Beach breakfast with Jesus

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I’ve said this before; I love reading about the resurrection appearances of Jesus.  They are awesome, and there’s so much we can learn from them.  But I do wonder how I would have responded if I had been a disciple of Jesus.  Would I have coped or freaked out?

Jesus appears to a portion of His disciples while they are fishing in Galilee (John 21:1-14).  This appearance can be a bit puzzling.  Why are the disciples fishing back in Galilee after having been commissioned by Jesus and having already received the Holy Spirit?  Why don’t they recognise Him after having seen Him more than once at this point?  Why is this called the third appearance of Jesus when there were already three appearances in chapter 20 of John’s gospel?

His previous appearances in Jerusalem established the faith of the disciples and thus strengthened the nucleus of this new community, one He’d established during His earthly ministry, and that had been further established at the cross and in the breathing of the Spirit.  Now He reminds them of His lordship and their dependency upon Him in the fulfilment of the commission He has given them (John 20:21-23).

But, remember that Jesus had told them to return Galilee, where He would meet them (Mark 14:28; 16:7).  I’m left with the impression that they seem to be a bit bored, as if they’re unsure of what to do, until Peter decides to go fishing and the others come along (v.3).  Peter as often is taking the initiative, but are they just doing that which is necessary?  The outcome is certain, they put themselves in a place where Christ meets them.  Here is a glorious beautiful, but simple truth, when we are uncertain what to do we should simply do our duty and God will guide.  He works like that, using circumstances that we might consider to be insignificant, to bring great glory to Him.

That night they catch nothing (v.3).  What a picture of barrenness.  They have done what they thought was the right thing but experience utter failure.  This prepares them to learn one of the central lessons of discipleship – apart from Jesus they can do nothing (John 15:5).  Jesus has taught this lesson before, for never in the Gospels do the disciples catch fish without help from Jesus.  But they need the lesson repeated, as we often do as well.

The turning point comes early in the morning, perhaps symbolising the dawning of spiritual light.  Jesus is described again as simply standing there, without a description of His arrival on the spot (v.4; cf. 20:14, 19, 26).  Also, as earlier, they do not recognise Him at first.  There was something different about Jesus’ body.

Jesus takes the initiative and calls to them: “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (v.5).  Think about that question – it’s put in a form that expects a negative answer, but the one asking already knows the answer!  The word translated “friends” (paidiai) is more literally “children” or even “little children.”  John also uses this word in his other writings where he used it in the sense of “an affectionate address of the spiritual father to those committed to him”.  It appears this greeting was unusual to the disciples as they did not know who was calling them.

How readily they admit their failure (v. 5).  Jesus instructs them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some (v. 6).  This is not an idle suggestion.  He does not say, “Try over there and you might find some.”  No, He gives an assurance that they will find fish “on the right side of the boat”.  When they obey they cannot get the net back into the boat, there are too many fish (v.6).

Doesn’t this abundance echo the enormous provision of wine at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11) and of bread and fish at the feeding of the five thousand (6:1-13).  Aren’t there similarities here to Jesus’ original call, “Come, follow me … and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19 par. Mark 1:17)?  But I think a primary point here seems to be accepting Jesus’ lordship and the need to be obedient to Him for any labour to be fruitful.

Earlier, Mary recognised Jesus when He called her name, and the disciples recognised Him through His wounds.  Now He is recognised through the abundance that comes through obedience to His word.  It is the “Beloved Disciple”, John, who first discerns that the stranger on the shore is Jesus (v. 7).  If Peter had been the one to recognise Jesus, one suspects he would have immediately jumped into the sea before they’d cast the net again!  Notice that having received insight John immediately bears witness to it.  Oh, dear… how often I have failed at this, bearing witness to the insight God has given me!

We have no idea if Peter gets to land before the others do, for we  read, “When they landed…” the disciples notice a charcoal fire with bread and fish already on it (v.9). Wow, Jesus has breakfast ready for them.  I love it when someone gets my cooked breakfast ready.  But this is a sign of Jesus’ grace and provision, like the catch they have just taken.  There is no indication of where Jesus got the bread and fish from.  The appearance of the food is as mysterious as His own appearance.

The first one to speak is Jesus, and He tells them to bring some of the fish they have caught (v.10).  For the second time in this story Jesus gives them a command.  Guess who responds – yes, Peter!  Although Jesus addresses all the disciples (enenkate, bring, plural), it is Peter who brings the catch ashore, by himself (v.11).  Peter’s zeal to come to Jesus is now matched by his zeal to obey him.

This miraculous catch speaks of the abundance that our gracious God provides and how He also enables the abundance to be received.  We’ve seen this before haven’t we?  At the feeding of the five thousand they had brought the bread and fish to Jesus, and He multiplied them (6:9-11).  But in this scene He already has food and invites them to add to it from their catch.  We have work to do in order to bring others into Jesus’ kingdom.  But such work can only be done with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and thus following His commands.

Throughout this encounter with Jesus the disciples have not said anything.  They are in great awe; none daring to ask Him, “Who are you?” (v.12).  There was something different about Him, yet they were able to recognise Him – Jesus is the focus of this story, as He should be the focus in our own lives.

After inviting them to come and eat, He himself comes to the fire.  He took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish (v.13).  This provides the climax of this story.  It answers their unasked questions– He is recognised in this breaking of the bread (cf. Luke 24:30-31).  So here we have the master who commands them also serving them, continuing a theme found during His ministry (see 13:5, 13).

John says, “This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead” (v.14).  Surely this is at least the fourth appearance?  So what is John doing here?  I think that here John is counting appearances to the disciples as a group, which would not include Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene.  This appearance reveals the same key characteristics as Jesus manifested throughout His ministry, namely His lordship, His servanthood, His character as gracious giver of abundance and His love.  He has met His disciples at a point of failure and revealed Himself as the awesome Lord of creation who cares for them.  The fact that He provides a meal indicates that this type of “lordship” includes fellowship.  Such fellowship with Jesus at a meal reminds one of the many times He shared such fellowship during His ministry, especially at the Last Supper.  And this is the theme of the new community He has now established and so echoes the Eucharist.  This meal itself is not a Eucharist, but it embodies a central aspect of what the Eucharist itself is about – communion with the risen Lord in the midst of His people.

Based on a sermon from 17th May 2020

Living Faith

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

Many people blame God for the bad things they read, see and hear about in the world and in their life.  And today is no exception.  I’m sure that you could find many naysayers blaming God for our present lockdown.  But should we do this, blame God, especially for things we don’t fully understand? 

It seems we are quick to blame God when things don’t turn out the way we think they should.  But if we haven’t included God in our plans, if we’ve left no room for Him in our lives, and gone our own sweet way, why should we expect God to help us?  Should we not be surprised when unexpected and painful things happen?

This got me thinking about the role of faith in God. Hebrews 11:6 says this about faith…

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Taken by itself, this verse tells us that God’s first and foremost concern for us is with our personal faith.  God can be described with one word – relationship.  He knows us and He wants us to get to know Him.  In the same way, we only get to know others by entering into a relationship with them.

So this verse from Hebrews 11 is about our attitude towards God and our trust in Him.  No relationship works or lasts long without these two ingredients; a healthy attitude based on God’s generous character, and our trust in God’s generous character.

But know this: faith is so much more than our actions.  Yes, our behaviour is important, because what we do reflects what we truly believe (James 2:14–17), but God is not looking for people who merely “go through the motions”.  God is not looking for simple agreement, and definitely He is not looking for reluctant cooperation.

Let’s take a quick look at what James 2:14–17 says.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Some might say that this is at odds with Paul’s teaching on faith and works, because at first glance, James’s statements concerning faith and works seem to contradict Paul’s message.

Later in 2:24, James declares that “a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”  But in Romans 8, Paul wrote that “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” This raises a critical question: Are Christians saved by faith in Jesus alone or by faith combined with their own efforts?  It is important to note that these men were not as far apart as the above quotes seem.  James and Paul knew each other.  They were both major contributors at the first church council in Jerusalem, which assembled specifically to address the relationship between faith and works.  Acts 15, tells us that they arrived at a consensus.

It’s all about understanding how Paul and James use the word “justification”; they use it in different ways. The word can mean “declared to be in right standing” or “displayed to be right standing.” Paul used the first sense.  God declares an individual to be in right standing with Him upon the basis of faith alone, as occurred with Abraham in Genesis 15:6.  James used the second sense.  The implication of this is that a person’s faith is shown to be legitimate when their outward works display the inward change that has taken place as a result of their conversion.  The upshot is this: faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone, it should lead one on into good works and so lead you to display a godly lifestyle that brings glory to God.

Therefore, for our faith to be real God is looking for us to simply place our faith in who He is, believing that He exists, believing that He sent his Son to die to save us from our sin, believing that He has plans and purposes for us as individuals, as His church and as a nation.  When we begin the journey to live our faith in God in this way it will reveal to others the glory of God.

So how are we to act and live in faith?  We are to act in faith on the basis of the knowledge of God that we profess.  The implications of this is that for all those who have heard the Gospel are responsible for the way they respond to it.  You see, relationships only work when you put your own personal effort in to it.  So, as you work at seeking God, through His Son Jesus, and follow Jesus’ example, your faith will grow, and as it does it will please God.  It will be like a sweet and pleasant smelling fragrance to Him. 

At this time, be bold, deepen your relationship with God.  Even dare I say, enter into a new relationship with God, because when you come to Him in belief that He exists you will find that He is always there for you, and He will reward you with many blessings of life, with wholesome attitudes, and a peace to your heart and soul that passes all understanding.  Then you will start to live a prosperous life for God as you both know His will for you and fulfil His will for the beautiful life He has given you.

So “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (including faith shown through your loving actions towards others) will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33).

Based on a sermon from 10th May 2020

Endings and beginnings

If you are like me, you probably don’t really enjoy films where the main character dies at the end of the story.  Sometimes you know that the character is going to die, other times it may come as a shock to you.  When this happens I feel cheated; it wasn’t supposed to end like that, they died before their time.  I want a happy-ever-after ending, something to give me hope and to make me feel good about life. 

If this was my outlook on life – a happy ending – then I am going to be sorely disappointed every time someone I love dies, and then disappointed when I die!   But the truth is we all have to face death.  However, the times we’re going through at the moment are making this truth too much of a reality.  People are dying before their time.  Death is very visible, it’s all around us.  When will it end?

Films are stories that remind us that for each of us our lives are a series of stories that join together over time to form one story, one that is unique to each of us.  Our story deserves to be listened to and taken seriously, because to know a person’s story is the only way to truly understand them.

I wonder how many of the people you know, know your whole story?  You may think that your closet family members, or a particular special friend, know everything about you, but they will only have journeyed with you from the time they first met you.  What you did before you met them will only truly be known to you. 

Regardless of the number of accounts we hear about a person – it is never fully complete, only God knows the full story.  And the sad fact is that for all of us our stories end in death.  Even when death comes at the end of a long and full life we still want our stories to end happily.  But sadly we know that they don’t. 

In today’s Gospel reading we heard how after the horrific death of Jesus we find two of his followers trudging wearily to Emmaus, (Luke 24:13-35).  For these two disciples it was too short a life for Jesus.  His story simply didn’t end as they wanted it to end.  Jesus’ life had filled their lives with hope and meaning, and had ended in a humiliating and painful death, which no doubt only added to the sadness and emptiness they were experiencing as they trudged down the road.

Then, so unexpectedly, Jesus joined them on their journey, but they failed to recognise him.  Who would have?  After all, no one expects someone who died three days before to be walking and talking to you! 

As they walked together did you see what Jesus encouraged them to do?  He encouraged them to talk, and they poured out their whole sad story to him.  They told Him the good parts of it, and then its sad ending.  For them the death of Jesus signified the end of the story, the end of a dream, the end of everything.

The other thing Jesus did, something that He is very good at, was that He patiently listened to them.  And having done this, He took up the story where they had left off.  He filled in the beginning and the end of His story.  It was not the end, He showed them that through His death, far from being the end of the dream, it was just the beginning to a new chapter, paradoxically the very means by which they thought their dreams were crushed they were actually fulfilled. Jesus on the road repeated what He had said earlier to all His disciples before His death.  Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’

During the meal they shared together He opened their eyes in a way that enabled them to recognise Him.  Looking though spiritual eyes, the penny dropped.  The very one who they thought was dead is alive and sitting beside them.  So Jesus was right, death did not have the last word in the story after all.

Far from having a bad ending, the story had a brighter ending than they could ever have imagined. Jesus had journeyed through suffering and death to a life of glory, in heaven.  And it’s only through His death and resurrection that we too are offered a life that goes on beyond this life we know here on earth.  A new chapter for our own lives, a life which is free from pain and suffering, free from the sickness and disease that cause so much despair and lock down!  A life which is free from tears because we will be with the only one that truly knows the real us.  The one who knows our full story.

That is the gift that God offers to all of us.  This is part of what living a resurrected life now is all about, and Jesus wants us to understand that He made this amazing and awesome provision for each of us: to journey with us both now and into eternity.

As soon as we live our lives for Jesus, with Him as our Lord and Saviour, we are living the resurrected life that our Heavenly Father has always planned for us.  For it is Jesus alone who has destroyed the bonds of death, for it is Jesus alone who can lead us into a new life of love, freedom and hope, now and for the future.

It goes without saying that God’s desire is that we accept His offer of His Son walking along side us in a resurrected life.  Why?  Because one day we will come face to face with the God who truly knows more about us than any other.  By accepting this offer from our Heavenly Father we can choose the last chapter of our life, which is eternal life. 

As we walk in eternal life, walking in a resurrected life, we will hear Jesus calling us by name, just as He did to Mary at the tomb on the first Easter Day.  That call gave her great delight, instantly lifting her out of all her doubt and fears. 

As we continue during these days may we allow Jesus to come up alongside us and walk with us.  As we recognise Jesus, may the eyes of our heart, the centre of our spiritual activity, light up our lives so that other people will see the God we know, and will turn to follow Him for themselves.

During this time, I pray that all who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour will be designated by both believers and non-believers as wise (1 Kings 3:12, etc.), pure (Psalms 24:4; Matthew 5:8), upright and righteous (Genesis 20:5 Genesis 20:6; Psalms 11:2; 78:72), pious and good (Luke 8:15).

Every new morning, may we cloth ourselves afresh with His supernatural wisdom, pureness, righteousness, sincerity, humility and goodness.  When we do this our hearts will not harden and we will see the true impact that sin has on our life, and be able to deal with it confidently in the knowledge that God can forgive us through His Resurrected Son Jesus Christ.

Based on a sermon from 26th April 2020