Easter was not just something that happened one Sunday in a graveyard outside of Jerusalem. It still happens. The Risen Christ appeared to Peter, to Paul, to Ananias and to countless others. And the Resurrected Christ appears to us today.
The Scripture references are found at the end of the article.
Well Easter is over. We had our fine worship service, heard some great music, perhaps had a delicious Easter lunch, got to wear our new Easter clothes, and I got my post-Easter break time.
But what did it all mean? What does Easter mean for us? In fact every Sunday is an Easter Celebration. The earliest Christians, who were also Jews worshiped in synagogues on the Sabbath, but then gathered on the next day, Sunday, to celebrate the Resurrection. Why did the early Christians change the day of worship to harmonize with the resurrection? Why is Easter so important?
To get a handle on that question we are going to look at the how the Post-Resurrection Jesus interacted with people. Two people in particular, Peter and Paul.
We start with Peter, and our story picks up some time after that Original Easter Sunday. We are not sure how long after, but probably more than a few days, because the disciples are back in Galilee, 60 miles northwest of Jerusalem. And, not sure what to do, they go back to what they know—fishing. They are sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (which is really just a large lake) and Peter finally announces, “I’m going fishing.”
Now let’s try to wrap our heads around where Peter is at this point in the story. He was a faithful follower of Jesus. He was in the inner circle. He was, perhaps Jesus’ closest follower, his most faithful disciple, until…until that fateful night when he denied he ever knew the man. Not once, not twice, but three times he denied he even knew Jesus, much less that he was a follower of the now disgraced Messiah.
So now some time has passed. The initial shame has worn off, but everyone else knows what Peter did. And Peter knows what Peter did. What must he be thinking? How much shame is he still carrying with him? I’m sure he is trying to act normal, trying to act as if that night never happened, but can you imagine how inter-tangled his feelings are. On the one hand there is the Good News that Jesus has risen from the dead. The cross was not the last word. Jesus has defeated even death! He is alive! He is risen!
But there is that little matter of his denial, and the shame that arose from that. I’m sure he wants to see Jesus, aaaand he wants to avoid Jesus. He knows that Jesus will look into his eyes, and will see right through him.
Shame. It’s devastating. Guilt is when we hear a voice in our heads that says, “You should have done better.” But shame is when we hear a voice that says, “You should have been better.” Shame goes beyond what we have done and cuts to the heart of who we are.
Peter felt shame that day. So he goes fishing. Not a bad solution, actually. Fishing is the cure for many things. But it won’t cure what ails Peter.
Now here is there the story gets a little funny. The guys are fishing, and they aren’t catching anything. Zip. Nil. They got skunked. Any of you fishermen ever got skunked? And there is this guy on the bank watching them. And HE says, “Why don’t you put your nets out on the other side of the boat?”
Imagine you have been out fishing in your boat all day, and you’re coming up empty, and some yahoo yells at you from the shore, “Why don’t you cast your line on the other side of the boat?” Yeah right! “Why don’t you cast yourself into this lake?”
But the guys do, and suddenly it’s like there are fish EVERYWHERE! Well someone in the boat figures out that the guy on shore is not just any guy, its Jesus, and Peter goes headlong into the water. Now John gets kind of interesting here. He gives us details we don’t necessarily need to know. We didn’t need to know that Peter fished naked, and that he had to put on his clothes to go see Jesus. Except that it reminds us someone else. Two someones, actually. Adam and Eve, who went around naked until they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, looked and saw they were naked, experienced shame and started covering themselves up. John is telling us this to show us that Peter is not just covering his body. He is also trying to cover his shame.
But he wants to see Jesus. He really does.
And he and Jesus have a healing encounter. Jesus asks Peter, three times, do you love, one for each time Peter denied Jesus. Peter, do you love me? Peter do you love me? Peter, do you love me? And three times Peter gets to affirm his love for Jesus. Notice that Jesus does not have to tell Peter that he loves him. That would not be healing for Peter. “Yes, I know you love me, Jesus, but I denied you, and your love just makes me feel worse!” No, Jesus lets Peter affirm his love for him. Peter, do you love me? These are hard questions, and Peter gets a little ruffled by the time the third question comes around. But he sticks with it.
And through the process, he finds healing. As a matter of fact, in a sly way, Jesus gets Peter to say it himself; “Lord you know I love you!”
Yes He does. He does know that, and now Peter knows that He knows it. But it took more than just Jesus telling Peter he still loved him. Peter had to learn it for himself.
It’s an incredibly healing moment for Peter. The Resurrected Lord appears, and he heals Peter’s shame, which then empowers Peter for a world changing ministry.
Now let’s switch gears a moment, from Peter to Paul.
Paul’s issues are very different from Peter’s. I doubt that Paul ever felt a day of shame in his life. In fact, he may have been incapable of it. Paul’s problem was that he did not know what he did not know. Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Paul knew for sure that if he was going to be a good Jew that meant getting rid of these upstart Christians. Faithful Jews and Jewish Christians could not exist on the same plane, and it was Paul’s mission to eradicate any all deviations from the True Faith.
Of course we know that Paul was wrong. God was doing a new thing in Jesus Christ, and the early Christians were not hijacking the faith; they were faithfully following God into this new place, a place of God’s own choosing. At first Paul could not see that. He could not see the new thing that God was doing. Paul was entrenched in the old.
So, Paul being the headstrong person he was, he needed a special visit from the Risen Lord if he were going to understand this new thing. The encounter had to be as strong as Paul was. Paul was not the kind of person who could hear the “still, small voice,” at least not at that time in his life.
God stops Paul dead in his tracks. Paul is knocked him off his horse with a blinding light, and the voice of Jesus comes to him; “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The light blinds Paul, which is not surprising. Paul is already blind. Spiritually blind. Now God makes his spiritual blindness a physical reality. Paul has lived in darkness for a long time. Before he was blinded by his own inability to see the love of God. Now it is the love God that is blinding him.
Let’s step back a little right now, and take a good look at Paul. Who is he? As he describes himself, he was blameless in keeping the law. He persecuting Christians. He gave his life to his religion, and he dedicated himself to keeping the faith pure. And for him, the way to keep the faith pure was to persecute those who tried to change it.
Why does someone do that? What could possibly be going on inside of someone who feels that it is better to show violence to people rather than tolerance? What is going on in someone’s head that when the run into someone who has a different take on their religion than they do, feel the need to eradicate that person? Why would a person hurt other people because they believe in God differently? Why would you stop someone from trying to believe just because they believe differently from you?
Well one reason is arrogance. I am so sure of myself that I am willing and ready to impose what I believe on other people, whether they want it or not. And if they don’t want it, then the best thing I can do for them is to get rid of them! I am so certain that I am right that I have no room in my in mind to consider that either I may be wrong, or that you may know something that I don’t.
But there may be a deeper reason, something less obvious. If I am trying to force you think and believe as I do, it may be because I am so insecure in my faith, that having people differ from me is a threat to me. If I am so right, then how could you possibly disagree with me? And if you do disagree with me, then could I be possibly be wrong? And can I live with myself if I am wrong about the most important thing in my life—my relationship with God? In order for my beliefs to thrive I have to follow the straight and narrow path, as I define straight and narrow, because that is where my security lies. If I allow the slightest possibility that I may be wrong on one small point, then I might be wrong on other points as well, and I cannot afford to go down that slippery slope!
Perhaps that is where Paul was. Perhaps he was such an ardent and strident advocate of traditional Judaism because he could abide the slightest possibility of ever being wrong. That would rock his world in ways he did not want his world rocked.
In other words, Paul was driven, not by his faith but by his own insecurities. And so the Risen Christ gives him exactly what he needs—a face to face encounter. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
There is one more person in this story. He interacts with Paul. That is Ananias. Without Ananias there would be no Paul. Ananias does one extraordinary thing. He is sitting at home, praying, when the Risen Christ appears to him. He is not be healed, he is not to be converted. He has one simple task. He is to pray for someone. But that someone is a doozy. He is to pray for Paul the man who has been very active in persecuting the church.
I can imagine Ananias’s surprise at this call. “Did I hear you right, God? You really mean me to go and pray for that man who has been trying to put us all in jail, the man who thinks the only good Christian is a dead Christian? You want me to pray for him?” But the risen Christ can be very convincing, and when Ananias confronts Paul the first words out of his mouth are, “Brother Paul.” They used to be deadly enemies. But now Paul is a brother. The Risen Christ has changed the relationship between Paul and Ananias.
The Risen Christ appears to Ananias, and he empowers Ananias to reach out to Paul. The Risen Christ appears to Paul and he changes Paul’s world—totally. The Risen Christ appears to Peter, and he heals Peter of deep wounds.
He does that, this Risen Christ. He empowers us to ministry. He changes worlds. He heals. Ananias was a man who would avoid Paul at all costs, but now greets him as a brother. Paul has a brand new world opened up to him. Peter is healed of the wounds that make him want to cover up before God.
And the Risen Christ meets us. He has met Christians for the last 2000 years, and he still meets us. He empowers us. He changes us. He heals us.
If the Risen Christ were to appear to you today, how would he empower you? Where do you need strength to carry out the work of God you are called to? How would the Risen Christ empower you? How would the Risen Christ heal you?
The Risen Christ comes to shine light in our lives. It can be a light of healing, it can be a light to show us new ways of understanding our faith, it can be a light to empower us to do the work of God. But there is always light for us.
How does the Risen Christ meet you? How does he heal you? How does he change you? How does he empower you?
We meet him in many different ways of course. We meet him in our worship. We meet him in our service. We meet him as we pray, both corporately and privately. We meet him as we read the word of God. We meet him as we play together. We meet him as we gather around his table and share the meal he instituted for us. And he meets us, he changes us.
He is here. You can see him with the eyes of faith. He is ever before us. He is in us. He is all around us. And he is healing, changing and empowering us.
Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)
1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Gospel John 21:1-19
1After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”