Blessed, happy…

The hillside that looks down to the Sea of Galilee from the Mount called the Mount of Beatitudes, or Mt. Eremos in Israel.

 

We started the day at the top of Mt. Arbel. The Master had taken us up the night before. At daybreak, we watched a gorgeous sunrise over the Sea!  Mt. Arbel is His favorite “get away from it all” spot. You can get a view of the whole lake from there.

We had spent much of the past few weeks all around this northern part of the Galilee. He had chosen 12 of us to be His closest followers, His talmudim. Many of us grew up around here, working the sea for fish and the land for grain.

As we journeyed down towards the shore, He warned us about the expected crowds today. There was something in His heart that He needed to tell the people… If people were going to receive any kind of physical healing from Him, they were going to hear why He healed first.  He told us of the story when He taught in the synagogue in Nazareth… when the reading from the Prophets for that day was from Isaiah. He affirmed the reason He had come… to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind… to set the oppressed free.

And now today, today would be the day when the Teacher revealed His yoke, His perspective, His views on the Law. And today, he would set the whole tone for the next year and a half of ministry…

As He began to teach, He did so just like He was in a synagogue. He sat down on a rock. And He preached with such authority.

“Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” He began.

“Blessed, happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed, happy are those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 6:3-5).

With each blessing, more and more people made their way to the field below Him. He continued…

“Blessed, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed, happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed, happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 6:6-8).

His voice echoed off the hillside and fisherman pulled their boats onto the shore to hear more.

“Blessed, happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed, happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 6:9-12).

The Master spoke for quite some time… I looked around as the crowd continued to increase. People elbowed each other to see His face. They wiped their brows as the warmth of the day increased. “Who was this?” I heard them murmur to each other.

He watched as fishermen on the shore began to pack their catch in salt to preserve it. “You are the salt of the earth,” He assured us. “But if the salt loses it saltiness, how can it be salty again?” (Matthew 6:13).

He looked east toward Hippos across the sea and proclaimed, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:14-16).

He then began to illustrate His views on Torah, His yoke, by noting what other teachers of the Law have to say… He would start by saying, “You have heard it said… “ and then He would add, “but I say to you…” It was His way of bringing grace and life to the Laws of Moses. For example, He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:43-45).

Some in the growing crowd were mesmerized by these teachings. Others were puzzled as this man appeared to be a learned rabbi, but was questioning much of everything we all knew of the Law.

He taught on murder, adultery, divorce, prayer and fasting. He summed up the Law and the Prophets with this straightforward statement: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).

The topic that spoke most to my heart? Anxiety. I will admit, I’m a worrier. And yet, as He looked at the flowers in bloom on this very hillside, and saw the birds flying through the treetops, the Master urged us:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).

 As He concluded this powerful, yet simple message, the crowd was amazed. I looked at the others with a smile, humbled that He had chosen us to be His disciples… and wondering what else we might learn in the days and weeks to come as we followed our rabbi.

Some of the thoughts, perhaps, of one of the 12, as he remembered that day where Yeshua first spoke those words.

_____

There are so many amazing teachings in this, the first of Jesus’ public teachings. As we see often, Jesus flips many of the norms and teachings of old on their heads. You are blessed when you are poor in spirit. It’s okay to mourn. Be hungry for righteousness not the Law. Be a peacemaker. Don’t worry when you are persecuted, or when you are hungry or naked. Seek first the Kingdom. Be salt. Be light. Treat others as you want to be treated. This is how you are to pray.

He was going “on the record” … establishing His yoke, His ways, His views on Torah. And ultimately, Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

So, say “Yes!” to the Law. But, more importantly, say “Yes!” to Grace. Say “Yes!” to the way of Yeshua. He spoke with the bold and loving authority of God.  This message is for everyone. Jew and Gentile alike. Believer and unbeliever. For those who heard it first-hand on a hillside along the banks of the Sea of Galilee as He spoke it – Matthew says in 7:28 that the crowds were amazed!”

AND the timeless message is for us today. Can we be amazed again? I hope so!

 

[1] Friedrich Hauck, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as cited in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth E. Bailey, © 2008, p. 68.

 

(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.

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You May Have Failed, but You Are Not a Failure.

Sunrise. Breakfast with Jesus.

 

It was ten days after the resurrection. Another day had passed. Like the previous ones, we pondered what to do next. Last thing we remember was Jesus telling us to wait. So, we had waited. And frankly, the waiting was boring. Today, I decided to do something different. Today my restlessness got the best of me. So, today, I decided to return to that with which I was very familiar.

“I’m going fishing,” I told the others.

It was just after midnight, when the Sea of Galilee typically teemed with active, easy to catch fish.

Thomas, the sons of Thunder and two others joined me. It was fun to go back to something we had once enjoyed regularly. The past few months, even the past three years, had all been such a blur. Jesus had turned our world upside down. We had been fishing… but for new souls, new converts, not Tilapia and Herring.

There was something joyful and peaceful about the repetitious nature of throwing our nets out and bringing them back in… And yet, as the moon passed from one end of the horizon to the other, that peace and joy turned to angst and frustration. We caught nothing. Absolutely nothing! All night long. Here I am… a fisherman… Sure, I’ve been away from this day to day life since we were on the mission with Jesus… but, this is in my blood… same with James and John… My mind raced back to the night Jesus was arrested… I felt like such a failure then, too!

At daybreak we saw a man on the shore. He asked about our luck with the nets. I hid my face as John told him we had caught nothing. The stranger told us to try the right side of the boat; we’d find our fish there.  That riled me up even more! “Right side of the boat. Left side of the boat. What difference does it make? Are we going to listen to some guy on the shore?” I queried to no one in particular. Thomas urged us to give it try… Thomas!

So, we cast our nets out the right side of the boat. You wouldn’t believe the haul of fish that weighed our nets down! The seven of us couldn’t even bring them on-board. Who was the stranger on shore? Could he have something to do with this? Nah…

Just then the dawning light of the new day shown right on the man. John looked out over the water and recognized the figure. He shouted, “It’s the Lord!” My heart skipped more than a beat or two as I plunged into the icy water and swam as fast as I could towards the shore! Jesus helped me out of the water and we enjoyed a laugh-filled embrace.

The others met Jesus around the fire as I pulled the net ashore and laid out all of the fish… 153! What an amazing catch. We enjoyed a breakfast together with fish that He had already caught. It was such a joy to be with Him again!

He took me aside and asked me three questions… well, it was the same question, but He asked it three times. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” That caught me off guard. He hadn’t called me by my birth name in three years! Of course I loved him! With each affirmation He asked me to take care of and feed the sheep He was leaving in my care. By the third time I realized what He was doing… I looked over at the others around the camp fire and remembered the last time I warmed my hands at a fire and the shame I felt at rejecting Him to a servant girl. I fell at His knees and wept… Three times I denied I knew Him. Three times He asked if I loved Him. Three times He commanded me to tend to His sheep. He was asking me to join the ranks of shepherds like Abraham, Moses and David.

Along that sandy beach, in the middle of a pile of flopping fish and the distant stare of my best friends… I was humbled, broken, really. He was recommissioning me as He did that day back at Caesarea Philippi, when He last called me “Simon” and the first time I truly confessed that He was the Messiah, the Son of Living God.

__________

Some of the words, actions and thoughts perhaps of Simon Peter, from John 21.

 

We have all failed at something, right? For some of us… it might be many, many things…  Maybe you’ve failed at a job or a career. I have. Maybe you’ve failed at a being a friend. I have. Maybe you’ve failed your parents, your spouse, your kids. I have. Maybe you feel like you have failed God. I have. But hear me: you might have failed at something. But God says you are NOT a failure!

The steps of good men are directed by the Lord. He delights in each step they take. If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT)

I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate.  What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die? Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me. Romans 7:15, 24-25 (MSG)

So, here is Peter… he feels like a failure. He denied Jesus. And now he can’t even fish anymore! Yet he’s been fishing his whole life, right? But, he was now trying to do it on his own terms.

Jesus gets his attention in a big way, right?!  As if to say… “Peter, you’re not a fisherman any more… you tried… all night long you tried… but you couldn’t catch anything without me… and that’s because I’ve got a greater purpose for you now!”

It’s morning… a new day has dawned… for Peter and for all of us. Each new day is a new day to start afresh. Peter recognized the Lord. And he leaped out of the boat and swam to Jesus to be with the Lord. It was a simple step. Like throwing the nets out of the other side of the boat.

I think that sometimes we all believe that we must take a giant, Grand Caynon leap of faith in order for us to be right with God. No, it’s as simple as turning from left to right… or just running to Jesus.

“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus had told them all in the Upper Room (John 15:5).

It’s the same for you and me.

 

(c) 2018. Rich Ronald.

Joy Comes with the Morning!

 

You can trust in the sunrise!

 

From the journal of Mary Magdalene:

Today started as yesterday began… and even how Friday dawned… As the sun came up I began to weep and mourn. For today was to be another day without my Messiah. The Sabbath was not kind to me this week. Most of the day I sobbed uncontrollably. We met with the others and cried together. Tears of confusion and anger. Tears of disappointment and fear. What would our lives look like now? Oh, how I loved Jesus. When He healed me of my seven demons, my whole world flipped right side up for the first time in years. Of course, I followed Him, I served Him, I loved everything about Him… On Friday afternoon I gazed up into His beloved face as the sky behind Him grew fierce and black. I stayed until He breathed His last. I fell to my knees in horror as the soldier pierced His side. I helped Joseph and Nicodemus take the body down from the cross, cleaning it as best we could in the short time before Shabbat.

The new week began today with the same heaviness deep in my heart. I went to the tomb to properly anoint the body with oil and spices. I kept hearing His promises echo in my head… “I will never leave you nor forsake you…” There was an eerie darkness in the garden. The birds, normally singing loudly in the pre-dawn springtime, were unusually quiet. I wondered how I would roll away the stone.

As I arrived at the burial spot, I was confused because the entrance to the crypt was wide open. Was this the right place? Had I misunderstood Joseph’s directions? As I looked inside, I saw an empty slab in the darkness. A cold breeze slapped my face! Immediately my anger increased as I wondered who had stolen the body? I ran to tell Peter and John and they quickly competed to see who could get there first. They both confirmed my initial discovery and left me standing in front of the vacant tomb.

I sobbed uncontrollably for what felt like hours. I paced back and forth. I fell to my knees. I shook my fist at heaven. Something prompted me to look inside once more. I saw two angels sitting about six feet apart. An empty burial cloth lay between them. They asked me why I was crying? Why do you think? There is a massive hole in my heart and the pain is great!

I looked away and began to leave. A man was nearby; I thought he might be the gardener. I couldn’t see his face for the sun was rising over his right shoulder. He too asked me why I was crying. With all my heart I asked him if he had taken the body someplace.

He spoke my name. “Miriam. Mary.” My heart skipped a beat as I recognized the familiar, loving voice of Yeshua! In that instant, I recalled a time when the Lord told us that He was the Good Shepherd… and that the sheep know His voice…  I spun around quickly, like a dancer!  My weeping suddenly turned to great joy as I recognized my Lord and fell at his knees! “Rabboni!”

He’s alive! He spoke to me first! He told me to go tell the others. I would say that I can’t believe it, but I do believe it! He has risen! I have seen the Lord!

There was great sorrow and weeping last night. And the night before that… But today… today… joy has come with the morning!

 

The actions, words and thoughts, perhaps, of Mary Magdalene, as recorded in John 20.

 

What do you do when you feel sorrow or sadness? Run to Jesus! Listen to His words in Matthew 6:

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place… Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” Matthew 6:6 (MSG)

Oh, to sense His grace… You’ll find it as you meet Him in your prayer closet each day.

 

(c)2018 Rich Ronald.

You can defeat the enemy, the Devil… the same way Jesus did!

 

The Israeli desert can be brutal. Satan tried to use it to his advantage. To no avail!

I am known as a tempter, a deceiver and schemer. My goal is to take anything good and wreck it. I have had many, many successes. Eve is the earliest. I was able to confuse her. Oh she had it so good there in the garden… By manipulating the truth just a bit I totally wrecked her life, her relationship with Adam and with God.

I also messed with Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, even Peter. The list is endless. And, I’m sure I’ve messed with you.

So the day Jesus entered the wilderness I was poised for another great victory. I watched as he spent 40 long days in solitude.  I waited until he was at his weakest… he was lonely, hungry, and he was likely preparing for his next move. At just the right moment, I pounced!

The Israeli desert is rocky, dry and dirty. Loose stones the size of fists cover the landscape. Just walking can be a chore. And finding a spot to kneel and pray is impossible. With just the right amount of prompting, and the early morning light just so, I knew that Jesus was famished, I figured I may be able to convince him to see small loaves of bread where the path was covered with rocks. This was going to be easier than Eve.  He hadn’t eaten in 40 days. Appealing to his flesh and his position, I said: “If you really are the Son of God, and since you are hungry, why not turn these stones into bread… satisfy your hunger. Can’t you taste a fresh baked loaf, Jesus? Mmmmm.”

Even though he was famished and his body weak, his mind was sharp. He quoted Torah and said: “No one can live on bread alone. People need every word that God has spoken. The word is life. The word is my sustenance, Satan.”

He was stronger than I thought he’d be after 40 days without food.

We walked along for awhile together.  I took him to the City.  The air was hot, not a cloud in the sky. Although no one could see us, we went to the top of Solomon’s great temple. We looked down from the height above and saw people going about their day… the women to the markets and the men to their work. Bright colored awnings peppered the walkway below. I pretended to push him off and challenged his ego. If this is about words supporting him, how about these words from Scripture: “God will give his angels orders about you, Jesus. They will catch you in their arms. Jump, Jesus, Jump!”

He replied by quoting other words from God: “Don’t try to test the Lord!”

I schemed again how I might tempt him… I knew that God has given me the power over this earth, so I used that authority as a bargaining chip… I would gladly give that up if I could get Jesus to merely bow to me!  I’m still angry at God… It was supposed to be me on that throne in heaven! So we went north to Mt. Hermon, the highest elevation in all of the Promised Land. He was still physically weak. Surely I could get him to yield.  “Look to the mountains in the east and the great sea to the west.  This can all be yours, Jesus… all you have to do is bow before me. Think of it… you can bring your people your kind of peace, for all time… think of the wealth of this land, the bounty and riches of the fertile crescent, the many palaces of King Herod… I’ll see to it that it is all yours to do with as you wish… merely worship me.”

This time, he didn’t bow, he bellowed: “Go away, Satan!” Again he quoted the Word of God: “Worship the Lord, the One True God and serve only Him.”

Others were so much easier to cripple… I will continue to press on this one, the Son of God… but for now, I will leave him. I will leave him. But I will be back!

 

The words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of Satan during temptation of Jesus in Matthew, Chapter 4.

 

Do you know you have the power to defeat the enemy? Use the words of God and the truth of the scriptures. Use the authority Jesus gives to all of us. Most important, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 (NIV).

 

Original sermon video is found here.

Photo by Matthew J. Parker. More info here.
(c) 2017. Rich Ronald.

When You Meet Jesus, Your Heart Will Change. 

Walking along the Road to Emmaus when suddenly…

It truly was the saddest season of my life. Everything had come crashing down. We had believed in Jesus. We had followed Jesus. We loved him! We knew that He would bring peace to Jerusalem and to our people. And yet, he died. He was brutally murdered.

My name is Cleopas. My friend Thadeous and I had just left Jerusalem for Emmaus. We were talking about the past seven days.  Last Sunday we were cheering and rejoicing over the Nazarene as he rode into the city on the back of a donkey. A week later, with the afternoon sun casting long shadows along the rocky path, we argued back and forth about a very bleak future without Jesus. Our shoulders were slumped. Our gait was slow. We kicked up the dust as we shuffled along.

A stranger approached us as we walked west among the rolling foothills. He asked what we were talking about. I looked at my friend Thadeous as if this man was crazy. He encouraged me with his eyes and so I queried the outsider: “Are you the only man alive in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what just happened?” His blank stare in reply prompted a nervous babbling. “Surely you know,” I stammered.  “About Jesus. The prophet. He did many miracles. With great power. We believed he would free Israel. But our leaders handed him over to be killed. And now it’s the third day…”

“Calm down,” he motioned to me with his hands. Then starting with Moses and all the prophets, this very ordinary looking man patiently explained everything ever written in the Ancient Text about the Messiah and how he must suffer.

We invited the man home for supper. He asked if He might offer the blessing. He lifted his eyes to heaven, broke the bread and began to pray. “Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.” Praised are you, Lord God, King of the universe, who brings froth bread from the earth.

We took a piece. And at that very moment we realized it was the Master. Jesus!  The loaf fell to the table as he vanished.

Oh, how our hearts burned inside us as He explained the scriptures. He was so graceful, so patient. It showed His great love for us.

The Story IS true. It has happened indeed, just as it was written in the Canticles of old.

Some of the words, actions and thoughts perhaps of Cleopas and Jesus, from Luke 24.

Corrie ten Boom used to say, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through.” Why did Jesus tell the story to Cleopas and his friend? So they’d know the Word is true. They could trust that God is in control. He says: “I’ve got you.”

You can trust Him, too.

Once they realized it was Jesus, the two ran back to Jerusalem. Knowing the story changed everything!  Knowing that Jesus was alive, just as He said, meant every other promise in the Word is true! They lifted up those slumping shoulders and their slow gait became a sprint.

How about you?

Whenever you meet Jesus, your heart will change.

 

(c) 2017 Rich Ronald.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

“Who do you say that I am?”

The question cut through the nighttime air with certainty. I remember thinking in that moment, it all comes down to this, doesn’t it?

The Master had taken the twelve of us to Caesarea Philippi. It was a field trip like none other we had ever ventured. Three years we had walked where He walked. Three years we had followed. And now, He brought us here?

This place was unlike any we had ever been before. I had heard of this worship center to the Greek fertility gods, but always with the admonition “you don’t ever want to go there… the sin is as vile as Sodom and Gomorrah.” And in the first few minutes of our arrival we understood why. We tried, in vain, to hide our eyes from the immorality that was on public display for all to see. The beat of the music was rhythmic. The chanting and cheering, deafening. The bonfires illuminated moving shadows on the rocky walls of the cliffs. There were people and animals everywhere.  And nothing was considered taboo.

Most of us were young men, just beginning to get a handle on life… and what it might mean to live worthy of being called His disciple.  And this sure didn’t look like anything Almighty God would be pleased about.  We saw the cave from where the Jordan River began. And we knew that this was the place where the Greeks said was the opening to death, to Hades, itself.

He called us together and against this backdrop He asked: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” John said, “Elijah.” Andrew replied: “John the Baptist.” I looked at Matthew as he said: “Some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus then looked my direction. A fire behind me flickered in His eyes. “What about you, Simon? Who do you say that I am?”

Three years I had watched Him heal the brokenhearted. Three years I had witnessed chains falling off of people. Three years of seeing miracle after miracle. I honestly don’t know if I had truly made up my mind until that very second, but I knew it to be true. “You are Yeshua Hamashiach. Jesus, the Messiah.” I looked at the people all around us worshipping these false Greek gods and added. “You are the Son of the Living God.”

He smiled for the first time since we had arrived and said: “Blessed are you Simon. You didn’t come to this conclusion by seeing what is all around you… but your Father, my Father in Heaven, spoke this to you… Spirit to Spirit.”

And then He said: “From now on, I will call you Peter, the Rock.” And with one hand on my shoulder and another pointing at the stone cliff behind us, He said, “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Truly, my life changed in that instant. I felt this great mantle being placed on me… this spiritual anointing. I knew it was up to me, and to all of the disciples… we were being commissioned for a monumental assignment… to go into all the world.

My life has been a major up and down ever since… I challenged Him the next day or so and He replied by calling me Satan. A week later, we had a sweet and tender Passover together… He was arrested…  I denied I knew Him… He was crucified… and rose again… Days later, we saw Him on the seashore… had breakfast with Him. And three times He asked me if I loved Him… oh, how I love Him…

It’s been years since that Spring night in Caesarea Philippi. I try, but I still fail at life so much, I’m not much of a rock…

He’s the Rock, really. He’s my Rock.

 

Some of the words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of Peter and Jesus and the disciples, found in Matthew 16.

Many will say the confession at Caesarea Philippi, is truly the turning point in Peter’s faith journey.  He comes face to face with a query every single one of us have faced, or will face. Maybe today is your time to answer this key question: Who is Jesus? Who do you say that He is?

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (NIV)

 

(C) 2017. Rich Ronald.

Jesus taught gentleness. Peter caught it.

GentlenessI’m the rabble rouser.  I have enough grit and mettle for all of the Twelve. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. It doesn’t take much to really tick me off or to make me happy. And right now, as I reflect on the events of the past couple of months, I’m so amazed and full of great joy because of my Lord and my friend, Jesus.

My name is Peter. He called me “the Rock.” We would laugh because sometimes that meant that I was strong, like a building’s foundation. Sometimes that would mean that I was dangerous and hurtful, like when someone was being stoned. Sometimes that meant that I was just plain dumb as a rock. Funny, huh?

The thing that sticks out the most to me, ever since the Passover, is His gentleness. It started that night. It was my job to wash everyone’s feet when they entered the room. But the week had been crazy. The people shouted along a great parade for Him as he entered town a few days earlier. He had sent some of us ahead to prepare for the Feast. When we all sat down we were exhausted and distracted as the Romans were not too pleased with procession and the recent activities of His followers. Anyway, as the servant for the evening, I was supposed to wash everyone’s feet… but He did it. Our Lord the King! Stooping with humility and gentleness.  I arrogantly protested that He’d never wash MY feet. And then with His one sentence reply, I flip-flopped faster than Herod or any other politician and insisted that He wash all of me! I proclaimed that I was all-in! No one or nothing could cause me to ever leave His side, vowing “I’d lay down my life for you!”

He shook His head, furrowed His brow and predicted my betrayal. “Why, I’ll show Him!” I stubbornly said to myself. Just an hour later, in the Garden, I had my chance. When they came to arrest Jesus, and only Jesus, I drew my sword and attacked one of those with the soldiers! The Master’s gentleness towards our Roman enemy, and His admonishment of my actions, greatly perplexed me.

Three times that very night I had the opportunity to stand up for Jesus… to show the world that I would, indeed, follow Him to the ends of the earth, or to death… And all three times, I bailed on Him… I denied I even knew Him.

Oh, how He knew me better than I knew myself.

The agony continued into the night and as the sun rose on the new day… The trials, the long march to Golgotha, the pain of His crucifixion and death. And through it all, Jesus was like this gentle giant, letting it all play out as He had predicted. He was calm and temperate, yet exuded this amazing strength. Soldiers mocked Him. People spat on Him. Rulers belittled Him. Executioners killed Him.

For two days we were all dejected and hope was hard to find. Then, at dawn on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb after the Sabbath, and His body was not there! Could it be? Was He alive? The joy we felt – and the fear we were experiencing – was this emotional fisticuffs in each of our hearts.

Jesus did appear to all of us on multiple occasions… each time with the gentle greeting: “Peace be to you!” Then, He was gone again.

Days past. We wondered what was next. Would He return? Feeling lost and aimless, I decided to go back to doing what I knew best… fishing. Although, my heart wasn’t in it. Where did He go? What were we supposed to do? All night my mind was racing as I merely went through the motions of throwing the nets overboard, and pulling them back in… empty. We caught nothing. Not even a single minnow.

At day break, we saw Jesus on the shore. Although we didn’t know it was Him at first. He called out to us and told us to once more throw our nets out, this time on the other side of the boat. I thought, “What difference does it make? Right side? Left side? We’re in a boat!” Hesitantly, we followed His friendly advice. And, believe it or not, we caught the most fish in a single net ever! At that moment, we recognized it was the Master!

When we landed on shore and sorted it all out, our hearts were overfilled with great joy! We laughed and cried together as we ate a breakfast that He had kindly prepared for us. And we shared stories of the past week or so. Here was our Lord, our friend, Jesus, just as we knew Him to be.

He took me aside, away from the warm campfire. With much more gentleness than I deserved, He asked me if I loved Him. “Of course I do,” I said. A second time He queried. “Lord, you know that I love you.”  A third time he gently pressed: “Peter, do you love me?”  I was hurt because I felt like I had to defend myself. But He wasn’t angry with me. His eyes expressed great love and deep compassion. And then it hit me and I fell to my knees. Three times He asked… three times I had denied I knew Him. He had to make sure! And I said: “Yes! Yes, Lord! You know me. You know all things! You know that I love you!” And one more time He said, “Follow me.”

I’m pleased to tell you that I have been following Him ever since. We celebrated Pentecost last week. Wow! The Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised would come, showed up in power. We baptized 3,000 people after I spoke that day! Jesus, even after He has gone up to heaven, is so gentle. He loves these people so very much; He has moved in their hearts, as He moved in mine.

So, my friends, I will always be ready to share the hope I have in Jesus. And I will endeavor to do so with the gentleness and respect that our Lord modeled for each one of us. And if I must suffer, I will suffer for doing good, not evil. And I am confident that I will receive a rich welcome into His eternal kingdom.

Some of the words, actions and, perhaps, thoughts of the Apostle Peter, as recorded in the Gospel of John, in Acts Chapter 2 and in 1st Peter.

This is the opening to a sermon from Oak Hills Church, North Central Campus. The video of the entire message is here: http://vimeo.com/161831718

(c) 2016. Rich Ronald.