It’s the Flock, Stupid

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19.

Caring for people is hard. That is why children are aborted and abandoned. That is why people walk out of marriages. And it’s the reason we fob off on the government our obligations to our neighbors. We are all about meeting our own needs. And it’s the reason we are more likely to keep Jesus as a “personal Savior,” instead of the Savior of the World.

Jesus tells us to care for people down at the Lamb level. If we will feed the lambs, the flock can take care of itself. It’s no accident that Jesus taught His disciples, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:12-14).

We have been sent on a mission to save the lost. Instead, we seek the scriptures for self-improvement. We work hard to get out of debt, forgetting the rest of the verse that tells us, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8).

Evidence-Based Thomas

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29.

I think Thomas made his rash statement because he was disappointed at being left out. After all, even the lesser known apostles, like Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot had seen Jesus. It was as if Jesus had not picked him for dodgeball.

When Jesus miraculously shows up in a room they had secured from all intruders or law enforcement, that was probably good enough for Thomas, but Jesus reminds him that He has heard that outburst by presenting him with the wounds he demanded to see. Jesus also reminds all of them that soon everyone would have to believe without seeing. Jesus would soon be leaving, and the disciples would have their testimony as animated by the Holy Spirit to get people to believe. And that is better than seeing a miraculous sign. Some of the people who demanded that Jesus be crucified had seen Jesus heal on the Sabbath.

“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.'” (Roman’s 10:10-11).

Withholding Forgiveness

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23.

When we withhold the Gospel, keep our mouths shut before a lost world, our lost friends and neighbors and coworkers, we are withholding the means of forgiveness. And no, this was not just a charge given to the first century apostles that has long passed away. The great commission was never rescinded. And it has not been subcontracted out to a professional class of Sunday morning orators. We are all Christ’s ambassadors: “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).

Today the world is scrambling for the false reconciliation of revenge, settling scores, and exploiting old wounds for monetary reparations. They prosecute anyone they can as accessories after the fact, even when the facts are centuries old, and the evidence has to be manufactured. All this is happening now because we have left a vacuum and kept the solution to ourselves. We are the possessors of the great secret that the price for all sin has been paid, and we are liberated from all grudges, incoming and outgoing. We are forgiven, and have the power to forgive.

The First Witness

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18.

Mary Magdalene is mentioned frequently in the four Gospels, from which we know that she was part of the group of women that followed Jesus and supported His ministry financially, that Jesus had cast seven devils out of her, and that she was a witness to both the crucifixion and resurrection. She has as also been the subject of various legends, like that she was a former prostitute and was actually the wife of Jesus. These stories cropped up at the same time that it also became a popular fundraiser by enterprising monks to put on display what were supposed to be holy relics of questionable origin: splinters from the cross, bones of various saints, and other PT Barnum level curiosities.

All we really know for sure is that she was a devoted follower of Jesus and that she was the first to see Him alive again. Not only that, but she was the first person sent with the Good News. He could have appeared to Peter, John, the other disciples, or anyone else. But this would become the pattern of one person telling another for centuries.

We are all charged with not only telling the world that He is alive, but what that means. It means that our sins really are forgiven. It means there is life after death. And it means that the rest of the Bible is true.

Choosing the State Over God

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. John 19:1-16.

Pilate had to be confused. The Jews have no love for Rome, but here they are declaring their loyalty to Caesar over this other worldly preacher who rubbed them the wrong way. They are even questioning Pilate’s loyalty to Caesar for wanting to release Jesus. They just want Him dead.

This could not have happened in Capernaum, or Bethsaida. These are much smaller towns, where the people were more estranged from their government. Jerusalem was an urban center, where the religious rulers were used to interacting with the occupying force that ruled over them. In the small towns, everyone probaby knew someone Jesus healed. In Jerusalem, it was a disturbing sight to see the multitude calling Him the Son of David. He was a disruption of the political order to which the ministerial class had become accustomed.

If you are seeking first the kingdom of God, and Jesus is your king, you may have to ditch your patriotism at some point. And when you choose your country over your brothers and sisters in Christ, you are casting your ballot with the state over God. This is a time when some self-examination is in order.