Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Stranger on the Shore

Here it is, baseball season.  I remember when both of my sons were in Little League, how we taught them to play for the love of the game, for a sense of sportsmanship, and for fun.  How you played was as important as whether you won—maybe even more important (depending on the coach).  At the end of each game the players formed two lines, passing each other and slapping hands while “Good game” rang out like a mantra.  We encourage our children to respect their opponents, to treat them kindly, and to remember that they are not enemies.  We even celebrate stories of players from opposing teams who help disabled opponents score or win.  It reminds me of Proverbs 24:17 , which says, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”  God cares, not just about whether we win, but how we play the game.

Here in this season after Easter, we continue to celebrate the greatest victory ever—Jesus’ defeat of sin and death.  1 Corinthians 15:56-57 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  But it wasn’t just important that Jesus won this victory.  How Jesus won demonstrates the grace of God as well.  Remember when the soldiers came and arrested Jesus, how Peter cut off an assailant’s ear but Jesus healed it and told his disciple to put down his sword?   Or the fact that Jesus put up no defense when accused and assaulted.  “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”  Jesus could have called legions of angels to defend him, but he gave himself willingly.   Though He was Lord of All, he respected governmental authorities and submitted himself to them.  “He disarmed the [demonic] rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”   Yet he was gracious to people like Caiphas, Herod, and Pilate.  Jesus demonstrated that the way he wins matters.  

On the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave.  In the resurrection, Jesus conquered without arguing. He never appeared to the governmental or religious leaders who killed him, gloating and declaring his victory. He just arose and appeared to those who loved him. Jesus overcame without competing. He didn't have to put anyone down in order to win the ultimate victory.  

In the resurrection, Jesus triumphed without gloating. He didn’t attack the world’s powers, yet he conquered.  He arrived without being summoned.  He simply appeared and loved people, allowing them to eventually come to their own conclusions and realize the resurrection in their own way.  Even among his friends, he didn’t force himself, but spoke in an unhurried way and waited for them to realize who He was.  In John 21:1-14, Jesus appeared as a stranger on the shore.  He never declared himself, saying, “It is I—I have returned!”  Instead, he simply helped the disciples catch fish.  They had caught no fish all night long, but the stranger changed everything.  He seemed to have no plan, but simply made a suggestion, "Why not try a different way?"  Cooperating, they let down their nets and brought in a haul of fish that reminded them of their Lord and helped them to recognize their risen Savior. The number of fish, 153, represents the known species of fish in the world at that time. It depicts the fact that, though the mesh is wide, it doesn’t let a thing slip through.  God’s net covers the whole universe. 

God calls Christians to be like Jesus, which means that we need to be like him in the way he lived his daily life, but we also need to be like him in the resurrection.  You learned this as a child—not to gloat when you defeat opponents, but to be gracious with them instead.  You learn this by watching the Savior—how he didn’t force his way even though His Way is best.  He simply made appeared and let people come to their own conclusions.  He simply made suggestions and let them come to their realizations themselves.  

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, Paul talks about how to live this kind of life by the Way of Love.  He says, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  Even if you triumph, even if you’re in a situation where you need to win—do it in the Way of Love.  Even if you are right, you need to be right in a loving manner.  That means not telling someone who has trouble fishing, “You’re so stupid—you’re doing it wrong.”  It means simply making a suggestion, “Why not try it another way, maybe cast on the other side?” It means saying, “There may be many good ways… ’And I will show you a still more excellent way.’  ” It means handling differences gently.  It means recognizing how inclusive God’s love is, and modeling Jesus’ generosity.  Christians are called to be a resurrection people—to be like Jesus in his life but also to follow the model of his new life.  I pray that in this season of Easter, you’ll not only celebrate Jesus’ new life, but that you’ll live it as well.

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