Testing (at) the Waters

This day (April 6) marks the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. At the time Israel was leaving Egypt they had wandered for three days, crossed the Red Sea overnight, celebrated the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, and wandered in a waterless wilderness for three days.

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, What are we to drink?25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water. [Exodus 15:22-27 | NIV]

 Now they arrive at an oasis, but the water is too bitter to drink (usually a sign of toxicity). As usual, they grumble and complain against Moses about their thirst and lack of drinkable water. Did they not remember the 10 plagues and the Red Sea crossing? What is it about human nature that discounts God’s ability to overcome obstacles? Why do we want to assume the worst about God?

Fast-forward now to Jerusalem, Passover week approximately 31 A.D. Jesus’ disciples have seen Jesus, their Messiah, killed in the most brutal way available at the time. At dawn on the third day the women closest to Jesus arrive at an empty tomb (Matthew 28), where an angel tells them that Jesus has risen from the dead. He tells them to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Before they leave to tell the rest, Jesus himself shows up and tells the women the same thing: go to Galilee!

 By evening they still haven’t headed out of town, even though the authorities are looking for them. Jesus now shows up in their midst during supper, appearing even though the room is locked. (Luke 24:13-49). Notice that the two disciples had already heard that Jesus was alive, but had not believed until Jesus broke bread with them. Mark 16:14 indicates that they are still in Jerusalem and that Jesus is not happy that they have not believed the ones he sent to tell them both that he is alive and presumably that they should go to Galilee.

John picks up the story in Galilee (John 21), which is roughly a three-day journey away. Jesus is not with them on this three-day trek. This brings us to day six of the week of Passover.  Remember that Jesus has told them to meet him in Galilee. Once there Peter, rather than waiting for Jesus, decides to go back to his old occupation: fishing. The other former fishermen decide to join him. Strangely, these experienced fishermen catch absolutely nothing until a stranger tells them to drop the nets on the other side of the boat! The stranger turns out to be Jesus, who is already cooking fish for breakfast as they are trying to pull completely full nets into the boat.

 One can easily get the impression that Jesus could have prevented them from catching any fish for the rest of their lives if he so desired. Perhaps Jesus was reminding them of his promise to make them “fishers of men” as he was recruiting them.

 John recognizes Jesus and tells Peter, who is acutely embarassed (perhaps literally naked), he quickly puts on his clothes and jumps into the water to meet Jesus.

 After the disciples have breakfast with him, he takes Peter aside and asks him three times if Peter loves him. Each time Peter says yes, Jesus commands, “Feed my sheep” or “Feed my lambs.” Not only is this a reversal of Peter’s triple denial of Jesus, it was also a reminder of Peter’s original calling as a leader among the disciples.

 Jesus tell Peter that he will end his life in chains and execution. Peter’s follow-up question about John is so steeped in human nature that Jesus has to remind him who is Lord. To paraphrase, “Don’t worry about him, follow me!”

 If you are wondering why we started with the book of Exodus, it is because there is a parallel here that occurs on what seems to be the same day of Passover week in each case.

 There is a test involved.

 Will the chosen people (whether Israel or the Apostles) follow where God leads in faith? Or will they just keep following their natural inclinations? Will they faithfully follow God’s commands and be who God called them to be, no matter how things look? At this point it is not looking so good.

 It is not until we read the longer end of Mark’s Gospel or the book of Acts that we see the Apostles and the church really take off in following Jesus’ will for spreading the good news of Jesus and the salvation he offers.




About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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