LIVING THE RESURRECTION — WITH GRACE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
June 30, 2011
YouTube: How Great Thou Art [00:07 - 05:09]
Living with grace is...
- Humbling [John 21:15-17; Matthew 26:31-33]
- Inglorious [John 21:18-19; 1 Peter 5:2-3]
- Impactful [John 21:20-25; Luke 22:31-32; 1 Peter 5:12-13]
Millions of Americans have seen country music star Carrie Underwood sing How Great Thou Art on YouTube. Did you notice that it’s lyrics and the way she sang it got a standing ovation from the crowd? It reminded me that living with grace is impactful. I know that’s not a word, but today it is because I’m using it that way! The whole Gospel of John is impactfull to me because the Jesus of the fourth Gospel is assertive (2:4; 4:17; 5:45; 7:6-9) and combative (3:10; 5:39; 8:44) and sometimes sarcastic (9:41; 10:32). John is a very manly Gospel. The second reason I really like the Gospel of John is because most of the stories found in John cannot be found anywhere else (e.g. - Nicodemus, the Samaritan, Pilate and Peter). Writing toward the end of the first century, the Holy Spirit inspired John to share stories the other Gospel writers simply did not. And the third reason I like the Gospel of John is because more than any other book, it clearly teaches that God meets people where they are so shouldn’t we in our worship services and outreach activities? The prologue’s pagan friendly imagery (Jesus replaces Plato’s and Philo’s “The Word”) and literary structure (based on Christian contemporary music of that time in John 1:5-9, 11, 14, 16-18 cf. Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; and 1 Timothy 3:16) reminds us that this book would was meant to be understood by both believers and non so that “everyone” might believe in Jesus (John 1:7).
On April 21 2007, we started an expository series of sermons called Word of God Speak based on the Gospel of John. The goal of that series and all others since then is for us to learn to listen to what larger portions of God’s word says about The Word Jesus Christ. And while we took topical breaks for sermons about church mission and financial stewardship and church doctrine in addition to studying the lives of the 12 apostles and 12 wonder women we’ll be finishing this summer, we have slowly covered the entire Gospel of John! In January 2008, we started a series called Growing Like Jesus based on the content in John 5 and following as the disciples grew following Jesus. Around Easter of the same year, we focused focused on The Story and how what we were reading and learning about Jesus’ story shapes ours inside the Great Controversy. By June of 2008, John’s content in chapter eleven helped us frame our thoughts around how like Lazarus, Jesus promised that we too can have Life From the Dead. In May 2009, we returned to the Gospel of John for one my favorite series called In the Meantime. From the shadows of the looming cross in John 14 and the content following, we found life lessons for how we can learn to live in the meantime prior to the Second Coming.
In September 2009, we learned all about Noomanautics remember that? That’s a word Leonard Sweet coined to describe the study and navigation of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life. Because chapters 16 and 17 in John were all about the Holy Spirit and it’s role that Jesus wanted it to play in our lives. In March 2010, the series entitled Nearing the Cross covered the content in John 18 and in May as we studied closely the crucifixion of Jesus in John 19, we focused on what it may have been like Experiencing the Cross and what that meant for the people back and then and what that means for us today. Which brings us to spring 2011 with the series we’re concluding today called Living the Resurrection from content in John 20 and 21. I hope you’ve enjoyed our slow attentive walk through the Gospel of John as much as I have. And I encourage you to go to our website to read up on any of that content you missed. God’s word is alive and well. And because it is, some people think living the resurrection with grace is all about onward Christian soldiers victoriously marching to zion full of glory and fame. But what the last chapter of John clearly reveals to both believers and non is that living with grace is instead often humbling and inglorious. But because it’s not what people expect it to be, as that video showed us, its also impactful. Please open your Bibles one last time to John 21 to see what I mean.
John 21:15-25, 15After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," Peter replied, "you know I love you." "Then feed my lambs," Jesus told him. 16Jesus repeated the question: "Simon son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord," Peter said, "you know I love you." "Then take care of my sheep," Jesus said. 17A third time he asked him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." Jesus said, "Then feed my sheep. 18"I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others* will dress you and take you where you don't want to go." 19Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, "Follow me." 20Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, "Lord, who will betray you?" 21Peter asked Jesus, "What about him, Lord?" 22Jesus replied, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me." 23So the rumor spread among the community of believers that this disciple wouldn't die. But that isn't what Jesus said at all. He only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" 24This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate. 25Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”
After breakfast, according to verse 15, Jesus publicly questions Peter in front of the other disciples three times about the depth and sincerity of his relationship with Jesus no doubt in intentional response to Peter’s three denials of Jesus described in John 18 (vss 15-18 and 25-27). Each time, Jesus asks, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” The word for love Jesus uses the first two times is agapao from agape which is the kind of mature Christian love God wants for all of us. But in response to Jesus’ questions, Peter says, “Yes, Lord you know I phileo love you like a friend.” Over the centuries, scholars and preachers and have made a big deal about this. They say that Peter’s reply using phileo instead of agape proves that Peter still feels bad about betraying Jesus and unworthy of being the leader of the disciples. But recent scholarship in John has proven that John clearly uses both words for love interchangeably whether the topic is God’s love for humanity (3:16; 16:27), the Father’s love for the Son (3:35; 5:20), Jesus’ love for us (11:5,3) or our love for Jesus (8:42; 16:27. For more info, see Jon Paulien’s Abundant Life Bible Amplifier: John p.281).
So whether Jesus’ acceptance of Peter’s fileo kind of love is coincidence or intentionally the epilogue’s way of reminding the reader that Jesus will always continue meeting us where we are, one point we can all agree on is living with grace is humbling. And this is point number one. This three-fold repetition of question, reply, and response is unexpected and even rude on the part of Jesus. Especially since it’s in front of the other disciples. But Proverbs 3:12 says the Lord disciplines those he loves. And He loves Peter like crazy. Even after Peter publicly and vehemently denied even knowing Jesus. To help Peter live humbly by grace, apparently Jesus believed Peter’s self-confidence and assertiveness must be chipped away because as recently as Matthew 26:31-33 it is still very much a part of who he is. Matthew 26:31-33, "31On the way, Jesus told them, 'Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, 'God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 32But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there." 33Peter declared, "Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you."
Do you hear how Peter thinks of himself in comparison to the other disciples? Even if they desert you, I never will. And even after verse 20 implies that Peter and Jesus continue with a private conversation along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Peter looks back over his shoulder and asks about John’s future as if he Peter, in comparison to John and the other disciples, deserves a better fate than they do. But living by grace is humbling. It’s not about what others are doing. It’s about what Jesus is doing in you. So quit paying attention to what others are doing. Don’t be so easily offended. If you publicly hurt someone, you should plan on publicly forgiving someone. That’s the way Jesus wants it to be. I think he wants it that way so we learn and so our kids learn that the Lord disciplines those he loves. To be leaders of integrity, we must publicly admit what we publicly deny. How else will our kids learn to do likewise? They see mommy and daddy fight and argue. Will they also see mommy and daddy apologize and reconcile? They will if mommy and daddy are living with grace. This is point number one.
Moving on, living resurrected lives with grace is also inglorious. This unpopular point number two we already alluded to. Jesus tells Peter, “18I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don't want to go." 19Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, "Follow me.” Even before verse 19 clearly explains verse 18, non-believers would have known Jesus’ words were talking about crucifixion. But still emphatically in the Greek, Jesus demands of Peter, “YOU follow me!” Just because I asked you to feed my lambs and sheep, that doesn’t mean you’re the boss of them. I want my church to have many leaders not just one. So don’t lord your leadership over others. Lead with others not over them. When are you going to learn how to lead like a shepherd with conviction but humility?
Throughout the history of the church, nothing good has ever come from comparing ourselves with others. Instead, naval gazing at ourselves and comparing ourselves with others has resulted in the heresies of pietism, perfectionism, legalism, monasticism, and Pharisaism. To combat these, you’ll all be receiving one free resource in your boxes next week that my pastor friend Tom Hughes shared with everyone at Camp Meeting this year. So be looking for a book called “Perfection Only in Christ!” But Peter is not totally cured of the disease of comparison yet. And many of us aren’t either. We look at others and see they’re more spiritual or mature or loving than we are. And then we get down on ourselves and self-medicate ourselves with food, TV, or bad relationships when we realize it. But we live resurrected lives with His grace not our own. He has promised to start what He finishes (Philippians 1:6). He has promised to help think and do (Philippians 2:13). He has promised the things of this earth will grow strangely dim. Until they do, YOU follow Him! That’s your job. The problem is not with our job that the weakest baby Christian can do. The problem is we don’t believe that’s our job. Because it’s so humble. And inglorious.
But Peter eventually figured this out. And that’s probably why tradition says he asked to be crucified upside down. Listen to the advice he gives a few years after this private conversation along the shores of Galilee. 1 Peter 5:2-3, "2Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3Don't lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example." Even when we stumble and fall. Even when others see us falter. YOU follow Him anyway. Care for the flock God entrusts to you eager to serve God not for the glory you get out of it. It’s not how great you art. It’s how great Thou art! Jesus stumbled to the cross looking like a total failure. And I think His followers will stumble to the Second Coming looking like a total failure too. But guess what? Just because living by grace looks inglorious doesn’t mean it is. According to Jesus, it’s actually startlingly refreshing and impactful. Verse 25 says, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” This sounds an awful lot like the well known words of a popular rabbi from the period who wrote, “If the entire heaven were parchment and all the trees writing reeds, and the entire sea ink, that would not be sufficient to write down the wisdom I have learned from my teachers” (SDABC, John, p.1073). Today, with Carrie Underwood, we sing, “How Great Thou Art!”
No doubt living resurrected lives with God’s grace is humbling. And inglorious. Maybe that’s why Chrisitans aren’t known for living lives like this. But just because so far we haven’t, doesn’t mean that with God’s help we can’t! With his grace, all things are possible! And when anyone lives this way, it is impactful. Believers and non pay attention. And sometimes, they even give you a standing ovation. But don’t expect one. Those are the exception not the rule. Most of the time you be mocked and scoffed not applauded for following Jesus. People will think you’re a threat because you are. The humility of Jesus and his followers threatens the power people use to coerce others. And because the closer we come to Jesus, the more sinful we appear, we will be tempted by ourselves to give up. But we must not give up. Even when its inglorious. Because Hebrews 10:14 says, “By one sacrifice he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.” We must look at ourselves the way God sees us. As perfect saints simultaneously by His grace being made holy. If we remember that God loves us like crazy flaws and all and that He’s praying for us to succeed, we will.
Remember what Jesus told Peter before the cross in Luke 22? Luke 22:31-32 says, "31Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers." Did Peter still fall? Yes. But notice Jesus didn’t pray that he wouldn’t fall. He prayed that after He did, that Peter would repent. And strengthen his friends. Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf. That’s what Jesus is praying for us as well. He knows we’ll fall. But that’s okay because He never did! God knows we’ll stumble. And fail. And maybe even deny him publicly and privately. And that the things of this earth will grow strangely dim. But He also knows if we know that He’s praying for us to repent and to stand firm in His grace, that like Peter we will too. And that is enough for Him. Proof of this can be found in another letter from Peter written a few years later. Listen to words of these verse in 1 Peter 5:12-13. “12Stand firm in this grace. 13Your sister church here in Babylon sends you greetings."
So impactful is living resurrected lives with grace in Peter’s day that even in the heart of pagan Rome which he calls Babylon, a sister church already existed. People that know God loves them like crazy can stand firm in this grace even in the belly of the beast. If that could happen then, it can happen today as well. Are you like Peter willing to sincerely try to live like crazy? Even if doing so is inglorious? And often humbling? Jesus is calling us to do so. Because living this way impacts our lives and the world’s. Who cares what everyone else thinks and what everyone else is doing? YOU follow Jesus. Will you?