Sermon: The Resurrection Life
Scripture: John 21:1-19
Date: May 4, 2017
In the end. When the smoke cleared. Most of the Disciples decide to escape from the politically charged atmosphere of Jerusalem and the Upper Room and go back to Galilee to go fishing. Now what we need to keep in mind is that this is a major lifestyle choice. Galilee was a long, hard journey for them. They would have taken the route through the Judean wilderness on the Jericho Road, past the Dead Sea and the Qumran community to the Jordan river and then up the Jordan Valley to the Sea of Galilee. It was a journey of about 5 days. The point is that the decision to go fishing was not a matter of going from here to Jacobson Park for an afternoon on the lake. It was a major journey. And though John doesn’t say so, I suspect that the Disciples didn’t expect to come back to Jerusalem anytime soon. They were going home. Back to what they had known. But we said last week that Resurrection changes everything. For those who follow Jesus after the Cross, Resurrection becomes their life. It informs life. It changes life. It becomes life. It doesn’t just tweak the old life. Resurrection life is new life that replaces the old. And I think that John, in telling this story the way he does gives us some glimpses of how the fact of the resurrection changed the Disciples lives. Made it impossible to go back to the old life. Because John knew that for the Disciples it was not enough to simply believe the Resurrection of Jesus was true. Disciples are called to live a resurrected life.
So with that in mind, let’s walk quickly through this last chapter of John’s Gospel. It is a play in three acts. The first act takes place on the Lake where the disciples have been fishing all night which was the best time to fish on the Sea of Galilee. During the day the Sea water would heat up in the hot sun and so the fish would go to the bottom where it was cooler – out of the reach of the nets that the fishermen used. But at night, when the waters cooled they would come to the surface to feed and that’s when they were catchable. However, after fishing all night, the disciples had not caught anything. And then at dawn they see a stranger standing on the shore and he shouts out to them, “Friends, don’t you have any fish?” And when the response is “no”, the stranger says, “Don’t give up. Put your nets on the other side of the boat.” Now, we need to understand that by doing that the stranger was assuming a role that many successful fishing operations would have. Often times they would leave one of their party on the shore because it was easier, especially in the moonlight, to spot schools of fish from the shore then it was when you were in a boat in midst of them.
And so the spotter on the shore would watch for the schools of fish and then direct the ones in the boat where to place the nets to have the greatest chance for a big catch. And when they place the nets where he has spotted the fish, they pull in a great catch. And with that, John’s eyes are opened to the stranger and he says to Peter. “I think that’s the Lord.” And that’s the point of this first act of this final chapter. The Resurrected Jesus opens our eyes to the incredible possibilities of new life all around us. Before Jesus showed up, the Disciples were just fishing in the dark. Just throwing their nets out anywhere and hoping to catch something. Churches often do that. I don’t think it is any stretch to say that the Disciples were blinded by their grief and fear and continuing doubts. They went fishing because that’s what they knew. It was the familiar. Their old life. And in doing so they were blinded to the possibilities that come with the new life following and serving the living Lord. Resurrection life is life that is full of possibilities, just as the disciple’s nets were full of fish when they trusted the word of the risen Jesus. And here’s the thing. John does not imply that the fish weren’t always there for the Disciples to catch. No – what he makes clear is that the presence of Christ, the risen Lord, enables the Disciples to see. The man that Jesus healed of his blindness describes the activity of Jesus when he proclaimed “Once I was blind, but now I see.” Resurrection allows us to shed the scales which blind us – our grief and fear and uncertainty, insecurity – even sin – and instead opens our eyes to the possibilities all around us. Resurrected life opens our eyes to a new life of abundance, filled with unlimited possibilities. And so once Peter sees who it is on the shore, he plunges into the water. He plunges into this new life. He is all in. You see – resurrected life demands that we be all in. We can’t hold on in part to our old life while at the same time embracing new life. Many try but in the end, following the living Lord demands our all.
And then as the story continues, Jesus says to the Disciples, bring some of the fish you just caught and let’s have a meal together. Now, In the first century, who you chose to dine with was a very crucial decision. Because meals were times of reconciliation. And forgiveness. If you could convince your enemy to sit down and break bread with you, then you had begun a process of peace. If we look carefully at scripture we see that so much of Jesus’ ministry was centered around a meal. And many of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances involve a meal. Luke, for instance, tells us that the disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus until they sat down and broke bread together. And Luke says that the first time that the resurrected Jesus came to the Disciples in the Upper Room, one of the first thing He asks is if they have anything to eat. And Luke says He took the fish they gave Him, “and He ate it in their presence.” And now John tells us they ate breakfast together. Of course, one of the things that led Jesus to the Cross in the eyes of the Jewish leaders was the people He chose to dine with. To be in community with. Randy Becton writes:
Jesus loved sinners. He knew who the hated were. He welcomed people to share a meal with him not just when they had a bad reputation, but even when that reputation was well-deserved. We are told that the religious leaders were outraged, in part, because they believed these dinners gave God a bad name. Those who know the significance of sharing a meal in the Eastern culture of Jesus’ day tell us that the invitation to come to the table meant that friendship was being offered.
So here’s the thing that we need to know to truly understand what John is telling us at this point in the story about the Resurrected Life. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus put a great deal of strain on the community of the Disciples. John gives us a lot of hints about how fractured the disciples had become. It had really begun in the preparation for the Passover meal. As they gathered for the meal, remember the Gospels tell us that a couple of them were arguing over who was going to have the most prominent seats at the meal on the right and left of Jesus. In other words, who were Jesus’ favorites. Which ones would have the best place in God’s Kingdom. And then when they arrived at the Upper Room, there were no servants to wash their feet and hands before they took their places for the meal, and none of them were willing to serve the others. None but Jesus. And then, of course, Judas had left during the meal, signaling not just his betrayal of Jesus, but also his separation from the community. And then after the arrest in the garden they all scattered. John followed the soldiers and their prisoner, watching from the shadows. Peter denied that he even knew Him and the others were in the wind. And after the resurrection, when Mary went running to the Upper Room, all she could find were Peter and John to go with her back to the tomb. And then some hours later, when Jesus came to all of them through the locked doors of the Upper Room, John tells us that even then Thomas had been so consumed by his doubts and fears that he was not with the rest. Our doubts can separate and isolate us. And so when Jesus found them back on the Sea, it was obvious that the community needed to be restored. This breakfast was a meal of forgiveness and reconciliation because the resurrected life is a life that is meant to be lived in community with one another. That was always Jesus’ intention. At the last supper, he offered the disciples the bread and wine as a meal of forgiveness (for the forgiveness of sin) and community (do this whenever you gather in remembrance of me). We celebrate this meal today as a meal of the resurrected community. The invitation to the Lord’s table is extended to all of us who seek forgiveness through repentance and to live in peace with one another. Who seek to live resurrected lives. New life. Come and dine together. The resurrected life is intended to be lived in community. And I would contend that we can not live a resurrected life apart from community. And so when Jesus invited the Disciples to breakfast that day, He was inviting them to be reconciled and to share new life together. To recommit to the fellowship, the church. In essence He was calling them to follow Him once again, to give up the boats and the fishing, their old lives and embrace new life – resurrected life. Together. And here’s the thing. The community of Christ today mirrors where the Disciples were that morning on the sea. We are often divided, scattered, hurt, uncommitted, even fearful. We too often place the things of the old life, the things of the world, above the Resurrection Life. The Church, the resurrected community of Christ is threatened by schisms, and sin, and perhaps most of all – apathy. But the thing is that all those things that threaten to divide us are products of the old life. Jesus invitation to dine with him is always an invitation to put the old life behind us and receive new life. Resurrection life. I believe that when the living Lord comes again, He will come to the church, the resurrected community, looking for us. Will he find you there or will he find you on the lake living the old and familiar life. Take eat, this is my body, because when you eat of it you become my resurrected body. And take and drink, and embrace the New Covenant, embrace resurrected life together. Because resurrected life is new life lived out in community.
And then there is act three of this final chapter. After the breakfast is done, Jesus and Peter go off by themselves. And Jesus asks Peter a very tough question. “Peter do you love me more than you love your old life?” Because make no mistake about it. Resurrected life means giving up the old life and embracing the new. You see Peter was trying to fit the resurrected Lord into his old life and it wasn’t working out well because to follow the resurrected Lord we must die to self and live for Christ. We’ve got to be resurrected. To Nicodemus He had said, “to follow Me you must be born again.” To the young ruler He said, “to follow Me you must give up the things of the world.” And He had called Lazarus to come forth out of his worldly tomb. Scripture says that Lazarus had been in the tomb 4 days but most of us spend a lot more time than that in dead end tombs. And so now to Peter He says “You must love me more than your old life.” Resurrection is not a matter of healing that which was dead in you. Resurrection life is new life. And Jesus is telling Peter that there are two evidences of that. The first is love. Peter, you must love Me more than you love your life. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. These words convict me of all the times I choose worldly things, wordly life over a life in Christ. And secondly the Resurrected life is a life of service. If you love me, the Good Shepherd, then you must also love my sheep. Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Now this is not really new information for Peter. After all, he had watched Jesus for the last three years love and take care for His sheep. But what is new for Peter is the understanding that the evidence of resurrection life in him is that he does the same. Up to this point Peter had been one of the sheep, but resurrection changed all of that. The power of the resurrection transformed Peter and the other disciples from followers to leaders, students to teachers, disciples to apostles, and from sheep to shepherd. Jesus is telling Peter that the primary purpose of the resurrected life is to love and serve others. Living the resurrected life is no longer about you Peter, or even about me. It’s all about loving and serving others. You are the Good Shepherd now. So take care of my sheep. Even if it means following me to the cross. Because a Good Shepherd is willing to lay down his or her life for the sheep.
Now I have studied this encounter between Jesus and Peter many times. And I frequently end up wondering why Jesus took Peter aside to tell him that the resurrected life is a life of love and service? Isn’t that a word that all of the Disciples needed to hear? And, of course, we often read this passage as the account of Peter’s redemption and restoration. And it is that. But here’s the thing. Didn’t the other Disciples need to be redeemed also? None of them stood up for Jesus. None of them claimed that they knew Him. None of them testified for Jesus in Pilate’s Kangaroo Court. So why single out Peter. Last week, I mentioned a recent poll which said that 25% of persons who identify as Christians indicated that they don’t believe in the Resurrection. Well among those 25% about 1/3 indicated they couldn’t believe in resurrection because it contradicts everything they know about the science behind life and death. It just didn’t make sense to them. We have named them the progressive Christians, though I’m not sure what they are “progressing” towards. So 1/3 of the 25% say they don’t believe in resurrection because they can’t believe, it doesn’t make sense. Among the Disciples, I think Judas was a progressive and so was Thomas before he actually saw the resurrected Jesus. But then there’s this other large group of those who don’t believe the resurrection. 2/3 of 25%. And if you interview these what we discover is that many of them just refuse to believe in Resurrection. They refuse, because they fear what resurrection will mean to their lives. If push comes to shove, they might even admit that they believe that Jesus came back to life but not us. New life for Jesus does not equate to new life for them and if it does, then they’ll deny that even Jesus was raised. And you see, I think that’s where Peter is. Going back to fishing was not the action of one who was ready to embrace new life, the resurrection life. He had seen the proof of Jesus’s resurrection – the empty tomb – even Jesus among them. He believed that Jesus had received new life. But he didn’t understand how that was going to impact him. He understood resurrection but did not understand resurrection life. And so rather than embrace new life, he re-embraced the old. And I think that’s where a lot of us are. We may believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but we don’t really see what that means for our life. And so, rather than deal with that, we hold onto the old life. We refuse to accept new life. Resurrected life. Peter you say you love me but what are you doing to show it. Resurrection Life is a life of loving and serving others. Everyone in fact. And when we don’t do that we are in a sense denying the resurrection. If you truly love me Peter, you will care for my sheep. And so by feeding on the resurrected body of Jesus, we become His body, witnessing to new life. Resurrected life. And by drinking of the blood of the New Covenant, we become the cup of new life that is available to all who will come. That’s offered to all. Paul said that because of the Lord living in him he was being poured out as a drink offering. That’s Resurrection life. Are you ready to open your eyes to the possibilities that come to us because we follow a living Lord? Are you ready to join together in the community of the living? And are you ready to give your life in love and service to all God’s sheep? If so, you come now and feast at the table of the Living Lord.