This week’s story, for Sunday, May 1, is in the Easter season and it is set in the first-century time that people were discovering, with excitement, that Jesus had risen — and was alive.
This article is based on The Living Word study for May 1 ‘The Responses to the Risen Lord’ and is based on the inter-denominational Revised Common Lectionary Bible readings for Sunday, May 1, used by a wide cross-section of churches and chapels.
• Watch this week’s video From Mistakes to Mission (about 12 min)
From Mistakes to Mission YouTube (wide format)
From Mistakes to Mission Instagram (square format for mobiles)
Also on Facebook The Living Word page www/Facebook.com/TLWbiblestudy
And as usual we have the perspectives of Old Testament, New Testament gospel, and New Testament letter but with a difference. Usually the story starts before the time of Jesus and has a facet from His life and teaching before hearing how people live it out a generation or more after His resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
This time the starting point is from the time of Jesus, but only just. It is taken right from the very end of John’s gospel and it is about His post-resurrection appearance to a group of them fishing. Then the narrative takes us into Acts, a few years after the Resurrection, and concludes with a window into heavens praise and joy which is outside time and space with a future leaning. First we will let these verses from Psalm 30 acts as a headline for us about God’s gracious forgiveness and mercy — the thread which is common to all the anecdotes.
I will exalt You, Lord, for You lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to You for help, and You healed me…
…To You, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:…”Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”
You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy… Lord my God, I will praise You forever. Psalm 30 excerpt
Jesus is recorded by John as appearing three times to the disciples when they were gathered – and four times if you count his personal appearance to Mary Magdalene, the first person to encounter the risen Lord on the third day. They’re not the fleeting, indistinct manifestations of a ghost. Ghosts do not eat or drink or do other things associated with the physical body — as Jesus pointed out to them.
“Look at My hands… My feet. You can see that it’s really Me. Touch Me… make sure that I am not a ghost… Ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do”…
Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and He ate it as they watched. Luke 24:39, 41-43 NLT excerpt
Jesus took trouble to show them that He was really who said he was, with a new and physical resurrection body. In the next part of the story, Jesus has appeared in the gloom of early dawn on the shore of Lake Galilee, and has a fire going and some fish already cooking on it. He then does something which gives them a reminder of one of the very first signs that He did among them.
1 Afterwards Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way:
2-3 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.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.
6 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.
7 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.
8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.
9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
11 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.
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
15-16 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.”
17 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.
18 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.”
19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, “Follow Me!”
John 21:1-19 NIV
The point of the story is one of the great gospel fundamentals. It’s about someone who let Jesus down, badly, and Jesus’ forbearance and love in forgiving and restoring them. If we give ourselves just a few words to describe the gospel message, it must be about God’s love and forgiveness of us. And this time Jesus is not teaching it, but giving a demonstration of it.
Now the story moves on to someone else who was shocked to discover that he had been treating Jesus hurtfully, and to his greater surprise found forgiveness and acceptance in a new start. This is the beginning story of the young Pharisee Saul, better known to us by his nickname of Paul, the writer of a big chunk of the New Testament and a prolific church planter and apostolic encourager. And his teaching about God’s grace would become especially powerful and notable, because it came straight from the heart, straight from his own experience.
1-2 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
3-4 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”
5 “Who are You, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” He replied.
6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Acts 9:1-6 NIV
And Saul did find out what to do. The Lord called to a believer in Damascus called Ananias and gave him a very clear word to go to a certain street and find a man called Saul from Tarsus, and lay hands on him to restore his sight. Hesitant, because Saul’s notorious reputation had preceded him, Ananias did exactly as he was told in the vision. He prayed for Saul’s site to be restored and for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
This is the start of the mission of the New Testament’s most fruitful church planter and disciple maker. Of all the people God could have chosen, he had the worst CV but turned out to be the best learner. It was a few years later, together with Barnabas, that their first missionary journey took them via Cyprus, where he was first known as Paul, meaning ‘small ‘or ‘humble ‘. Other references infer that Paul was unimpressive physically, and no great orator.
So we see the Lord choosing impetuous and accident prone Peter, and calling a proud but unimpressive Pharisee persecutor on his way to arrest followers of the way of Jesus. By the power of His Holy Spirit, He transforms the parts of our character that appear to be barriers, and strengthens us at the point of our weaknesses.
Finally, we see into heaven with John, writing in Revelation 5.
The timeframe for this is more difficult to grasp because heaven is outside time and space and so the perspective doesn’t fit into our idea of time. This is a vision of worship in heaven of the exaltation of Jesus as the slain but victorious Lamb of God and Lord of lords. So it reads as if past, present and future are all combined. Jesus is praised, not just for His victory on the Cross at Calvary, but for His kingdom rule and reign. This is something we experience only in part, becoming the complete and final world order in which everything that has life will willingly submit to Him.
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
12 In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Revelation 5:11-13 NIV
In the space of a few generations, and despite cruel persecution, churches of believers sprang up all around the Mediterranean and beyond.
This is God’s mission which our time has touched one-third of the population of the world in thousands of variants of Christianity. Wars, threats, extreme weather events, famines and pandemics all point us to Jesus words in Matthew 24:4-11 where He foretells that such things are signs of the last times drawing near. He ends this difficult teaching by saying:
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:12-14
That part is plain enough. God’s intention is that, through us, the whole world is to become aware of the Good News of His gracious rule. And He has given us jet travel, knowledge of minority languages and the communications of the World Wide Web so that we can do that. Even the hatred and atrocities of war makes the love and forgiveness of God stand out more strongly… as we see the final appearance of Jesus coming.