For those who observe the Christian Calendar I think I can say that Easter is the highlight of the Christian calendar, especially Easter Sunday. It is the climax of Holy week, the zenith of the Christian year that is marked by an eruption of colour, flowers, and the majestic sounds of the organ (if your church is blessed enough to have one). Little children are excited and happy (due to the overdose of chocolate) and it is the one Sunday where we all sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” We are reminded of the life changing good news of Jesus victorious physical resurrection from the grave. We are built up in the knowledge that his resurrection confirms that Jesus death did pay the price for our sin at the cross. We are assured of Jesus victory over death and of the promise and hope eternal life for all who trust in the Lord Jesus.
And then Monday comes.
The event of Easter is over.
Australians love the long weekend so much that I suspect that Australia is known as the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit Long Weekend. Many regulars who did turn up for Easter Sunday then go away on holidays. Guests who came on Sunday leave for holidays. Growth groups/Bible study groups stop, church attendance dips and everything seems quiet.
I think it is easy to see Easter as an event. After all, events are things that we plan. With events, we strategise, plan, advertise, market, set up, execute, then when the event passes, we evaluate and follow up. Which is what no doubt all the clergy have done and will be doing. But as I think about Easter and reflect upon it, particularly Jesus encounter with Peter in John 21, after his resurrection, what stands out to me is Jesus’ invitation and assurance that Peter and the other disciples roles as fishers of men, women boys and girls did not end with his death and resurrection. It reminds and encourages me that the work of taking the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ out does not end at Easter.
I used to have this assumption that when people have a brush with death it would change them profoundly, and that change will last for rest of their lives. I have held this assumption particularly when it applies to people who don’t know Jesus Christ. I often have wondered if this close brush with death will jolt them out of the delusion that life is not about God.
But sad to say, from what I have observed (including the experience of someone very close to me who nearly died) is that the effects of a brush with death usually don’t last. It does not take long for them to revert back to what their lives were like before their brush with death.
Now what if we had a brush not with death, but with resurrection? What if we lived in Jerusalem around about the year 33 and saw the empty tomb? Or heard the testimony of the women who saw the angels say to them “why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen?”
Surely that would change our lives forever.
Let’s take Peter for example. He saw the empty tomb. In Chapter 20 we read how Peter and John raced to the tomb. John stops at the entrance, but Peter (in typical Peter fashion) runs into the tomb and sees the burial cloth. And John tells us in v.8 (of chapter 20) he saw and believed.
Not long after Peter sees Jesus again, the physical risen King, he saw the scars on his hands and on his side. And again Peter is there when Jesus proves to doubting Thomas that he has in fact risen from the dead. One would be right to think that Peter would have been profoundly affected by his brush with resurrection. But in chapter 21 it seems that his experience is fading. Have a look with me at vv.1-3:
1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon 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.
Does it seem a wee bit odd? Remember in Luke’s gospel? When Peter first met the Lord Jesus in Luke 5? Peter was fisherman by trade who encounters Jesus after a night of unsuccessful fishing, Jesus commands him to let his nets down. He does and he catches a miraculous number of fish. The Holy Spirit opens his eyes and heart to who Jesus really is and understandably he tells Jesus to leave because of his own sin. And the Lord Jesus said to Peter (in v.10)
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.
Peter’s life and purpose had changed when he encountered the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter the fisherman he will be no longer, as we read in the very next verse,
11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Yet now, John tells us in his gospel that Peter is going fishing, for fish!
Why would Peter say this? Why would Peter do this? Jesus has risen from the grave and he says “I going fishing? Has Peter reverted back to his old occupation? Has he forgotten his commission from Jesus? Has he rejected his commission from Jesus? Or is he just fishing because he his hungry? Some commentators say that he has, some say no way, it is unthinkable, he just wants a feed. It is a big difference of opinion; Peter the apostate, or Peter the hungry! I suggest a third option:
There are two things to remember here. Peter although a witness of Jesus death and resurrection, he (and all the other disciples) still had not received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So they did not fully understand things yet. This period of time for Peter would have been a massive transitional (what I would call) a “get your head around things” sort of time. People don’t die and rise from the dead. Perhaps Peter was wrestling with the question, “What does it mean for me to be a fisher of people, an evangelist, now that Jesus has risen from the dead?” So he decides to do what he knows, what is familiar, what is normal…go fishing. The other disciples are in the same boat (no pun intended) in that they don’t know what to make of Jesus resurrection yet, so they go with him.
And like the time when Peter first encountered Jesus, Peter is unsuccessful in catching any fish. All night, not one fish. The sun comes up and John tells us that Jesus is standing on the beach, the disciples don’t know it is Jesus and Jesus calls out to them. They seem to have a very normal casual conversation, very much like at the sort of conversation a group of unsuccessful fisherman have with another group of fisherman. “oh we caught nothing mate”; “You were fishing in the wrong spot, you need to try over here”. “Oh, righto, thanks mate, we’ll give that a go!”
It is a very casual conversation. So they think, “well why not, we have nothing to lose”. So they did as Jesus directed. Yet the result of Jesus’ advice is a repeat of Peter’s first encounter with the Lord Jesus! No doubt memories of this encounter would have flooded Peter’s awareness.
In his Gospel, John then moves forward to the next scene, where the boat and its crew had landed on shore, and by this time there was a fire going, there was fish and bread already prepared and Jesus invites them for breakfast. Here we have the risen glorified King of Kings, the death crusher, the sin smasher serving his disciples breakfast and the disciples knew it was the Lord. They knew! And none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They were still getting their heads around the fact that this man was so clearly and physically alive, but they knew, the one before them could only be Jesus!
Yet this breakfast and this invitation to breakfast was more than just a meal, it was a reminder and an assurance and an encouragement, that their commissioning, their roles as fishers of men, as evangelists does not end with Jesus’ resurrection. But rather it continues. The work of building the Kingdom of God continues. The work of taking the gospel of Jesus out does not end at Easter. It begins. They are to be Easter people – people who are living testimonies of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Now we are not Apostles, we were not there, we were not eyewitnesses to Jesus death and resurrection, but we are called also to be Easter people as well. For we too are called to be living witnesses and signposts of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and this is not an option for us. The lives of Peter, James and John, and the other disciples would never be the same again. And that is how it should be for us who trust him as Lord and Saviour! The resurrection of the Lord Jesus gripped their hearts.
Has the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ gripped your heart? Does the risen Jesus move you to want to serve him? Does the risen Jesus move you to want to be an Easter person? Or do you see the risen Jesus as merely being someone or even something that you acknowledge on the Christian calendar?
It has often been noted that new Christians are so excited about Jesus, about who he is, and what he has done. And while I love seeing the joy and excitement of new Christians I cannot help but think that the longer we follower the risen Lord Jesus, the joy and excitement should grow each passing year. Yet the grind and busyness of life, old sinful patters and habits; and the reality of living outside the Garden of Eden often erases the joy of the glory of the risen Lord in our hearts.Yet what see of the lives of Jesus disciples are that their lives were never the same again. It would have been unthinkable for Peter to go back to being a fisherman and stay a fisherman and that is how it should be for all people who have encountered the risen Lord Jesus!
Easter is not an event but a season and all those whose trust is in the person of the Lord Jesus are called to be Easter People and this season is to last our whole life. Easter is more than just an event.