Sermon 95



Obey Jesus

John 21:6

May 5, 2019


Grace and peace to you, in the name of God the Father, Son (+) and Holy Spirit. Amen.

       As we continue our celebration of the seven weeks of the season of Easter, our Gospel lesson today puts us on the beach with the risen Jesus at a fish fry. Now there are miracles going on here that authenticate it. No doubt about it. The huge catch of fish. The count of 153 fish. The nets not tearing under the weight of the catch. So as we worship today let focus on our Lord on the beach.


Being Obedient

But what’s really going on here? Isn’t it odd to see Jesus – newly victorious over death – going to something as mundane as a fish fry? Well, maybe there’s something greater going on than that.

       Think of the disciples fishing all night and getting nothing – and then Jesus telling them to try the other side of the boat (John 21:6). He wasn’t a fisherman – but still they obey him and have great success – 153 fish (which, by the way, Saint Augustine thought stood numerologically for the Law and the Spirit in discipleship – John 11–21, ed. J. C. Elowsky, 2007 – ACCS, p. 381)!

       Because obeying Christ is important in John’s Gospel, this may well be the focus of the beach episode. Early on in John’s Gospel, Mary, the mother of Jesus, tells the winemakers to do whatever Jesus tells them to do (John 2:5). And they too are rewarded for obeying with much wine for the wedding guests. And so Luther concludes how important obedience to Christ is for all Christians everywhere (The Book of Concord, ed. T. Tappert, 1959, p. 384).



But there’s more to it than that in John’s Gospel. The officer of the high priest slaps Jesus in the face during his trial (John 18:22). He hardly was obeying him. And when the crowds hear Jesus teach, they regularly where divided over him (John 7:43, 9:16, 10:14). So no overwhelming obedience there either.

       Luther thought he knew why this happened – why so many disobeyed Jesus. First he says it’s because Jesus comes off as “arrogant” when he condemns the world “in one bite” (Luther’s Works 23:319–20) – calling it lock, stock and barrel, an “evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 16:4). And secondly it so because his thoughts need updating – but aren’t. So everyone feels they have to be God’s teacher (LW 51:384) – to make what he revealed long ago relevant for our own new day.


Overcoming Unbelief

Now how do we combat these drags on faith – this rebellion against Jesus? More evidence won’t do it. Neither will clearer arguments for it. That’s because there’s never an end to them. All gains are quickly lost in argumentation, by endless reconsiderations – as Luther knew (LW 39:219). So Jesus takes us in three different directions.

       First, in John 5:44, he says that you can’t believe if you are looking for your peers and elders to honor you. That’s because success isn’t conductive for belief – whereas failure furthers faith. This verse is upsetting – and no one’s favorite I’ve ever met! But if we’re going to believe, success will have to far away from us. Next, in John 6:44, Jesus says only those drawn by the Father can believe. And this drawing surely isn’t coaxing, or cajoling, or nudging us into the faith. Instead it’s closer to dragging and tugging on us – like a farmer yanking his mule’s bridle to get him across the barnyard. No free choice here, nor any sort of rational acceptance of Christ Jesus as our Lord.


His Death Is Death’s Undoing

But how does this drawing happen? In the dead center of John’s Gospel, at John 12:32, he says that when he’s lifted up on the cross he will draw us to him. Who can believe that? Doesn’t the cross push us away? Isn’t it gross, barbaric and ignominious?

       On the surface it is – but underneath it isn’t. Below the surface it is a fragrant offering made to God to overcome his wrath that we might be forgiven when we sin and not end up in hell forever (Ephesian 5:2, Romans 5:9, Matthew 25:41). But how does the crucifixion do this? How is the death of Jesus “death’s undoing”? (Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, Hymn 140). This happens by eliminating the cause of death – which is unforgiven sin. That’s what we learned in the Garden of Eden – if you sin you’ll surely die (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23). So if Jesus is punished in our place on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), then sin loses its traction – and can no longer lead to death (Hebrews 2:14). This is phenomenal! Once Jesus takes away the punishment for sin by being punished himself for all of the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), then all who believe in his death won’t be punished and death has no more dominion (Romans 6:9). And what is more, this victory cannot be reversed – for in John 19:30 Jesus says “It is finished!” – or consummatum est in the old Latin Bible. So his sacrifice stands!


John 3:36

And this obedience is tied into salvation – making it more than a garnish on some humanistic spirituality. This certainly lifts up its importance. So John 3:36 says that if you don’t obey Jesus the wrath of God will rest upon you. This is what’s underneath the beloved John 3:16 at the front end of that chapter – that if you believe in Jesus you will not perish but have eternal life. But there’s also judgment with this faith. We all live but one life on earth and then judgment comes (Hebrews 9:27). And so Christ judges us all with no guaranteed favorability – sending some into heavenly life but most on to hell (John 5:29, Matthew 7:14). All of this happens with the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52) – we die and rise and are judged, just like that. That why death is called sleep in the New Testament (Mark 5:39, John 11:11–13). Death isn’t permanent – it gives way to being awaken as from a sleep. Just like that. This is not your ordinary view of death as extinction.

       So thank God for Jesus! He has come to bless us and save us – as well as judge us and send many to hell. But for all who believe in the death Jesus, it is the power of salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18).


The Lord’s Supper

All of this is before us today in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Eucharist – The Lord’s Supper. Eating the bread and drinking the wine brings the abundant life of the Risen Lord into us (John 6:53, 10:10)! Glory be to God! Luther liked to say that Jesus himself carries us to the Altar to receive him – as if on a “stretcher” (LW 35:66). Once there, his power envelops us – turning us into sheep – making us believers with great confidence (LW 37:101). But that’s not the end of it for Luther. He also believed the Lord’s Supper could be a “taskmaster” (LW 36:353). It drives us to greater life once the new life has been given us. It pushes us to grow up into such a great salvation (1 Peter 2:2, Philippians 3:14).


Bringing Refreshment

With these gifts we must also do good works as “proof that faith is living” (LBW, hymn 297). For as Luther argues


God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God…. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire (LW 35:371).


Jesus did this when he talked to the woman at the well about making her life better by way of the waters of refreshment (John 4:10). May we also do the same. When God puts people in our lives (1 Peter 3:15) who are dried out and languishing in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:11), may we be ever ready to witness to those divine waters of refreshment – welling up into eternity. And may this all be part of our obeying Jesus today and always. Amen.


  (printed as preached but with a few changes)