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Third Sunday of Easter
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, May 1, 2022

Not What They Were Expecting, Part 2

Text: John 21:1–14

Today we are living through a very difficult time throughout our nation and the world. We daily witness through the media whether it be on TV, articles on the internet, or print media a display of godlessness and human depravity that is startling. Often we hear deep concern in the voices of many revealing the fear and uncertainty of the future of our nation. We hear many of those who are our leaders endorsing lifestyles and changes in public policy that are not only foolish but just plain evil.

Most people that I speak with have lost their confident attitude that everything will work itself out. Now they are asking how it could possibly work itself out. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has never been more relevant than today. However, this was true at the beginning of the early church as well. Their situation was also dire, and people were concerned about how things could possibly work out. Today we will continue to consider the impact of the resurrection on the disciples of Jesus Christ and on those who follow Him faithfully today.

One of the issues that I have been thinking about recently is the difference between those things that we imagine will bring joy and happiness but don’t have any lasting effect compared to those things that we felt might be at the most somewhat interesting but end up changing our lives. Let me give you an example of each.

Back in the 80s singer Barry Manilow was very popular with the women in my house and many female friends that we knew. They found out that he was coming to Roanoke on November 30, 1984, on his “Paradise Tour” and Teresa told me that she was planning to camp out in front of the Roanoke Civic Center the night before the tickets went on sale. Supposedly this was going to be a venue that sold out quickly and it did.

There was no way that I was going to allow that because of the danger of a beautiful young female camping outside on the outskirts of downtown Roanoke City. The only way for this not to happen was if I was willing to camp out from around 8 pm on Sunday night until 8 am on Monday morning. I made the offer and Teresa gladly accepted. The word got around with our friends, and I was tasked to buy ten tickets.

So I showed up around 8 pm and found that I was not the first one there. Standing in front of the doors were around 10 women from Bluefield West Virginia who drove for two hours with the same thing in mind. Around 10 pm a reporter and photographer that I knew from The Roanoke Times showed up. When he saw me a big grin broke out across his face, and he came over to interview me. I told him that I personally couldn’t care less about Barry Manilow but my wife, daughter and several friends had commissioned me as the “Mighty Ticket Buyer.” The next morning's paper had a picture of me sitting with a group of (to quote John Denver) “West Virginia Mountain Mamas.” The article quoted my opinion of Mr. Manilow but pointed out that it would appear that I was indeed a wonderful husband.

We went to the concert with front row seats, and I had to admit that Barry Manilow was a great entertainer and had a beautiful singing voice. However, all this was soon forgotten and has only served as an amusing story told from time to time. Now to be fair going to see an entertainer in concert isn’t billed as a life-changing experience but as a momentary diversion. Soon you will likely be looking for the next diversion that will give you something to look forward to. For many if not most it is a lifelong quest.

Now to the example of something that initially didn’t seem to be that important but was life-changing.

In 2003 during the time I was an over-the-road truck driver, Teresa worked for a property attorney. One day she told me that she was tired of me being gone a lot seeing the country and wanted to start going with me. Frankly, I thought she would last less than a month but agreed that she could join me. She quit her job and started traveling with me full time.

Unknown to us, that decision changed everything in our lives and in our marriage. To be truthful I had thought that my being gone a lot was probably the secret to our marriage. God used it as a preparation for the big change He intended for our lives which was getting off the road into full-time ministry together. Neither of us had any clue during the 3 ½ years that we spent together in the confines of a truck that this would be the beginning of God challenging us to step outside of our comfort zones.

This was not something we prayed for or thought about as a possibility. However, we were now together all the time and I mean 24/7– 365. When God began to move us in another direction we both realized that something was up. We experienced God moving in miraculous ways on our behalf and one time it could only have come through due to His ability to defy the laws of physics, but that’s another story. He brought healing into our relationship so that we would be able to operate as one. It wasn’t me hearing from God and coming to tell my wife what God was saying for us. It was God moving through us as a single unit and it has been through the decision to step out in faith that we have encountered God’s love, grace, power and provision.

It completely changed the direction of our lives together but more importantly, it changed our focus from ourselves to knowing and living for the glory of Jesus Christ. That would be the most important change and far different than anything that we had ever imagined. Often the way it happens is that God brings about trials, tribulations and very serious difficulties. Once you are forced by circumstances to trust God in every area of your life you are then ready for the real work of the heart to begin. Life with Jesus would not be a momentary diversion but a whole new way of living.

That’s where we found the disciples in John 20:19–31 last week and again this week in John 21:1–14.

Last week we continued looking at the journey that the disciples were being led on by Jesus as they prepared to continue his ministry of building God’s kingdom on earth and reconciling all things to Himself. We saw how Jesus “breathed the Holy Spirit” on the disciples as a way of commissioning them into their roles as apostles in this kingdom and also as a way of opening the door for all to come to him by faith. This week we will continue considering the journey of Easter as the early disciples head towards the day of Pentecost.

In our gospel story this morning from John 21 we find the disciples in Galilee, which according to Mark 16:7 was where Jesus told Mary Magdalene to instruct the disciples to meet him. By this time the disciples have already seen the resurrected Jesus who encouraged them to be at peace and breathed the Holy Spirit on them giving them new life, much like when God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam’s body made from dust. So basically they were waiting to find out what would happen next.

Apparently Peter didn’t want to merely sit around so he decided to go fishing. Perhaps there were bills to pay or the need for food or a combination of the two. Either way the disciples decide to go with him, and they fish all night without catching anything. Look at John 21:4–6.

Just as the day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore, yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him “no.” He said to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were unable to haul it in because of the great quantity of fish.

They have done what seemed right in their own eyes but experience complete failure. Even in this there is a lesson that must be learned, without Jesus they can do nothing. These were not just ordinary men, but ordinary men who had been called and set apart by Jesus to continue what was begun by him. They were not going to turn and go back to what they had been doing prior to their life-changing encounter with Jesus.

The scenario played out here was almost identical to the one told in Luke 5:1–11 at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He had taught them this lesson before. In all the gospel accounts where the disciples are fishing they never caught anything apart from Jesus’ help.

In Luke 5 the disciples had been out all night and had caught nothing. He instructed them to go out into deep water and drop their nets and they pulled up so many fish that it tore their nets. Peter’s response was to fall down at Jesus' knees saying,

“Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.

Now three years later the scene has repeated itself and for a very similar purpose. Again they had caught nothing but when they followed the command of Jesus they caught so many large fish (153) that they could hardly haul them into the boat. This time they recognized that it was Jesus, so Peter, who is so impetuous, jumps out of the boat to go and greet Jesus. They found that Jesus already had fish cooking and also bread to eat but he told them to bring some of their fresh catch that he had also provided them. It’s Peter who went back and dragged the net to shore himself because I suspect that he was anxious to respond to the command of Jesus possibly looking for some sign as to the nature of their relationship.

Remember the abundance of the wine at the wedding feast in Cana and of the abundance of bread and fish in feeding the five thousand and the four thousand and now 153 large fish in one cast. Certainly a primary point here seems to be Jesus’ lordship and the blessings that attend obedience to his commands no matter how unusual they might be.

After inviting them to come and eat, Jesus himself comes to the fire that he has built, and he serves them the fish and bread that he has provided. Again, Jesus is modeling a way of life that he would have them follow: the master who commands them also is the one who serves them. I guarantee you that this was a difficult lesson for the disciples to assimilate because they now knew who Jesus was and his ways were not the usual ways of royalty. He was the long-awaited King, and He was preparing them for His departure back to the Father where He would reign as King of all kings and Lord of all Lords. Eventually, as he had promised the disciples, he would come again as King over the kingdom of the New Heavens and the new earth. Until that time they would be tasked with continuing the work Jesus had begun announcing that the kingdom of God had come. They would find that being a follower of Jesus would often bring with it trials and hardship, but those things would pale in comparison to having a deep and intimate relationship with Him.

This morning in our passage from Acts 9:1–19 we find Saul (soon to be Paul) heading to Damascus to arrest, imprison, or even kill the followers of Jesus. He was enraged against them because he believed they were violating the law of God and seeking others to follow this sect called, “the Way.”

Again we have a story of someone encountering Jesus Christ in a profound way and it completely changed the purpose and direction of their life. In this case it was an enemy of God. I like the descriptive way that the Apostle Paul told this same story to King Agrippa in Acts 26:13–15,

“At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’”

There are three important lessons here for us to glean.

First, Saul’s life was consumed with a passionate hatred of the followers of Jesus. He believed Jesus was a dead criminal who deserved to die. However when the blinding light caught his attention and Jesus spoke to Saul from heaven, the truth of the claim that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead came to light: He was indeed alive, therefore risen from the dead, just as the followers of Jesus claimed.

Second, Jesus told Saul who he was really attacking. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul thought he fought against a group of deceived fanatics. He instantly discovered that he was attacking God Himself, the voice that spoke to him from heaven.

Finally, Jesus told Saul how futile and self-defeating his persecution was: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” A goad was a long, extremely sharp stick used to get an ox going the way you wanted when plowing. The one plowing jabbed the hind legs of the ox with the goad until the ox cooperated. So to understand the point clearly, Saul was the ox; Jesus was the farmer. Saul was motivated by hatred and only had one thing in mind and that was to stop this heretical sect. Jesus knew that Saul would be extremely useful in accomplishing his goals of building the Kingdom of God on earth. So Jesus goaded Saul in the right direction, and the goading caused Saul pain and discomfort. Yet instead of submitting to Jesus, Saul kicked against the goad—and only increased his pain.

I have to wonder about the passion of Saul's anger. He appears to be confident that he is doing the right thing, but I wonder about events like Acts 7:57–60 and Stephen's prayer modeled after the prayer of Jesus on the cross. I wonder how this affected his conscience.

Listen and see if maybe his conscience was “kicking against the goads,”

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

There is no hint that there was any resistance from Saul which would seem odd considering the passion with which he pursued those who claimed the crucified lawbreaker as their Lord. The change in Saul’s attitude was a complete 180-degree turn from persecutor of those who followed Jesus, to a teacher and Apostle laying down his life for the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He went from attempting to stop everyone from following this renegade religious zealot to bowing down to Him as Lord and Master. Soon there would be those who pursued Saul, now Paul, and now it was him who was willing to suffer and die for the glory of Christ. Why? More on that shortly.

Last week I mentioned that the man that the Apostle John was when Jesus prepared to return to the Father was very different than when he wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. Many years had passed since Jesus returned to the Father and the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples at Pentecost. The church had grown quickly, and persecution became common. Most of the original disciples had been martyred and John was an old man and a precious treasure to those in the early church. He had experienced terrible persecution yet had remained faithful to Jesus his Lord, reigning King of all, and his dear friend. Six times in John’s gospel he is referred to as the “one who Jesus loved.” His faith was mature and even while exiled to Patmos, a Roman penal colony for those who Rome found dangerous to the order of society, John was worshipping and caught up in the Spirit. As a result in this vision John once again encountered Jesus but as the glorified God/man and he bowed down before him in worship.

I can’t even imagine the joy that John experienced that led to writing the Book of Revelation. Listen to Revelation 1:4–8 that we read last week,

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

I imagine that John’s relationship with Jesus had grown much deeper and more intimate as he continued to have a much deeper understanding of who Jesus was in all His glory and majesty. This week we read from Revelation 5:6–14 and I can just see John with tears streaming down his face and his hands shaking with emotion as he remembers and writes down the new song that was sung by the four living creatures, the twenty four elders, and the voices of thousands upon thousands of angels singing to the Lamb who was found worthy to open the scroll. Listen to this song as they worship the lamb,

…saying with a loud voice,“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped.

This was the Jesus that the disciples first fell in love with and decided to follow for the rest of their lives. This is the Jesus that Stephen saw standing at the right hand of the Father that caused him to worship and praise even as he was being stoned to death. This is the Jesus that the Apostle Paul encountered long ago on the road to Damascus and the Jesus that he decided was worth living and dying for. This is the Jesus that has for the last 2,000 years transformed the lives of countless millions who saw Him for who He is now.

This is the Jesus who invites us to bow before Him this morning to praise, to honor and worship Him. This is the Jesus who is the only hope that the world has for true peace and salvation that only comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Do you know Him like this? If not He invites you to come to Him by faith, repenting of your sin and embracing Him as Lord and Master.

Let’s pray.

©2022 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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