Last time, our lesson closed when Pilate finally sent Jesus away to be crucified. Now we pick up the story after the crucifixion has been completed, on the first day of the new week with Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb very early, while it was still dark and found that the tomb was open and the body of Jesus was gone. John has already used “darkness” in this Gospel as a metaphor for disbelief several times, and this is no different, for upon discovering the empty tomb neither Mary nor Peter and John believed that it indicated Jesus had risen from the dead, for they had not grasped this concept in advance. As the sun rose and light began to spread across the land, this would change…
The drama begins early in the morning, before sunrise when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty. She rushes to tell the disciples that the body has been moved or stolen and Peter and John race to the scene where they confirm that the body is gone. John completes this part of the story by pointing out in v. 9 that none of them understood from Scripture that Jesus would rise from the dead. I might point out that they also didn’t understand this from the things that Jesus had told them. It would be beneficial for all of us to understand that we have the same problem today very frequently because we are used to thinking in earthy terms. Very few Christians today, at least in America, have what could be called a Biblical world view, instead most of us have a cultural or secular world view which inhibits our ability to see things as they really are, and we need to be aware of this to avoid misinterpreting not only Scripture but the world around us. As for Scripture in this regard, take a look at what Peter said in Acts 2:25-32: Obviously, he understood what Scripture taught on this point by the Day of Pentecost.
Mary had found the tomb empty, had run back to tell the disciples, Peter and John had come running and confirmed the tomb was empty… and had in turn gone back to their homes leaving Mary at the scene crying. Still crying, she looks into the tomb again and this time sees two angels inside; there is nothing in the text to tell us that she understood that they were angels. They ask her why she is crying, and her reply demonstrates that she has no concept of their double meaning; she is crying because someone has stolen the body. She did not comprehend the second meaning that there should be no cause for crying any longer: He has risen! She turns and sees Jesus standing there but does not recognize Him. Her lack of recognition is interesting, for it shows us that there is nothing remarkable in His appearance. That she doesn’t realize who He is shouldn’t be that shocking, for I cannot recall a time in my own life in which I would ever expect to see someone walking around and talking when I had gone to visit their grave. She assumes He is the gardener.
Jesus asked her why she was crying and then who she was looking for, a question He had already asked twice on the night He was arrested. She answers Him by asking about the whereabouts of the body. Jesus calls her by name; the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads then out” (10:3). Immediately she is “called out” of her unbelief!
Jesus says a curious thing at this point, “do not hold on to me.” A close look at this reveals that His meaning is something like: Do not try to hold me here on earth for I have to return to my Father (go to prepare a place for you 14:2) go and tell my brothers that I am going to prepare their co-inheritance. She returns and tells them these things; note that John goes to lengths to make sure we know who was the very first to give testimony about having seen the risen Christ.
The scene shifts from the tomb to a place in town where the disciples, excluding Thomas, are gathered behind closed and locked doors: Suddenly Jesus is in their midst. He simply says “shalom” and lets them see His wounds; they are thrilled!
This is no social call; Jesus is all business, giving them three pieces of vital information. First, He tells them that He is sending them out just as the Father has sent Him. They are to carry on His mission of salvation into the world, now that they have seen all that they had seen. Second, He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. This appears to be a foreshadowing of the Day of Pentecost. It appears to be a foreshadowing as there is no apparent reaction to this act yet, but when the Spirit is poured out in Acts 2 the reaction is dramatic. Third, He gives them an awesome charge saying that if they forgive anyone their sins they are forgiven, if not they are not forgiven. Obviously much has been written and speculated upon with regard to this, but I can’t help thinking about what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 16:18 ff. saying that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” I can’t help noting that it was Apostles who wrote what would be required to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus in the New Testament…
20:24-31 is the story of “Doubting Thomas” who had stated that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had arisen from the dead until he put his fingers into the wounds on His body. Jesus suddenly appears in the room and offers Thomas the chance, Thomas replies with a hugely significant statement of faith: “My Lord and my God.” This is of course the highest statement of faith found in the New Testament, theologically speaking, equating Jesus not only as Lord but also as God. Jesus quickly bursts his bubble by pointing out that anybody with a brain would understand that with what Thomas has seen, but many more will come to that understanding based only upon the testimony of others. John ends the chapter by telling the reader the purpose for the book: Many wonderful things were done by Jesus that are not recorded here, but what is recorded is recorded so that the reader might come to the same conclusion based upon John’s eyewitness testimony, that Thomas came to by seeing Jesus after the resurrection.
Chapter 20 is John’s record of events concerning the risen Christ in Jerusalem; chapter 21 is John’s story from Galilee. Why the disciples had traveled there isn’t given, but it makes sense that they wouldn’t be staying on in Jerusalem after all of the recent events. I would imagine that the disciples weren’t entirely sure what to do with themselves after following Jesus for over three years… The scene opens with a cast of seven disciples near the Sea of Galilee when Peter announces that he’s going fishing.
Note that John refers to the “Sea of Tiberius” which is another name for the Sea of Galilee in those days. Tiberius is the name of a large town, which in those days was a new Roman town located on the shore of the lake. Today it is the largest city in the area. The guys all joined Peter in the boat for a night of casting the fishing net, but their results were lacking entirely, and by early morning there was a man on the shore who noticed their bad luck. John identifies this man as Jesus, although they could not yet recognize Him from the boat.
From the beach, Jesus calls out to them and recommends that they cast their net on the other side of the boat. A fishing boat of the time would normally remain close to shore and cast on the shore side to get the best catch of fish, so most likely Jesus was telling them to try the lake side instead, and what a payoff! They caught so many fish that they couldn’t haul it into the boat. John realizes that it was Jesus who was on the shore, and Peter grabs his clothes and jumps into the water swimming to shore leaving the others to tow the nets to land. When they arrive, it seems that Jesus had a campfire going and was cooking breakfast. Jesus had a menu of bread and fish, something that we’ve seen Jesus do before, but this time, instead of the disciples rounding up fish and loaves that Jesus multiplied, Jesus has fish and loaves and the catch of the disciples will be the multiplier; Jesus has passed the torch, you might say.
John provides us with some eyewitness details in this portion of the text: there were 156 large fish in the net, Peter drags it ashore and Jesus is not only the cook, but the server. Interesting, isn’t it? A guy who was executed, dead and buried is putting on a fish fry! He is no ghost, for I can’t recall a single time when I’ve ever heard of a ghost eating fish: Jesus had arisen from the grave bodily.
After their meal, Jesus walks off a distance with Peter and asks him three times if he loves Jesus. Each time Peter assures Him that he does, but by the third time Peter’s feelings were hurt because Jesus kept asking. Much has been made of the Greek used here, but it seems to me that Greek nuance isn’t the point that Jesus is making. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of His arrest, and Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him. Could it be that that had dawned on Peter? Could it be that Peter felt terrible guilt over his cowardly denial? Let’s not forget that this is the first time that they had been off together since Jesus’ death, and Jesus has some business to settle with him. Peter must learn to care for the other followers of Jesus, His “sheep,” and this means taking the charge seriously and selflessly, a lesson that must not be lost on all leaders of the church today.
In v. 18 Jesus gives Peter some insight into the manner in which he would die as a martyr for the Gospel, as John points out in v. 19, and then says: “Follow me!” This is the same imperative with which Jesus began His ministry in 1:43 and sets the tone for the conclusion.
At this point, Peter notices John following behind them and says “What about him?” Jesus is not having any of this; it would have been better if Peter had said something more like, “Yes sir!” Jesus lets Peter know that whatever He has in mind for John is none of Peter’s business, for Peter’s call is to follow Jesus. None of us is in a position to know what adventures we will experience in following Jesus, but we must know that our call is to follow Him, and not to question whether or not someone else might have an easier time of it, and Jesus makes this abundantly clear. Peter’s imperative was to “follow” Jesus, and so is ours.
A Final Thought
When I was a boy, I read a book about the life of Jesus, and it really got my attention. As I thought about it, and as I thought about this Jesus guy, I really had no problem believing that He was the Son of God, and it occurred to me that I should try to be more like Him, but there was one thing about Jesus that kind of bothered me: He cheated!
To my nine-year-old mind, Jesus cheated when He went to the cross because after all, He was God… and He knew how the story was going to end; that’s cheating! It was almost as if it didn’t count if He knew all the things that He clearly knew before He allowed Himself to be taken prisoner. Gee whiz, I would do the same thing if I knew all that stuff.
Yes, to be young again…
When I was a teen, that attitude stuck with me, in fact, I didn’t really see the implication of this until I was in my 30’s; yes Jesus knew how the story ended, and He went to the cross knowing that the story wasn’t nearly over yet. He would suffer greatly for a time, and then…? Victory, honor, glory, reigning…
John says that he wrote the gospel so that many might come to believe in Him, and many have done so, but how deep is our belief? Ah yes, an uncomfortable question, surely, for some of us might believe like I used to, accepting the basic facts, and still holding something back.
My thinking changed one day when reality hit me like a freight train: Yes, Jesus knew how His story would end… and so do I know how my story ends; victory, honor, glory!
Jesus knew He would rise from the grave, and so will I.
Jesus knew He would ascend to Heaven, and so will I.
Jesus knew He would suffer for a short time, and so will I.
Jesus knew He would reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, and I know that I am co-heir with Him.
Because Jesus knew these things, He did His Father’s will, will I do the same?
Dear reader, this is where we come to the always inconvenient question: Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?
It is one thing to accept the basic facts on an academic or theoretical level, but will we allow them to affect who we are on a fundamental level?
Well, will we?
We will if we really believe that what we believe is really real.