This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 21:15-25
Author: Rev. Richard Bodini of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Peter’s story is real. It is personal. Peter is me. Peter is you. Peter is us. That’s what makes his story so personal. Read through the gospels and look for Peter’s story. It’s a story that involves calling, risk, mouth, rich, fumbles, denial, and privilege. Peter’s story is our story. It is the story of grace, of love, of renewal. Having said this, we realize that the story is in the first place about Jesus
Jesus called Peter. First in John 1, after Andrew tells Simon that they have found the Messiah. Jesus sees Simon and renames him “Peter,” which means rock. Simon Peter is called again in Luke 5. There Jesus tells him to become a “fisher of men.” Then Peter took a risk. He went walking on the water. In order to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. Peter went up the mountain and experienced the incredible event of Jesus’ transfiguration. It was a rich and privileged moment. Peter also had a mouth, a big one that worked for Jesus, but also worked against him. Peter said that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and the One that they had been waiting for. Then almost in the same breath, Peter steps in front of Jesus and tells him he can’t die. Then on the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter’s mouth opened again. Oh, did it open. Peter denied knowing Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times!
After Peter’s denial something changed. Something died. It was a conversion-like moment for Peter, a turning point. Peter’s own bold confidence and strength were killed.
He knew he was sand, not “the unmovable rock.” That’s why he went outside to weep after his denial. He ran away because he knew what and who he was. A sinner in need of forgiveness! [Pause]
At that moment everything about Peter, his entire being depended on Jesus – His Lord and Savior. His self-reliance left him.
That’s why Peter ran to the tomb on Easter morning. He had to know and to see that Christ had risen from the dead. If he was… then maybe he could be renewed. [Slow] Maybe, Jesus would forgive him.
Peter failed. He knew that all too well. He ran from the crowd that arrested Jesus. He did not stand up and acknowledge Jesus as his friend or master. He denied even knowing him. He couldn’t even say his Master’s name when he made those denials.
The women who went to the tomb delivered Jesus’ message to the disciples. They were to go to Galilee and wait for him there. So Peter and the other disciples went.
But, it seems, Jesus wasn’t there to meet them the moment they arrived. They had to wait, and wait. Peter gets bored or tired of waiting or… maybe wonders if Jesus will ever come back to find him. At the moment, it doesn’t seem like he will. So Peter says, “I’m going out to fish.” Return to his old ways. To what he knows and trusts. His failures still loom over him. The denial of Jesus plagues to him. He can’t shake the thought of what he did.
Can you blame him!?
When the women returned from the tomb and spoke of what they saw, Peter jumped. He was running. He had to be the first to get to the tomb, to see, to touch, to realize,
to be healed. He saw and he believed.
But Peter still nurses his terrible shame. So he returns to the familiar, to forget the past, and to seek out a living, doing what he is comfortable with. That first night back on the water, they catch nothing. Sounds familiar, almost too familiar. He is hard at work an entire night, with nothing to show for it.
Failed as a disciple. Failing at fishing. Peter must have felt awful… all over again. Nothing good is coming Peter’s way. How can he go on living like this? How can he carry on?
Suddenly a voice calls out to them from shore. Looking up from their empty fishing boat, the man calls out, “Friends, have you caught any fish? Throw your net on the other side and you will find some.”
Where has Peter heard this before? Give your head a shake. Who told you to do this on the last fishing trip you took just three years ago? Just before you dropped your nets for good.
This time there is no talking back, no questions. He pick up the nets and tosses them on the other side, and what a catch. So much that they can’t haul the net in.
[Slowly] That’s when John figures it out. “It’s the Lord!” he says.
[Faster] That’s all Peter needed to know. The new, old Peter is back, irrational, erratic, spontaneous Peter. Jump in the water and get to shore… as fast as you can. [Normal] But when Peter gets there he doesn’t say anything. No conversation is recorded in John. The rest of them arrive and they eat breakfast in silence.
Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, the firstborn from the dead. The Light of Easter breaks the silence. Peter needed him to speak. Peter was unable to talk, to even approach the one he ran away from, the one he denied the one he crucified.
Peter needed Jesus to graciously reach out to him. Not to confront or rebuke him. Peter needs Jesus to rehabilitate him, to forgive him, to make him new again…, and again…, and again.
Jesus turns to Peter and asks him, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” [Frustrated] “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Each answer is the same. You know it Lord. You know it. You know I love you. The last question hits hard. It digs deep. Peter is hurt. I don’t feel it right now, but you know it! Lord, please help me overcome my unbelief.
Jesus tenderly reaches out to this wounded, hurt, afraid child. Who has gone through the worst couple of weeks of his life? Peter made the biggest blunder of his life. Now he faces the man he offended. The one he denied. The one he rejected!
Peter couldn’t talk. Peter was unable to go to Jesus. Jesus had to come to him. We are no different. When life’s biggest mistakes occur, we find it almost impossible to go to the person we offended. We are more likely to hide it. Tuck it away deep down where no one else can find it.
However, Jesus taught his disciples something different in Matthew 18. He said, “If your brother or sister sins against you… go to them. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Peter sinned against Jesus. Jesus came to Peter, to forgive him, to win him over.
When life’s biggest blunders occur, the hurt party is to go to those who hurt them, to speak with them, to forgive them. Thus win them back to the Lord. It’s hard to do. It takes a great deal of humility and courage to go, to forgive. But it is Christ-like to go to the person who spoke the unimaginable and restore him/her, to forgive them for what happened, to go in love and offer a way out for them. It is the way back to Christ, the way to renewal and restoration.
This is a difficult road to journey. But when done… it builds a person up. You and them, individually and communally. It solidifies the humility into something… really rock like. It also restores a hurting person. It renews and builds the relationship of the person that was injured and the one who injured. Healing takes place. If you have ever experienced this you know it. Powerfully and wonderfully!
Jesus went to Peter to heal him, to restore and renew him, to forgive him.
If Peter was to grow and become the rock that Jesus said he was to be, Jesus had to re-commission him. Call him again. So Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. His responses empower Peter’s return to ministry. Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus is telling Peter that he is to continue with the calling that he has received from him. Peter is to minister to the flock, to those that have heard Jesus’ voice, to the ones who are willing to listen to it.
Why would Jesus ask his question three times? It’s hard to say. The three questions might relate to the three denials… thus the undoing of them. Or they might refer to the making of a contract. At this time in history a threefold of questions and answers was done to enact a contract. Maybe it’s both.
What we do know is that Christ blots out and destroys Peter’s denials. Peter needs this in order to carry out the work that Jesus is sending him to do. He is being assured of the calling Christ invested in him. Jesus has renewed in him the authority to teach and preach.
This is good news for us as well. Restoration was necessary. Peter’s sin needed to be blotted out. If it wasn’t then his and many other sins would have canceled the message of grace. We need to hear the story of grace in Peter, to watch him coming forth as a new man. We too need to know that the same story will make us new. That the grace of Jesus Christ is as much for us as it was for Peter.
Peter needed Jesus. He knew it all to well after stumbling and failing. But Jesus confirms him in his new labour. Feed my lambs. Care for my sheep. Be a pastor. Be a shepherd. Faithfully serve Christ through the church. Peter must not look to himself or to his inner strength and abilities. No. He had to humble himself before Christ. Looking to him for help and direction. We need to do the same.
Peter was renewed and restored during this “after breakfast chat.” This was an important meal. Peter continued to grow in faith and commitment. His love for his Lord grew and developed. It got deeper and stronger. It had to… Jesus would be leaving soon. Peter needed to be rooted in Christ his Savior.
Jesus “recalls” Peter and says to him “Follow me!” He does this so that Peter knows to continue doing the work Jesus sends him out to do. The words here in John indicate that Peter will walk the same road that Jesus did. Peter will die on a cross. Peter couldn’t follow Jesus earlier on. He couldn’t stand up to the masses in the garden. He couldn’t stop the beating Jesus received in the courtyard. Peter couldn’t prevent him from dying on the cross. Peter couldn’t follow Jesus… at that time! But he will follow his Master’s lead from this point forward. Peter is going to follow his master. Becoming more willing in his obedience to God, who will call him to die, Christ offers himself to Peter as a leader and a Savior.
Peter takes up his cross, follows Christ, and becomes the rock Jesus spoke of. Peter leaves his fishing boats and tackle and gear behind, for good. He goes to Jerusalem. He goes to preach and to lead and feed and nurture the tender flock of Christ followers. They need to receive the word of comfort, grace, and encouragement.
[With boldness and confidence] Peter is ready. He trembled at the question of a servant girl. Now he is able to face a mob unafraid. Not on his own, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. And indeed Peter got up and spoke, preaching the first Pentecost message. Three thousand turned and became followers of Christ.
Peter endured persecution and the authorities. He was the strength of the early Jewish-Christian community and then is led by God’s Spirit to reach the Gentiles. Later, after the Council of Jerusalem, Peter leaves town and leaves James to continue leading the church. Paul is working among the Gentiles. Peter goes away. He writes letters, from which we gain insight into his development and his understanding of the Christian faith. Peter’s letters reveal his warmth and sincerity, his faith in times of testing, his reliance upon Christ in suffering and his unfading hope of glory.
Peter got stronger and stronger in Christ after he was recalled to do the work of his Lord and Savior. More and more, day-by-day he became rock. Amid all the stumbles and falls, which continued throughout his life, the name the Master had given him, “Rock” came into reality. His humility, his devotion, his shattered self-assurance, his experience of the Lord’s forgiveness, kept bringing him back, not by his own doing, but through the love of Jesus Christ, his Master and Savior.
What does Peter’s life and his actions say to us on this side of Easter? Jesus went out to find Peter… again. He went to restore this fallen child, to renew him, to forgive him. God’s grace flowed abundantly on that seaside beach.
Peter is me. Peter is you. Peter is us. This is only true up to a point, of course. The actual denial of Peter, as such, can never be repeated. Yet we all deny the Lord in our own way. God’s grace flows abundantly to me, to you, to each of us, to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, accepting him as Savior, to all who are called lambs and sheep, who follow the Shepherd’s voice. Christ came into this world, emptied himself and became nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
He did that for Peter, for you, for me. Each of us has stumbled and fallen. We have gotten stuck in a hole and we can’t get out. Or maybe we don’t even want to get out. Jesus is reaching out to us… to pick us up, to clean us, to empower us, and then he says, “follow me!” His grace flows into us as forgiven and healed people. Ready to bring glory to him. Ready to be lights… and a voice in the world. Just like Peter.
Each of us has fallen. Each of us needs to be forgiven… by Jesus. But also by the ones we have offended. If you want to live like Jesus or to use the common phrase “What Would Jesus Do”, go… find the person who has offended you and ask them, “Do you love me?” Wait, watch… then forgive, and grow like Peter in the light of our risen Savior.