Second Chances

John 21. As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why John concludes his Gospel with this episode. None of the other Gospel writers include it. This particular story is unique to John. So why include it? In verse 14, John reminds us that this is the third time that Jesus has made Himself known to the disciples. Two prior occasions, He had a purpose in mind…calming the fears and commissioning a group of the disciples, breathing on them the Holy Spirit and giving them life; and then a special encore presentation for Thomas. This episode also has a very focused purpose…the restoration of Peter. You see, after his denial, we as the readers are left wondering, “So whatever happened to Peter?”

Peter had blatantly denied and turned his back on Jesus. There was no getting around it. After all of the boasting, after all of the posturing, in the end he had failed miserably. And all of his closest friends knew it. Fear might have been involved, although given Peter’s boldness in confronting the soldiers that seems less likely. Frustration? Probably. Doubts? Sure. But Peter was supposed to be their fearless leader. Not so. Would he ever be useful again?

And now, miraculously Peter is given a second chance. Jesus shows up and takes him aside, and with the reminder of both his failure (charcoal fire…same as denial) and his calling in mind (Simon, son of John…mirrors his calling in chapter 1), he’s given another opportunity to follow Jesus. But following Him this go round would not end well from an earthly standpoint. It would involve a cross. Three years later…knowing all that he had been through and would yet go through, would he still sign up? Knowing that the journey would be a lonely one, with no guarantees that anyone else would accompany him, would he still follow Jesus?

The encouraging thing for me from Peter’s story is that Jesus makes a special trip to offer him his second chance. And not only a second chance, but also a bright new future chock full of opportunity to continue to pursue Jesus…and to fail, but also to change the world. He and this rag-tag group of Jesus-followers will take the Roman world by storm…not leading a military campaign, but waging spiritual warfare nonetheless. We are here today because of his ministry. Eusebius tells us that Jesus’ prophecy concerning Peter was fulfilled when he is fastened to his own cross upside down by Nero in Rome at the same time as Paul. According to Clement of Rome (c. a.d. 96), Peter suffered martyrdom under Nero (a.d. 54–68; 1 Clem. 5.4), probably during the final years of Nero’s reign (c. a.d. 64–66). Even knowing that following Jesus was a death sentence, Peter still signed up. And it was the adventure of a life-time.

But what about you? What’s your story of denial? How have you blown it? Have you come out the other side? What does life look like? Do you believe that Jesus can still use you, that He wants to use you? He made a special trip for Peter after a very public ministry failure…He wants to do the same for you. But how will you respond when He says, “Follow Me!”

It strikes me that Peter’s story would likely have had a very different ending had I been the one whom he had denied. And for some of us, we are in the position of being the betrayed. What about you? Have you restored the one who failed you? Have you forgiven them? Any second chances? Would you trust them with an even greater level of responsibility? Or would you do what I can be so quick to do, and write them off?

Peter’s story challenges us at so many levels: Do we believe that Jesus still can and wants to use us, no matter our failures? Are we willing to follow Him, no matter the cost? Are we willing to forgive and restore others when they fail us?

My prayer for you is that you grasp how long and high and wide and deep is the love of Jesus for you…that you may rest in His grace…that you may learn to love and forgive like Him and that you would do that exceedingly well this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

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A Resurrected Jesus

John 20. John’ account of the resurrection. As I reflected on the sermon this week, I wondered why John includes this episode. The Synoptics seemed to have it covered, so John must have a theological purpose in including it. Somehow it must be vital to the story. We’ve pointed out some of those things like the fact that the relationship between the disciples and Jesus has changed from that of friend to brother…as believers we have a familial relationship with Father God. We also noted that the disciples were given new life when Jesus breathed the Spirit on them. And Thomas’ statement, “My Lord and My God” points to Jesus as both human and divine. Three extremely important theological reasons to include this episode which will be further developed by Paul. But John wraps those truths in a story that includes characters who respond in very different ways to Jesus’ death and the possibility of resurrection.

A few questions that come to mind…What if Jesus really was raised from the dead? What if Jesus really is alive? In other words, what is the significance of a resurrected Jesus? Besides having a major holiday commemorating it, what difference does a resurrection make? If Jesus’ death on the cross allows for the forgiveness of sins, do we really need a resurrection?

There are four characters in the story. All four had believed in Jesus as the Messiah. His death paid the penalty for sin. At that moment we could say they were all Old Testament saints much like Abraham or David. But they had yet to pass from Old Testament saints to New Testament believers. Mary Magdalene is totally focused on her grief…let’s call it the circumstances she finds herself in. Her situation has so consumed her that she is unable to recognize resurrected Jesus even though He is right there in front of her. Peter is confused. The evidence is inconsistent with a grave robbing, but resurrection isn’t on his radar. The disciples are fearful. They are meeting behind locked doors. They gambled everything to follow Jesus. They went all in…and now it looks like they may have lost. Their expectation of Messiah has gone through some serious revisions and now a major disappointment. When Jesus shows up, twice He speaks peace over them to calm their nerves. The resurrection is unanticipated. Thomas refuses to believe resurrection with out seeing the evidence for himself. His doubt is representative of where all the disciples were prior to Jesus’ appearing.

A couple of observations…First off, all of these guys totally miss it. Resurrection is not even a consideration. They are totally focused on earthly realities…the heavenly has not entered their field of vision. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Secondly, they all respond with joy when they encounter the resurrected Jesus. Distraught, confused, fearful, and doubting to rejoicing…not a bad trade. But in order to get there they had to meet Jesus…the real Jesus…the resurrected Jesus who was fully God and fully Man. Finally, and my favorite, Jesus meets each of them where they are. He patiently waits for Mary to recognize Him. He speaks peace over the disciples who are fearful. He even returns to allow Thomas to “see” the evidence.

As I thought about the resurrection question, there were some truths that came to mind: The resurrection is God’s “YES”, His stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. Jesus truly is all that He claimed to be. The resurrection is also proof that Jesus “freakin’ crushed sin and death for all eternity” (as a friend of mine put it).  Jesus’ death pays the penalty for sin. However, if we stopped there, we might be forgiven; but where’s the empowerment for life? It is the life of Jesus that allows us to experience life today…real, abundant life.

And while I readily affirm those truths today, many times I practically live like Jesus remained in the tomb…I know I’m forgiven, but I still tend to be totally consumed by the circumstances – broken-hearted, confused, fearful, and even doubting that Jesus can/will bring me out of the current situation. John says that he wrote “these things that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that believing we might have life in His name.” While Mary and the disciples had believed in Jesus…their experience of a crucified Jesus hadn’t brought life (fear, doubt, distress, confusion). Although Jesus was alive and although He had crushed sin and death, they were not experiencing the victory. That comes only with resurrection.

But what about you? “Think back this week, is there a worry, fear or circumstance in your life that drew your attention away from Jesus? Financial uncertainty, marital conflict, illness… ” a time where you were so focused on protecting, preserving, and ultimate investing in the “life” that you have “created” for yourself here on earth, that you don’t, can’t and fail to even think about investing in the “TRUE LIFE” that He has created for you through His resurrection, the eternal kingdom that will not pass away.

Some of us are believers…we’ve believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins but we are not experiencing the life of Jesus that is ours by birthright through His resurrection. Maybe we are like Mary…distraught and broken-hearted, focused on our circumstances and having a hard time seeing Jesus. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like Peter…confused and unable to put it together. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like the disciples…fearful, betting on Jesus but feeling like you are on the losing side. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like Thomas…doubting, needing evidence that Jesus can help us in our present predicament. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. For those of us who are Mary’s or Peter’s or disciples, or Thomas’…we need to be reminded of the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive. He died and rose again to give us life.

Some of you reading this post would not put yourself in the believing camp. You are somewhere on the road of your spiritual journey. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Jesus is patient with us and not afraid our questions and doubts.

For those of you who are experiencing the resurrected life of Jesus today, praise God! These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Strengthen and encourage your brothers and sisters.

My prayer for all of us is that we live like Jesus really is alive, that we may truly experience life in His name…a life that radically impacts the way we love others this week.

Until next time…stay salty.