Recently, I moved to "limbo land." Do you know how to find that address? Maybe, it is where you have encountered something serious and the doctors have used that dreaded word cancer over your life. Or, maybe moving to limbo land is something good like having raised your children, but then grandchildren are only a distant promise. Maybe, you have been laid off from work or a loved one is suffering. Maybe, you are wondering if you should go back to school or change jobs. Maybe, you are facing retirement, but don’t know what your next assignment from the Lord is going to be. In big and small ways the unknown has become your new home. You know God has something prepared for you, but meanwhile you are waiting for his green light, stuck abiding and collecting real estate in uncertainty.
Just like us, Christ’s first disciples often found themselves challenged and forced to live with mystery. In John 21:1-14 we find the disciples were living in limbo land. They were no longer walking daily in Jesus’ physical presence and what was going to come next was still hidden from them. I imagine they were dazed by natural feelings of exhaustion, shame, fear, defeat, depression, disappointment, and anger. Life was not turning out as they had planned. In the past they had been men of action. So, rather than sitting idle they decide to go fishing. They could have chosen a more dangerous waiting room and going fishing was far from sinful. But, unfortunately their night on the water only led to more frustration.
Before we can understand the life lessons of their experience, we need to see this story through a special set of lens by using what the Apostle John wrote to set up this passage. I want us to study this passage in light of the two verses that precede it in John 20:30-31. Look at John 20:30-31.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” ESV
Jesus did many signs and wonders that John did not have room to write about. A scroll had a limited amount of parchment to write on and a person could not just add a few pages like we can when penning a book. The miracles recorded here were carefully chosen with intentionality to illicit belief. There were three things John wanted us to understand from his words.
Firstly, John wanted us to believe Jesus is the Christ. The Greek word translated “Christ” is the equivalent to the Hebrew word translated “Messiah”. In the first century the idea of a Messiah was a very Jewish concept, but John was writing to a group of people who knew more Greek than Hebrew. John wanted his readers to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, to which all of the Old Testament scriptures pointed. But, first century Jews anticipating the coming Christ were not imagining he would be divine.
Secondly, John wanted us to believe Jesus is the Son of God. The Jews living under Roman occupation wanted an earthly liberator, not a divine Savior. They were victims of the age they lived in and it blinded them. When they read the Old Testament prophecies they assumed God was going to send them a military deliverer like Joshua or David to bring back the glory years. They expected the Messiah to be a spiritual leader, but the miracles and healings he performed surprised them. The concept of a heavenly king with a heavenly kingdom had not gelled in their reasoning yet, and was actually first taught by Jesus when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). These vastly different ideas that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and at the same time the Son of God were about to turn their world upside down.
The disciples and many in Israel had no trouble believing Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the long-ago Promised One. But, belief that the Messiah would be divine was something new, something they had never been taught before, a deep truth never uncovered in all their years of studying the ancient manuscripts concerning the coming of the Messiah. From this side of history it is hard for us to separate out the difference between John’s first concept – Jesus is the Messiah, and his second concept – Jesus is God’s Son. But, in the first century these were two completely different ideas and many people could easily believe concept one and still reject concept two.
Lastly, John taught that believing these two truths would give us life in Jesus’ name. John wants us to experience life as God designed it to be lived. It reminds us of the phrase from John 10:10 where Jesus says, “The thief only comes to steal and kill and to destroy. I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.” So, this was John’s mission that we would understand and believe both of these thoughts, and the by-product of believing was the enjoyment of an overflowing life of abundance.
Now, with that background you are ready to examine John 21:1-14. Take the time to pray and ask God to speak to you before studying his word and then read John 21:1-14. Afterwards, analyze why John chose this miracle by answering these three questions.
1)Does this miracle show Jesus was the Messiah? How?
2)Does this miracle show Jesus was the Son of God? How?
3)Does this miracle show the abundant life promised in Jesus? How?
Let’s review where we started today. John wanted us to believe Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. These were two separate ideas in the first century. On purpose John chose specific miracles to include in his gospel to illustrate these two truths. And, he states that if we believed both these concepts we would experience life in Jesus’ name.
When we are disappointed we need to remember what Peter experienced, that under any circumstances being with Jesus is still the best place to be. Limbo land is a time when something God has called us to do has ceased to be our assignment. In the past we knew this was our job, but now we are being given a new call, only it has yet to be revealed exactly what that assignment is. This is what it means to live in limbo land. Living with the unknown has some pitfalls and dangers, but we can enjoy the abundant life right now in the midst of the uncertainty.
Life-giving power is given when we trust these two truths found in John 20:30-31. When living with unsure footing, hold onto these important promises. Firstly, Jesus is the long-ago promised Messiah. Prophecy and history were written to reveal Jesus’ first coming, and his second coming will be the culmination of that same prophecy and history. “History is his story.” Your story is very important, but your story will only make sense when you interpret it in light of his story.
Secondly, Jesus is the Son of God. He is fully divine. All things start with him, and all things end with him. We have the God of the universe on our side; nothing is too great for him, nothing is too hard. When you find yourself moving to limbo land, remember he knows your address. He sees the end from the very beginning.
Lastly, remember that a life of abundance is promised. Seek what that might look like in your trying circumstances. Feel free to genuinely grieve your losses. Grief is important and hard work. Many foolishly believe they should be able to breeze through loss. Grief is difficult, but know that God can surprise you with an amazing adventure when you agree to live in mystery. Jesus said in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” You may find it helpful to close out your study time by praying the following prayer out loud or sharing it with a friend. This prayer reflects the promises of John 10:10.
“Lord Jesus, while I don’t have a clue about my current circumstances, I do believe all the Old Testament prophecies foretelling the coming Messiah were pointing to you. Thank you for your first coming and I look forward to your soon return. Would you not let anything or anyone steal from me while I wait? I need you to protect my thinking while I learn to live with mystery. And, Lord, would you not let anything or anyone try to kill me? I trust my physical and spiritual life to you. Thank you Jesus that you are the true Son of God, and you know all things. I have an ancient enemy who has always sought my destruction and my separation from you. Deliver me from being distracted by his threats. Thank you that you create places of safety for me. Would you generously use this waiting time? I deeply desire to know what the abundant life might look like now. Surprise me and open my eyes to your goodness. I seek your promise of life and ask these things in your precious name, Jesus. Amen”