If there ever was a detail that seemed insignificant, that seemed like something we need not pay attention to, the fact that Jesus ate fish on a beach after his resurrection seems like a good candidate. Yet, the fact that Jesus ate fish on a beach after his resurrection changes everything, challenging preconceived notions and forces us to face the strangeness and wonder of our faith. Our faith is rooted in the person and work of Jesus. Today, as we continue our journey through what the Bible teaches regarding the doctrines contained in the Apostles’ Creed, we reach the statement regarding salvation, belief in “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” How we understand what this means and how it works aught to be fundamentally rooted in Christ and the nature of Christ’s work.
While we were lost, God became incarnate to rescue redeem, and renew. The Incarnate One bore our sin and shame, and rose victoriously over sin and death. He ascended victorious as king and high priest and will come again to make all things new. Christianity is not about humanity’s search for God, but God’s search for us. It is about God coming to us, as we are, to raise us out of the mud and the mire. While we were lost, the hound of heaven followed on our heels.
That phrase is taken from the name of a poem by Francis Thompson. Which tells the story of a person (whom I will hereafter refer to as “the poet”) running from God, fearing all that God would take away from them The poem begins like this.
I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. 5 Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, 10 And unperturbèd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat—and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— ‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’ - The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson (1-15)
The poet runs, seeking shelter and gratification in earthly pleasure and human love and all the while the pattern repeats: “With unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed and majestic instancy they beat and a voice beat more instantly than the feet. Then at last the poet turns and what he finds is the last thing he expected. When he turns to listen to the voice it says..
All which thy child’s mistake Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: 175 Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’ Halts by me that footfall: Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? ‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, 180 I am He Whom thou seekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’ - The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson (174-182)
The Hound of Heaven was not in the end a bloodthirsty beast but a sheepdog, woolly and kind, to guide him home. God’s grace goes before us, to guide us home. Everything is accomplished by grace. God’s grace draws us. God’s grace redeems us. God’s grace rescues, renews and makes us whole.
Ephesians 2:4-9 says
We are saved not by our effort, but by the grace of God which comes to us through faith. Morality is important, but it does not save us that we have been saved. James 2:18 says “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” Living a godly life flows naturally from heart which is made new by God. “The proof is in the pudding”, as the old saying goes. Who we are is reflected in what we do. A heart that has been made new by the grace of God will produce a life of repentance and growth. Doing good things – worshiping God, caring for those in need, learning and growing with the commitment and conviction that only comes with a humble heart , being kind, courageous and living with integrity – are important, but they do not save us. We are saved from sin and death by the grace of God.
Those who are in Christ are not only redeemed, but at the last will be made fully alive. As Christ has risen, so shall we rise. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul describes Jesus as “the first fruits of those who have died.” Jesus is the paradigm of the resurrection. God has done in human history what God will do for those who are in Christ when Christ returns. This is why it the detail that Jesus ate fish on a beach is so important: Jesus rose enfleshed. Jesus rose with teeth and a throat a stomach. Jesus did not rise as some ghostly, ethereal, thing, but embodied. His resurrection body was different; his appearance was changed, and at times difficult to recognize, he appeared beyond locked doors, not bound the the usual limits of space, and yet it was a body none the less, complete with scars from nails that pierced his hands and feet (see John 20:11-29, for more details). As Christ rose, so so shall we rise. Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 15:51-55.
We are not ghosts in a machine, and will not rise to a ghostly, ethereal, existence. We will be raised in a resurrection body, immortal and strong. Time, breath, understanding, and imagination forbid me from exploring all that this will mean and what it may look like. All I know is that in Christ all is found and without Him all is lost. Remember our heavenly sheepdog. “Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.” More than the human heart could long for is in Christ, and to stop running, to trust in him, is to find it all.
Reflecting on this, in his landmark work, The Weight of Glory, says…
Do not let your desires be too weak nor your hope too small. In the grace of Christ there is the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. You cannot earn it, for it is a gift. You cannot seek it for it cannot be found in itself, but is only found in the One who made you, the one who died for you, the one who rose victorious and reigns forever. Stop running, trust in Christ, and know that, whatever you face, he has gone before you into death, and into life anew. God has come to us, and in him is found forgiveness and healing. He is our beginning, he is our end, our aim, and if we trust in him, made like him like him we will rise. immortal and strong. Rejoice, be glad with all your heart, for death has lost it’s sting, and Christ has overcome the world.