Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: January 2011

Encountering Jesus Christ

Encountering Jesus Christ
Doug Floyd
January 20, 2011 @ Knox Academy

To study Christ, to hear Christ, to learn Christ, begins with Christ coming, speaking, acting. Let us listen to the teachers who taught us to follow Christ. Let us look to the people whose lives and words are witnesses to Jesus Christ. Let us look back and listen to the first disciples.

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
(Luke 5:1-11 ESV)

Listen to the opening words of our passage, “On one occasion.”

On one occasion, Jesus climbed a mountain.

On one occasion, he gave water to the woman at the well.

On one occasion, he ate with Zacchaeus.

On one occasion, he stepped onto Peter’s boat.

In the life of Jesus, we behold God entering and transforming people on each occasion.

Tonight is one occasion. And Christ has stepped into our lives to change them forever.

Our story opens with a sense of contingency. In other words, this story didn’t have to happen. Jesus freely chooses to step onto boat. Jesus freely speaks the Word of God. Jesus freely breaks in to Peter’s world.

The crowds are pressing in on Jesus. He’s standing by the lake. He sees two boats. He gets in one boat. Did he have to get in that boat? The text doesn’t indicate that. Were the disciples begging him to climb in the boat? Were the disciples holding a prayer meeting, seeking for Jesus to climb on their boat?

No. They’ve finished a fruitless night of fishing. They’re cleaning their nets. And on one occasion Jesus steps onto one boat. He didn’t have to step onto that boat. But he did.

On one occasion, he entered the life of Simon. And Peter was forever changed.

Now before we continue, let’s go back to the first line of our story. The passage opens, “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God…” Jesus is preaching. Jesus is teaching. Jesus is surrounded.

They press in to hear the Word of God.

….man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
(Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV)

Israel is literally in the desert. The children of the children who wandered across the wilderness, are wandering across the wilderness. They live under subjection to Rome. The once glorious kingdom, the hope of the nations, lies in a desert.

These tired, thirsty people press in to hear the Word of God.

the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst, (Isaiah 41:17 ESV)

The world was created, ordered and is sustained through the Word of God.

All creation is pressing in to hear the Word of God.

Humans were created in the image of God. His Word is the Breath that enlivens our clay forms.

All humanity is pressing in to hear the Word of God.

Even in our rebellion, we cannot live outside the Life giving Word of God. In His lovingkindess, our Father sustains all living things. He gives Breath even to the human who curse Him with that very breath.

Once we’ve tasted the sweetness of that Living Water. We thirst. We thirst. We thirst.

So we press in to hear the Word of God.

Even now, even hear, we are pressing in to hear the Word of God.

In our story, we see the Lord answer His people. The God of Israel does not forsake them. Jesus speaks, and when he speaks, they hear “the Word of God.” This is the first time Luke uses, the phrase “Word of God.” He uses the phrase in the way of the prophets, in the way of Moses. Moses speaks the “Word of God” to the people. In speaking, he creates the nation.

His creating and sustaining Word calls them out of Egypt. He calls them out of death. He calls them out of slavery. He speaks the “Word of God” and the nation of Israel is formed. The land, the people, and the heart are created and sustained by the Word of God.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

Jesus speaks the Word of God, and it does not return void. The people hear water for their thirsty souls. They press in for more. Pressed in by an ocean of thirsty people, Jesus steps onto the boat, finishes speaking to the crowd and then turns to Simon Peter,

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

It’s the light of day. His command makes no sense. You cannot catch fish in the light day. And yet, he turns to Simon Peter,

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

They’ve fished all night. They’re cleaning the nets. They’re getting ready to go home. And yet he turns to Simon Peter and says,

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

The fish are not biting. Peter explains the situation to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! And yet, he turns to Simon Peter and says,

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

The only response to the command of Christ is obedience.

Jesus speaks. Peter obeys. The nets burst. The boats almost sink.

Peter falls to his knees.

The weight of God’s glory breaks forth in Peter’s life. In his humiliation, he hears the word of consolation.

“Fear not!”

Like Isaiah, like Zechariah, like the Shepherds, like Mary, like Joseph, like a long history of saints before and after, he hears, “Fear not!” from the Lord.

This encounter with the Lord, with Jesus is sheer surprise. One moment Peter is cleaning his nets, the next moment he is falling before the face of Christ. He does not grasp this mystery. But in this mystery Christ grasps him.

Christ gathers Peter, James and John to himself. Our Lord is a gatherer. He gathered Abraham to himself, calling him to leave everything behind and follow. He gathers the Hebrews slaves to himself. He promises to gather all nations to himself.

The church, the ekklesia literally means the “called out ones” or the gathered ones. We are here tonight because Christ has gathered us. He has called us. He is present.

How do we study Jesus Christ? By His Grace alone. We cannot grasp our Lord. But he can grasp us. He can teach us. And like the disciples we can respond.

Peter, James and John leave everything behind and follow him.

Tonight is one occasion.

Even as we proclaim Christ, He is breaking in to our lives.

Let us press in to hear the Word of God.

Let us obey the call of Christ.

Let us, “Leave everything behind and follow him.”

Groaning Under the Glory (Epiphany)

The Miraculous Draught of Fish - James Tissot

The first glimmer of dawn ripples across the sea. Night is fading. The rising sun exposes an empty boat full of weary fishermen. The people working in darkness have seen a great light. And it only reminds them of failure.

We know their story all too well. A long night’s struggle gives way to the light of our own weaknesses. Heaven breaks in all around us, we behold the darkness in our own hearts. We don’t measure up. We fall short. We glare dimly in the light of glory.

The light shines out in the darkness, and it appears that the darkness is moments away from putting it out.

On this Epiphany, we celebrate the wise men bowing before the baby Jesus. This infant king was supposed to usher in the Kingdom of justice, peace, righteousness and truth. But the story is far stranger than we expect. This Nativity story immediately cuts to Herod’s slaughtering sword killing the innocent babes in Bethlehem while the baby Jesus is whisked to the safety of Egypt. In the moment when God breaks into our world, he is revealed amidst struggle and strife and more suffering.

Today, the celebration of Epiphany breaks into our cold hearted world, but everyone has already forgotten the miraculous birth. Back at work. Immersed in projects and meetings and deadlines, we have no time to linger over the troublesome story of God’s unveiling in the midst of a world that reels in anguish.

And yet, this is Gospel.

Jesus is raised as a carpenter. He’ll have to get his hands dirty. When God comes to dwell among His people, he enters into the grime and messiness of life on earth. He enters into the darkness and at times, it appears the darkness will swallow him alive.

In fact, it does swallow him alive.

I’m not so comfortable with the messiness of this spirituality revealed in the Gospels. I want to live on the Mount of Transfiguration, far from the smells and sounds and struggles of our broken world. I want my faith and spiritual life to grow and flourish in a place free from conflict. Like a child hiding from shouts of an angry parent, I want to hide from the problems of life. I seek a sanitized spirituality. Not the messy wonder of Jesus stepping onto the boat of a few weary fisherman.

They needed him during their night of futile fishing. They needed him in their hour of darkness. But he didn’t come. Then they gave up. They started cleaning their nets and docking their boats, then he suddenly stepped into their story.

We sometimes think God has to appear like a Geni from a bottle when we face conflict, indecision, life challenges. He doesn’t have to appear. In fact, he didn’t even have to do anything. He didn’t have to create us. He didn’t have to create our world. He doesn’t have to create or sustain anything. Rather, He is free to create. He is free to sustain. He is free from our closed world of cause and effect. He is free to enter our stories as he chooses.

Jesus freely steps onto a boat of weary fisherman. After teaching the crowds of people, he turns to Peter and issues a command, “Drop your nets in the deep.”

While the command appears nonsensical in the full light of day, a puzzled Peter obeys. A moment later the boat almost sinks under the weight of the all the squirming, smelly fish. Peter falls to his knees and cries out to Jesus, “Depart from me a sinner.”

When the glory of the Lord appears, we fall down like Peter groaning under its weight. Oddly enough, it doesn’t make us feel more spiritual, but less so. The failures of our words and actions shine ever so clearly in the light of Jesus unveiling. When Augustine beholds the Glory of the Lord, he realizes the terrible darkness of his own unrighteousness.

Some people, like myself, scramble to retreats, to prayer summits, to quiet places, hoping for that transcendent encounter. I am drawn to a spiritual life where I rise like the morning mist floating up toward the sun. Instead, I’m flung back to the earth to behold a life less spiritual than I imagined. Spirituality is neither the heavenly bliss of ecstatic joy nor the endless groveling of self-excoriation. Rather, it is the freedom of Christ to enter into the boat, to enter the story.

He enters Peter’s story in the freedom of his own time and place. Moments later, Peter is overwhelmed by the Light of Glory. In Peter’s exposure and confession of sinfulness, Jesus doesn’t leave. Rather, he says, “Don’t be afraid.”

Encountering the Glory of His Light often means encountering the terror of our weaknesses. Jesus looks at us and says, “Do not fear.” He is present. He calls us to follow.

He calls Peter into a life of fishing for living people. Peter, James and John leave everything behind and follow Him.

This is the life of faith. Leaving everything behind and following Jesus. And later, leaving everything behind and following Jesus. And still later, leaving everything behind and following Jesus. Like Paul on the Damascus road, He steps into our success. Like Nicodemus in the dark of night, He steps into our ideologies. Like the woman at the well, He steps into our shame. Like Peter on the boat, He steps into our exhaustion, our weariness, our failure. He steps in the utter messiness of our world and says, “Leave everything behind and follow me.”

On this wondrous day of Epiphany, open your eyes. For Jesus is coming, Jesus is calling. Whether you’re basking in the light of your own glory or drowning in the darkness of despair, leave everything behind and follow Jesus. He will take you where you don’t want to go. But don’t fear. He loves you. And He will love you into glory, into glory and into ever-increasing glory.

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