppose you were in England and you were invited to a dinner with the king.  Now we are really getting serious!  And yet, that still wouldn't be as impressive as if you got to talk to the king.  It's one thing to see the kingdom, or even the king, but it's a big deal to talk with the king!  Could it get any better?  Yes!  What if you had an ongoing relationship with the king?  What if you had his personal phone number and could call him anytime?  And what if you friendship was so deep that you could ask him for help if you ever needed it?  And what if from time to time the king called you and asked you to do something?  What and honor!  What a privilege!  What if the king was your best friend?  Now we are really talking!
            Well friends, that is what it means to be a true Christian.  The Kingdom of Christ is all around and Jesus is Lord.  But it's one thing to see the Kingdom (or even to see the Lord), but it's a whole new level of spectacular when you have a real relationship with Jesus, when the Lord is your best friend.  When you can call on him in your time of need and when he can call on you to ask you to do something for him.  That is a real honor and privilege.
            Have you seen the risen Lord?  Do you know Him?  Would you recognize Him if he spoke to you?  Do you talk to Him every day?  Do you have a real relationship with Him?  Could you call Him up if you had a real need?  Could He call on you?  Would you obey if He did?  Perhaps He's calling on you today.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Jesus Cooks Breakfast

Caution Fish Stories Ahead             One Sunday, a man woke up and told his wife, "I'm not going to church today." 
            His wife replied, "But you have to go.  You always go to church on Sunday." 
            "Well I'm not going today!  I'm going fishing!" 
            "You can't go fishing.  You have to go to church!  It's the Lord's Day!"  She said, very irritated.
            "I don't care.  I don't like those church people.  They're a bunch of hypocrites.  They're mean.  They're judgmental and rude.  I don't like them and I'm not going to church!  I'm going fishing!"
            "But you have to go to church!  You're the preacher!"

            So a preacher was fishing one morning when a drunk came stumbling by carrying a fishing pole.  He looked up and nodded to the preacher as he stumbled by.  The preacher just shook his head in disgust.  The preacher fished all day long and didn't catch a thing.  The drunk came back by that evening lugging a full stringer of fish. He looked up at the preacher and ask, "Preacher, you catch anything?" 
            "Nope," said the preacher.
            The drunk just shook his head in disgust and said, "You ain't livin' right."

            Some people have said Easter is just a fish story.  You know how fishermen tell exaggerated tales about the "biggest fish I ever saw."  Well, I'm here to tell you, the Easter story is true!  Jesus really did rise from the grave.  He is not dead.  He is alive and we can still see him if we have faith to see.
            Jesus appeared many times to people in many places the days immediately following his
resurrection.  He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and then to the other Mary, Salome, Joanna, and other women.  He also appeared to Simeon Peter, Cleopas and his friend, to the Twleve Disciples (minus Thomas) and then again to the Twelve when Thomas was there.  (By the way, the term Twelve became a term used to describe any collection of the original twelve disciples, even if it was only a partial group.)  Jesus also appeared to the disciples and a large crowd of followers on a mountain, to his half-brother James (who started out as a skeptic, but became a believer after seeing the risen Christ), and to the Disciples when he ascended back to Heaven.  Jesus also appeared to Stephen (who was the first Christian martyr) and Paul who had a hand in Stephen's murder.  And Jesus has shown himself in many ways over the centuries since.  We can still see the risen Christ today if we have faith to see.
            The Easter story says that Jesus rose.  He is alive, not dead.  Easter is not a fish story.  But Easter does have a fishing story.

John 21:1-14 1 Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore.
The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.

10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

12 “Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. 14 This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.

Jesus Cooks Breakfast
            This was the third time Jesus appeared to his Disciples; not the third time he appeared, but the third time to the Twelve (remember, the Twelve was a title that indicated a group of the original twelve Disciples even if some were missing).
            In this story, five of the disciples are named and two are unnamed.  I kind of feel bad for those two who were not named and wonder why John didn't name them.  I guess it wasn't important.  However, God knows who they were.  Do you ever feel like you are forgotten or unrecognized?  Don't feel bad.  It happened in the Bible too.  But God knows who you are and He will recognize you in the end.  Count it a blessing, like these two unnamed disciples who got to see the risen Christ.
            Now the disciples couldn't see Jesus.  Perhaps it was still to dark or there was some morning fog or they were too far from shore.  They didn't know it was Jesus at first.  But then John realized it was Christ when they caught so many fish.  It reminded him of another time they had caught so many fish because of Jesus.  Once John's faith kicked in, he knew it was Jesus directing them from the shore.  Faith helps us see the risen Christ.  Peter had faith too.  When John told him, "That's Jesus!"  Peter was convinced enough to leap in the water and swim to Jesus to say hello.
            There on the shore, they found Jesus cooking breakfast and they all gathered around to share the meal.  Some have speculated Jesus was just a ghost or spirit.  But ghosts and spirits don't cook or eat.  Clearly, Jesus wanted everyone to know he was real flesh and blood and very much alive and healthy and walking around in a real body. 
            Food is always held up as a central element of God's Kingdom.  Jesus taught stories using food.  He described the Kingdom of God as a grand banquet.  Jesus gave us the sacrament of Holy Communion to remember him with bread and wine.  And here in this story, we find Jesus cooking and eating with his disciples.
Fish for Breakfast
            Where I live, we are not accustomed to eating fish for breakfast.  I was in Jerusalem a few years ago and they had a breakfast buffet for guests of the hotel.  I expected to find the usual fare--pancakes, fruit, cereal, etc.  I did find those, but also there was plenty of fish to choose from.  Fish is a big part of the Mediterranean diet--even for breakfast.  And it was so for the Disciples as well.
            Fish are an important element in the story of Christian faith.  Half the disciples were fishermen.  Jesus performed several miracles using fish and also used elements from the fishing industry to make his points.  And Jesus said the disciples would become fishers of men. 
            Early Christians adopted the fish as a secret symbol of their faith.  Even today, Christians often attach a fish symbol to the back of their car.  Why is that?  The Greek word for fish is ΙΧΘΥΣ and is the acronym for "Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr", which translates to "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."  Sometimes, when a Christian met a stranger and wanted to find out if they were a Christian too, the Christian would draw one half of the fish symbol on the ground.  If the other person drew the other half of the symbol, it confirmed that they were also Christian and they could talk openly about their faith without fear of persecution.
Luke 5 vs. John 21             Our fish story from John 21 resembles another fish story from Luke 5.  Comparing the two stories is enlightening.  They both took place on the Sea of Galilee, but the one from Luke was at the beginning of Jesus' ministry where the one from John is near the end.
            In both cases, the Disciples fished all night long without success.  And in both cases, Jesus brought a miraculous catch.  From this we can see that Jesus is the source of the Christian's success.  If we are struggling and toiling and don't seem to be getting anywhere, perhaps we should pause and look for the risen Christ.  Perhaps we should listen more closely for his instruction and try something different and then we will find a great catch.  And just like the Disciples, our faith can be renewed.
            Peter responds very differently in the two stories.  In Luke, Peter is convicted of his sin and says to Jesus, “Please leave me--I’m such a sinful man.”  But look how far Peter has grown since the beginning.  In this story (after three years with Jesus), Peter leaps into the water and swims to be the first to greet Jesus. Peter knows he is still a sinful man, but he also knows that is why he must swim toward Jesus and not away from him and that Jesus will accept him unconditionally.  Do you realize Jesus accepts you unconditionally?  Are you swimming toward the risen Lord with hope or running away in fear?
            In Luke's story, the net starts to break because it has so many fish.  In the resurrection story from John, there are just as many fish but the nets don't break.  I think this is a symbol of what Christ's resurrection has done.  On the cross, Christ accomplished everything that needed to be done.  Now his “fishers of men” can fish with strong, unbreakable nets.  We can drag in the catch with perfect confidence.  Because of Christ's resurrection, we can live and serve unhindered and with full strength and purpose.
            John’s story is very specific.  153 large fish were caught.  That's so specific, it stands out like the smell of fresh fish cooking in a kitchen.  John did that on purpose because he had a secret, symbolic meaning to share.  Unfortunately, we have lost that meaning over the centuries.  Many have speculated what it could be.  Some came up with interesting ideas, but the we don't know of sure.
            One thing we can say is that a fishing net is indiscriminate.  You don't pick which fish you catch.  The net just drags everything up all the same.  But John says all 153 fish were large fish.  They were all "keepers" in modern fishing lingo.  And so it is in the Kingdom of God.  We are not called to discriminate about who comes into the Kingdom.  We are called to cast the net.  And whoever believes and swims into our Gospel net, we are to drag ashore.  Some will be slimy and smelly (all of us really are), but we are called to love them just the same.  Besides, it is Jesus' job to receive them, clean them, and prepare them for breakfast.  And he will make each one who is willing perfect in God's sight.
Breakfast is Served
            I want to leave you with three practical ideas to take home from this story.  First of all, have you been dragging up empty nets?  Look for Jesus.  Listen for his voice.  Maybe he’s telling you to try something different. 
            Second, have you had a miraculous catch?  Then, look for the risen Christ.  A miraculous success is often a sign he is near.  In those times, be thankful, and seek to swim even closer to him.
            And last, this story reminds you that you count.  The only way the Disciples could know the exact number of fish in the net is if they counted them.  Each one was numbered.  And so it is with each of us.  Jesus picks each one of us up, looks us over, and records us in the Book of Life.  He knows us by name.  He knows everything about us.  And he loves us.  We are all keepers in his sight.
            You are one of the 153 fish the Disciples caught.  You may be a little smelly and slimy.  But Jesus loves you.    And he loves that guy over there too--the one who has piercings and tattoos, the one who is gay, the one who uses vulgar language, and everyone else too.  It is not our job to decide who makes it in.  Our job is just to cast the Gospel net and let God decide who gets caught up in the Kingdom.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

Jesus Appears to His Disciples
            Sunday was the second Sunday of Easter.  Most people know Easter marks the day Jesus rose from the grave.  But not everyone knows there is a whole season of Easter that continues for several weeks after Easter Sunday.  Jesus appeared to his disciples on Easter, but he also appeared many times in bodily form over the next few weeks.  So for the next few weeks, we will study some of those stories.  And the main idea I want us to consider is does Christ still appear to people today?  Have you ever seen Jesus?  Have you ever  touched his scars and how? 
            I want to read a story from John 20:19-29, which details two separate times Jesus appeared to his disciples.  I will make some comments as we read through the passage.

John 20:19-20
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!
            First of all, I want you to notice Jesus came in peace.  Maybe you would be afraid to see Jesus.  I mean, if he really were alive and going to pay us a visit, we might be ashamed because of something we weren't doing right in life.  Or maybe we would be afraid he would be angry with us or would want to punish us.  The disciples were afraid.  They locked the doors to the upper room because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.  But they might also have wondered if Jesus would be angry with them for the ways they had failed him.  Would he come to scold them or punish them? 
            But Jesus reassures the disciples saying , "I come in peace."  And Jesus' visit was a good thing. It filled the disciples with joy when they saw the risen Lord.  He was glad to see them and they were glad he came.  We don't have to be afraid to see Jesus either.  If he were to come pay a visit, he would come in peace.  He loves you and wants to reassure you.  It would be a good thing and would fill you with joy.  So don't be afraid to look for the risen Lord.
John 20:21-23
21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
            In Luke and Acts, the Holy Spirit does not come until the Day of Pentecost.  The Gospel of John seem to indicate the Holy Spirit was given in when Jesus met with the Disciples and Thomas (although some have said it this was just a symbolic act from Jesus to show the Holy Spirit would be given).  Whether the Holy Spirit came at this time or at another time or at multiple times, the main point of this passage is the Holy Spirit will always be with us.  That will be an important idea we will address again in a moment.  But first, let's go on with the passage.
John 20:24-25
24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

            This was the first appearance of Jesus.  It happened on the first Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the grave.  But the disciple Thomas was not with them.  We don't know where he was, but he wasn't there. (Maybe he was off having the oil changed in his camel.  We don't know...) 

John 20:26
26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them.

            Here we have a second appearance of the risen Christ.  This one was one week later.  Again, it was on a Sunday.  So, notice, that both of these appearances happened on a Sunday.  Sunday is a special day.  It is known as "the Lord's Day."  Technically, Saturday is the Sabbath (the seventh day) because that is the day God rested after 6 days of creation work.  But here we see that right after Jesus rose, the Disciples are meeting together on Sundays.  And it became the custom for Christians to meet for worship on Sundays, which they called "The Lord's Day" because he rose on a Sunday.  Sunday is a special day.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  And it would seem Sundays are a day when we can encounter the risen Christ in a special way when we gather in the church with other believers.  If you want to see the risen Christ, I recommend you start by going to church on Sunday.
John 20:26-27
The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
            Again, we see that Jesus comes in peace.  He is not angry or upset with Thomas or the other disciples.  Some have looked down on Thomas for needing proof.  The other disciples told him Jesus was alive and they had seen him, but Thomas said he wouldn't believe unless he saw it with his own eyes.  But there's no need to look down on Thomas.  He wasn't asking for anything the other Disciples hadn't already received.  And Jesus is not upset with him.  He wanted Thomas to believe, so he gave Thomas what he needed.  He wanted Thomas' faith to be secure.  And Thomas was convinced.  He said,
John 20:28-29
28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

            Right here at the end of the passage, we see that Jesus has made a distinction between the Disciples (who saw Jesus and believed) and us (who have not seen Jesus and yet still believe).  And Jesus said we are more blessed because we believe without seeing.

            The Disciples—including Thomas—were able to witness for Christ in an exceptional way because they saw the resurrected Christ.  In 1 John 1:1, the beloved disciple said, "We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life."  They had seen Jesus while he was alive.  They had seen him on the cross.  They saw him in the grave.  They saw him, heard him, and touched him after he rose from the grave.  Thus, they were absolutely convinced Jesus was alive and that he was their Lord and God (as Thomas put it).
            It had to be that way for the very first disciples.  There had to be a firm foundation.  I believe that is why the resurrected Christ appeared in bodily form to the 11 disciples and so many of the first Christians in the days immediately following Easter.  Jesus wanted to absolutely convince them so they could build a firm foundation for the church.  We needed them to see Jesus so we can be assured our faith is built on something solid.  And yet, Jesus also said we are more blessed because we have not seen. 

We Are More Blessed
            Jesus walked on the earth in bodily form after his resurrection for 40 days.  Then he ascended into heaven.  We recall this essential element of our faith every time we recite the Apostles' Creed.  We say, “…He rose from the grave, He ascended into heaven…”  Perhaps we do not experience the resurrected Christ now in the same way the disciples did in the first 40 days after his resurrection, because Jesus has ascended.  We can still see Christ.  He is not dead; he is alive!  But we may see him in a different way because he has ascended, whereas he appeared to the disciples in bodily form.
            Most Christians overlook how important it is that Jesus ascended to heaven.  Because Jesus ascended, we now have the Holy Spirit.  And through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can be present everywhere at once.  You see, a body can only be in one place at a time--it is limited by time and space.  That is why Thomas missed out of Jesus' appearance that first Sunday.  Remember, he wasn't in the room with the other.  He was off getting the oil changed in his camel or something.  Why didn't Jesus appear to the 10 disciples in the upper room and to Thomas at the same time down at the camel service station?  Jesus couldn't, because he was a body and not a spirit.
            But we are more blessed because now Jesus is present in the Holy Spirit and is not limited by time and space.  So Jesus can be present right here with me as I type the words of this blog and he can be present with you wherever you are reading them.  As the Holy Spirit, Jesus can be everywhere at once.
            We are also more blessed because we believe Jesus rose based on faith.  Faith is very powerful.  Faith helps us see Jesus in more ways than the Disciples did at first.  They could only believe if they saw his nail scarred hands.  But we can believe and see Jesus when we gather together to serve in God's name.  If we believe, we can see Jesus there in that moment.  If we believe, we can see Jesus when a mother loves her child sacrificially.  Through faith, we can see Jesus in her actions.  Through faith, we can see Jesus when a father forgives his son.  Through faith, we can see the risen Christ is with us when we take our own father to the hospital for a critical surgery.  Because we believe, we know we are not alone.  We can see Jesus through our Christian friends who support us and pray for us and help us when we need it most.  Faith helps us see Jesus is more than just a man's body walking around with nail scars on his hands and a wounded side.
            Increasing faith is the mark of mature Christians.  Think of those Disciples in this story; think of Thomas.  They were only baby Christians--just born really.  And They needed to see Jesus.  When we see a child, maybe two-years-old, that child might cling to its mother's leg.  It might not ever want to let go.  And if Mama leaves the room, the child's whole world falls apart and it is afraid and may even cry uncontrollably until Mama comes back into the room.  That's normal for a two-year-old.  But eventually, the child grows up and matures and becomes a college student and may even move away to another town to attend school.  You wouldn't want that child to still be clinging to its mother's leg all the time.  No.  The child is grown up now and has faith that their mother is still there.  She is still alive.  She still loves them.  They will still see each other again.  And so it is with more mature Christians.  We don't need to see Jesus in bodily form all the time with us.  Through faith we trust he is there. 
            The Disciples would eventually mature in this way too.  At the beginning, like babies, they needed to see Jesus with them.  But they would eventually grow up and spread out to do amazing things because their faith matured.  Thomas' faith led him to travel all the way to India.  To this day, there is a community of Christians in India that trace the founding to the Disciple Thomas who brought the story of the risen Jesus to their community.  Faith is a powerful thing.

We Must See Jesus
            Jesus is alive.  He is not dead.  And we can see the risen Christ, through faith.  He still appears to us today.  He may not appear in bodily form as he did for the disciples and Thomas in our scripture reading, but he shows up in other ways.  Do you have faith to see him?
            It is not enough to just know Christ intellectually.  It is not enough to read and memorize the things he said or to know historical facts about him.  We must actually see him, in some sense, so we know he is alive and real and participating in our lives.  It is not enough to be a Christian because your parents or grandparents were.  It is not enough to be a religious person who follows the religious program of Jesus and his Church.  It is not enough to mumble an empty prayer into the air, not believing there is a living Savior listening.  No. You must see that Jesus is alive and he is here and he is listening to your prayer and will answer according to his great wisdom, power, and love.  We will probably see Jesus is different ways than the Disciples, but we can still see him.  We need to see him, through faith. 
            Jesus showed the Disciples and Thomas his scars to prove it was really him.  You see, he wanted them to believe.  He wanted Thomas to believe.  That's why he came back a second time when Thomas was there.  Thomas said he wouldn't believe in less he saw Jesus and his scars for himself.  So Jesus came, because Jesus wants all his followers to believe.  And if that's what it took for Thomas, that's what Jesus was willing to do.
            Which proof do you need in order to believe?  Jesus wants you to believe.  He is willing to help you.  Maybe you don't need to see the scars like Thomas, but you might need something.  What is it?  Why don't you ask Jesus to show you?  He wants you to be secure in your faith.  So why not ask him to help?