The end of the Gospel of John ends with a story of Jesus reinstating Peter. Peter, remember, had been near Jesus after he was arrested. He was asked three times if he was one of Jesus’ disciples and each time he denied it. Peter realizes his denial and is crushed by it. What is even a bigger blow to Peter is that he doesn’t get the chance to speak with Jesus again before he is crucified. He’s left with this tremendous amount of guilt, he didn’t have the chance to apologize.
The story we're looking at today occurs after Jesus has risen from the dead and it’s the only conversation between Jesus and Peter that we have after Peter’s denial. It occurs after the miraculous catch of fish where the disciples realize that Jesus is alive. John 21:15-19:
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’”
What’s great about this story is that Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Remember, Peter had denied Jesus three times earlier in John. Jesus is reinstating Peter by giving him the chance to redeem himself. He’s not trying to make him feel bad but trying to remind Peter of his place as a disciple. Peter not only responds with love but he also stresses Jesus’ knowledge and grasp of the situation. He is saying ‘I love you and I know who you are’.
Another key point comes at the end of this passage. Jesus tells Peter that his love and discipleship will lead him ‘where you do not want to go’ (John 21:18). Previously, Peter had gone where he wanted to go. Now as a reinstated disciple, he is being told that Jesus will lead him to places he does not want to go. Believing in and relying on God can sometimes lead us to places that we do not want to go. This message should ring true for us right now.
Our lives have changed and we may be in a place that we do not like and wish to go. That could be a physical place, like our house, or it could be a spiritual place. Is God leading you down a path that brings him closer to you, even though you’re hesitant? Is he calling you to a deeper relationship with himself even though you feel like you’re not ready for that? At some point in our lives, God is going to call us to go where we may not wish to go. That could be a physical location or it could be relationally with God or someone else. What we need to remember is that even though we don’t want to go there, God is calling us down those uncertain paths. When we choose to follow him we will no longer be going where we want to go, but rather, where he wants us to go. I’m not saying that God wants us all to be in our homes right now, but we all probably have that feeling of ‘I don’t want to be here’. That is the same feeling that Jesus is talking about. He may lead us to places that we get that same feeling. What we have to understand is that, that is part of our journey in relationship with him. It’s not always easy and we may not want to go down certain paths but Jesus is calling us to regardless. He calls us there because he loves us, just like he did with Peter.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
As we continue to look at stories from the Bible and ask God for wisdom in knowing what they might mean for our lives, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a story from the life of Solomon. Solomon was the son of David and the third king of Israel. After the death of his father David, Solomon “established himself firmly over his kingdom” (2 Chronicles 1:1). The temple had not yet been built and God’s tent of meeting that Moses had made was in a place called Gibeon. Solomon went to this place and offered a thousand burnt offerings. Here is where we pick up the story; 2 Chronicles 1:7-12.
“That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’
Solomon answered God, ‘You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?’
God said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possession, or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions, and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.’”
What I find interesting from this story is that it’s very relatable to all of us. Not so much God appearing to us and asking us for whatever we want, but the fact that we already do that. When you think about your prayer life and your conversations with God, a lot of them may tend to be ‘asks’. Whether it’s for healing for you or a loved one, help on a test or an athletic event; we’re constantly asking God for things. Sometimes those prayers are answered and sometimes they’re not in the way we had hoped.
Solomon gets the opportunity to ask and know that whatever he asks will be given to him. Imagine that next time you pray! His response is very unique and amazing in itself. By asking for wisdom and knowledge he is showing God that he is already wise, God is just going to increase that (and give him other things). Solomon was wise enough to know that he’s not wise enough to rule God’s people in the right way. He asks for something that not only will benefit himself but something that he will use to benefit others.
In our current reality, our prayers may be filled with a lot of ‘asks’ (I know mine are). ‘Please help this virus to go away.’ ‘Please let me go back to school or work.’ ‘Please be with those who are sick or are suffering because of this virus.’ I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with asking God for things, it is a necessary part of our prayer life. What I want you to take from this story is maybe a new outlook on prayer and conversation with God. Am I praying for things that only affect me, or am I praying for others? Do most of my prayers have to do with asking God for things, or am I thanking and praising him too? Solomon is very wise in the way he approaches his conversation with God. I think we can do likewise and be more thoughtful when we go to God in prayer, especially during a time like this.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
This week the ‘story’ I want to focus on is actually four stories that are all connected and happen right in a row in the book of Mark. If you were reading the book of Mark and had never read the Bible and knew nothing about Christianity, you probably wouldn’t realize that Jesus was the Son of God right away. In fact, many of his disciples didn’t really grasp that fact until later on in Jesus’ ministry. You see, Jesus does perform miracles, gives sermons, and talks in parables, but he doesn’t come right out of the gate and say ‘I am the Son of God’. He reveals that over time through his words and actions. Often times it is the latter (miracles) that really get people’s attention.
What I like about the book of Mark is that his gospel is somewhat of a simple yet vivid account of Jesus’ ministry. He often focuses on what Jesus did more than what he said. This is very clear in the story line I want to look at this week. It begins with Mark 4:35 and ends at 5:43. Here is a synopsis of the four stories:
It begins with Jesus and his disciples on one side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has just finished teaching and as a way to escape the crowds, he and his disciples get into a boat to cross to the other side. While Jesus slept in the boat, a furious storm arose. His disciples woke him up and he calmed the storm. Mark says “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.’” (Mark 4:41).
When they land on the other side of the lake, a man who is possessed by evil spirits comes out of the tombs to meet Jesus. You see no one was able to control this possessed man. They had tried to chain him, but he only broke the chains. They had tried to subdue him, but could not. So as a result, they had just left him to live in a cemetery basically, to keep him away from others. What’s more interesting is that he calls himself ‘Legion’ meaning that he was possessed by more than one spirit. Jesus casts the spirits out of the man and into a herd of pigs nearby.
Jesus and the disciples get back into the boat and cross back over to the other side. They are greeted again by large crowds. Jairus, a very well-known man, pleads for Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter. On their way to Jairus’ house, a woman who had been sick for twelve years reaches out and touches Jesus’ clock, she is instantly healed. Jesus then tells her that her faith has healed her. After arriving at Jairus’ house, it is revealed that his daughter has died. Jesus goes into their house anyways and raises her from the dead.
In all this time, this span of two or three days, Jesus does not give a sermon. He does not do any sort of teaching. He does not make any claims about who he is. He just does. We often think of Jesus as a teacher, someone who spoke a lot in parables. Mark’s gospel however is more concerned with what Jesus did.
When we look at our own lives right now, I think there is something we can learn. What if we did more with our faith rather than talked about it? What does doing something with our faith right now even look like? Right now may seem like a better time to talk about our faith rather than act on it because of our limitations of what we can do. However, there’s probably something that we can do. Maybe it’s our prayer life, maybe it’s how we treat our family members. What does God want you to do with your faith in this current season of life?
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
Holy Week is the week that starts with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter. Each day is significant and celebrated in its own unique way. When we think about Holy Week and the stories that go with it, we often think of Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, Jesus’ crucifixion, and resurrection on Easter. All of these are important and rightfully celebrated. There is one story that occurs during Holy Week (presumably Friday after Christ’s death) that often goes overlooked that I want to focus on today.
The story of Joseph of Arimathea is told in all four Gospels. This is the account from the book of Mark:
“It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of Council, who was himself waiting for the Kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bough some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.” (Mark 15:42-47).
Joseph of Arimathea was a member of Council, which was the Sanhedrin. This is the Jewish council that convicted Jesus and brought him for crucifixion before Pilate. So Joseph either disagreed with their decision or he was not present for Jesus’ trial. Can you imagine being a part of the group that was ultimately responsible for Christ’s death? However, this was not the end of Joseph’s story.
What I like about this version of the story from Mark, is his description of Joseph ‘boldly’ going to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. For this reason; it was extremely rare for the remains of an executed prisoner to be handed over by the Romans. Usually the bodies were left unburied or at best laid out in a field as a reminder to all why they had been executed. In the rare chance the body would be released, it was only to a close family member. Joseph of Arimathea was not family, in fact he was part of the group that called for Jesus to be executed, and now he is ‘boldly’ asking for Christ’s body so that he can properly bury it in a tomb.
As mentioned before, Joseph either disagreed with the other Jewish leaders or he was not present at the meeting. Either way, it’s obvious that he did not put up a big enough fight about it because Jesus was ultimately crucified. It is after Christ’s death that Joseph realizes the importance of all this and acts. Since he was such a prominent member of the Jewish council, it would have been known that he took the body and spent money on it for Christ’s burial. We don’t know for sure but this action probably jeopardized his position on the council. He is ‘boldly’ taking a step of faith and putting his reputation on the line for the sake of Jesus.
As we come to grips with our new reality while also remembering why Christ died for us this week, I want you to reflect on how you might be living into a bold new life. How are you going to celebrate Easter during this strange time in our lives? What might be a bold step for you to take that others might notice? This Easter will feel different than any other you have ever experienced. How can you go boldly into it and remember and celebrate what it’s all about?
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation: