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Easter Aftermath

April 2nd, 2018

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” (John 21:3)

Easter and the lead up to it is perhaps the most exciting season of the church, and the most emotionally draining for those of us in ministry.

The first Easter was similar for the disciples – exciting and exhausting. This little passage at the end of John is one of the most interesting in scripture, to me, because it presents the eternal reality of the risen Christ – that changed everything – and plays it against the backdrop of the disciples who seemed to seek to return to what had been normal.

A return to the familiar

When we are emotionally exhausted we often long for the familiar. The disciples were largely, if not exclusively, from Galilee, and after the resurrection and initial appearances of Christ to them in Jerusalem and Judea, they apparently made their ways back north to Galilee. And Peter decided to return to fishing. Those who were with him included James and John, his former partners in a fishing business, and three other disciples.

They had no other means of livelihood, so far as we know. While Christ lived on earth, they received donations from loyal followers but now that He was crucified and risen, in this in-between time, they had to find other means of support. And, we should remember, Judas Iscariot had been the treasurer of the group, and following his betrayal of Christ and suicide, who knows what happened to whatever funds they had had.

So rather than being idle, Peter, being a man of action, preferred to fish and earn his living the old way. There is nothing wrong with this, and the scripture never condemns their action. Christ had called them to be fishers of men and they had left all to follow Him, but they were not beggars. And besides, what is a man to do except to earn his living the best way he knows how? (See Eph. 4:28.)

Their former boats had been sold, most likely, but using their old contacts, Peter and perhaps James and John, secured another and off they set, onto their old familiar fishing grounds. The sun and the water, as well as the night sky later that evening, conjured up familiar and comfortable memories – they knew how to do this.

Have you ever been emotionally exhausted? Have you ever been in circumstances where everything seemed to be changing around you so fast that you felt you just needed to find something familiar? I read their story and I think about the way most pastors feel the Monday after Easter.

But the old would never be the same again

Despite their best efforts they caught nothing, at least not until Jesus showed up the next morning. The old life, if they had held illusions of how great it used to be, was not as super as they remembered.

After the cross and the resurrection the old life could never be returned to, at least not in its entirety. Nothing would ever be the same again. But, truthfully, it had all changed for Peter and the others once they had decided to follow Christ. They had a purpose that could never be fulfilled through fishing for fish alone.

Can’t we imagine how Peter would have changed had he been left to work as a fisherman for the rest of his life? Before Christ he simply talked about fishing with his colleagues and those he hired. After Christ, though, he talked about Christ as he fished. Pre-Christ life was never about Christ, but post-Christ life was always about Christ.

Christ did not leave Peter working as a fisherman the rest of his life. He was an apostle and a missionary and a pastor-teacher in the church. His life from that point on would be given as a witness to the Lord. He was a preacher of unparalleled opportunities in those early days of the church, and God used him greatly. On that day the words of Christ to Peter simply prepared him to refocus his life for Christ.

He would be imprisoned, beaten, and threatened by men, and anointed and used by God to perform miracles and bring the gospel to the Gentiles. In the end he would be martyred for his faith, and ultimately his life and ministry would be the framework upon which Christ would build His church – as Paul wrote, the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20).

The difference between the Spirit of Christ and our emotions

But on that morning on Galilee, Christ was there and helped them catch a large amount of fish, served them breakfast which He Himself had cooked for them on the shore, and comforted Peter about His forgiveness over his denials on the night of Christ’s arrest. Jesus let Peter know that his life was not yet over, that his race of faith had not yet been fully run.

It was all simple, straightforward, and Jesus talked to Peter in a way you should talk to a man who had witnessed so much in such a short time, and who had fished all night as well. No inappropriate pressure, no mind games, just Jesus and six of the disciples on the beach having breakfast and a chat.

We have physical and emotional needs. We are physical and emotional beings. We need exercise, rest, food, sleep, as well as friends, encouragement, challenges, peace, and purpose in life. And God knows this, of course, and provides these things for us.

Yet we are also spiritual beings – especially is this true for those who trust in Christ. In a short while, after this conversation with Peter, Christ would ascend on high and the Spirit would descend upon the church. The Spirit of God brought back to life the dead spirit of people – that which was dead in the unsaved became the very center of the Christian. But the Spirit is not the same as our emotions.

Christ said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 1010). He did not say, “I have come that you might have emotion and have it to the full.” Some have compared the filling of the Spirit to some sort of emotional experience that lifts us off the ground in excitement and enthusiasm. But the fullness of the Spirit is not about how high we jump in the air when God gets ahold of us, but about how straight we walk when our feet hit the ground.

To all those who are tired and weary

Let me end this little devotion with reminding us that the Spirit does not demand emotional enthusiasm from us. To be filled with Him does not mean that we must be leaping and shouting on some emotional high. We can relax and be calm and still enjoy the filling of the Spirit. Remember Christ said: “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

 

 

Authenticity in the Faith, Christ's Post-Resurrection Appearances

Christ’s Final Appearance

May 15th, 2017

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, It is hard for you to kick against the goads. (Acts 9:5 NKJV)

The twelfth and final appearance of the resurrected Christ was to Saul the Pharisee, who became Paul the Apostle. Paul himself described his conversion: “Then last of all He [Jesus] was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8 NKJV). John, as he was exiled on the Isle of Patmos also had a vision of the resurrected Christ, but he began his account by saying that he was “in the Spirit” (Rev. 1:10). So the experience fits the pattern of a vision that conveyed a revelation (Rev. 1:1), and not as a physical resurrection appearance. Paul, however, on the Damascus road, described his experience as similar to those of the other resurrection appearances. He saw and conversed with the resurrected Christ.

Being “out of order” means nothing: we cannot put God in a box: This resurrection appearance speaks to us about Christ being the Head of His church. He saves, He directs, He calls, He enables, He redeems, and leads as He will. We must let Him be Lord. News of Paul’s salvation at first gave rise to doubts, then gave cause for rejoicing, but later, as he rose to positions of influence, we see jealousies came (Phil. 1:15). Paul as a Pharisee had resembled the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who was unforgiving toward those who were less righteous than he was. Yet as a Christian he came to resemble the Prodigal himself, who had opposed Christ and fought against His purposes, but then was elevated by grace to leadership, and some Christians then became to him like the older brother to the Prodigal. Paul learned to live in grace with both of those realities, as we all must in some way or another.

The resurrection appearances all except for this one happened within a forty day period (Acts 1:3). There was then a ten day gap between the Ascension of Christ (Acts 1:9) and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church (Acts 2:1). The appearance to Paul happened, it is estimated, within the first few years of the Church’s experience, between A.D. 31-36, well after the ascension. The church in Jerusalem was established, churches were reported as having sprung up in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:31), and a strong Christian community established in Damascus of Syria before Paul came to faith. The Ascension of Christ was well in the past.  But, nevertheless, Christ appeared in His resurrection body for His own purposes, to save Paul and send him into the world as a witness.

This says something of the resurrection body: That the resurrected Christ appeared to Paul after the Ascension tells us that His resurrection body, and our resurrection bodies which we shall receive, is able to travel back and forth between the two realms of heaven and earth. Christ had no further transformation from His resurrection to His Ascension. In fact, the angels were emphatic, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 NKJV). This will also be true of our resurrected body. As Paul wrote: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:42 NKJV).

Christ’s intimate interaction with Paul: A consistent aspect of each resurrection appearance is the personal, confidential nature of them. Mary Magdalene, the apostles on the road to Emmaus, Thomas, Peter, John – each recorded a personal and intimate experience with Christ. Christ told Paul that he was like a stubborn farm animal who was kicking against the goads, or the proddings of God. The words put God in the role of Creator and Master of Paul, the Omnipotent One who is able to use every circumstance to communicate His will. He had been directing Paul in a certain direction, leading him to trust in Christ. Paul had fought against these leadings of God.

We know of the martyrdom of Stephen, that Paul was there giving his ascent to the stoning (Acts 7:58 and 8:1 and 22:20). No doubt the manner of Stephen’s death, his boldness in his testimony, his fearlessness and faith in his death, his peace and serenity made their impact on Paul. The anger and the “murderous threats” that Paul was breathing out against the Church (Acts 8:3 and 9:1) reveal the anger and conflict of Paul’s own heart. He described himself as a “blasphemer, persecutor, and a violent man” (1 Tim. 1:13).

Paul’s conversion: Paul cannot explain his conversion in any other terms but that he repented of his sins and trusted in Christ, becoming obedient to Him. His first response to Christ gave a hint of his conversion in that he called out to Christ, “Who are you, Lord” (Acts 9:5). Yet it is inconclusive and the word “Lord,” or kurio in Greek, could just be another form of “Sir” (John 4:19, for example). But somewhere there was genuine faith, trust with an intent to obey. He said to King Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

Paul, in describing his conversion emphasized his awareness of his sin, describing himself as the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). He magnified the work and grace of God, saying “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). He gave no formulaic approach to conversion except the simple gospel message: “That the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23). The formula was in hearing the gospel and, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, believing in Christ – the “hearing of faith” as he described it to the Galatians (Gal 3:1-5). To the Philippian jailer Paul said it succinctly and clearly: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31).

The testimony of the resurrection: Twice more in the book of Acts Christ’s appearance and Paul’s conversion experience were recorded (Acts 22:3-21 and 26:2-23). It was not that Paul’s personal conversion was essential for everyone to hear, rather the significance of it was that he too had seen the resurrected Christ.

And for the church, the experience of Paul was remarkably similar to the experiences of others: intimacy, calling, and commissioning. Paul not only become saved, but he also received his calling and commissioning to go into the Gentiles and proclaim the gospel.

For us the profound message in this appearance is that Christ is Lord of the Church. He will do what He decides to do. We cannot limit Him, rather we may only listen to His voice, and follow as He leads.

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