Chapter 3: Reception
(Chapter 1:Comprehension. Chapter 2: Apprehension.)
Our souls make beggars of us, if we’re honest enough to call a spade a spade. You could use the word “comprehension” to describe the act of discovering that our inner needs are irreducible. We get the job, we get the car, we get the threads—or we deride them all—and something is still wrong, but it’s not material. The missing rung is invisible, but we can’t get past it. Something we were meant to have, maybe a vital part of us, is gone. Missing. And once curiosity or desperation drives us to ‘fess up, other facts emerge.
We sense reality fooling us with its appearance of completeness. Maybe all we see is rocks and skyscrapers, but we believe we’re not alone. We feel inexplicable transcendence in an urban jungle, or we walk up a mountain and have the strange sensation of standing under Someone Else’s microscope. The realization may be inspiring or horrifying, but we begin to suspect Someone unseen is nearby. We see the clues—glimpses of glory, shards of beauty—and start tracing them back to their source. We put a hidden face with a name: Jesus Christ. You could call this spiritual detective work “apprehension.”
So what next? Have we come so far, only to satisfy ourselves with little grocery-store-samples of God?
In the final chapter of this story, the operative word is “reception,” because Jesus meets us, no matter how hard we search, how long we pray—he comes to us, arriving at the perfect time and place. He receives us. It’s like George MacDonald wrote in Phantastes:
And a great hand reached out of the dark, and grasped mine for a moment, mightily and tenderly. I said to myself, “The veil between, though very dark, is very thin.”
We discover that Christ is never as far away as he seems.
Chapter 3: The Master’s Campfire (John 21:9-12)
Peter scrabbled up the surf line, half-crawling half-lunging, the sea streaming off him, and he heard Jesus laughing—just like he had those long days in the dusty Galilean sunshine. There was salt water running down Peter’s face, but most of it came from his eyes.
He came and stood by the campfire, across from Christ, and Jesus made him sit down. They didn’t say much at first, just looked each other over, the fish sizzling, the ocean dripping off Peter. Jesus had a half-smile in his eyes and Peter had a half-smile in his heart. It was the missing half of that smile, Peter thought, that kept them from talking. The excited cries of their friends rushed closer, and moments later the boat was grating on the sand, and the rest of the little crowd came running up. JESUS! JESUS!
They were yelling and bellowing when they jumped out of the boat, but when they got near the fire, they just threw themselves down on the sand next to Jesus, crouching and staring like good dogs. Their joy was infectious, and Jesus was with them in an instant, giving bear hugs, backslapping, demanding their biggest fish to throw on the fire, Right now, so we can eat together! Well, what are you waiting for?!
Peter watched the irrepressible laughter, the explosive wonder that was changing his friends into hysterical little children—and he felt it all too, he was laughing and crying along with them. But the sharp edge of that half smile was cutting into his heart. And Jesus knew it.
Soon, he knew, Jesus would turn to him, and they would speak together, about something that only the two of them understood completely. That moment of yawning emptiness, the ghoulish cry of the bird on the rooftop, the weight of three lies stacked in an impetuous heart. It would be awful, Peter knew, and he dreaded it. It would be horrible, and he couldn’t wait for it to happen.
Jesus had never forgotten the betrayal—he saw that now. Jesus had come all the way back from death, and he hadn’t forgotten. He had come back, Peter prayed, to make everything new. Yes. He had returned, Peter believed, to wipe the slate clean. Christ was looking at him now, holding out a smoking slab of fish and roasted bread. Jesus stepped over, smiling that smile, and Peter almost shivered, but he felt joy welling up. Nothing would come between him and this God again.
Sometimes I read the gospel accounts, and it's as if they take place on an alien landscape. I’ve never seen the sea of Galilee, true. I’ve never walked through the gates of Jerusalem—but that’s hardly the point. I read the stories of Jesus and Peter and their beauty stabs me in the heart. I think, If only… If only Jesus and I could speak that way.
But we can. We do.
And here’s where the writing gets hard. The moment Peter had on the beach—that moment happens for us as well. Perhaps it’s just for an instant, but God has come near—we’ve seen him, felt him. He feeds us. We walk with him for awhile, and he changes us into worshippers. Often, it means that the darkness residing in our souls is dredged up. We know that Jesus knows about it, as soon as we apprehend his presence. And then our next step is awful and joyful and clear.
But how can we quantify this experience? To put it into words adequately, I’m convinced, is not possible. Only those who have been there can say what it’s like to have breakfast with Jesus. Nonetheless, we try to express it. Some of us spend a lifetime trying to choke it out. And I might try too, if I had time and space enough. I just did try, in fact. But the task is, beautifully, too hard. Speaking about it, C.S. Lewis wrote,
There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.
And to this I say yes. Yes, exactly. But perhaps Christ himself said it best. As he told his perplexed disciples, “I have food to eat you know nothing about” (John 4:32). He didn’t even try to explain the clandestine meetings he held with his Father, and this was divinely wise, because ultimately, all explanations fail—even though the meeting changes us.
I’ve often thought:
The breakfast Peter had with Jesus that morning did not fade. Peter never forgot it. It was always there, in the back of his mind, the morning he looked up, and Christ was waiting.
Peter’s life would be like the terrain of Galilee, where Jesus walked with the disciples. Galilee is hill country, the roads weave up and down through crags and ridges; one moment you see the destination clearly, the next it’s absolutely hidden, and all you can do is breathe the dust and wait for the next hilltop. Peter’s life is like ours, is what I’m getting at. But one thing was constant.
Peter learned to see the unseen. And he followed Jesus all the way home. Peter walked through the EXIT door of his own cross to get there, and didn’t care—he tracked Jesus all the way home to another meal, where Christ would welcome him and never leave. When we follow Jesus, we look forward to the same. What was it Paul said?
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me… I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back (Philippians 3:12-14).
Likewise, our story with Christ is not finished. The book is still being written; it is an adventure, and the trail runs ahead. Obedience, as Peter learned, leads us closer and closer. This, I think, is the final word. George MacDonald wrote:
And if you would know Him so that He cannot escape you, and you would find Him everywhere, wherever He was, in the midst of a crowd or on the hilltop, do what He tells you, and He will go on helping you go on and on, till at last you shall see His very self. – Proving the Unseen
In the end, we will see Christ face to face, be like him at last. The perfect view will make us perfect too. Until then, we hurry from comprehension, through apprehension, to reception. We run toward Jesus; we lose sight only to rub our spiritual eyes and find him again.
Always, our need is present.
Always, glory is visible.
Always, Christ waits.
This is the last post in a three-part series. Show Us Jesus 1 Show Us Jesus 2