Mike Raiter – The Missing Jesus

I had to the pleasure to here Mike speak at our Diocesan Clergy Conference a few years ago. I also had him lead one of my post Grad subjects on preaching at Ridley College. This week in Jerusalem, Mike preached a terrific sermon at GAFCON.

“We need to proclaim Christ to the Churches!”


Easter – More Than Just An Event

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:

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 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.


Life, Breath, & Everything Else

One of the dangers of the Christian life, especially when you have been a Christian for a while is to think that you can do it alone. Yes I know the gospel. I know all that, but somehow we can slip into thinking that says I can be fruitful because of my own abilities and giftedness. So prayer drops off, Bible reading goes and is replaced by self reliance which leads to pride. And this can happen due to the busyness and routine of life and also due to time and age! There are times in Christian life when we can feel really spiritually flat, like our spiritual tanks are empty. Sometimes it can be due to fatigue, bad sleep, grief, health problems but sometimes it can be a result of trying to do things alone and be our own source of spiritual life, nourishment and power. According to the Lord Jesus – the vine. We can not do it! I have been very much reminded of this and the words of the Lord Jesus in John 15.

Jesus’ disciples have already taken hold of Christ, who he is, and what he has said and this is why Jesus tells them to remain in him. Look with me at v.4:

4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me

It seems to me that in our culture, we rarely use the word Abide.  The word also means to stay, or to to remain, to be permanent, to be constant, steadfast. We are to abide in Christ. This seems scary, it is so hard to abide in Jesus. How do I know that I will keep on abiding in the Lord Jesus? If I don’t will Jesus give up on me? The wonderful think about Jesus words here is that they are a promise. Remaining in Christ not our responsibility alone! The Lord Jesus enables us to abide in him. God is faithful to the promises that he has made to his people – to us! Jesus remains in us and enables us to abide in him by nourishing ups with his Holy Spirit and with his power! The responsibility is not ours alone, which is a wonderful reassurance, but we are still responsible. We are dependent on the vine! And if we try to imitate Christian conduct, Christ likeness and witness, if it is not derived from the person of the Lord Jesus, the vine, it will lead to fruitlessness. Which is what Jesus says in the rest of v.4: Which is what Jesus says in the rest of v.4:

“Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

The other danger is the think that we can bear fruit by acquiring our spiritual nourishment from supplements and additives – instead of the vine- instead of the Lord Jesus! An example of this is replacing reading the Bible with reading books about the Bible, instead of working hard at praying, we read books on prayer. We cannot bear fruit independently of Christ or receive spiritual nourishment outside of Christ. Christian books, Bible helps, Bible devotions are good things in themselves, but they are poor sources of nourishment if that is the your only source of nourishment. We bear fruit from the vine. The vine is Christ. The Word of God reveals him. So go to the Word. Go to the source!

We can never say to Jesus, or in practice say to Jesus, I don’t need you. I am not dependant on you.

5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

Apart from Jesus humanity can do nothing of eternal value or another way of putting – without Jesus we cannot produce spiritual fruit. Without Jesus we are spiritually bereft. This is hard because it goes against what our nature and what our culture tells us – which is that we are the masters of our lives. Our first parents thought this also when they fell into this trap. Adam thought He knew better than God, Eve was deceived into believing that God was stingy and was holding them back and both her and her Husband instead of living  under God’s authority, chose to live under their own authority. We are naturally like this which is why Jesus words in v.5 are so offensive to our world, apart from Jesus we are totally cut off and alienated from God and can do nothing of eternal value. And the end result for those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, who don’t abide in him and his word is to be cast out of God’s presence.

 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Judgement is not an easy topic, it is hard, it is painful, it is offensive because our culture tells that we are not accountable to anyone but ourselves, that there is no such thing as sin and if there is a heaven we are all good enough to go so to get there all we need to do is merely die (AKA Justification by death – Sola Mors). Branches that don’t bear fruit are useless. People who don’t bear fruit, who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who don’t glorify God are thrown out.

Our function as human beings who were created in the image of God is to bear fruit for God. The fruit comes as resulting of trusting in Jesus. If we are not trusting in Jesus then we are fruitless.A dead branch is the person who does not have a personal faith or relationship with the Lord Jesus. Every single church I have ever been in and served in there have been people who were not in the vine, that is they did not have relationship with Jesus. They were fans of Jesus, but they did not know him, and they were not living with Jesus as the Lord. They are next to the vine, surrounded by branches, but they were dead branches. Look at Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus and hung himself in selfish sinful and worldly regret. He was a dead branch and no one knew it. But… He knew it and more importantly Jesus knew it.

A living branch is the person who trusts in Jesus who abides in him, who remains in him, who wants what the Lord Jesus wants, and obeys his word and prays in line with Jesus will (as Jesus says in vv.7-8). The good news of course  is that Gode sent his son Jesus to die on a cross, to be judged in our place, to be punished in our place for ignoring God’s rule over us, bearing the sins of all who will trust in him so that we can be right with God, so that we can be grafted into the vine and becoming living branches! If we believe this and I mean really believe this then we must keep on remaining in the vine, remaining in Christ. For our spiritual nourishment comes from him.  Don’t settle for spiritual supplements and additives. Remain in Christ who alone is the source of our strength, power and salvation. For we are dependent on him, for life, breath and everything else!