Lives transformed through knowing Jesus
Mary Copping, 5 May 2019
Acts 9: 1–6; John 21: 1–19
In our gospel reading we hear of the fourth time that Jesus made a resurrection appearance. The first was in the garden when Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener. The second was to the terrified disciples behind closed doors, then the third, again in the upper room, was when Jesus allowed Doubting Thomas to touch his wounds. So this is the fourth time – to some of the disciples by the Sea of Galilee.
The disciples had gone back to what they knew best: fishing. This shows that, since the crucifixion and the previous appearances of Christ to them, they seem to have given up hope completely and gone home, gone back to their former lives and jobs. We know that the Sea of Galilee is about 75 miles from Jerusalem, where Jesus had last appeared to them. So they had travelled 75 miles home and, in those days, that was a huge distance to travel. It seems that they really had given up, not understanding all that had been going on and all that was to come. They went back to the familiar. One can imagine the disappointment and sadness in their hearts, thinking, ‘What was that all about?’
When we look at the number of disciples named in our gospel passage, there are only seven of them. We don’t know what has happened to the others; perhaps they’d given up completely and left the close-knit group, the group that had done so much together but had now dispersed and gone their separate ways.
So when Jesus appears, he is appearing to despondent men who do not have a clue what has happened to them over the past few weeks.
And they don’t recognise him even though he is quite near to them. Perhaps it was the sea mist, perhaps the fact that it was totally unexpected? It is wonderful how he speaks to them and calls them children – he knows how weak and vulnerable they are – and asks them to put their nets out on the other side. But can you imagine what these disciples, these experienced fishermen, thought when, after they had been fishing all night and caught nothing, this stranger told them how to fish? What a cheek, what does he know? And yet they obeyed, and from that obedience they saw the miracle of the catch of fish.
It was John who first recognised Jesus, and then Peter rushed towards him. Jesus was restoring their hope and trust in him; he was bringing them back to a knowledge of him and giving them fresh hope.
So here is Jesus meeting the disciples after their failure during Passion Week, after they have run away, after they have given up hope and gone back to their old lives. In Luke chapter 5, we’re told that when Jesus was calling the disciples and they were fishing and they hadn’t caught anything, Jesus told them to put their nets down for a catch. So here is Jesus meeting with them in the same way he met with them first, doing the same thing that introduced them to him at the beginning. It’s as if he is saying, ‘Do you remember how it was before all this happened? It can be like that again. Let’s start afresh. Let’s go back to the beginning. I forgive you and am still calling you.’ No wonder the disciples then recognised him and made the connection. Such a wonderful act of forgiveness by Jesus!
We’re then told in the gospel reading that Jesus and Peter are sitting together round a charcoal fire, another beautiful detail that shows the depth of Jesus’ restorative love. The last time that Jesus and Peter had been together near a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of the High Priest Caiaphas on Maundy Thursday – the night that Jesus was being tried. In Luke 22, we are told that Peter sits by a fire in the courtyard while Jesus is being interrogated, and he denies knowing Jesus. Then cock crowed, and in verse 61, the damning words, ‘The Lord turned round and looked straight at Peter’.
We’re told in the gospel reading that Jesus and Peter are sitting together round a charcoal fire, another beautiful detail that shows the depth of Jesus’ restorative love.
Here they are once more sitting together by a fire and Jesus, again, is looking straight at Peter. But this time, there is no judgement in his eyes. He sits and looks at Peter with nothing but compassion and lovingkindness.
Jesus shows great forgiveness and love to Peter by asking him how much he loves him – three times, the same number of times that Peter denied him. He reinstates him, asking him to feed his sheep and follow him. What a relief that must have been for Peter after the terrible time of his denying his Lord! Peter was loved and forgiven by Jesus.
And in our reading from Acts we are told about Paul’s amazing experience of Jesus as a bright light shining, and the question from the Lord, ‘Why do you persecute me?’ Paul had been active in persecuting Christians; he had been there holding Stephen’s coat while Stephen was being stoned to death. Yet God wanted to change him, to transform him, to forgive him and use him to build churches, as he also used Peter to build his church – a wonderful act of love and forgiveness for Paul.
When he went back to Jerusalem the Christians there were suspicious of his story of his amazing transformation and it was Barnabas, ‘son of encouragement’, who persuaded them to accept him. He assured them that Paul’s conversion was real and that he was a follower of Jesus.
These are such great stories of transformed lives, through knowing Jesus and through relationship with him. His love for Mary Magdalene, who he forgave and her life was transformed; for the disciples who had deserted him in his hour of need, and yet Jesus forgave them and reinstated them as his disciples to be evangelists to spread the word; for Saul, who became the apostle Paul through Christ’s appearance, forgiveness and love – and who established many, many churches and wrote some of the letters included in the Bible today.
For us, as Christians – some having been Christians all our lives – perhaps we cannot see the change. But Jesus does gradually transform us as we follow him.
As he forgives, loves us and transforms us, Jesus also asks us to do the same for others: to love one another, take care of each other, forgive each other, have compassion on one another, show kindness and tolerance and patience towards others and share hospitality. That is what Jesus asks of us. Let us be determined afresh to be his love and light in this sometimes dark world. Amen.