Breakfast With Jesus

Mcr-Fishes

One of my new favorite passages in the Bible is John 21. The power of this passage was always lost on me, and I want to take a moment to thank my good friend Timothy for helping me see this passage with new eyes. His insight inspired this post.

John 21 is a passage I never really gave a lot of thought or attention to. It always seemed to me like it was a really anti-climatic ending for the Gospel writings. It is a quiet conclusion to what I would consider the greatest story ever told. The gospel accounts end with a quiet breakfast on the beach.

John says it like this:

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

I love the disciples. I see so much of myself in them. They are just so human. Remember that Christ had been crucified, buried, risen, and had appeared to the disciples resurrected. They had witnessed the risen son of God, and what did they do?  They went fishing.

Imagine if you had experienced all the disciples had experienced. Imagine if you had spent years at Christ’s side witnessing his miracles and hearing his teachings. Imagine if you had seen him crucified and buried only to see the risen and resurrected Lord three days later…. Now imagine what it must have been like going back to work after all that.  I’d imagine it would probably take a great deal of time to process everything that these men had just gone through, so I guess fishing seemed like as good a use of time as anything.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 

I love this passage. One of the guys on the boat recognizes Jesus and Peter is so overjoyed to see him that he can’t wait for the boat to reach shore. They were only about a hundred yards from the beach, but Peter decided that he was going to jump in and swim the distance rather than wait patiently on the boat to reach the shore. I’ve been very happy to see people in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy that I would leap out of a boat to get to the shore faster.

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”  None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

“Come have breakfast” just makes me smile. Remember that Jesus had already accomplished everything he came to this world to do. The victory had been won, the chains of sin and death were shattered, a new day had dawned. So what does Christ do? He makes breakfast.

I love the fact that we worship a God of small things as well as big things. God does not always come with pearls of lightning, rolls of thunder, and a blinding flash of light. Sometimes he just wants to chat with you on the beach over breakfast.  Christ could have been seated at the right hand of God in glory. He could have been justly worshiped and exhausted by the heavenly host!  Instead he decided that, for the time being, he’d rather visit disciples and have a quick bite to eat. That is the love Christ has for us.

 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

This is yet another passage where I completely missed the point for a long time. Why does Jesus ask Peter three times if he loves him?  Because Peter has denied Christ three times just a few days ago. Jesus was reconciling Peter.  Imagine the shame that Peter must have felt after he had denied Christ and acted so cowardly during Christ’s time of need. In spite of his overwhelming joy at seeing the risen Lord, I have no doubt that Peter was still deeply ashamed of himself and his cowardice. This was Christ telling Peter that all was forgiven. He was telling Peter that he was not concerned with the past sins. Peter had temporarily given up on Christ, but Christ had never given up on Peter. God had not forgotten him, and Christ was still going to use Peter to do great things.

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return,what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

Of course Peter is still Peter, and in true Peter fashion he almost misses the point entirely. Luckily for Peter, and us, Christ is patient and makes his point absolutely clear. Jesus had a job for Peter, and he has a job for us as well. He calls us to follow him, and tend to his sheep.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

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Easter: My Personal Doubt Killer

caravaggio-thomas

The death of Christ definitely made no sense to those who lived through it. Even today it is a very strange to think that such a foundational religious figure could go out in such an awful way. Even stranger is the way that such a death is not seen as a shameful thing his followers prefer not to speak of, but rather a great victory.

Mausoleum_Muhammad

Muhammad’s Mausoleum

When you look at most respected religious leaders they tend to die in their twilight years as respected and honored leaders. Most died peacefully and surrounded by their devoted followers. Moses got to assemble all the tribes of his people together for a farewell address then he climbed to the top of Mount Nebo and died overlooking his people entering the land of promise. Gautama Buddha died at the ripe old age of 80 surrounded by his followers after reaching the state of Parinirvana. Muhammad lived to be 63 years old and died with his head resting on the lap of his wife Aisha. His death bed is now a beautifully adorned mausoleum.

There might be some pain involved in passing, but most religious leaders tended to go out old, respected, and in a state of peace with some reassurance that they had succeeded. This is not so with Christ. Christ died a criminal, tortured, humiliated, killed, and buried in a sealed tomb. He died alone, hanging nailed to a cross with murderers. His death was humiliating, and left his body broken, and defiled. His death seemed to come too soon, he died just barely into his 30’s with none of his devoted followers (except for maybe John) remaining with him during his suffering.  Jewish onlookers would have taken Christ’s death as a sign of God’s rejection of his so called son of God, and Christ himself experienced the spiritual pain that comes from being completely separated from God when we hear him cry “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!”

This looks, by all accounts this looks like the end of the life of a man who was a complete failure. No “kingdom of God” was built that anyone could see. The temple, as far as everyone could tell was still there, and man was no closer to his maker than he had been yesterday. Christ’s people had abandoned him, his followers had ran in terror, and his heavenly father had given him up to the powers of death and sin that he had come to defeat. If this was the end I guarantee you that we would have never heard of this rebellious first century Palestinian Jew.

Luckily this is not where the story ends.

The cross without the resurrection is just sin taking another victim. A cross with a resurrection is the greatest triumph this world has ever seen. Sin is vanquished, justice is served, death defeated, and a new covenant and the kingdom of God have arrived. It is without a doubt the biggest surprise ending in history.

But how do we know that the resurrection is not a fabrication?  How can we be sure that we are not  following a bunch of swindlers and liars who fabricated a resurrection? Is there any reason to believe the resurrection?

The resurrection is absolutely necessary for Christianity to hold any merit. Without an empty tomb and a risen savior we are forced to see Christ as nothing but some strange spiritual guru who pissed off all the wrong people. Without a resurrection Christ was just some nice guy who died for nothing. Even Paul was aware of this:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:14

So why do I feel safe believing in the resurrection? I’m going to give an answer to that that might seem strange at first, but hopefully it will make sense eventually. My answer is that Easter is just too strange for me to believe it is a lie. What I mean by this? Well if one was going to fabricate the resurrection of their savior, I really doubt they would have bothered to include some of the strange details that are included in the post-resurrection Christ accounts.

One strange detail that jumps out right away is that no one recognized the risen Christ. If I wanted to JesusKneelstoaWomanconvince you that I had seen someone risen from the dead the first thing I’d want to establish would be that I could recognize him when I see him. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus and is not recognized right away, he appears to the mourning Mary Magdalene and is confused for a gardener, he appears over and over and everyone always has to do a double take to realize it’s him. Thomas, one of the twelve men who had been in Jesus’ inner circle, had to touch his wounds before he would believe it was actually him. This is a very strange detail if you wanted to describe the triumphant risen son of God, and yet it’s the strangeness of this detail that make it more real for me.

Speaking of Jesus appearing to women, that’s a weird twist of events in and of itself. If you wanted to make up a victorious resurrection myth would you have the risen son of God appear to a bunch of women who didn’t even recognize him at first?  Maybe the strangeness of this isn’t clear to modern readers, but the fact that the risen savior was first seen by women was a big deal in first century Palestine.  Anyone writing this with the goal of fictionalizing an epic narrative probably would have had Christ appear before his loyal male followers, or appearing on top of the synagogue in full glory for all the world to see, or really anything more than some women in mourning. Defying expectations seems to be on a list of Christ’s favorite past times, and similar to how low class shepherds were the ones to first welcome him into this world as he slept in a barn so to was the resurrected Lord greeted first by common women (one of the lowest classes of the day).

Another strange detail is that no one bothered to dig up the body. Obviously I believe there was no body to be found, but surely skeptics were everywhere. The disciples were making radical claims that he had risen from the dead and it’s clear from Acts and other early church  and secular accounts that they caused quite a fuss by doing so. Jews and Roman authorities alike were not fond of early Christianity and when you read some of the extreme persecutions that the early church went thorough it’s amazing that Christianity lived long enough to reach the 2nd century.  Yet it seems like this entire movement could have easily been nipped in the bud. All the Romans had to do was open the tomb and produce a body. Surely if there was a body to produce it would have been easier to dig up a dead jew than put in all the work in manpower it would have taken to try to dismantle the early church.

Critics of this opinion usually point to two counter theories. The first being that Christ’s tomb was lost or that he was buried in a mass grave. I think it’s safe to reject the mass grave theory since the gospel authors were wise enough to mention the name of the tomb giver, Joseph of Arimathea as a means to show that the tomb was not unknown of. People weren’t unclear about where Christ was buried, Joseph and Nicodemus were listed by name almost as witnesses to the tomb. I just don’t think the mass grave theory holds up.

Modern critics have tried a different approach and argued that Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, but the disciples probably stormed the tomb and stole the body to fuel their fantasy. One problem right away I see with this is that this theory is the notion that the disciples would even bother attempting to do something like this. Peter was too afraid to admit that he knew Christ during the trial, and yet after his Lord is dead he would risk raiding his tomb? If Peter would not defend Christ when he was alive, why on earth would he risk doing so when he knew him to be dead. These twelve men that abandoned Christ in his time of need are expected to come together and pull an Oceans 11 heist on a body just to keep their story alive? For what purpose?

There is no reason for the disciples of Christ to continue this charade after their leader was killed. I’m pretty sure, had they not seen the resurrected Lord, these men would have gone back to their old lives and tried to forget the wasted years they spent following the now dead prophet. Until Peter was told by the resurrected Christ to become a “fisher of men” he seems to have done just that. None of the accounts we have of the disciples makes me fell like they were the type to devote their lives to a cause they knew was lost. Heck, they had a hard time devoting their lives to a cause even before their leader was brutally killed. The Bible rarely skims over the flaws of it’s “heroes” and if there is anything I know about the disciples it’s that they were often afraid, skeptical, confused, and in need of constant reassurance. I believe fully that these men knew in their heart that they had seen the risen son of God.

As far as history and tradition can tell us, each of the disciples died in a rather harsh way. Some were crucified, others burned, some beheaded… the only one we know of who lived to an old age was John, and he died deserted on the island of Patmos after several attempts at killing him failed. These people would rather die than deny the resurrection, could this be said of a bunch of grave robbers who wanted to continue a delusion or scam?  I have a hard time believing so. Many early Christians from both church and secular accounts faced death instead of denying what happend on Easter Sunday, if nothing else we can say that these men and women genuinely believed with everything they had.

Easter is very strange. No one saw it coming, no one predicted victory in death, and yet in spite of all of this victory still came. This strange twist of fate that people to this day have a hard time wrapping their mind around, is an event that eye witnesses refused to deny. It was a truth that those who believed were willing to give every fiber of their being in defense of. It was and is a truth that, as strange as it may seem, has stood the test of time and the voices of criticism. It is my personal doubt killer and the most beautiful event in history.

Happy Easter everyone!