The theme of the Easter season is redemption. Jesus died to save us from our sins and to restore our relationship with God. The readings from Acts 9:1-20 and John 21:1-19 are good examples of Jesus’ work of restoration.
Paul’s transformation was one of the most famous transformations in Christian history. Here was a man who was a religious zealot. He was so convinced that the way the Pharisees worshipped God was the only way that he actively persecuted the early Christian church. He was present when Stephen became the first Christian martyr. Paul even called himself a strict Pharisee in Philippians 3:5.
Jesus spent most of his time on earth arguing with the Pharisees. He argued that it was not necessary to worship God by obeying the 600 or so rules that the Pharisees had. He tried to make the Pharisees understand that God is for everyone, both Jews and Gentiles. He had little success—until he quite literally made Paul “see the light.
Why did Jesus choose Paul to lead the church in its expansion to the Gentiles? We don’t know for certain. God’s ways are not easy for us to understand, even when we ask him “why”. Take Ananias, for example. God used him to go to Paul and lay hands on him. God always uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. God used Ananias to deliver the Holy Spirit to Paul, thereby preparing Paul for his ministry.
Paul’s reputation preceded him, but Ananias did not know that Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. At the same time that God was speaking to Ananias, Paul was waiting in prayer and fasting for a word from Ananias to tell him what to do. Ananias was the one chosen by God to go to Paul and tell him where his future was. Ananias’ knowledge of Paul’s reputation was a barrier to obeying God’s order immediately.
Like Ananias, we have a word from God. We have an order to bring the Good News to a world that is tumbling toward hell. Our knowledge of people’s reputations and opposition to the gospel often hinders our work. We have yet to hear that many people have reached the end of their hopes. We have yet to hear that people are in the depths of despair. We have yet to hear that people are frustrated by pleasure-seeking. We have yet to hear that people are frustrated by a daily routine without meaning.
Ananias also had his doubts. He told God about how Paul persecuted Christians, but God mentioned that he chose Paul to do his work. Ananias saw Paul as an enemy, but God saw Paul as an ally. God transformed Ananias from a doubter to a faithful servant. Ananias answered God’s call so that Paul could answer God’s call. No one is beyond salvation. No one is beyond hope. Even if our past is dirty, God can clean us and make us whole.
Paul saw the light of Christ even before he lost his physical sight. Paul had to lose his physical sight and be humbled by God so that he could gain spiritual sight. During his period of blindness, he ate and drank nothing, Was it because he was ashamed of his previous life? Maybe, but some scholars believe that he was preparing himself for the work God called him to do. Each of us has a place of obedience. Some of us only need a gentle nudge to lead us to God, while others need a lightning bolt. Paul realized that he was lost. He realized that by persecuting Christians, he was actually persecuting Jesus, the Messiah who had already come. Paul’s conversion gave him a vibrant faith and a strong commitment to his calling.
Paul still had a will of his own, but he needed his own will and determination to do God’s work. Paul is a good example for us to follow. When our will is merged with God’s will, we can do great things for God’s kingdom. We all want to control our own lives. Paul controlled his own life for more than 30 years, but when he “saw the light”, he became dependent on others, including God. When he was redeemed by God, Paul surrendered control of his life to God. In return, God led Ananias to Paul, and God led Barnabas to introduce Paul to other believers and to help start Paul’s ministry.
New believers need fellowship. Pastors can only do so much from the pulpit. New believers need living examples of what a Christian is. What do Christians do with their free time? How do Christians treat each other? New believers need to be out there in the real world with fellow believers, seeing how their new life will play out.
Now, we turn to Peter, a man who often suffered from “foot in mouth disease”. Almost every time he opened his mouth, he put his foot in it. He had a bad habit of acting first and thinking later. For example, Jesus said that Peter would deny him three times on the night before his crucifixion. Peter said he would be loyal to the end, but when the pressure was on him, he did deny Jesus three times. Not only that, but Peter and the disciples denied both the Christian way of life and their calling from God when they returned to fishing.
There are times when we want to throw in the towel and give up. There have been lots of others who have been down that same road. The good news is that God is faithful and abounding in steadfast love, and even when we feel discouraged and impatient and when we have lost all hope, God comes to us and calls us back into fellowship with him.
The disciples were discouraged when they thought that their walk with Jesus was over. It was at that point when Jesus showed up on the shore to extend forgiveness and draw the disciples back to him. Jesus often comes to us when we are at a low point in our lives. He often comes to us when we are discouraged, because it is precisely when we are discouraged and doubtful or uncertain in our faith that Jesus comes to us and gives us the strength we need.
God came to Paul, Ananias and Peter when and where they needed him. In return, they learned four hard lessons:
- Seek God’s will for your life. Otherwise, you will come up empty-handed.
- When God calls you to do something, do it!.
- Watch what you eat for spiritual food.
- Live out your faith. Don’t just show it.
When Peter was asked three times if he loved Jesus, Jesus was really asking him “Where am I on the scale of your affections?” Jesus knew the answer, but Peter needed to evaluate where Jesus was on his love scale. Jesus knew whether Peter’s act of repentance truly brought him back in undying love. Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him so deeply and personally that he would faithfully obey Jesus in the mission he was given. It was not a question of how many green leaves came forth in Peter’s life, but how much fruit he would bear because he abided in Jesus’ love. Peter cared for all the sheep. He fed the young ones, disciplined the stubborn ones and tenderly watched over the old ones.
For every public denial Peter made on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus gave him a public opportunity to state his faith. It was Jesus’ way of hearing Peter’s confession and pronouncing forgiveness for past sins. It was Jesus’ way of saying, “Peter, since you love me, I need you to work for me”. Jesus says the same thing to each and every one of us. Jesus died to take away every one of our sins. He assures us that our sins have been taken away. With the faith in Jesus that the Holy Spirit gives us, we are forgiven of the past and empowered for the future.
Jesus redeemed Peter and the rest of the disciples, and they carried on his work in spite of persecution and opposition. Like them, we are redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We are restored in faith to God, and then we can go and do his work in our world. Jesus loves us even when we turn away from him like Peter and the disciples did.
When we obey God, we will be rewarded. When the disciples cast their nets on the right side of the boat after Jesus told them to, they were rewarded with a huge catch. When we obey God by casting the net called the Good News when and where he tells us to, we will also be rewarded with a great catch-a great catch of souls.
The reading from John’s Gospel concludes with an invitation to Peter and all of us to follow Jesus in the manner of both his death and his service to others. We are challenged to obey Christ even in the face of persecution. We would be wise to remember that many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are persecuted-even killed-because of their faith, but they still persevere in their faith because that is what Jesus has told them to do. If they can persevere, so can we.
We might think to ourselves, “I do love Christ, so why am I not doing what he has called me to do? Am I afraid of actually doing what he is calling me to do?” We can do everything Jesus is calling us to do. All we have to do is rely on him like Paul, Ananias and Peter did. We do not have to rely on our own strengths. Jesus is asking us today, “Do you love me?” Thanks to the redeeming power and grace of his love, we, like Peter, Paul and Ananias, can say “Yes”.
- Dale Vander Veen, “Converting Grace”. Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
- John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Easter 3. Retrieved from lectionary.seemslikegod.org.
- Exegesis for Acts 9:1-20. Retrieved from lectionary.org
- Os Hillman, “Called to Someone Versus Something”. Retrieved from Today_God_Is_First@crosswalkmail.com
- James MacDonald, “When God Finds Someone”. Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Charles R. Swindoll, “A New Beginning”. Retrieved from for.Living@insight.org
- Charles R. Swindoll, “No Surprises”. Retrieved from for.Living@insight.org
- Greg Laurie, “What New Believers Need”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Randal Matheney, “Don’t Believe Everything You Hear”. Retrieved from email@example.com
- Os Hillman, “The Place of Obedience”. Retrieved from Today_God_Is_First@crosswalkmail.com
- Pastor Jack Hibbs, “Do You Love Me?” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Exegesis for John 21:1-19. Retrieved from lectionary.org
- Frederickson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J., The Preacher’s Commentary Series: Vol. 27, John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.; 1985)
- Philip W. McLarty, “Living the Promise”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Dr. Ken Klaus, “Do You Love Me?” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- Jim Penner, “Do You Love Me?” Retrieved from hourofpower.org
- John Van Schepen, “Revisiting Old Hurts”. Retrieved from thisistoday.net
- Philip W. McLarty, “Come, Break the Fast”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org