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Apr 05, 2015

The Baggage Handler- Easter 2015

The Baggage Handler- Easter 2015

Passage: John 20:1-21:25

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Baggage Handler- Easter 2015

Keywords: freedom, resurrection power, excess baggage, baggage handling


All of us have baggage in this journey called life. The good news is that Jesus is both an expert and personal baggage handler. Easter Sunday morning we'll be looking at John 20-21 and just how it is that the crucified Jesus added baggage to his followers' lives and how the resurrected Jesus handled some serious baggage in the lives of those disciples. In the process, I trust we'll discover just how God wants to handle the baggage of our lives today in the 21st century.


The (Resurrected) Baggage Handler

John 20-21

Easter—April 5, 2015

One of the things Sandy and I early on decided we loved to do together was travel.  But the older I get, the less I’m enjoying it.  Nowadays I just prefer to stretch out on the couch…with her by my side, of course…and watch a good movie on something other than a 4”-by-6” screen that’s so close to my face that I have to watch with my bifocals on my face and my legs in my chest!  Traveling isn’t as fun as it used to be. 

A big part of traveling is, of course, traveling with your luggage. If you’ve traveled lately, you’ve probably been amazed at how you can have breakfast in London, lunch in New York, dinner in Seattle…and your luggage in Buenos Aires…all in the same day.  And then there are baggage fees...!

Well, this week I ran across a video that may at least explain why the luggage you check in at the airport may also look significantly different from what you claim at the baggage carousel.  Despite the grainy quality of the video, I think you’ll still appreciate the truth in it.   Video:[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOP9fwnE4yY]

  • Notice the worker on the left who just stands there doing nothing?  Must not be his union. 
  • Here comes the supervisor.
  • See the bags under the plane that already fell off the loading belt. 
  • Pay special attention to the tender care with which he handles your luggage.

That goes a long ways towards explaining why over 2 million bags go missing or are damaged every year in air travel, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to have your favorite Samsonite bag dented or ripped.  It’s quite another to have your life torn, dirtied, scarred and dented by the actions…or inactions…of someone else.  But if you live long enough, it will happen to you one way or another.  We live in a world of people who are imperfect… sinful is what God calls it. The result is that we end up bruised and battered by everything from what feels like divine neglect to human hatred. 

            So along the way in this journey of life, we start accumulating baggage.  We don’t intend to do that.  It just happens naturally.  In fact, we begin to find that it is a whole lot harder to get rid of excess baggage than it is to accumulate it.  Sooo…some of us end up having more baggage than the Los Angeles International Airport.  And if we’re honest with ourselves, we being to realize that WE are starting to be the cause of baggage other people have to struggle with. 

So what does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with our own personal baggage? 

How can an encounter with a man who rose from the dead 2,000 years ago make that much difference to life today? 

For the answer to that, I want us to go back into the Gospel of John today starting with chapter 20.  Here we have John’s account of a number of people who, as the result of Jesus’ death, were accumulating their fair share of baggage.  Some of it you might be able to identify with.  So let’s begin with our first baggage-bearer, Mary Magdalene.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

(Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene)

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

You need to know a little history about this woman, Mary Magdalene.  Before she encountered Jesus, she was a woman whom Luke tells us (7:2) was afflicted by 7 demons.  In Hebrew culture, the number seven carries with it the idea of fullness or completeness.  She was a woman who, for unknown reasons, was dominated by the demonic realm.  Despite some people’s belief that she was a sinful woman, there is no biblical support for that view.  Whether her demonic oppression was the result of other’s sins against her or her own, we are not told.  But the reality was, here was a woman who, before she encountered the life-saving power of Jesus Christ, had plenty of “baggage”, demonically-initiated baggage to be specific. 

The Gospels don’t tell us the exact story of how and when Jesus delivered her from demonic domination.  We only know that after he did so, she became one of the primary female disciples of Jesus.  A woman apparently of financial means, she traveled with the group of women who sometimes accompanied Jesus and helped support his ministry.  She is mentioned 14 times in the Gospels and every time except one where she appears in a list with the names of other women, she is mentioned first.  The one exception is when Jesus’ mother, Mary, is not surprisingly mentioned before her. 

She is also the first person recorded in the Gospels as having seen the resurrected Jesus.  That is the story we just read. 

So as one of Jesus’ primary female followers, hadn’t she already dealt with all her past baggage?  Well, Jesus certainly delivered her from the demonic oppression she had lived with for years.  But John’s account of that Easter morning, of her own terribly deep grief at the time, combined with Jesus’ interaction with her at the tomb make it pretty clear that she still was carrying plenty of baggage.  Certainly her life had known its fair share of loneliness.  People afflicted by a raft of demons don’t have a lot of friends…if any.  So the early decades of her life must have been marred by the pain of isolation.  During the years she followed Jesus, she was apparently a single woman.  Singleness has its own challenges of loneliness and Mary Magdalene knew them well. 

That might explain the depth of her grief, grief that was so heart-breaking and isolating that she couldn’t even grasp who was standing there with her at the empty tomb.  John mentions two angels talking with her from where Jesus’ body used to lie.  But Mary is so consumed with her loss that their angelic nature doesn’t even penetrate her personal darkness. 

And when Jesus actually joins the conversation, she is so far submerged in her sense of sadness that she thinks he’s the local gardener!  Talk about baggage. 

Jesus’ words to her, “Do not hold on to me,” seem to indicate that Mary Magdalene was the kind of person who may well have been overly connected to the physical presence of people at this stage in her life.  That is certainly understandable given the isolation she must have experienced much of her life.  But Jesus is now calling her out of that way of living, away from that “baggage.”  He wants her to live freely, not bound to the comings and goings of people.  He wanted her life to find a joy, a contentedness and a freedom from sorrow that cannot come when we are overly-enmeshed with people.  Only the presence of God by his Holy Spirit will never leave us, not the physical presence of Christ.

ILL:  I remember talking with a good friend of mine one day.  He had just found out his wife might have cancer…the same kind of cancer that had claimed the lives of two previous wives. That I already knew. 

But then he went on to share with me that his father had been killed in WWII days after the war ended, before he was even born.  He had been flying a reconnaissance patrol over Europe when his plane went down, due probably to the actions of the hot-shot pilot at the controls that day. My friend was born a couple of months later, never knowing his father. 

Then he stopped talking, looked at me and asked, “Isn’t it interesting that God would give to a guy like me who has struggled with abandonment issues since childhood, two wives that died of cancer and a third who may have the same and whose sister and mother both died of cancer?” 

He didn’t see it as God’s punishment because it wasn’t.  He didn’t see it as some sadistic divine humor.  It wasn’t.  He saw it for what it was:  God’s work in his life to bring him to a place of freedom where his abandonment baggage would no longer dominate or control his life. 

APP:  Maybe some of you resonate with the baggage of loneliness…or abandonment…or isolation.  Perhaps things were done to you that are unspeakable and have left you feeling vulnerable to mental illness or even demonic oppression.  Or maybe you just feel like grief and sorrow and the loss of loved ones is burying you right now.  Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene at this point in her life is a clarion call to the truth that none of us have to stay stuck carrying this kind of baggage. 

            The transformation that takes place in Mary’s life is nothing short of astounding.  Just as freedom from demons had utterly rearranged her life, so freedom from grief, loss, isolation and loneliness by this singular encounter with Jesus set her free to become a source of truth and blessing into those still held captive by the same. 

            Jesus told Mary to go and be the first “apostle” to the apostles.  The Greek word Jesus used here is the same word from which we get the term Apostle.  It means literally “sent one.”  And that’s what Mary became.  She was now a woman with a miraculous story, one that focused on the power of God to bring life from death, one that focused on Jesus Christ.  And she went back to Jesus’ closest followers to share that same transformational truth.

            APP:  If you identify with the baggage of Mary here, God wants you to experience the power and spirit of the resurrected Jesus Christ.  He wants you to recognize that while it may look hopeless and dark to you, it’s not to Him.  He may have been standing right next to you for some time, trying to break through your isolation.  But you may not have recognized him. 

            Why not stop weeping and start worshiping?  Why not let Him dry the tears from your eyes so that you can see the people and even angels he has put around you?  Why not exchange the dead things in your life for the resurrection life and power of Jesus himself.  You just need to invite Jesus to do that in your life.  Give him the room, the opportunity, the authority to show you that his resurrection life is really all that you’ll need to go forward. 

Maybe you need to complete this sentence today on that piece of paper:  “I choose today to let Jesus handle my baggage of loneliness, abandonment, spiritual oppression, isolation, grief, etc.”

The next group of baggage carriers were the disciples themselves.  Vs. 19 and following reads,

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

ILL:  If you’ve heard or read any news this past week, you probably know that a university campus in Garissa, Kenya, was attacked by Islamic militants from a terror group called al-Shabaab.   At 5:30 in the morning, four terrorists entered dorms and went room by room.  Awakened by the terrorists, students were asked if they were Christians or Muslims.  If they said Muslim, they were asked to recite the Islamic creed.  If they could, they were told to leave.  If they couldn’t or admitted they were Christians they were shot on site and, in some cases, beheaded.  At least 147 students were killed and dozens more wounded.

            Now, imagine that you are one of the four or five- hundred other university students of that college who heard the gunfire, the screams, the grenade explosions and witnessed the beheading of some of your own classmates.  Imagine that you are still in that city but in hiding.  The people in authority—the police and military--aren’t on your side.  Some may be neutral or even sympathetic but most are on the side of the terrorists.

            Where would you be?  Would you be walking around town in public? Would you be going to church, hanging out at the local coffee shops or even going to work or class?  No, you’d be doing just what the disciples of Jesus were doing the day of His resurrection.  You’d be hiding out…behind locked doors…speaking softly… wondering what your next move should be…or if it might be your last. 

            So let me ask you one simple questions:  WHY

FEAR, right?  And we’re not talking fear of spiders or fear of heights or even in-laws.  We’re talking fear of being killed.  That’s probably the most severe and intense fear anyone can experience.

            To his fear-bound followers, the resurrected Jesus comes.  Locked doors didn’t stop him. Roman soldiers didn’t bother him.  The dark of night didn’t worry him.  He came boldly into that Upper Room and stood right among his disciples.

            According to other Gospel accounts (Lk. 24:36-40), just Jesus’ appearance scared them even further.  That’s probably why John records Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you.”  These guys needed peace.  Their ulcers were surely acting up.  There nerves were near snapping.  Fear, disappointment, grief, doubt and more had collided at this same intersection of life to produce real mental and emotional carnage. 

            But even the worst fear, disappointment, doubt and disaster of their lives was no match for the power of the resurrection. All Jesus had to do to change doubt into deep conviction in a few seconds was to show them his pierced hands, feet and side and invite them to touch those wounds with their own hands.  Skepticism turned to strong conviction.  Fear disappeared and faith started to grow again. 

APP:  Have you got any baggage of fear? Most of us do.  What is causing your fear?  Financial challenges or uncertainties?  Health issues?  Family problems?  Work or school difficulties?  While it is possible that a few of you may be fearing for your safety, it is doubtful the vast majority of us are anywhere near fear for our life and survival.  Even if you were, would not the visible presence of the resurrected Jesus Christ at this moment change all that? 

            It is no surprise that Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” at this encounter.  Jesus knew that the presence of the promised Holy Spirit was really what was needed by his followers.  God-with-them-to-the-end-of-the-ages was the only thing that could displace fear with faith and timidity with boldness. 

            Do you need that great exchange?  Need to let go of your fear-baggage? Maybe you need to be honest about your fear-baggage, call it by name, and ask Jesus to take it for you.  Maybe you need to complete this sentence today:  “I choose today to let Jesus handle my baggage of FEAR about…”

So on to the next baggage-carriers—the doubters; Jn. 20:24-29. 

            We won’t read this paragraph.  Suffice it to say that Thomas, apparently the only disciple not in the room when Jesus showed up that first Sunday night, was an amazingly strong skeptic.  Having been told by the others that they had seen Jesus, he retorted that he would never believe “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” (Jn. 20:25). 

While skepticism and doubt have their proper place in life, in the face of rational, sound and verifiable physical evidence, skepticism should transform into belief and response.  That is precisely what happened to Thomas.  Undoubtedly proud about his reasoning and skepticism capacity, even his doubt was no match for the physical evidence. 

            Thomas is a real problem to modern skeptics of the resurrection.  He was not a man who wanted to believe.  In fact, he moved from massive skepticism and doubt to complete conviction through an encounter with the resurrected Christ. 

APP:  Some of us seem to be born skeptics. But unless we want to deny the historicity of the resurrection (which has been tried and resulted in the conversion of numerous skeptics throughout history), what we celebrate on Easter…and every Sunday we gather to worship Christ…should be a powerful reality that relieves us of the excess baggage of doubt.  So what doubts are you carrying about God in your excess baggage? What doubts about God and about his Word is it time to let go of and let your resurrected Lord handle?  Maybe you need to complete this sentence today:  “I choose today to let Jesus handle my baggage of DOUBT about….”

The last real excess baggage bearer in this morning’s text takes up most of John 21.  It’s Peter.  He’s handling some pretty heavy baggage at this point in his life.  He’s already seen Jesus in the Upper Room.  He’s not wrestling with whether or not Jesus rose from the dead and is alive again.  That’s nailed down. 

Peter’s battle with baggage takes place in the same realm where so many of us get bogged down.  Just three days earlier, he stuffed his bags with failure, regret and disappointment with himself. 

As one of Jesus’ inner circle of three, he was viewed as a leader of Jesus’ followers.  He had made the boldest, most confident assertions about his commitment to Christ. While the rest of the disciples had all abandoned Jesus too, Peter’s failure was spectacular.  He had been cowed into denial by a lowly servant girl.  He had denied even knowing Jesus multiple times. And he had done so while calling down curses on himself to convince those who fingered him. 

Apparently his baggage was pretty stubborn.  Having been told to meet Jesus again at the Sea of Galilee, Peter went with some designs to return to his former trade—fishing.  Having spent the entire night throwing nets and catching nothing, he must have greeted the breaking dawn with a combination of disappointment and relief. 

That’s when Jesus found him.  Calling from the shoreline, Jesus, with that singular question that fishermen both love and hate, seemed to drive even deeper the disappointment of this disciple. 

“Children, do you have any fish?”

I wonder how long it took Peter to find his single-word reply: “NO!” 

APP:  Sometimes it seems like God drills our disappointments deeper.  Sometimes is feels like he lets all life stack up against us. 

But Jesus knew that Peter needed to experience that God wasn’t done blessing him, despite his failure.  He also needed to know that the resurrection power of Christ was bigger than any personal failure

            So Jesus tells them that they need to switch the net to the other side of the boat.  Not a big change, to say the least.  Not a seemingly brilliant move, especially coming from someone standing on the shore rather than at the better vantage point of the boat. 

As yet, none of them even understood that it was Jesus.  In the fading darkness of dawn, this advice could have simply been ignored. 

And then it happened.  As they threw the nets on the other side, the water boiled, the nets tightened, and the boat began to list with the weight of the fish.  Certainly Peter must have felt a little better in that moment.  At least he could find a little refuge in the fact that he hadn’t totally failed at his old craft and trade.

And then John said something that changed it all.  “Peter, it is the Lord!” 

In an instant he understood why that one net-toss had yielded so many fish.

In an instant he grasped that Jesus, whom he had failed so terribly in Jerusalem, had made the journey to Galilee to give them another miracle…and give Peter another encounter. 

            Peter must have realized in an instant what was more important than a boatload of fish.  A few minutes alone with the resurrected Jesus was what his soul needed.  Throwing caution and modesty to the wind, he dove head-first into the Sea and, by so doing, head-first into a whole new relationship with Jesus. 

            But freedom from his baggage of shame and failure would require a little more pain and self-realization.  That came in the latter part of the chapter as Jesus posed the same question to Peter in front of the whole group of disciples:  Peter, do you love me? Three times Jesus asked the same question.  By the third time, it is evident that Peter is taking Jesus’ line of questioning personally and with a bit of pain. 

            But what felt painful to Peter must have been intended for his healing.  Like the stitching up of a deep wound brings greater initial pain, so the 3-fold affirmation of love for Christ must have been necessary to free Peter of the baggage of his 3-fold denial of friendship with Christ earlier.  God never brings more pain than is necessary for true healing to happen.

            Three times Peter publically affirms his love for Christ.  And three times Jesus affirms his calling on Peter to feed Jesus’ sheep, the church.  There, in front of all the other disciples, Jesus affirmed that Peter’s place in ministry was stronger than it had ever been. Peter came to realize that past failure, no matter how great or how recent, does not have to eclipse present love and service.  Failure and regret in God’s family is only temporary; fruitfulness is forever.  

APP:  Unless you are either very young or completely self-deceived, we all carry excess baggage of regret.  We all feel the pain of failing God and people.  We all find ourselves at times, like Peter, wanting to run back to what seemed comfortable and manageable before we met Christ.  And we all feel unequal to the calling of serving the Savior of our souls and the Lord of the universe. 

            So the question put to us by Jesus in this part of the resurrection story is, “Are you willing to let me exchange your excess baggage of guilt, of shame, of failure and disappointment and even denial for the fresh opportunity every day to love Jesus Christ and “feed” the people around you?” 

            What is it that you feel you have failed God in? 

            What is it that you believe has disappointed God about your performance?

You need a fresh encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ.  

He’s not interested in having you live under that shadow any longer.  But he’s deeply interested in having you love him again and learn to love well the people He has put around you.

So as the last response today to the best Baggage Handler in the universe, how about writing a one-line prayer to Jesus, asking Him to exchange your baggage of failure, regret and disappointment for love for both Him and people needing Him?

Final INVITATION: to exchange the baggage of sin for the blessing of life forever with Jesus Christ.

[TESTIMONY of how Christ handled the “excess baggage” of one couple in our fellowship-- Chris and Michelle.]