Why Follow Jesus? (John 21:1-14 and Acts 9:1-22)
Rev. David French
Why do you follow Jesus? Why do you want others to follow Jesus? These questions probably seem ridiculous to a room full of Christians. I mean … Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer. Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of all our sins so that we could spend eternity with Him in heaven. Why wouldn’t we follow Him? Why wouldn’t we want others to follow Him? And you would be absolutely right! When seen through the eyes of faith, it really is a no-brainer.
But don’t even the faithful sometimes forget these foundational truths? Don’t we sometimes find ourselves headed away from the Light of the World, into the darkness, even if just in our minds? We avoid pitch blackness of course, but darkness that promises all kinds of things appealing to our worldly or sinful nature?
I ask this because I know there isn’t a single person here who wouldn’t want to experience the pure joy of being a Christian. We all know that joy beyond all measure awaits us in heaven, that’s what the reading from Revelation was about, the pure joy of worshiping the Lamb. But … we want to experience the joy of being a Christian today, here and now as well. And yet … being a faithful Christian in this day and age, even in our culture, can often be anything but joyous. In fact, there are times that it can feel downright depressing and dangerous. Life gets tough, and there are times that the thought “why bother” can enter our minds. Why put up with all this often-thankless sacrifice of time, energy, or money for the sake of the church? Is it really worth all the headaches and trouble that can come with being a child of God? And this happens all the more when we begin to believe how “good” other people seem to have it or, at least, handle it. We see how, throughout history, people sung hymns of joy even as they were being put to death for their faith, and we wonder if we could really do that or is there something wrong with our faith?
So, what are we missing? We hear in Scripture how people were utterly overjoyed in their faith, which makes us wonder why we don’t have that kind of joy. Their faithful joy caused them to do unimaginable things. How many times was St. Paul beaten and imprisoned, even shipwrecked in his missionary work? How many times did he cheat death, and yet was determined to continue with his mission work? From stonings and a poisonous snake bite to a few rounds of the 40 lashes minus one, nothing caused Paul to question his faith or whether it was all worth it. He considered it to be a privilege to suffer for the name of Jesus.
We think about that and, if we’re honest, we have to admit to feeling just a bit uneasy. We wonder what a joy that could make it through those kinds of trials must feel like. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know the unimaginable joy that Peter felt when he heard John say, “It is the Lord”? Peter was so euphoric to see the risen Jesus that he jumped in the lake and swam the 100 yards to shore. He just couldn’t wait. He couldn’t wait for the miraculous catch of fish to be hauled in. He couldn’t wait for the boats to come to shore. He seems so confused, that he gets dressed and then jumps in the lake. All he wanted was to be in the presence of Christ.
I wish I had even a fraction of that kind of excitement and faithful abandonment. “Who cares what others think? This is Jesus!” I wish I had it … but I don’t. And sometimes that bothers me. And that is the crack through which the darkness of doubt begins to seep in. That’s where blindness or sight without faith overshadows us. It’s where Satan does some of his best work.
We hear the words of our lesson, and we begin to reason: but then Peter did have Jesus standing right there in front of him. And John could so willingly take the torture and exile to the island of Patmos because of the mind-blowing revelation he had received from God! And Paul wasn’t so bold until after his encountered with Jesus on the road to Damascus. After he was struck blind and then experienced the miracle of having his sight restored by a someone personally sent by Jesus. Got to say, that would make my day, and I’d be jumping for joy as well!
My dear brothers and sisters in the faith, consider what Christ has already done for you; what He is doing for you now, in your very presence. Remember the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe,” But even that misses the point of our context. Jesus spoke those words specifically to Thomas to chastise him for refusing to believe the news of His resurrection.
That’s not our problem today. We whole-heartedly believe in the resurrection. But still, is Jesus standing here in the flesh like He was with Thomas or Peter? No. Is Jesus shining like a brilliant blinding light with His voice booming from the heavens, like He did with Paul? No. If He was, this place would be standing-room only. I mean, who wouldn’t want to experience some miraculously powerful, life-changing time, just listening to Jesus?
And yet…we have His promise that He is here; that through the ears and eyes of faith, we do hear Him and recognize Him in His very real presence. “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We know that this isn’t just a sentimental statement, as if Jesus is only with us in spirit. NO! Jesus is truly with us! His Word and promise are truer than we can imagine or comprehend with our sin-stained reason.
John himself said it best as he stood in the midst of that miracle at sea and recognized his Lord and Savior. “It is the Lord!” Such a simple proclamation. Yet, as simple as it is, it has the power to bring life to death, light to darkness, sight to blindness, and hearing to the deaf. It has the power to make people do the craziest things, like jump out of boats or stand before pagan kings and emperors and joyously stare death in the face, or rejoice in exile, or in sickness.
It has the power to make people in our day and age do something as crazy as believing and standing firm in the faith in the midst of a world that hates Christ, hates the idea of faith, and wants nothing more than for you to compromise and sell out for the sake of what they call peace. Crazy indeed! It has such miraculously crazy power because it is God’s life-creating and sustaining power! It is God the Holy Spirit Himself, working in, with, and under the means of grace. My friends, the Lord is with us. He is with you! It’s that simple, and that simple truth is our salvation.
And so, we continue to gather around God’s Word and sacraments, His tangible means of grace, offered to open your heart, mind, and eyes with the gift of saving faith, so that you are able to look and see that Christ our Lord and Savior is always with you, to nourish and comfort, to bind up our wounds, to bring to us His gifts of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and a peace that surpasses all understanding. Why follow Jesus? Because as we all confess, “He lived, died, and rose for me.”
In His name, Amen.