Can this last?
Mention the concept of sustainability in the 21st Century and most minds will turn immediately to issues surrounding the environment. Earth Day is next week; for the growing numbers who self-describe as “spiritual, not religious,” there’s a good chance that their posture toward Mother Nature will become worshipful as they join forces with other adherents on the 22nd to consider whether current global practices can be sustained across future generations; sustainability is their mantra.
Having the Carpenter from Nazareth as a movement leader for just over three years was a unique experience for dozens of people who had put their lives on hold so they could follow his travels and hear his compelling explorations of life, stretching into a future he referred to as “the Kingdom” which they presumed to be an imminent possibility, if he really was the long-awaited Messiah.
Then, everything imploded. Remember the events recounted in the week leading up to Easter?
Their emotional pogo-stick over that weekend was extreme. The crowds were convinced on Sunday that their champion had arrived. Intrigue and betrayal put him under arrest; a miscarriage of justice put him on a criminal’s cross. A wealthy patron sheltered his dead body in an exclusive crypt, and an unprecedented miracle put his closest followers back in touch with the resurrected Jesus.
Post-Easter appearances: they were selective and strategic, leading up to his return to Heaven 40 days after he defeated death. There was unfinished business – especially with the key leaders who had been the consummate insiders for three years – that demanded his attention. The question that must be answered: if Jesus was no longer on-the-ground, would his movement collapse without leadership?
Eleven Apostles remained (Judas was dead); seven went back to the Sea of Galilee to re-enter the ranks of the professional fishing community they had left to follow Jesus. With Jesus going back to Heaven soon, did it make sense for them to just go back to work?
John was one of the seven; he tells the story as an insider in John 20. To summarize his narrative: following Peter’s lead – “I’m going out to fish” (v 3) – they fished all night (the conventional approach) and caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus appeared on the beach, but at a distance (they didn’t recognize him). He hollered across the Lake: “Catch anything, guys?” Their answer, “Nothing.” He did what he had done three years before: the Carpenter is coach to the lifetime fishermen: “Try the other side of the boat.” You know the story: they did as he suggested and hauled-in 153 tilapia (a historic catch). John, in the boat, processes the scene instantly and tells Peter: “It is the Lord!” (v 7).
On the beach, the fish are stacked and ready for processing; Jesus stands next to the trophy catch and forces a value assessment for Peter. He asks him, “…do you love me more than these?” (v 15). The question – and Peter’s answer – repeat three times; it’s the critical question that had to be addressed.
Here’s the question that had to be settled: would a life of Kingdom leadership only be Peter’s priority if Jesus was there – in the flesh – to lead the way? Or, would Jesus’ absence signal the end of the devotion shown by the Apostles to the movement he had come from Heaven to launch?
If the call to leadership could not be the priority for these men without Jesus there, then the advancement of Kingdom of God is not sustainable with Jesus back in Heaven.
But… what if the Holy Spirit – the third Person of the Triune God – could become part of the promise, going forward?
Two things would be critical: the passionate commitment of the leaders, and the crucial contribution of the Spirit. Before the Crucifixion, those factors hadn’t been resolved; post-Easter, they’re coming together as mission-critical for the New Covenant to become global.
Peter and the others came to the right determination concerning their priorities; have you?