The day has finally arrived. For the first time in three years, yesterday we gathered together in person to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. It was quite a day. We also wrapped up our series, Plugged In. Getting and living plugged in to Jesus is a great thing. But it’s not a thing we can do on our own. The resurrection is what makes it possible. Let’s talk about it. Happy Easter! (P.S. It’s Spring Break week for us. I’ll be back with you next Monday. Have a great week!)
Restored by the Resurrection
When was the last time you failed? It could be a small failure. It could be a big failure. It could be an actual failure. It could be merely a perceived failure. Whatever form it happened to take, though, failing isn’t any fun. In fact, it’s a terrible feeling to have. And if there were just one feeling associated with it, that wouldn’t be good, but failure comes with a whole mixed bag of feelings and emotions. We feel like we’ve let down someone; maybe a number of someones. We feel like we’ve lost a bit of our purpose as people. We’re angry. We’re embarrassed. We’re ashamed. We want to hide—especially if the failure is the result of sin of some kind. Failure is just kind of a mess. Nobody wants to feel that. And yet, the truth about living in a world broken by sin is that sometimes…we do.
The Friday afternoon after Jesus had been crucified the disciples were certainly feeling it. After Jesus had told them all numerous times they were going to run out on Him at His moment of greatest need, and after they had all repeatedly insisted they would never even dream of doing something like that, running out on Him in His moment of greatest need was exactly what they did. But it wasn’t like there was just one, single moment of failure and it was done. It was a slowly unfolding cascade of disaster. It started in the Garden of Gethsemane when Peter, James, and John couldn’t keep their eyes open to keep watch and pray themselves while Jesus was praying. Then it was Judas who was standing at the head of the arresting mob. Then Peter panicked and hacked the ear off of one of the servants of the High Priest. Then they all ran off to save themselves from whatever Judas and his mob had in mind. And as if that weren’t enough, Peter later tried to put on a brave face with John and follow Jesus to find out what was going to happen to Him, but the first time someone identified him as one of Jesus’ disciples, he panicked again and denied ever even knowing Jesus. The whole ordeal was just one failure after another, after another.
But even all of that wasn’t the only failure of the day. Jesus Himself had failed. That’s what they were all thinking. As heartbroken as all of the disciples and the other followers of Jesus were, His death meant He had failed at whatever task God had sent him to accomplish. There had been several Messiah pretenders in recent times, but the one surefire way to know whether it was a false messiah or not was if he wound up hanging from a Roman cross. Rome would not, could not, kill God’s Messiah. Everyone else was a fake. These guys were all as sure as the world that while Jesus may have done some really amazing things, and while they had all been thoroughly convinced that He was the Messiah, well…He wasn’t. Whatever it was He had been trying to do…He’d failed. The disciples had failed Jesus. Jesus had failed the disciples. Failure was everywhere they looked and stretched as far as they could all see. At least, it did until it didn’t.
This wonderful morning finds us at last in the final part of our series, Plugged In. For the past several weeks we have been talking about living lives that are plugged in to Jesus. We’ve looked at the idea from numerous different angles as we have walked with Jesus and the disciples from the Upper Room on their journey to the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross, and—at last—an empty tomb. We’ve talked about how to do it, why to do it Jesus’ way, what it looks like when we do it well, and, for the last couple of weeks, what are some of the results of getting it right. Living our lives plugged in to Jesus goes way beyond simply saying some words and showing up at some place on occasion. It is an idea that encompasses every single part of our lives from the moment we wake up in the morning all the way until our brains go into sleep mode at night, and even then we are still impacted by it. There is no decision we will ever make that is not directly impacted by our living plugged in to Jesus.
And yet, sometimes life seems to just get in the way of our connection to Him. We find ourselves in situations that push us to our breaking points, but instead of bending and flexing we break. Sometimes it’s our own choices that weaken our connection. That’s a pretty miserable experience. It’s one that can leave us not only fearing being disqualified by others, but even going to the extent of disqualifying ourselves from ever doing anything meaningful for God. Failure can get pretty suffocating this way. What I want to help you see this morning is that this doesn’t have to be the case.
When we left Jesus and the disciples on Friday, things looked pretty grim. Jesus was dead, and the disciples were scattered. By every imaginable observation, they had lost and lost badly. The Jewish religious elite and, to a lesser extent, Rome, had won. Yet another challenge to their position and authority had been put down. Things could all go back to the way they had always been. Then Saturday came, and…we don’t actually know what happened on Saturday. Have you ever noticed that? The day receives absolutely no mention in any of the Gospels. We can only guess, but based on where we find the group on Sunday morning, I suspect they had spent the day laying low, hoping the people who had engineered Jesus’ death had given up when that box was checked and weren’t going to find their safehouse in the city. Plus, it was the Sabbath. Nobody was doing much of anything on that day. The Law forbade it.
What happened next, though, nobody expected. Each of the four Gospel authors give us a slightly different version of what happened Sunday morning. Some folks cry “contradiction” when they see this, but professional investigators recognize the variance actually gives credence to the truthfulness of the overall report. What we can piece together from looking at all four Gospels is that while some of the women who followed Jesus had begun burial preparations on Friday evening when Joseph of Arimathea had gotten permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’ body instead of leaving it hanging on the cross, sundown had arrived before they could finish. In spite of their emotional distress, Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us they noted exactly where the tomb was and how far along in the process they had gotten before the Sabbath interrupted their efforts. The plan was to go back to the tomb early Sunday morning to finish the job. As hard as it would be, they all needed the closure.
Well, in their haste to get everything done they could on Friday evening, the one detail they hadn’t worked out was how they were going to move the huge stone away from the tomb’s entrance when they went back. Mark tells us they were talking about that very thing as they went. “They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?’” What they didn’t know is that, as Matthew tells us, just before they got there, “there was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached the tomb.” Now, I’ve read Matthew’s resurrection report numerous times, but for some reason, this time really caught my attention. The angel of the Lord descended from heaven. I get an image in my mind of Thor landing from space on the battlefield at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. This angel then marched up to the tomb, right through the shocked unit of soldiers guarding it, and shook the ground until the giant stone rolled up the embankment helping to hold it in place, unsealing Jesus’ tomb. From Matthew again: “He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it.” Then he probably looked at the guards and went, “Hey.” “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards [stationed there at Pilate’s direction in response to a request from the Jewish leaders to make sure the disciples didn’t steal Jesus’ body to trick everyone into thinking He was alive again in light of His silly prediction to come back from the dead on the third day] were so shaken by fear of him that they became like dead men.” These soldiers who were the equivalent of Navy Seals passed out from fear. We can only assume the guards were still passed out on the ground when the women arrived with the spices necessary to finish the embalming process. Luke tells us they were, naturally, utterly baffled as to how this scene could have unfolded.
Confused, but curious, they apprehensively went into the tomb to look around and found that there was no body there. Instead, they saw the angels who were perhaps a little less arrayed in glory than they were when they arrived to move the stone and dispatch the soldiers. Still, they were startled to say the least. It’s hard to say what the mood of the angels was, but it seems like they were having at least a little bit of fun at the women’s expense. Luke reports their saying, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen!” Four words changed the world forever. Mark tells us they added instructions to go tell Peter and the other disciples about all of this. But if you thought this should have left the women elated at the good news, and set to shout it from the rooftops, you would be mistaken. Mark goes on to say “they went out and ran from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.”
John picks up the story there in chapter 20. If you have a Bible with you, find your way there with me. While the other women were too overcome with emotion and confusion to do much of anything, Mary Magdalene ran on ahead to tell Peter and John what had happened. Now, this is really interesting because of what we know the angels had said to all the women. The angels had just told them Jesus was risen and to go and tell the disciples about it. And yet, Mary “went running to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him!’” The angels’ declaration of Jesus’ resurrection didn’t even register for them. That is, they didn’t believe it.
Verse 3 now: “At that, Peter and the other disciple went out [because they didn’t believe it either], heading for the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and got to the tomb first [which, by the way, John wrote about 30 years after Peter had died, so he couldn’t argue with him].” They got there, went into the tomb, saw what the women had seen (minus the angels), and understood it about as well. Curious, but confused, they went back to the place where the other guys were staying to tell them that, yes, what the women had reported about the tomb being open and Jesus’ body being gone was not hysterical nonsense.
Meanwhile, Mary stayed at the tomb, trying to wrap her head around it all. While there, in a really touching moment, she encountered Jesus—the very first person to do so. She didn’t recognize Him at first, but just like Jesus had told them, her sorrow was turned to joy. Later that evening Jesus finally appeared to the whole group (minus Thomas) and confirmed that it was all true. Everything He had ever told them was true.
And it would be really nice to think they lived happily ever after and that was the end of the story. But you know as well as I do that it’s not. For starters, there are 23 more documents in the New Testament that continue the story. But that’s not what I mean. Think back to that time you felt like a failure. Imagine that you’ve blown it in some dramatic way, but the collateral from your dropping the ball has been cleaned up, and things have worked out just fine for all parties involved. Are you good now? Perhaps, but probably not. Instead, the odds are a whole lot higher that you’re still beating yourself up over whatever it was. You may be the only one doing that, but there aren’t many folks who can scold us into the ground once a situation is done and over quite so well as we can.
The apparent failure of Jesus’ ministry was completely erased by the resurrection. And with that failure off the books, the disciples’ failure to have His back really didn’t matter anymore. It had all played out the way God always knew that it would. But none of that meant the disciples had gotten over what they had done. Resurrection or not, they knew they had failed Jesus. They had broken their connection to Him in a way that had to be permanent. He might be alive, but they were no use to Him any longer. This is where we find them at the beginning of John 21.
John tells it like this: “After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called ‘Twin’), Nathaniel from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples were together. ‘I’m going fishing,’ Simon Peter said to them. ‘We’re coming with you,’ they told him. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” Now, think back just a bit to about three years before this time. What were the disciples doing when Jesus called them? They were doing life. Matthew was a tax collector. The other guys were pursuing various other trades. But we know for sure that at least Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen. Here in John 21, the disciples were back home in Galilee. And what were they doing there? Well, it wasn’t proclaiming the news of Jesus’ resurrection to anyone who would listen. They were fishing. That is, they had gone back to doing what they were doing when Jesus found them. And why would they do that? Perhaps because they figured their association with Him was over. Now that He had risen from the dead, He was going to find some new followers who would be more faithful than they had proven to be.
When Jesus first called Peter and Andrew to follow Him, the moment was pretty dramatic. They had been out in their boat all night fishing and it was one of those fishing trips where you have a lot of really good conversations about all the fish you wish you were catching…which is okay unless your livelihood depends on how many fish you’re catching. Jesus came along in the morning, used their boat to teach the crowds, and then told them to go back out to cast their nets one more time. His request was both inconvenient, because they had just finished cleaning their nets, and ignorant, because you didn’t fish in the middle of the day. But they went anyway and caught so many fish they needed an extra boat to haul them all in. It was a pretty powerful moment. It was not something they would ever forget.
So on this particular morning, when they had once again been out all night fishing unsuccessfully—v. 4 now—“When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not know it was Jesus. ‘Friends,’ Jesus called to them, ‘you don’t have any fish, do you?’” Now, come on: Have you ever tried to do something, failed miserably, and then had someone come up and ask you how it’s going. If you don’t turn the attitude down to a reasonable level, you just might overwhelm the person with sarcasm in your response. These professional fishermen had spent all night not catching any fish, and this wiseguy on the shore the next morning has the nerve to shout to them, “You don’t have any fish, do you?” John reports they simply responded with, “No,” but I tend to suspect they at least wanted to say something else. Somebody probably punched Peter in the arm before he could open his big mouth. “‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat,’ he told them, ‘and you’ll find some.’” In that moment, they knew who was on the shore. Just to test their theory, John says they did what He said, “and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. The disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
Peter was so excited he jumped out of the boat to get to shore faster, leaving the other guys to deal with everything. And when they were all settled back on the shore with all 153 large fish in tow, they had breakfast with Jesus on the beach. He had been dead, and now they were having breakfast with Him. That has a way of putting a bit of a new spin on…well…everything.
But there was even more going on here. Jesus had called His first disciples to follow Him in a moment almost exactly like this one. His repeating of that moment was on purpose. And what was its purpose? To let these broken men know that He hadn’t given up on them. They may have failed, and they may have mentally unplugged themselves from Him, but the resurrection changed all of that. When He rose from the grave on the third day, all the power of sin and death was broken forever. We would still sin and fall and fail, but because of the resurrection, restoration was possible. As much as we might feel ourselves to be disconnected and disconnecting from Him because of this or that, the resurrection means we can stay plugged in. You can stay plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection.
Don’t believe me? Ask Peter. After breakfast, Jesus took Peter aside and asked if he still loved Him. Verse 15: “When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’” Peter was always the one who professed to love Jesus the most. He was the most insistent he would never abandon or betray Jesus. He was adamant that he would lay down his own life before leaving Jesus’ side. When trouble came calling in the Garden, Peter was the one who whipped out his sword and struck first, ready to go out in a blaze of glory to defend his Lord. But when Jesus stopped and scolded him, all of his confidence left him and a little while later when a young girl outed him as a Jesus follower, he denied it vigorously. His failure was enormous. Resurrection or not, he, of all of the disciples, was the most inclined to write himself out of the story because of what he had done. And now Jesus Himself was questioning his love. Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, but nonetheless figured he was going to at best ride the bench for the rest of his life. Then Jesus asked him again. And again. Once for each time he denied his Lord. But that wasn’t the only thing Jesus said. Each time Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus called him back to service. Jesus wasn’t writing Peter out. He was calling Peter out to restore him to the work Jesus still wanted him to do. Because Jesus rose from the dead, there was no failure from which Peter couldn’t be brought back. Peter could stay plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection.
Friends, it gets better than that. You can stay plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection. Come on, let’s be honest with each other. There is brokenness in your past. There may be brokenness in your present. What’s more, you are at the center of a great deal of that brokenness. You caused some of that brokenness by the choices you have made; by the relationships you have fractured. You’re here today because you’re at least interested in Jesus, but you just may be struggling with whether or not you can be of any real use to Him. Perhaps you’re being driven by a desire to do this or that ministry to atone for the brokenness in your past as if by doing enough good, you could somehow right your scales. Listen: you don’t get or stay plugged in to Jesus because of something in you; you get and stay plugged in to Jesus because of something—everything—in Him. Because He rose from the grave—because He lives—the board has been cleared of sin and anyone can be fully restored to who God made them to be. You can stay plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection.
That time you thought you weren’t good enough for him, you were wrong. That little nagging voice in the back of your mind that says you’ve done too much wrong to really be made right, is a lie. There is an enemy who is willing to do anything to convince you that you can’t really do anything for Jesus. He’ll use guilt or fear or pride or anything else he can to keep you sidelined. But it’s just not true. You can stay plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection. Don’t live your life confessing Jesus is Lord, but living like He never really rose from the grave. You can stay plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection.
Perhaps even more than that, though. you can get plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection. Maybe you’re here this morning and you’ve never really plugged in to Jesus in the first place. The reasons for that are probably all over the place. Maybe you’ve been coming to church for a while, but never really plugged in to a relationship with Him. You’ve been doing ritual; not relationship. Because Jesus rose from the grave—and He indisputably rose from the grave—you don’t have to settle for anything less than relationship. Because He rose, we know death isn’t the end and life can be full beyond what you have perhaps even dared to hope. You can be plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection.
This is the good news. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave really does change everything. The only question remaining is whether you will live in spite of it or in light of it. You can stay plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection. Anything other than that is a lie. Don’t give a single other moment of your life to the idea that there is anything that can keep you separated from Him. There isn’t. You can stay plugged in to Jesus because of the resurrection. My invitation is for you to do just that.