Sunday, March 15, 2015

Seeing Things

Well, here we are at the last chapter of John's Gospel. The chapter covers a morning that Jesus spent with His disciples before He ascended into heaven. What happens here isn't all that odd. Jesus does a miracle. He's done that before. And yet, it is a little odd. There is no comment on the miracle. Raising Lazarus gave Jesus the opportunity to teach something.

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.

That miracle set up a teaching from Jesus. But there is no comment here, no teaching. And that makes it stand out a bit. 

In past sermons I've used Thomas as an example. I've also used Jesus as an example. Today, I'm going to use this event as an example. But first, you need to know what happened. So, listen as I read our text, John21.1-14.

John is pretty straightforward in what he writes here. One night, some of the disciples go fishing. They catch nothing. As the morning dawns, a man calls to them from the shore. 'Caught anything?' They confess their bad luck. So, this stranger tells them to try the right side of the boat. They do that and catch so many fish that they can't pull the net into the boat. That's when John realizes that it's Jesus and tells the others. Peter jumps into the water to get to shore as fast as he can. I hope to return to that in another sermon. The others follow in the boat. When they get to shore they find Jesus inviting them all to breakfast. The scene fades to dark while you hear this voice-over. 'This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.'

So, once again I ask what I hope is becoming a familiar question. Why is this here? What is this supposed to teach us? It's pretty clear that whatever it is, it's not on the surface the way it is in John 3.16. We'll have to dig a bit.

So, Jesus performs another miracle. Except John never calls them miracles. He calls them signs. And a sign is something that points to something else. So, when Jesus healed the man born blind it led up to a discussion about spiritual blindness. The miracle was a sign about who can see Jesus for who He is and who can't.

What's this sign about catching fish pointing to? To answer that we'll need to look at another instance of miraculous fishing. This happened when Simon Peter was just Simon. Jesus told him to let down his nets. After a bit of a snarky attitude, Simon let down his nets and suddenly found them filled with fish. Simon was awestruck. And Jesus told him,

Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.

That sounds awfully close to what we have in John 21. So, what do you think? Could this also be about 'catching men'? Well, that would make sense. Jesus is about to hand over His ministry to these men. It would fit for Him to say something about it before He leaves.

But what's the point that He's making about catching men? Look at the details that John includes. First, it was a lot of fish - so many that John tells us that they were not able to haul them into the boat. It was an amazing catch. So, lots of fish. Is that about lots of people? Do you think that Jesus is saying something about the success of these men's efforts at gathering many, many people into the kingdom? Could He be promising them that so many would believe that it would simply be amazing? 

But there are more details. How were they able to catch all these fish? Well, first, they had to cast their net on the right side of the boat just as Jesus told them. But there must be more going on. Throwing a net in a certain place does not guarantee success. I'll bet they tried the right side at least once during the night. Jesus made the fish gather at the right spot at the right time so that casting the net would catch them.

So, how is it that these men were going to be able to become so successful in catching people? As they obey His commands, Jesus would make sure that their efforts resulted in great catches. And Pentecost was the first example of this.

All of this is labelled, 'the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead'. What's being revealed about Jesus? How about His power and His promise for the future of these men? 'Continue to follow Me, obey My commands, and you will find that there will be many people being gathered into this new community called My Church. I know that it's hard to believe, but I'll make sure it happens.' Jesus is encouraging these men for the hard work that remains for them after He leaves.

Now, all of that is important and helpful as the Church continues to gather people into the Kingdom. Jesus promises success as we continue to follow Him. But that's not what I want to stress most this morning. What I want you to grasp is how Jesus communicated all of that to these men. He could have shown up a third time in that locked room and gathered the guys around Him and explained in a detailed lecture what He was promising. He didn't do that. Instead, He performed a miracle, a miracle that He did not explain or apply.

Last week I was reading through Exodus 19. Israel is fresh out of Egypt and in the wilderness. God is about to meet with these people to make a covenant with them, starting with the Ten Commandments. He tells Moses to prepare the people for His arrival. And when He arrives this is what happens.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. 

Put yourself in the situation. It's a quiet spring morning and you're standing near this mountain. And all of a sudden God shows up. And how do you know that? Your senses are attacked. There are the things that you see: the lightning, the fire, a thick cloud. And there is smoke everywhere. Then, there are the things you hear: thunderclaps and a loud trumpet blaring, louder and louder. And then, finally, there are the things you feel: the world beneath your feet is shaking and not just a little. It must have been quite the sensory experience.

Why did God do that? He wanted the people to understand something. God was showing up. He wanted them to have a sense of what that means and who He is. He's not just one of the guys. He is the great and the awesome God.

So, why didn't He just say that? He certainly could have chosen some really good words to explain who He is. It would have been eloquent. It would have been clear. And it certainly would have been accurate. But He didn't do that. And here's the reason. Sometimes what you need is an experience of God and not words about Him.

And that's what was going on with those disciples and the fish. Sometimes what you need is an experience of God and not words about Him.

During the years following Pentecost these disciples were busy fishing for men. To be sure, it was not all easy going. There were difficulties and discouragements. But they could encourage each other simply by saying, Remember what it felt like when we saw all those fish.' They had words to explain what was happening, but it was what happened that gave power to the words. Sometimes what you need is an experience of God and not words about Him.

Jesus still uses experiences to communicate, though it's not usually a pile of fish. But there are some things you will need to do if you are going to grasp what Jesus is communicating. First, you'll need to notice what He's doing. You have to see it.

What's a rainbow?

A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky.

Wikipedia. And, of course, all of that is accurate. But it doesn't actually answer the question. A rainbow is the sign of God's promise not to destroy the world again, even though we deserve it just as much as they did back in Noah's day. How many people see a rainbow, but don't really see it. They notice it in the sky and think about how pretty it is or maybe even the scientific explanation. But how many think about that promise, a promise that keeps them alive? They see it, but they don't see it.

Your lives are filled with things like rainbows - signs, events that Jesus brings into your lives to communicate some revelation about Himself. How are you doing at seeing them? One key ingredient in being able to see is to take the time to look. Most Americans - Christians and not - are far too busy to stop and look. And that's why they don't see. And they miss out on experiencing God's revelation of Himself. Don't be among them.

Along with seeing these things you need to interpret them wisely. There is the scientific interpretation of things. So, a baby is born. Egg and sperm. Conception and implantation. Gestation and birth. Baby.

But there is also another interpretation of a baby being born. A new person created. Someone with his or her own personality, a body and a soul, and a future filled with good and bad. Someone with talents and abilities to change the world. Someone who will live forever - either near to Jesus in a new heaven and new earth or infinitely far from Him in hell. A baby is an amazing act of God.

For God to communicate something of His wonders to you, you'll need to see what He is doing and then interpret it wisely. 

Jesus could have just given those guys words to hear. Instead, He gave them something to see. He does the same with you. Sometimes what you need is an experience of God and not words about Him.