Reinstatement of the Rejector
Text: Jn 21:15-19
Theme: Jesus Reinstates Sinners
Doctrine: Perseverance of the Saints
Image: juxtaposition of denials with reinstatement
Need: reminder of the enduring grace of God
Message: welcome as Christ welcomes
Reinstatement of Peter
Put yourself in the place of Peter this evening. Try to think how you would feel if this were you. The person for whom you have given the last three years of your life has just been executed, and then resurrected. It seems as though all the hopes you had for this person, for your life, have been brought to nothing. There is no throne, there is no kingdom, there is no victory over the Romans. Nothing seems to have changed. Sure Jesus is arisen, so what? Good for him. So what that death could not hold him? So what? What does this mean for Peter? How does this change his life?
Back to Life, Back to Reality?
Finding himself back on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, the Sea of Galilee, he decides to go back to the life in which he was comfortable. He turns to the others who are with him and says, “I am going fishing.” It seems to me that there is a lot of bitterness in this statement, a lot of grief, a lot of confusion. He seems to be saying, “Well, I do not know what to do now. Jesus is gone. The last three years seem to have been a waste. I might as well go back to fishing, at least that I knew how to do.” The song by Soul II Soul “Back to Life” would fit Peter's mood.
BACK TO LIFE, BACK TO REALITY
The last few years have been fun, but life has to go on. It seems that in the long run, nothing really changed. His three year encounter with God, has not amounted to much, or so he thinks.
Do we ever feel this way? Do we ever feel like to fire has gone out from our bellies. There are times in our lives in which we are on the mountaintop; when we have had a great week at Bible camp; when we have spent a week in spiritual retreat; when we have been on holiday and felt God's presence directly in our lives; when we have decided to give up our bad habits and turn them over to God. Then, however, we return home. We come back to our work, back to our neighbourhood, back to our schools, and we lose the height of that experience. We begin to feel the drudgery of our every day lives pushing down on our souls and crushing our spirits. We begin to feel like that mountaintop experience of our faith was in another lifetime, and it is now back to our lives, back to reality.
The funny thing is, Peter does not seem very good at fishing anymore either. His frustration continually mounts as he casts net after net after net over the water, hauling them back in empty. After spending all night in this fruitless endeavour, he is about to call it quits. But just as the sun breaks over the horizon, Jesus shows up on the shore. Calling out to them, he asks the one question I am sure Peter is dreading, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” The simple answer comes back across the water, “No.” Then this crazy statement, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” Now, I do not know much about fishing in the first century, but I think fish are pretty much the same. If they had trouble catching fish all night, throwing it a few feet in a different direction should not really make any difference. This is probably why the beloved disciple realises it was Jesus after they take in a huge haul of fish. Peter, ever the impetuous one, jumps into the water and struggles to the shore. Jesus has prepared breakfast for them and asks for some of the fish they had caught. Peter, eager to do whatever he asks, hauls in the net and they count 153 large fish.
After the leisurely breakfast you can picture them relaxing around the fire. Peter finds himself back in close proximity to his Lord. His mind is racing trying to figure out something to say, something to break the awful silence that reigns between them. That horrible night has been playing over and over in his mind. He cannot get away from the guilt that he is suffocating under. His mouth is dry. His throat is closing. Panic is beginning to rise. He thinks, “How can I continue to live this way?” The truth is, he cannot. He is not able to get over the fact that when the chips were down, when he wanted to prove himself, when wanted to sink the game winning three pointer, he dropped the ball. When Peter was put under pressure, he collapsed like a house of cards. He cannot get over the fact that he had told Jesus, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” And when Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” But Jesus words came true and Peter once again begins to replay the rest of that fateful night.
First Denial and Recommission
He is following the crowd at a distance, not wanting to be recognised, but not wanting to miss what will happen to Jesus either. He was travelling along with another disciple who was known to the high priest and who was let into the courtyard, Peter, however, had to wait outside. The other disciple went back out and talked to the servant girl at the door to let Peter in. As he was passing through the gateway into the courtyard of the high priest, the girl took a good look at him and exclaimed, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” Nervous at being recognised, and anxious that nothing happen to him, he denies it and replies, “I am not.” One simple sentence, one simple statement, yet it carried so much weight.
Peter shakes his head to bring himself back to the present. Jesus breaks the silence between them, and his voice sounds oddly loud after the lengthy silence. “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” What a question! How to answer this one. What does he mean 'more than these'? Is he asking if Peter loves Jesus more than he loves the disciples, or is he asking if Peter's love for Jesus is greater than that of the other disciples. Is Peter's love really greater than the other disciples's? He made the claim that, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” He said that he loved Jesus more than the others. He said he would even die for him, yet what did he say when asked if he was one of Jesus's disciples, “I am not.” The questions makes Peter wince, and almost under his breath he responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Second Denial and Recommission
“Feed your lambs?” Peter thinks, “how can I possibly do that? How can I ever feed anyone, or teach them, or comfort them, or give them advice, after what I did. How could you put any trust in me after that night?” Peter stares into the fire, and his mind wanders back to the other fire, the one in the courtyard, the one he stood around that night.
Standing in the courtyard with all those people, he thought he would be inconspicuous. He thought that no one would notice him, no one would care, no one would pay attention to him, they were all riveted by the scene unfolding before them. At least Peter was. He could not understand what was going on. Why was Jesus allowing this to happen? Why was his Lord on trial for his life? Why was Jesus making the officials angry? Peter could see the high priest questioning him, but he could not hear what was going on. Suddenly he saw one of the officials near to Jesus strike him across the face. Peter gasps as this happens and some of the other people at the fire look at him. “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” they ask. Again he is given the opportunity to come clean, to vindicate himself, but he does not want to be kicked out of the courtyard for fear of missing anything. Once again he denied it, saying, “I am not.” One simple sentence, one simple statement, yet it carried so much weight.
He is brought out of his reverie by the voice of Jesus who again turns to him and once again asks him, “Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” The question, once again posed, once again pondered. Does Peter truly love Jesus? Can a person who did what Peter did be considered a true believer? Is his denial not evidence that he does not truly love Jesus? Can someone who truly loves Jesus deny him? Peter, a bit more bold this time, lifts his eyes from the fire, and says a bit more forcefully, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Again Jesus answered, “Take care of my sheep.”
Third Denial and Recommission
Peter is a bit unsure how to take these statements Jesus has said, and so he takes the risk to look up into Jesus's face. His eyes meet with Jesus's and he is transported to back, back to that night, that horrible night Jesus looked at him. Almost a hour after he had made the second denial, Peter was a bit more comfortable. He was glancing around less. He was less worried that people were watching him. He was less anxious. Then, “one of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, 'Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?'” Peter said he was willing to die for Jesus, and it seemed he was. When the armed crowd came to arrest Jesus, he had been willing to fight. He unsheathed his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. He was not going to allow this to happen without a fight. He was willing to go down in a blaze of glory for what he believed in. But Jesus had stopped him, and healed the servant's ear. This threw Peter's world upside down. He no longer knew what to do. He was so nervous at being identified as the person who assaulted the high priests servant that he began to call down a curse on himself, “'Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!' Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter and he remembered what Jesus had said to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.'”
Jesus's eyes are full of the same compassion, the same caring, the same understanding, that Peter had known for the past three years. Once again Jesus asks Peter, “'Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, 'Do you love me?'” This same question asked three times hurt Peter. It hurt because it reminded Peter of his failure. It hurt because it reminded Peter of his boast to never deny Jesus. It hurt because it called into question Peter's answers. It hurt. But Peter does not let his hurt get in the way. He does not sulk and turn his face toward the fire. He does not give Jesus the silent treatment. He pleads with Jesus. Peter expresses faith in the face of his hurt. He expresses trust in the face of his failure. He says, “ 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep.'” Then Jesus tells Peter that he will indeed fulfil his hasty claim that he would die for Christ. Tradition has it Peter was crucified upside down in Rome for he was unwilling to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.
Then he said to him, 'Follow me!'” Follow me. This statement causes Peter to remember again, though this time he goes farther back. Back to another time along this lake. Back to another time they were fishing. Another time recorded in Mark 1 “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mk 1:16-18)
Peter recognises the gesture of forgiveness. He recognises the love in the words. He recognises his call to be a disciple. He remembers his decision way back when to follow Jesus. He realises that he cannot reverse that decision. He understands that those last three years have not been a waste. He realises that his identity has been changed. He is no longer a fisherman, but a disciple. He has chosen to follow Christ, and that will never change.
Our Denial(s) and (re)commission
The same is true of us. There are times in our lives that we are weak. There are times when we do things which cause us to call into question, our calling, our election, our salvation. There are times when we do not act like Christians, when we deny Christ with our actions, if not our mouth. I was told by a friend that he would not dare put one of those Christian fish on his car. He said, “No way, I would never put one of those fish on my car. The way that I drive, well, lets just say it would not reflect well on the Christian community.” And he was right, the way he drove it would not reflect well on the Christian community. It is not exactly the best evangelistic strategy to proclaim proudly that a Christian drives the car, and then cut someone off in traffic.
Time and time again we are too nervous, too anxious, to busy, to let on that we are Christians. I have a t-shirt that I bought from the Salvation Army a while ago. On the front is a statement that reads, “Ask me why I am wearing this shirt.” on the back it says, “No really, ask me why.” Now, I have no idea what the original intent of the shirt was, but I bought it hoping that it would give me an opportunity to share the gospel message with people. I hoped it would offer an opening in a conversation so that I could begin to talk to them. What happened, however, is that hardly anyone asked me about it. Then, one day while Sherilyn and I were garage saling, someone finally asked me. At that time, however, I was in no mood for talking, see I do not really enjoy garage saling, and I offered some answer like, “because I love Jesus Christ and I want you to love him too,” and continued on my way. My answer took the people slightly off guard, naturally. I did not sound full of joy. I barely looked up from the junk spread out on the tables in front of me. I did not even hang around for them to overcome their shock and continue a conversation with them. I totally blew it. My actions that morning did not reflect well on the Christian community.
I am sure I am not the only person who can think of a time when they have denied Christ by their actions, when they have reflected poorly on the Christian community, when they have misrepresented Christ to the world. This, however, does not mean that Jesus does not love us. If we have chosen to follow Jesus, that is a one time commitment. We are his forever. Our lives have changed. We are no longer citizens of this world but our citizenship is in heaven. We are no longer subject to the basic principles of this world. God has chosen us as his own. God has taken us under his wing as a hen gathers her chicks. Though it seems as though nothing has changed because of the resurrection, our lives have a different perspective. Death is no longer the end. God has promised us victory along with Christ. God has raised our Lord from the dead. Christ has conquered. God is victorious.
We are now Christ's disciples. For every time that we deny Christ, that we turn our backs on him, that we chose the easy road rather than the cross he offers, he turns to us and asks. “Do you love me more than these? Do you truly love me? Do you love me?” If you have asked God into your life and live in the reality of the resurrection you can say along with Peter, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Let us Pray