Recognizing Jesus

Easter 3, May 5, 2019 — Deacon Rex Watt

Acts 9:1-22 / Revelation 5:1-14 /John 21:1-19

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. +


Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  Dear saints of Redeemer, Jesus kept his promise and did what no one in human history has ever done before or since – he raised himself from the dead.  He told his disciples earlier in his discourse on the Good Shepherd, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.”  (Jn 10.17-18)  He had even told the Jews early on in his ministry, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  (Jn 2.19)  And the Apostle tells us that Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.  In this body, he made many appearances for 40 days after his resurrection, giving his disciples, and us, ample opportunity for this truth to sink in.  For a long time, the Christian Church has made it a custom each year during the 40 days after Easter to focus on the joy and wonder of the resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Today we will look at his third appearance as recorded by John.

Jesus, prior to his ascension, promised to be with us always, but he chooses when, where, and how he makes his presence known.  He often reveals himself to us in places, ways and times we don’t expect.  You and I are called to walk by faith, and not by sight.  We walk by faith when we take Jesus at his word, recognizing that he does not lie to us, and trusting in his promises to reveal himself where he said he would be.

Jesus, our redeemer, has risen from the dead.  The Hebrew Scriptures foretold it in Psalm 16.9-10, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”  Jesus told the apostles that he would do it, and Jesus had, before our text today, already appeared to his disciples after his resurrection several times: Mary at the tomb, the two walking on the road to Emmaus, the upper room twice.  Besides these appearances in Jerusalem, he had promised to reveal himself to the disciples in Galilee.

We don’t know precisely when this appearing took place in our text for today.  The disciples obviously stayed in Jerusalem for a while as the preceding chapter of John’s Gospel informs us.  But there was a 40-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and we are somewhere in that 40-day period here in Galilee.  The disciples, some of them anyway, had obviously travelled back to Galilee for whatever reason.  Maybe they found it hard to wait for the Lord’s promise to be clothed with power from on high.

Waiting has its challenges, doesn’t it?  We don’t like to wait, do we?  It’s hard to wait for those test results from the doctor.  It’s hard to wait for that “right person” to come along.  It’s hard to wait for that son or daughter to get their act together.  Given our current cultural climate, it’s getting harder and harder to wait for our Lord’s return, isn’t it?  Sometimes we feel like throwing the towel in, don’t we?  Dear brothers and sisters, we must fight the temptation to become weary in well doing as Paul says in Gal 6.9, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  We must not be caught napping like the parable of the ten virgins.  We must use the time profitably as Paul exhorts in Eph 5.15-17, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Maybe, just maybe, that’s what these seven disciples of Jesus were doing in Galilee.  Making the best use of their time, doing what they know to do.  Fish.

They had been out all night casting their net overboard on one side, then the next, to no avail.  As the day was dawning a stranger from the shore calls out, “Hey guys, have you caught anything?”  You got to love it!  A boat load of professional fishermen saying, “Nada!”  Then the stranger yells out, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  So, they do…and they catch such a load of fish that they were not able to haul it on board.  Just then, John, one of the seven, probably re-living a previous fishing experience (found in Luke 5) realizes that the stranger is Jesus and blurts out, “It’s the Lord!”  Recognizing that it’s Jesus, Peter throws himself into the sea and makes for shore.  The others bring the boat in dragging the great catch of fish with them.  When they get there, they find Jesus preparing a breakfast on the beach, just for them.

This is the third time recorded in Scripture that Jesus’ followers didn’t recognize him after his resurrection.  First, there was Mary at the tomb.  She thought he was the gardener until he called her name.  The second was the two men on the road to Emmaus who didn’t recognize him until he broke the bread and gave it to them.  When their eyes had been opened, they exclaimed, “ Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”  In our text today the disciples did not recognize Jesus until he replicated an earlier miracle, which was recorded for us in Luke 5.  The point being, dear saints, we do not, in fact we cannot recognize Jesus unless he reveals himself to us.  The question is, “Will we recognize our risen Savior where he promises to reveal himself?”

You see, you and I were born in sin, incapable of seeking after God (Rom 3.11) or understanding the things of God (1 Cor 2:14).  We were, as Paul said, “…alienated and hostile…” to God (Col 1.21), “…dead in [our] trespasses and sins…” (Eph 2.1).  But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5.8)  Your Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty for your sin so that you could receive the righteousness of God in its place.  And it wasn’t just that Jesus died; he was buried and actually rose again, by his own power, “for our justification”  (Rom 4.25), as Paul says.

In your Baptism, God called you by name (Isa 43.1), just like he did to Mary at the tomb.  And when he called, your eyes were opened, and you recognized Jesus, just like Mary did.  When you hear Scripture proclaimed in its purity your hearts burn within you just like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  You recognize your Shepherd’s voice as he calls to you from this pulpit or from the pages of your open Bible.  As you come to this altar to receive the true body and blood of the Lord Jesus, your eyes are opened to recognize that you are kneeling on holy ground, in the very presence of God himself.

You weren’t at the open tomb that first Easter morn.  You weren’t in the upper room on the night that Jesus was betrayed, or after his resurrection when he showed himself to his disciples.  You weren’t walking along that road with the two disciples when Jesus revealed himself to them.  Nor were you in that boat, or even on the shore, when Jesus revealed himself for the third time to his disciples.  You wouldn’t recognize Jesus if you saw him.  No, you weren’t there, and you cannot go back there.  But you don’t need to…because Jesus comes to you.  He calls you by name; whether its “Simon, son of John; or Saul; or Al or Linda, or Richard or Pam, or Sally; or…just go ahead and insert your own name in there.  He calls you and enlightens you with his gifts so that you may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity.

And what are the great gifts he’s given you?  It’s not health, wealth or happiness.  The greatest gift he has given you is forgiveness of your sins.  Dear saints of Redeemer, if you have forgiveness of your sins, you have everything!  Without forgiveness of our sins, nothing else matters, here in time, or there in eternity.

Do you recognize Jesus?  He is here; today; sitting right beside you; calling out to you just like he did to Peter and Paul saying, “you are a chosen instrument of mine, to carry my name; Follow me!”

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +  Amen

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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