Many of us are plagued with a memory of something we did in the past which we can’t seem to get out of our minds. Even though we may have confessed it to the Lord and are confident He has forgiven us, the memory of that event still lingers and every so often rushes back into our thoughts to torment us. For some reason we have not been able to free ourselves from it. It still influences our thinking, our decision-making, or the way we view ourselves. If we’ve let others know that we are struggling in this way it’s likely that we have received a lot of conflicting advice. And there is always someone who means well, who tells us to simply leave that event in the past and move on. He or she urges us to stop fixating on negative things and be happy, and that advice may have worked for them, but for those of us who have so betrayed our own standards that we can’t forgive ourselves, even if we know that God does, that memory doesn’t disappear no matter how hard we try to focus on the future and move on.
Jesus’ purpose in asking Peter these three questions, as they walked along the beach at the Sea of Galilee, was not to shame him for his failure. He wasn’t bringing up his past to punish him. He was releasing him from the grip of a painful memory. Yet to heal Peter properly Jesus had to reopen that wound. Peter had done the very thing he had sworn he would never do, and it had broken something inside him. He wasn’t the same man anymore, and couldn’t move on in his calling until that was healed. By that time, he had already had a private meeting with Jesus and surely knew that he was forgiven, but the painful memory of those denials was going to continue to torment him until it was properly addressed. It would leave him vulnerable to the devil’s accusations. When the time came for him to step out in ministry doubts would arise. Did he really love Jesus? Would his courage collapse again the next time he was confronted with danger?
So, Jesus took Peter aside and walked down the beach with him, and one by one connected the memory of those three denials with a new memory of confessing his love for Jesus and hearing Jesus call him again into His service. Thankfully, John walked behind the two of them (v20), heard what was said, and realized the importance of what he heard. That he refused to close his gospel until he had reported this conversation indicates how significant John felt that conversation was. I’m sure he understood that many of us, like Peter, would need more than forgiveness if we were going to be free from our past and move forward in our calling. He knew we would need what Peter needed: a new memory and a fresh call.
When we say “yes!” to Jesus, He enlists us into His mission of saving, healing and loving people, and that can be hard, dangerous, tiring work. It can wear us out. But as we watch Jesus serve breakfast to a group of hungry disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee we learn something very important about our Lord. He is not indifferent to our sufferings. He is not passive or thankless. He knows when we grow hungry, weary, lonely or afraid, and He will come to comfort us. He will show us His love in surprising acts of kindness, and that kindness is very practical. It meets us at our point of need. He feeds us when we are hungry. He sits with us when we are lonely. He builds our faith when we are fearful. He restores our vision when we are discouraged. And those surprising acts of kindness remind us of who He is and assure us of His respect for us. We are His people, His Beloved, His Bride. He is deeply aware of our suffering, and we can count on Him to come and help us in our time of need. That’s one of the lessons we learn from that amazing breakfast in Galilee.
Those seven men weren’t foolish when they went fishing, they were desperate. They needed to provide for their families, but after a long, cold night on the lake they had caught nothing, and they must have been discouraged that morning. Each one of those men had left his livelihood to follow Jesus, but that season of traveling with Him from town to town was now over. All they knew at that moment was that He was alive and that He had told them to wait for Him in Galilee, so they were waiting. But waiting didn’t feed their families. That’s why Peter said, “I’m going fishing” and allowed the others to join him. He was willing to share whatever they caught. But as the first light of morning turned the dark sky grey, they were all sitting there in that boat with nothing to show for their efforts. They must have been tired, cold and hungry when suddenly one of them spotted a man standing on the shore about a hundred yards away. It was Jesus. The glorious, resurrected Messiah and divine Son of God had come down to the beach and lit a campfire and was going to serve them breakfast.
We must not skip over these few verses. The event they describe is absolutely amazing. It beautifully reveals the heart of our Lord. It shows us how He cares for us, and it teaches us how to care for others. Let’s join those seven men at that campfire and learn with them the same lessons.
It’s impossible to do what our Lord asks us to do unless He provides for us. His miracle of provision must undergird every form of ministry no matter how large or small. You may have heard the saying, “Where God guides He provides,” but the fact is, where God guides He must provide because if He doesn’t we won’t be able to do what He asks us to do or go where He sends us. When Jesus calls a person to follow Him it is always inconvenient, and it’s always too expensive. We will always need His help to pay the bills. That doesn’t mean we’re all supposed to quit our jobs, do only spiritual ministry, and expect others to support us. But it does mean that if we are genuinely doing His will, He is committed to providing everything we need, one way or another. The right job can be as much a gift from God as an unexpected check in the mail.
If you and I are not confident that God will care for our needs and the needs of our family, fear will inevitably hold us back. We will always be waiting for enough money to come in before we step out. And there is danger in the other direction as well. There are people who presumptuously run up huge bills claiming Jesus told them to step out in faith and do that. And frankly they’re often unable to pay those bills and leave people with a very bad impression about Christians. The question is: Did God really say that? And the proof that He did will be His miraculous provision. Jesus doesn’t promise to pay the bills we generate from our own desires, only those bills that result from doing what He asked us to do.
The resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples at the Sea of Galilee to teach them this lesson. He had already given them their assignment (Jn 20:21), a promise of empowerment (Jn 20:22), and the spiritual authority to preach a gospel full of forgiveness and warning (Jn 20:23), but they still needed another promise. They needed to hear Him assure them that He would provide for them, and their families, if they became His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even the more remote parts of the earth (Ac 1:8). Actually, He had already made that promise years earlier when they first began ministering with Him. But He would soon ascend into heaven, and they would have to walk in a far deeper level of faith in the future. So He performed that miracle again so that when their faith was tested they would remember that breakfast in Galilee.
John included this passage in his gospel so that you and I would hear the same promise. The promise of miracle provision that Jesus made to those seven men was not only for them, it’s a promise He makes to each of us as well. Let’s listen carefully.
Faith, by its nature, involves risk. That’s what makes it faith. I’m committing myself to something I can’t prove. I’m believing that something exists which hasn’t arrived. I’m seeing something with spiritual eyes that I haven’t seen yet with my physical eyes. And if that faith is going to last until the promise is fulfilled, I must make a long-term commitment to that decision because no faith goes untested. I must press past obstacles and nurture my faith so that it will endure over time. Some answers arrive much sooner than others, but in one way or another faith always requires me to walk steadily toward something I don’t see but I believe God told me is there. I’ve decided that what I will gain if I’m right is so much more valuable than what I will lose if I’m not, that I’m going to pursue that promise by faith. The apostle Paul weighed the cost versus benefit of following Jesus this way. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Ro 8:18).
His eyes of faith saw beyond this present world to the eternal blessings of the age to come. In his mind the benefits of eternal life are so wonderful that he gladly paid whatever price he had to pay to go there and to take as many people with him as possible. He saw the prize waiting at the end of the race; he saw the victory waiting at the end of the battle, and he refused to let anyone or anything take that away from him.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not the end of His ministry; it was the end of a chapter. One stage of His assignment was now complete, and it was time for the next stage to begin. So when He appeared to His disciples on that Sunday evening, Jesus had much more in mind than simply convincing them that He was alive. He walked through those locked doors to announce the beginning of a new chapter in God’s great plan of salvation. He had fulfilled His earthly part of that plan, and now it was their turn. Because of His death and resurrection all that they had seen God do through Him over the past two and a half years would continue, and be multiplied, through them. The day of God’s great harvest was about to begin (Isa 53:10, 11; 54:1-3; 55:1, 4, 5; 56:3-8). Over the course of the past four days (Jn 13-20) He had taught them about this new season that lay ahead. And underlying it all was the promise that after He was glorified they would enter into a relationship with God deeper than any human had ever experienced before (Mt 11:11). He and the Father would come to dwell within them (Jn 14:23), and the Holy Spirit would fill their innermost being so abundantly that His presence would be like rivers of living water (Jn 7:38, 39).
That moment was fast approaching. His suffering, death and resurrection had made it all possible. So after a busy day of appearing to numerous disciples, Jesus walked into that locked room where many were fearfully hiding, and like a general addressing His troops, He made it absolutely clear to them that everything He had said to them over the past 48 hours, which they hadn’t really believed at the time, was, in fact, going to happen. That evening He gave them, and us, an assignment, an empowerment, and spiritual authority. For the past two and a half years He had modeled what their future ministry should look like. Then, by His cross and resurrection He had broken the power of sin and death so that now all who believed in Him would become capable of doing the same sort of ministry that He did. He reminded them that the Scriptures had prophesied that this would happen, and then He breathed on them and said, “Receive (take) the Holy Spirit” and Luke tells us that He also told them to wait for that power to arrive (Lk 24:49). He had done His part, now it was their turn.
As Mary stood outside the tomb weeping it had already started. The miracle had begun. The first child had been born into the huge eternal family that the Father had always desired. The devil had tried to stop it, and for a time it appeared he had succeeded. He tempted the human creatures to sin and they did, and their sin would surely hold them in the grave. But now one had escaped. He had been sinless, so death couldn’t hold Him in its grip, and when He arose a secret was revealed. Before anything was created, God had decided that all who believed in this sinless One would be spiritually joined to Him so that when He escaped death He would carry them with Him out of the grave. But Mary didn’t know that. She thought He was still dead, so she wept bitterly. She thought everything had ended. But it hadn’t, it had just begun.
The disciples’ response to the empty tomb proves how little they understood about the most essential truths that Jesus had taught them. What He said was so different from what they had been taught as children, His words only confused and frightened them. He repeatedly told them He must suffer, die, be buried, and rise again on the third day, yet not one of His disciples responded with even the slightest trace of expectation. They simply didn’t believe He would physically rise from the dead until He stood in front of them and they were able to touch Him. After He was buried their response was to grieve over Him, and still love Him, but certainly not rejoice. Up until His death they had thought He was the Messiah, but after He was crucified they changed that opinion and assumed He was only a great prophet who had been martyred (Lk 24:19-21). Not one of the Eleven was waiting outside the tomb on Sunday morning, and they thought that those who said they saw Him were crazy.
That empty tomb exposed, not a lack of love nor a loss of respect, but a lack of understanding. They didn’t know why the resurrection was necessary. When John later commented on his own condition at the time, he said his problem was that he didn’t understand the Scripture that taught that Jesus must rise from the dead. Do you and I? Today, let’s join those disciples as they encounter the empty tomb. Let’s, first, try to see it through their eyes, and then let’s examine the Scriptures for ourselves so that we will understand why Jesus had to suffer, die, be buried, and rise again on the third day. When you and I consider that empty tomb we don’t want to hear Him say this to us:
“O foolish ones and slow in heart to believe upon all things which the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?” (literal) (Lk 24:25, 26).
Before God created the universe; before He breathed life into a human being; before the first man or woman rebelled against Him bringing death upon themselves and their descendants, there was already, hidden in God’s heart a plan to save us. He knew what we would do before we did it, and He knew what He must do in order to rescue us. But He didn’t tell anyone else exactly how He would accomplish His plan; not the angels, nor even the prophets to whom He dictated great portions of that plan. Listen to Peter:
“As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquires, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of the Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1Pe 1:10-12).
For God’s plan of salvation to work it had to remain a secret because He must trick the enemy, who desired to destroy humans, into doing the very thing that would result in their salvation. Listen to Paul:
“Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden [wisdom] which God predestined before the ages to our glory; [the wisdom] which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…” (1Co 2:6-8).
Have you ever wondered why the devil so viscously and gleefully attacked Jesus if by that very act of killing Him he was making salvation possible for all humans? You would think that the devil was smarter than that. Surely, if he had understood the power of the cross neither he nor the people under his control would have done anything to further that plan. Yet he did to Jesus exactly what the prophets said he would do, and by doing so insured that Jesus became our Savior. He did all of that because God’s wisdom was hidden from him.
God hid some of His plan from everyone until Jesus’ work on the cross was finished, but He revealed many of the basic principles of His plan from Adam and Eve onward. No sooner had our first parents sinned than God promised them that the “seed” of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Ge 3:15), and animal sacrifice to atone for sin was begun by their children (Ge 4:4, 26). Abraham entered into a profound covenant with God in which God symbolically swore to him, “So be it to Me if you [or your seed] should break My covenant” (Ge 15:18-21). Abraham nearly sacrificed his only son of promise at the very place where God would sacrifice His Son two-thousand years later (Ge 22:1-19), and Abraham named that place “Jehovah Jireh” (Ge 22:14) which means “the Lord will provide” because the Lord would someday provide His own sacrifice in that place: His Son. The essential truths of God’s plan continued to be taught over the centuries by such things as the covenant ceremony God made with the nation of Israel, the sacrificial system of the tabernacle and the temple, and the prophet’s repeated call to repent and trust in the forgiving mercy of God. Listen,
“‘Come now and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool’” (Isa 1:18).
“‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (Eze 18:23).
So, the basic principles necessary to salvation have always been available, yet God explained those principles using words and symbols which would make sense only to a certain kind of person. To understand their meaning a person must first recognize their own sin and acknowledge that they need God’s mercy. Someone who is self-righteous would not understand because they would feel no need for such a sacrifice to be made on their behalf. Someone who is full of mental pride would find it foolish because it would not fit the image of God they had created for themselves. And someone who is rebellious would refuse to see it because such mercy would demand that they repent and surrender to the One who had been so kind to them. That’s why God didn’t need to hide His plan in a place where no one could see it. All He needed to do was present it in such a way that only the humble would understand it, which rules out the devil and his angels, ungodly religious leaders like Herod, Annas and Caiaphas, as well as everyone else who is unwilling to acknowledge the depth of their own sin or the greatness of God’s mercy.
Now that we know who Jesus is and what He did, we’re able to look back and see clues all through the Bible. We realize that God hid His plan in plain sight where everyone could see it, but because it came out of His own heart, because it expressed His character which is both just and merciful, and I think, because it required such a terrible sacrifice from Him personally, the devil simply couldn’t believe He would do it, and proud humans can’t believe their sin is so bad they would need it. To these it was and still is an incomprehensible mystery; from many God’s wisdom is still hidden.
To someone who didn’t know the Bible well, what happened to Jesus that afternoon would have seemed to be nothing more than a tragic series of events. That person would have seen only an innocent man being badly mistreated. But if someone did know the Scriptures, he or she would have been shocked as they watched key prophecies being fulfilled in front of their eyes, especially the way Jesus’ body was treated after He died. Certain things were done to Him by people who had no idea of the spiritual meaning behind what they were doing, things that God, through His prophets, had described in detail hundreds of years earlier. Unknowingly, those soldiers fulfilled two prophecies which were such powerful testimonies about Jesus that John assumed that there would be people who suspected that he had put those events into his account, but that they hadn’t really occurred. After all, John is the only one of the gospel writers who mentions them, probably because neither Matthew, Peter (Mark’s source), or whomever Luke interviewed (Lk 1:1-3) had been close enough to the cross to see what John saw. So as soon as he finished describing what happened, he inserted these words,
“…and the one having seen [these things] has borne witness, and his witness is true, and that one knows that he speaks truly, so that you may also believe. For these things happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled…” (literal) (v35).
He’s saying that he saw the soldiers do those things with his own eyes, and if we trust his integrity as an apostle of Jesus Christ, we will believe him.
John wasn’t the only one that afternoon who saw those events and recognized the prophecies that were being fulfilled. Two of Israel’s top, religious leaders were also watching and understood the meaning of what they were seeing. They had memorized and studied the Bible since they were children, so when they saw the soldiers shatter the legs of the other two criminals but leave Jesus untouched; and then when one of the soldiers thrust a spear into Jesus’ side, they could hear in their minds the same statements John quoted for us: “Not a bone of Him shall be broken” (Ex 12:46; Nu 9:12) and “They shall look upon Him whom they pierced” (Zec 12:10). If they had been unsure of Jesus before the crucifixion, after the soldiers finished their gory work no doubt remained, and they knew what they had to do, and they knew they had to do it before the sun set.