Facing Disappointment: John 21:1-14

Focus Passage: John 21:1-14 (NIV)

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Read John 21:1-14 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

When reading the last portion of John’s gospel, and specifically the event where the disciples go out fishing, we can find an interesting picture of how God often shows up to work miracles. The way this event happened probably was not the way the disciples would have wanted it to go, but it was the best way for it to have gone looking back on it.

The event begins in the evening, and several of the disciples decide to join Peter who had just gotten the urge to go fishing. Perhaps Peter has doubts on whether or not Jesus would appear to them or whether Jesus would even accept Him back after his denials just weeks (maybe even days) before. Or Peter may have just been filling time while waiting for Jesus to arrive.

Whatever the reason, the disciples push out into the lake to catch fish – but their night could only be classified as unsuccessful: No fish and no Jesus showing up with them on the lake. It is not a stretch to imagine these disciples were feeling just a little disappointed.

In our own lives, often we face periods of disappointment, and times when things keep turning up empty. These times we may feel as though God has abandoned us or that He is not interested. But this is not the reason for the empty night at all.

When the sun started peaking up over the horizon, the disciples spot a person on the shore, and this person tells them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat after learning that they had caught nothing. While this sounds like a ridiculous request, the disciples obey, and they land the biggest catch they could have imagined.

It often is only after the periods of disappointment that we are truly ready to receive God’s blessing. This is not God making up for lost time with a gift of interest, but a growing experience for all those present.

If the disciples had caught fish during the night, they would have attributed their catch with their own fishing ability, but the only possible conclusion we can reach following this event is that God provided the fish. In a subtle way, Jesus says to these disciples that even if they chose to go back to a life of fishing, they will only be successful if He is with them. In a similar way, regardless of what we choose to do in life, the only way we can truly be successful in the roles we choose is if Jesus/God allows it.

The growth that comes is a growth that teaches us our need to depend on God. We often are tempted to depend on our own ability, but eventually, our abilities will fail us and we will need outside help.

God wants to help us and to bless us, but He doesn’t want His blessings to pull us away from Him. God wants to bless us in extravagant ways, but He doesn’t want His gifts to affect our relationship with Him. Too often, this is only learned after we face times of disappointment that can remind us of our need.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Flashback Episode — Rewarding the Hospitable: Luke 24:13-34


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Following Jesus’ resurrection, there was a little bit of chaos – at least at first. Out of this confusion over whether Jesus had truly been raised from the dead, we find an amazing event that Luke includes in detail in his gospel record. This event includes two of Jesus’ followers, one who is not named, and another who only is included once in the entire New Testament, at least by this name. Some scholars speculate that the disciple who is named in this event is also the same one that is found in another event that John’s gospel includes, but this is speculation based on the names being very similar.

Our event is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 24, and we will be reading from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 13, Luke tells us that later on during the day that Jesus was resurrected, two of Jesus’ followers:

13 [And behold, two of them] were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” 19 And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” 25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Let’s pause reading briefly here for a moment because I wish that Luke could have included the breakdown in detail that Jesus gave to these two followers. While I imagine that most of what Jesus shares is included in what we could call the gospel side-notes where we are told some specific action or event fulfilled a prophecy, it would have been incredible to hear Jesus explain His own life and mission using prophecy, first-hand and without holding anything back.

It’s also worth noting that aside from the women who had seen some angels, and Mary Magdalene who John’s gospel tells us stayed behind and thought Jesus was a gardener at first, it seems like these two less famous disciples were the second and third to see a resurrected Jesus. In many ways, the trip these two disciples take with the resurrected Messiah was more profound than Mary’s short conversation.

Continuing our reading in verse 28, Luke tells us that as:

28 [And] they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. 29 But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. 30 When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. 32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”

Part of me wondered if the unnamed disciple in this passage was one of Jesus’ eleven remaining disciples, but when we look closely at Luke’s description of what these disciples find after they had raced back to Jerusalem, they find the eleven and a number of other followers with them. This makes it sound like neither one of these two followers was part of Jesus’ eleven remaining closest followers.

What was a trip that took hours for these men going away from Jerusalem could be measured in minutes as they raced back to the city. But while everything in this event is powerful and profound, one subtle theme stands out in my mind regarding the character of these two followers of Jesus: these two disciples are rewarded the greatest because they displayed hospitality towards a stranger.

If it had not been for Jesus acting like He was going to keep going, and had these disciples not insisted that this stranger come spend the night at their place before continuing on, these two followers would not have known that Jesus was the One who explained the scripture to them. If these two disciples had let Jesus continue on the road without pressing Him to stay with them, they probably would not have made the trip back to Jerusalem that night. Perhaps the next day they would have returned with the good news and explanation that a stranger gave them, but it wouldn’t have been that night.

Also interesting is that these two disciples never once imply or suggest to go back on the road to Jerusalem with their stranger-friend – or at least Luke never implies that this happened. Part of me wonders if these two followers were so amazed at what they were learning from their Companion’s explanation of prophecy that they simply didn’t think of asking their fellow Traveler to return to Jerusalem and share what He was sharing with them to the other disciples. They may have just thought or concluded that they would bring the news and information to the rest of the disciples.

But regardless of what happened, hospitality towards a stranger led to these two disciples’ eyes being opened, and they, similar to Mary who didn’t recognize Jesus at first, experience the amazement of realizing they had been talking directly to Jesus.

Living 2000 years later, I find myself being less hospitable than these two disciples are. It is not that I wouldn’t be hospitable if I could, but culture, life, and travel are significantly different now than it was then, and even picking up a hitch-hiker is not all that common any more like it was even several decades ago. But I also wonder if the way our culture has shifted has led to many of us, myself included, missing out on God directed meetings because we are too busy, too distracted, and/or too narrowly focused in on the demands of the moment to pay attention to what God wants to share with us.

So as we come to the close of another podcast episode, let’s focus our end-of-this-podcast challenges on this theme and topic:

Be sure to seek God first and be open to His leading in your life. On the topic of being hospitable towards others, look for people who God brings into your life who need help, need encouragement, or perhaps simply need a friend. As we seek God first, let’s be sure to intentionally be open to God redirecting our path and plans to allow for meetings that He wants us to have. This challenge is really aimed at me because is one of those challenges that is harder for me as a shy introverted guy than it is for someone like my wife who can make a friendship out of thin air.

Also, be sure to prayerfully study the Bible for yourself in order to grow closer to God and build a stronger relationship with Him. With a strong, close relationship with God, we will be more likely to recognize the ways He wants to redirect us and the more likely we will have the God-inspired conversation that He wants us to have.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 49: Cam discusses the trip two of Jesus’ lesser famous disciples make to a small town not far from Jerusalem, and the conversation He has with these two men about His mission to the world.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Looking for Loopholes: Matthew 23:1-36

Focus Passage: Matthew 23:1-36 (NASB)

During Jesus series of warnings and challenges to the religious leaders living in the first century, He takes issue with how they would hold each other to their word. In the middle of these warnings, Jesus shares a concept that sounds incredibly obvious, but with how He describes it, it would seem that the religious leaders had rationalized their way out of believing it personally.

Matthew tells us that Jesus challenges these leaders by saying, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.” (v. 16-22)

In my mind’s eye, I picture these leaders having placed the emphasis on the inside objects because they were certainly holy, but not on the objects that made them holy, because these objects resided in a place where sin is present. For example, the temple was likely next to a market, so even though it was set apart and sacred, it’s neighbor was common and secular. However, what was inside the temple had only sacred and set apart neighbors, so it was by definition “more holy”.

Over all, this is a weak argument for these leaders to have had, but it is about the only rationale my mind can come up with for them elevating the temple’s gold over the temple, and the offering on the alter over the alter itself. While not stated in the first set of examples, the implication is also that swearing by heaven didn’t mean much, but swearing on God’s throne was serious – which is an equally ridiculous idea when we think about it.

This section of warnings prompts me to believe that these leaders were always looking for loopholes, and in their search for exceptions, they were then able to make more rules to help close these exceptions. In some ways, they would be like some contract lawyers living today, who write contracts and licenses that rival the length of a dictionary in order to cover almost any possible circumstance that could happen.

But what Jesus’ words really share, at least to me, is that we should be less interested in looking for ways out of the agreements we make, and instead be more discerning about what we actually agree to in the first place – and if we have made a poor choice that we cannot get out of, then we should keep our word and see it as a learning experience for moving forward.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Saving Easter While Validating a Gift: John 19:38-42


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Following Jesus’ death, the gospel of John records the reappearance of a secret disciple, and the introduction of a new secret disciple. These two wealthy men have exactly what is needed for this weekend. While it might not seem like it on the surface, these two men actually save the Easter story because they give everyone involved, including the remaining disciples, the women who followed Jesus, the religious leaders, and even the Roman soldiers exactly what they need for the following 48 hours.

While it is unlikely that Joseph of Arimathea believed his gift would only be temporarily needed, that is ultimately what happened.

Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 19, and we will be reading it from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 38, John tells us that:

38 Joseph from Arimathea was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had kept it secret though, because he was afraid of the Jewish leaders. But now he asked Pilate to let him have Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, and Joseph took it down from the cross.

39 Nicodemus also came with about seventy-five pounds of spices made from myrrh and aloes. This was the same Nicodemus who had visited Jesus one night. 40 The two men wrapped the body in a linen cloth, together with the spices, which was how the Jewish people buried their dead. 41 In the place where Jesus had been nailed to a cross, there was a garden with a tomb that had never been used. 42 The tomb was nearby, and since it was the time to prepare for the Sabbath, they were in a hurry to put Jesus’ body there.

From our passage, we discover a number of details that are worth paying attention to. In culture, there is a rumor that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. Regardless of all the reasons that say He did, such as from blood loss, suffocation, and a spear through His heart, not to mention the fact that trained executioners were in charge of the whole scene, our passage describes even more reasons to believe Jesus had died, and our passage gives us reasons to thank these two men.

When we look at what happened normally following the death of a crucified person, the body would be typically be thrown in a large grave, or it would be tossed in the trash heap to be burned. Unless someone stepped in wanting the body, what happened to the body would quickly become untraceable. By stepping up and asking for Jesus’ body, Joseph of Arimathea gave everyone involved a location to pay attention to.

If Jesus’ corpse was thrown into a large hole with many dead bodies, no one could verify whether He had returned to life or not. The rumors would be harder to verify, or validate. Everyone from the disciples and the women to the religious leaders and even the soldiers needed a place to watch and a location to pay attention to, and Joseph from Arimathea stepped up with the perfect gift at the perfect time.

Not only does Joseph bring the perfect gift, Nicodemus also brings the perfect gift: seventy-five pounds of spices. The two men take Jesus and wrap him up in cloth with these spices, and lay His body in the tomb. The spices were intended to mask the odor of a body decomposing. While some people believe Jesus was simply unconscious during this time, He likely would have suffocated from lack of oxygen if He had been alive. With seventy-five pounds of spices wrapped tightly against your body, with no air hole, not only would the spices on top of you make it difficult for you to inhale, and on the off chance that you could inhale, it would be inhaling spices not air.

Since the passage says these men were in a hurry because the Sabbath was near, would it be possible for them to make a mistake? Sure, but any mistake they might have made would likely make it more difficult for Jesus rather than easier for Him.

Every detail in the death of Jesus points to those present believing Jesus was actually dead, and treating Jesus’ body as not returning to life. From the crucifixion performed by trained executioners, to the hasty but effective preparation of Jesus’ body, and even to the rumor that gets spread following Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples simply stole the body, no one at the time expected Jesus to return to life.

We can thank Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus for their gifts which were exactly what was needed to solidify a fully dead Jesus. Jesus was actually dead, and as we will look at in the next episode, Jesus returns very much back to life.

Also, when we look at the details of how this passage ends, we discover a fascinating detail many people don’t notice on the surface. The last verse we read, which was verse 42, tells us that “The tomb was nearby, and since it was the time to prepare for the Sabbath, they were in a hurry to put Jesus’ body there.

On the surface, nothing seems abnormal in this verse, but when we look a little closer, we discover something amazing: Following Jesus completing the work of redemption, He rests on the Sabbath. This echoes what we read about following the creation of the world in Genesis when God rests after completing the work of creation.

While some people might see this as being two bookends on Sabbath observance, in my own mind and my own study, this event speaks more strongly towards Jesus validating the Sabbath during the break in His life. If Jesus’ death marked the end of the commandments, then there would be no reason for Him to rest over the Sabbath. Because Jesus rested in peace on the Sabbath, we discover an amazing validation and parallel to God resting following creation.

The Sabbath is first given as a special gift in a perfect world, and we can see Sabbath being present in a perfectly recreated world as Isaiah describes at the close of his book. Because Sabbath is present in both perfect creations, resting on the Sabbath is not connected to sin or our salvation out of sin, but it is foundationally connected with God’s creation honoring God. If God’s perfect creation honors Him in the perfect first world and in the perfect recreated world, God’s people should be honoring Him on the Sabbath in the fallen world as well. The Sabbath was given as a specific day, and Jesus validated the Sabbath day by marking it with rest following His successful completion of the work of salvation.

While this idea is not popular today, the seventh-day Sabbath is an amazing theme that runs through the entire Bible, and this day doesn’t become less significant as history speeds towards its end, it actually becomes more significant.

While I rarely do this, if you haven’t studied the Sabbath out for yourself and you want to read everything the Bible has to say on this topic, the “Day of Rest” study available on ReflectiveBibleStudy.com is for you. This study package might be too comprehensive, because not only do I bring together all the places the Bible teaches us about the Sabbath, I also bring every reference to the seventh-day that is included. When this study moves into the New Testament, we look at every occurrence of not only the Sabbath, but also the first day of the week, and we let the Bible define for us what the Lord’s Day represents. While other study tools might be faster, none are more comprehensive, and none will give you all the amazing insights that you will learn from working through the Reflective Bible Study Day of Rest study using the Reflective Bible Study framework.

I developed this study package to personally study the Sabbath and the seventh-day out for myself, and I included it on ReflectiveBibleStudy.com because I want it to help others like it has helped me.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Be sure to seek God first in your life and live your life in a way that brings God honor. If you haven’t studied the Sabbath topic from the Bible, consider this a challenge to do so. While you will be blessed if you use ReflectiveBibleStudy.com, plenty of other studies out there cover this topic well. Just be sure to choose a study that doesn’t pick and choose verses to focus in on. If you want the most balanced approach, find two studies, one that supports the Sabbath and one that rejects it, and study both. This will give you a better idea of both sides of this important issue and then you can decide for yourself with the Holy Spirit’s leading.

As always, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself in order to grow personally close to God. While other people can give you ideas to think about, always filter what you hear and read through the pages of God’s Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or fall away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 49: With how John finishes describing the Friday Jesus is crucified, we can discover not only two secret disciples saving Easter, but we also discover how Jesus validates one underappreciated and often forgotten gift God gave us.

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