How Can Jesus Top That?

April 25, 2017

For fifty days following his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ continued to interact with his disciples and appeared to hundreds of people. More detail is given in the gospel of John than in the synoptic gospels, so I am going to take a leisurely pace through the last chapter of the fourth gospel. I’m interested to know how our Teacher and Lord could possibly top his “performance” on Easter Sunday. What can disciples expect after such an amazing feat, Jesus’ mic drop moment of all time?

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

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. [John 20:30–21:3]

The fourth gospel writer, putting pen to parchment a few decades after the other three had rendered their accounts, summarizes his purposes in verses 30-31. He first states that Jesus did lots of other things—miraculous demonstrations— that John has not included in his account. Mentioning this fact suggests that John had picked the best stories to share, but they were only the tip of the iceberg. Regardless of what you have heard in people’s Christian testimonies, it is likely that Jesus has done even more to make himself known and present in a person’s life! Keep that in mind the next time you share your own testimony or hear how Jesus has made a difference. And that is not even taking into account all the secret and invisible blessings God is imparting without our knowledge. No one book can contain it all.

John then writes that the stories he related in his gospel account were included to convince his readers that Jesus is nothing short of Messiah, the Son of God. This is the lens through which one should read the entire book: how does an event or this particular episode demonstrate Jesus is divine and sent to us on the messianic mission of salvation? John would not be satisfied if your conclusion to his writing was that Jesus was a very good man, a great teacher, a rabble-rouser who spoke truth to power, or a particularly effective physician. Of course Jesus was all these things, but John’s message is, “But wait! There’s more!” Jesus wasn’t just anybody; Jesus was God’s Son who took on flesh and lived among us (Jn 1:14) in order to do what was necessary to save the world (Jn 3:16). Notice how John points us back to his book’s introduction: “See, here is what I wanted you to know, and I think I conveyed it convincingly.”

It might feel like chapter 20 is the end of the story. But John goes on to relay some natural encounters that might even seem a little common to be included at the conclusion of his book. After all the resurrection excitement, we see the disciples decide it’s time to get back to fishing. Peter leads the stampede to the boat, showing leadership even then. The fish of the Sea of Galilee are caught at night, so that evening they rig their boat and prepare their nets, and then row out to the perfect spot for a good catch. They are pros at this and have full expectation that their nets will fill. Alas, they catch nothing all night.

I’ve stopped the action at this moment just to give us a taste of what that felt like. I’m not sure they expected to catch fish every time they went out. (I know my husband has high hopes when he goes out in his kayak to fish, but there are too many variables for him to assume that he will catch anything.) Here they are, coming up empty after losing a full night’s sleep trying. I would not be happy about that outcome at all, so I expect these guys were pretty disappointed.

My thought, in light of this fruitless foray onto the lake, is that life after knowing the risen Christ is still going to carry disappointments. As “life goes on,” circumstances will be imperfect, even mundane, and success may be elusive. Believing and knowing Christ does not guarantee that struggles desist. It is important for us to modulate our expectations about what salvation accomplishes in our life. We may still have financial strains. We may still get sick. Our car might still break down. Those things happen to everyone, even Christians.

What does change, for sure, is our attitude toward the difficulties of life and discerning whether they have any meaning. It should also prod us to pray and ask God for help, rather than rely solely on our own expertise—these guys were professional fishermen, after all— and Jesus will intervene in this particular problem shortly. We’ll explore how and to what end tomorrow. For now, let us appreciate the fact that our having difficulties does not disprove or discredit our Savior’s accomplishments, teachings, resurrection, or power. This may seem like a tough sell, so we will keep exploring this theme through John’s eyes this week.

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