Ghosts Don’t Eat Fish

 

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John sure knows how to write a prologue, doesn’t he? He set the standard in his gospel when he wrote “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Then he holds out for fourteen tantalizing verses before he pops the cork: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Now that’s what I call “prologue.”

John’s first epistle hits another high note for prologues. “He who was from the beginning, whom we have heard, whom we have seen with our eyes, whom we have looked on and touched with our hands, Him we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

This is no make believe Jesus; no “Christ of faith” Jesus; no myth and legend Jesus. “We heard Him,” John says. “We saw Him with our own eyes, we observed Him and touched Him with our own hands. The One who is the Light and Life of the world, who made all things, and redeemed all things by His blood, Him we preach so that you might have fellowship with us, and our joy might be complete.” Now there’s a good, gospel reason to evangelize – that others may have fellowship with us and that our joy might be complete. Much better than putting the burden of the world’s salvation on your shoulders instead of on Jesus’.

There is no other saving name than the name of Jesus. No other savior than this Jesus who was crucified as an atoning sacrifice for sin. No one else has a death and resurrection; no one else can rescue you from your sin and death but this Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God. Visible, touchable, hearable Jesus.

Luke gives his own version of the Easter upper room in today’s Gospel. The disciples are frightened, discussing all the rumors that were flying faster than an LA gossip column. Two disciples claimed to have seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. He taught them and broke bread with them. The disciples are discussing what this all means when suddenly Jesus appears literally out of nowhere, and says “Peace be with you.”

Those poor disciples. You have to feel for them. Their nerves are worn ragged. Crucifixion, burial, rumors of resurrection, empty tomb, Jesus sightings first by Mary, then the two on the Emmaus road. All in three days. And then without so much as a polite knock on the door, Jesus appears risen from the dead and says “Peace be with you.” The disciples nearly jump out of their skin, thinking they’re seeing a ghost. (They thought the same thing when Jesus walked on water.)

Jesus shows His hands and feet, those wounds that are our healing, the wounds that identify Jesus. Any Jesus without those wounds isn’t the real Jesus, no matter how glorious He may appear. Remember that. Jesus said there would be all sorts of false christs near the end, so brace yourselves and be ready. You can tell the real One by His wounds. “Those dear tokens of His passion, still His dazzling body bears.” He shows them to the Father as evidence of our redemption. “See, I’ve paid the price,” He says. He shows them to His disciples as evidence of His resurrection from the dead.

“Go ahead and touch me,” Jesus says. You can’t touch ghosts. Spirits don’t have flesh and bones. And notice please, that Jesus has “flesh and bones” after His resurrection. This is the resurrection of the body, not some sort of immortal spirit floating about in the clouds. And then to drive home the point, Jesus asks for a piece of broiled fish, and He eats it. right before their eyes. Here’s the rub: Ghosts don’t eat fish.

John says, “We heard Him, we saw Him, we touched Him. That’s how real the resurrection of Jesus is. Audible, visible, tactile. And though He isn’t visible to us today, He remains quite audible in His Word, His Office. And though we cannot touch Him in the way that John did, He still touches us in all our creaturely humanity. He baptizes us with water; He gives us His body to eat as bread. He gives us His blood to drink as wine. Audible, visible, tactile. Real. It doesn’t get more down to earth than that. Or more real.

This touchable Jesus, with wounded hands and feet and sides, who eats fish, opens the closed minds of His disciples so they too can understand the Scriptures at their very heart and core: That the Christ must die and rise; and that the sinner must die and rise with Jesus in daily repentance unto forgiveness; “that repentance unto the forgivenness of sins be preached in my Name to all nations.”

“In my Name” is the name of Jesus. There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. It’s a devilish lie to say that God goes by many names and is worshipped in many ways. That’s the world’s way of syncretism, throwing all religions into a blender and spinning the blade. It’s not all the same. There is only One who died and rose from the dead, and He goes by the Name of Jesus. No other name can save you, because no one else but Jesus rose from the dead. Ghosts don’t eat fish.

Repentance is what the disciples were to preach. Did you catch that? Repentance. Not rennovation, renewal, refreshment, or retreat. Repentance. Metanoia in the Greek. It means a change of mind, a turning around. With minds opened to the Scriptures, the church is sent into the world to turn them minds of the nations. We have only one note to sound: Repentance.

Think of repentance as a complete turn around, a new mind, a new self. Being turned inside out, away from self toward God, from sin to forgiveness, from fear to faith. It is a turning to the God who has turned so graciously and mercifully to you in Jesus. That’s what the church is supposed to be preaching. Not health, wealth, happiness, fame, and fortune, but repentance in the name of Jesus.

We are born turned from God, turned inward, self-centered instead of Christ-centered. Don’t deny it; denial is not the way of repentance. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” That goes for the most innocent newborn to the most holy of senior citizens. We are born in that condition; we have sin. “If we say we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and His word is not in us.” Don’t deny that either. Whatever we do has the fingerprints of a sinner on it.

Here’s the good news: When we confess our sins, when we say back what God has said to us in His law, when we own up to our sin God is faithful and just, and in His faithfulness and righteousness He forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. That’s what the death of Jesus accomplished. Forgiveness and cleansing. Why does God put up with the world, with you and me? It’s all for Jesus’ sake. What does God love to do more than anything? To forgive and cleanse; baptize, absolve, pardon sinners.

The religious world doesn’t get this. They would have no clue that God would actually want us to come into His presence not with excuses and bribes but with a confession on our lips, an honest admission of guilt that we have sinned in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions. And we are bringing our confession not to a judge or a jury so that punishments can be meted out, but to a faithful and righteous God who keeps His promises and who swears by the blood of Jesus that He will forgive you. That’s something to tell the world, because the world doesn’t have a clue that this is how God operates.

Of course, there will always be those who say, “Hey, if God loves to forgive so much, why don’t I just sin up a storm and give Him even more to forgive.” But that’s not the way of repentance. John writes in all sincerity, as a father to his children, “My dear children, I write this so that you do not sin.” But the reality is that we do sin. John knew that. He knew that of himself, and he knew that of his people. Every pastor, every apostle, every Christian must say, “I, a poor miserable sinner,” or they are not telling the truth.

There is good news for the sinner: If anyone sins, he has an advocate, a defense attorney who speaks to the Father. He bore the price of our sin on the cross. He paid our debt. He received our sentence and paid it in full. He’s the defense attorney who receives the sentence of his guilty clients. And He stands before the Father’s throne with those wounds – His hands, His feet, His side – and says, “Father, forgiven them.” And the Father has no choice but to forgive. The wounds of Jesus testify that the price has been paid.

Not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. It’s almost as though we are given to hear the Holy Spirit give John a nudge and say, “Don’t stop there, John.
Don’t water it down. Pour the good news straight up.” Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Yes. And that’s good for us to hear. But there’s more, a whole world more. “Not only for ours sins, but for the sins of the whole world.”

It’s become fashionable in some circles to confess the Nicene Creed by saying “who for us and for our salvation” instead of the way we know it, “who for us men and for our salvation.” While it sounds all nice and “inclusive,” “us” isn’t inclusive enough. “Us” only says, well, us. Not necessarily all, just us. And it leaves it in doubt as to exactly who “us” is. Us Lutherans? Us Christians? Us in this room? “Us men” says “us human beings.” For all of mankind, the every son and daughter of Adam and Eve, the Son of God became man to die and rise. That means you can look anyone in the eye and say, “Christ died for you.”

Salvation in Christ is exclusively inclusive. It is exclusively in Christ Jesus, there is no other name, no other way, no other door but the narrow door of His death and resurrection. And yet it is inclusive, embracing “all nations,” every sinner, every sin without exception. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And it would all seem too good to be true, but for this one fact: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He was seen, heard, touched. Ghosts don’t eat fish. This is most certainly true.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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