Three Appearances, Same Jesus

Three readings today, three different views of Jesus. Each of them, vitally important. All of them together give us a picture of who Jesus is for us and what He is doing. Jesus as He appeared on earth to seven of His disciples. Jesus as He appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. Jesus as He appeared to John in the Revelation, enthroned and glorified in heaven at the right hand of God as the center and object of worship. The same Jesus, crucified and risen.

John describes a third appearance of Jesus to seven of His disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius. This is where Jesus originally had called the fishermen to make them fishers of men, and now they seem to be returning to the fishing business. Whether on account of discouragement, confusion, despair, or boredom we don’t know. The story has a familiar ring to it. They go out at night, they catch nothing, they return to see Jesus on shore. He instructs them to let the nets out on the right side of the boat. And, of course, the catch is so large, they are barely able to haul it aboard the boat. John even gives the count: 153 fish. A number that means absolutely nothing, except that it rings of fact. Someone took the trouble to count them, and John took the trouble to record it, so you would believe what he was writing, right down to the smallest, irrelevant detail.

That’s how it is with eyewitness testimony. Witnesses tend to remember strange, often unrelated details. Like 153 fish. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect a fisherman to remember. It was his livelihood, his business. Peter immediately recalls the prior catch of fish, the one that took him away from the fishing business and set him on the road to follow Jesus. “It’s the Lord,” he shouts, as he jumps out of the boat into the sea. He wasn’t dressed to greet Jesus properly.

Peter was aware of his own unworthiness. He knew he had betrayed Jesus at his trial. He denied even knowing Jesus, this bold disciples who was always so quick to speak. He was stripped down for work and not expecting to be in church, so to speak. And so he dove into the water for cover, which, baptismally speaking, isn’t a bad idea. Our clothing before God is our baptism which we wear like a garment, covering the shame of our nakedness. You’ll recall the Fall, and how when Adam and Eve sinned against God they became self-aware and realized their own nakedness and tried to cover themselves with fig leaves? But it was God who had to clothe them with animal skins, cover them with the death of another. And so we have this reflex too. We don’t want to be caught undressed. We feel vulnerable, exposed. Some even have a recurring dream of showing up to work and forgetting to get dressed.

Peter dove into the water after throwing on his outer garment. Can’t be having the Lord see him like that! When they go to shore, Jesus has breakfast waiting for them. Bread and fish. Again, another miracle is recalled. The feeding of the 4000 and the 5000. This time it’s just the seven. Bread and fish were likely symbolic of the messianic age having come when the children of God would feed on the flesh of Leviathan, the sea monster. The new creation had come, and there was Jesus feeding His disciple. He’s always feeding. They knew it was the Lord who was feeding them. He the Host, they the invited guests.

John wants you to think of the Lord’s Supper here. You are the invited guests. He takes our bread and wine, what we bring to the table, and makes it so much more. His own body and blood. He takes our gifts and makes them into His gifts, and with His gifts come all that He died and rose to win for us. Not simply breakfast but a feast, not simply bread and fish but His body and blood, not simply nourishment for the body, but food for eternal life. It was the third time they saw Jesus risen. Truly risen. This wasn’t simply a one-time vision. They’d seen Him twice in a locked room in Jerusalem. Now they saw Him seaside and ate breakfast with Him. Is there really any other explanation than He is risen?

The risen Lord appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul was going from synagogue to synagogue with letters, warrants to round up anyone who confessed the Jesus was the Messiah. He thought He was doing God a favor, purging the synagogue of this heresy. The Lord had other plans for Saul. You and I would not have picked him to be the leading apostle to the Gentile world. Be serious! A fanatically conservative Jew who was persecuting Christians? This is hardly apostolic material. Ananias, who was appointed by God to baptize Saul was incredulous. “Are you kidding me? Look at all the harm he’s done. All the people he’s had arrested. He even supervised the stoning of Stephen. And now he’s going to be baptized and become the leading apostle to the Gentiles?”

God had other plans for Saul. He would take all that religious zeal and turn him into a missionary machine, an apostle for the Gentiles, one “untimely born,” apostle number thirteen who would take the Gospel of Jesus into Greece and beyond. When you look at the life of Saul, you have to stop and wonder what happened on that road that changed this man in an instant. No, he didn’t suddenly become nice and gentle and kind to everyone. He was the same Saul with the same intensity for theology and the same zeal to serve the God of his fathers. What changed was his religion, his view of God, his view of Jesus. In an instant, Saul goes from being a persecutor to an apostle. From rounding up Christians to making new ones. From serving the religious authorities to confounding them. In an instant.

What happened that day? There really is no explanation that what the text gives us. He encountered the risen and glorified Lord Jesus that day. He saw Jesus in His risen and ascended glory and it forever changed him. People don’t generally retool their theology so quickly. And it’s a reminder to us that the Lord is still active today. He’s not “gone,” in the sense that He’s not here. He just can’t be seen He’s very much alive and active at the right hand of God, lording His death and resurrection over the whole creation, even as that creation seems to be wearing out and dying. He’s still calling and sending preachers of His Gospel, now through the means of His church which is His body.

Did you notice what Jesus said to Saul that day? “Why are you persecuting me?” Saul was persecuting Christians not Christ. He didn’t know. But you see, to persecute Christians is the same as persecuting Jesus. He takes it personally. To persecute the Bride is to persecute her Groom. They are one flesh. You cannot claim to love Jesus in one breath and yet hate His body, the church, in the next breath. They are joined together as one. The risen and glorified Jesus and His Bride the Church, which includes you, are one, just as husband and wife are one flesh.

John was worshipping on Sunday on the island of Patmos. He was in exile, and he and his fellow exiles were gathered for services on that first day of the week when he was privileged to see Christ in His glory and see the heavenward side of worship, the side we can’t see but confess when we say “with the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven.” We can’t see this with our eyes, but we are given the gift of John’s report in the Revelation. He saw Christ the Lamb, the Sacrifice who was slain but lives. And he heard the worship of heaven that is echoed here on earth, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

He feeds, He forgives, He sends, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We come to him broken, lost, confused, dead in our sin. Jesus gathers us, He calls us, He baptizes us, He gives us His Spirit, He grants us faith to see Him for who He is. He feeds us with the bread of His body; He refreshes us with the wine of His blood. He sends us into a broken and lost world with the good news of His victory on our lips.

We are reminded today too that being a Christian is no exemption from suffering. Saul would learn what it meant to suffer for Jesus’ name’s sake. We too will learn in the school of experience. John suffered exile on an island because of Jesus. Peter was crucified upside down confessing the Name of Jesus. We have no idea what awaits us in the days and years ahead.

But we do know this. We belong to the Lord. We are baptized into His death and life. We have died with Christ. We’ve been raised with Him. We are glorified with Him. He is with us, with his gathered people, in a most profound way – feeding, sending, forgiving. We do not worship some dead and departed religious figure or some merely inspirational leader. We worship the crucified and risen One, the Lamb who was slain but lives, the Lord of creation whom even the wind and waves and fish obey. The One seen by Mary Magdalene, by the apostles, by Saul on the road to Damascus, by John on the island of Patmos. The One we will see again on His Day when He appears to in glory.

To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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