Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Acts 9: 1 – 6
The Conversion of Saul
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 5He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’
Revelation 5: 11 – 14
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12singing with full voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!’
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might
for ever and ever!’
14And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshipped.
John 21: 1 – 19
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
After 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.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards* off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Given what I have just said about the Archbishop of Canterbury, what is it that fits us for ministry, that equips us to feed the sheep, to use Jesus’ phrase when speaking to Peter?
Perhaps a glimpse at the experiences of some biblical characters might help throw some light on this.
- Before Abraham could make a covenant with God he was forced to leave his home and flee to Egypt where he lost his wife to Pharaoh.
- Jacob was pretty much a tearaway before he encountered the angel of God in a wrestling match and limped for the rest of his life.
- Before Joseph was used by God to save millions from starvation he was unjustly imprisoned.
- Before Moses confronted Pharaoh and led the Israelites to freedom he spent 40 years as a refugee herdsman in the wilderness.
- Before David led Israel he was forced to feign madness and live on the run amongst the Philistines.
- Indeed, before the nation of Israel could cut covenant with God at Mt Sinai and become his chosen instrument in the earth, they spent over 400 years as slaves in Egypt
I could go on, but will move to the New Testament
- Before John the Baptist could begin his ministry he lived in the wilderness, dressed in skins, gathering what food he could and living on insects and honey.
- Before Jesus began his ministry he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert being tempted by Satan.
- Before Paul became a Christian he was severely knocked off his horse and blinded.
- Indeed before Jesus could save humankind he needed to die a cruel death on a cross.
In the letter to the Hebrews the writer lists the rigours the heroes of the faith had to face. Eventually he has to stop describing their great sufferings and resorts simply to listing the names of the great people of faith who suffered for it.
There seems to be a pattern here, at least for many of the people who did great things with God in the biblical stories. Nearly all of them encountered something that stopped them in their tracks, or that robbed them of their own strength, or at least pulled them smartly into line.
Our Sentence today reads, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’ (Revelation 5: 12b). Not the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, not the King of Kings – the slaughtered Lamb.
However, it seems that some prominent people appeared to have it easy before their life’s work began.
- Isaac had little to go through but then achieved little of note.
- Saul strode imperiously into the kingship and got offside with God badly.
- Solomon had it really easy and dropped the ball spectacularly.
- Any number of Old Testament kings did exactly the same until Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and deported to Nineveh, and Judah defeated by the Babylonians and exiled to Babylon.
But some got it right.
- Joshua simply took over from Moses and went on to do great things.
- The apostles seemed to get by, to start with, with no major issues.
- So did people like Timothy.
The difference was that those who suffered were often pioneers. They seldom experienced an apprenticeship. Whereas those who did succeed, and had it easy, had long worked under the guidance of others from a young age.
- Joshua was apprenticed to Moses and learnt from the man called by the bible, the humblest man of all, that his effectiveness was the result of total dependence upon God.
- The 12 apostles were apprenticed to Jesus.
- Timothy was apprenticed to Paul.
These men were disciples. They had developed discipline and commitment.
Paul had to learn it quickly. He’s still sitting on his bottom on the hard road to Damascus when Jesus says to him, 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ Not “Perhaps you’d like to rise, sir?”
You see the cross cuts two ways:
- it crucified Jesus and achieved our salvation in a technical or forensic sense, and
- it is applied to our saved but still unformed lives by crucifying those parts of us that prevent us from being effective for God.
Discipleship aids this process.
In conclusion: the Peter who captained a fishing boat naked, then leaps into the sea to swim to Jesus and hauls a net in with a hundred and fifty-three fish in it; this Peter whose behaviour suggests elements of an action-man is confronted by Jesus with two things:
- Do you love me?
- Feed my sheep!
- Love me, Peter, not yourself. Focus on me. I am to be the object of all your affection, the focus for your love and attention.
- Serve your fellow Christians, Peter. Stand as a slave and ensure that they are fed. I have just fed you, Peter. Go and do the same.
And to remind him of who he was to be emulating, the passage ends with the words, After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
While Paul is painfully rising from the dusty road on the way to Damascus, in the city itself God is speaking about him to a Christian called Ananias, and we read But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he (that is Paul) is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
In Matthew 16: 24, when Jesus says to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me, he is talking about dying to those selfish ways.
But here’s the glorious thing: each of us is designed by God to reflect his glory. We might be a mixture of good and bad, but when we make room for it, his resurrection life bursts up within us, and when this living water, this fire of love for God is enhanced by the Holy Spirit, we find that the tug-of-war within us (between self-centredness and God) disappears, the peace that passes understanding settles within us and we are alive in Christ. It is then that we experience true joy!
It’s not all self-sacrifice and deprivation. God has made us as we are in His likeness and it is an enhanced version of our good selves that he longs to develop. That’s why we need the adjustment of discipleship. We are so conditioned to reject God in this fallen world that God has a heck of a job focussing us on that which will be best for us, namely Himself, and that which will be best for his Kingdom.
The processes we go through will be different for each of us because we are not all the same. Some will be pulled up short (as was Paul) and others gently conditioned (as was Timothy), but all will be subject to dying to self so that the resurrection life of Christ can live in and through us.
The Christian life is not one of striving. It is one of yielding to the grace that is ours in Christ and it is a grace that changes us and enables us for ministry.
Before requiring Peter to feed his sheep, Jesus gives him a demonstration of how abundantly he can provide by giving him a miraculous catch of fish. God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible. The impossible bit of our joint labour with God is the bit he does.
As we take up our crosses daily and make room for God’s love, so we can feed his sheep.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’