Faithlife Sermons

John 21:15-19

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We need the freedom that forgiveness brings.

In the Lord’s Prayer that we say each week, we ask that God would “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But if you look at Matthew’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, we find a different phrase - a phrase that is so fitting for us who are living in a season of great unemployment and financial struggles. Matthew would have us pray, “Forgive us our debts.”
We all know what it’s like to carry a debt, to be in debt. It’s a burden and a limitation. If the debt is too great, it becomes oppressive. It dictates how we live, and often paralyzes us under its weight. We’d love to do X, Y, and Z but we can’t because of this debt that is preventing us from doing so. And Jesus is right to describe sin as a debt we carry. There are sins in our lives that hold us in bondage, that enslave us under the oppression of a paralyzing guilt and shame.
We all want to have our debts forgiven, because we know that in order to be free we must be forgiven. The freedom to live as God intends for us to live, to love him with all our heart, soul, and mind, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be a part of God’s community, that freedom can only come through forgiveness. Without it, our debts will always hold us back from following the Lord wholeheartedly.
And yet forgiveness alone does not grant the freedom that we desire, and this is what we’re looking at this morning. In our story, we find a disciple of Jesus who has languished under the burden of his debts. He had failed Jesus. And what Peter needs is to be forgiven. But more than that, Peter needs to be restored. With that in mind, let’s look at this powerful story together.

Forgiveness without restoration is worthless.

Peter has failed Jesus.

Peter had failed Jesus, just as Jesus had said he would. Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny that he knew Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, and that is exactly what had happened. When Jesus was arrested and led by armed guard to face trial, Peter and John had followed behind them into the courtyard of the temple. It was cold out, so they gathered around a charcoal fire to warm themselves with a number of other bystanders. And around this fire, over the course of the night, as Jesus was standing trial and sentenced to death, Peter was asked three times if he was a disciple of Jesus. And three times, Peter denied that he had any relationship with Jesus at all. Luke tells us that even as Peter was emphatically denying that he had anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth, the rooster crowed, and Jesus turned and looked at Peter, and the weight of what he had done crushed him, and he left the scene and wept bitterly. We don’t hear from Peter again until Resurrection Sunday. He’s not at the crucifixion. He’s gone from the story entirely. No doubt overwhelmed by guilt, shame, regret. The last thing his teacher, his Messiah, his friend had heard from him, was his betrayal.

Peter needs to be forgiven.

Then Easter comes. “The Lord is risen,” the women proclaim. And they are right! Jesus is alive, and he appears to the disciples, Peter included. But in all of the laughing and tears of joy, what do you think Peter was thinking about? What would you be thinking about? Wouldn’t you be thinking about the last time you saw Jesus alive, on that cold night, by the charcoal fire? Because that is what our sin does: it holds us in a prison of guilt and shame and prevents us from being free to live as God desires for us. How can he know the world that the resurrection had just opened to him with this debt hanging around his neck?
Peter needs to be forgiven.

Peter also needs to be restored.

But is forgiveness all he needs? Does forgiveness alone have the power to free Peter to follow Jesus with his whole heart? Do we just need our debts forgiven? I don’t think so.
One of the great problems of our prison system is that after serving their time, after repaying their debts to society, so often men and women are freed from prison with no money, no real family or community, no job prospects, and few economic means, and what happens to them? Many of them end up back in prison. Their debts are forgiven, but are they really set free? Is that how it is in the Kingdom of God?
Think about a father and his son working on a model airplane together. Those can be quite challenging, especially for young children, because some pieces are really small, and they require a delicate touch and precision that kids just don’t have. Imagine the little boy is working on putting together one of the wings: you’ve got the engine turbines, the propellers, the landing gear, all kinds of stuff, and he’s making a mess of it really. There’s gaps everywhere, pieces are askew, the glue is clumping up along the seams. The little boy looks over at the wing that his father is building, and immediately he knows he’s failed at his task. The father sees the tears welling up in his son’s eyes, and he puts down his glue and begins to comfort his son. Tells him that it’s alright if his wing doesn’t look perfect. Tells him that he still loves him. What a beautiful moment of forgiveness. But as the newly comforted child reaches for the next piece to continue his work on his wing, the father takes the glue away and says that he’ll finish it up instead. He’s reconsidered and doesn’t need help anymore. The failure has been forgiven, but is this a satisfying ending? Is that how it is in the Kingdom of God?
Peter needs more than forgiveness. He needs to be restored. He had been called to a task by Jesus. “Follow me,” Jesus had said many years ago, in the very same place that Peter now stood, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter had failed, as we all have, and that failure needs to be forgiven, but more than that, to be truly freed from the burden of our failure, we need to experience restoration. And the wonder of this resurrection appearance is that Jesus restores Peter to the very place where Peter had failed him. The wonder of the Kingdom of God is that in Jesus we are trusted again in the place where we disgraced him. We are forgiven and restored.

The primary purpose for Christ’s forgiveness is our restoration.

Jesus restores Peter in three ways: first, by confronting Peter’s failure. Second, by repairing his community, and third, by calling him to action again.

Jesus restores Peter by confronting his failure.

We will never be freed to follow Jesus unless we confront our failure, our sins, our debts in his presence. Avoiding our failures, white-washing our sins will never lead to restoration. It is only by confronting them in Christ’s presence that we can be truly freed to follow him. And see how Jesus does this for Peter.
First, we know from the section right before this, that Jesus had appeared to seven disciples, Peter included, along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At first they did not recognize him, but after a miraculous catch of fish, one of them says, “It is the Lord!” And Peter, man of action as he is, hurls himself into the sea and proceeds to swim to shore. I love that image of Peter’s eagerness to be with Jesus. But as he stumbles to shore, drench and winded, the smell of a charcoal fire fills his nose.
The sense of smell is linked to memory. When I smell a hot pizza, my mind always goes to Friday Movie Nights with my family growing up, or the smell of honey suckles takes me back to playing the our yard as a child. What do you think Peter’s mind went to when he smelled that charcoal fire? The last and only time a charcoal fire is mentioned in the gospel of John, was that cold night in the temple courts when Peter failed his Lord and God. Jesus will restore Peter by confronting his failure head on.
After breakfast, what was the question that Jesus asked? “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus is referring to the other six disciples. He’s asking Peter, “Do you love me more than these other’s love me?” What an uncharacteristic question, coming from Jesus. But here again, he is confronting Peter with his failure. Peter had always been the one who boasted of his faith. He prided himself as the man of action, ready to do whatever it took to follow Jesus. In the presence of this same crowd, he had confidently proclaimed, “Even if all fall away, I never will.” Before this same group of disciples, he had questioned Jesus, “Why can’t I follow you? I will die for you!”
But we know that these proved mere hollow boastings. Peter did fall away. Peter didn’t follow Jesus. He wasn’t ready to die for him. And Jesus is bringing Peter’s failure to the fore.
He proceeds to ask Peter three times if Peter loved him. Three questions about the nature of his relationship with Jesus, just like the three questions posed to him in the temple courts. By the third question, Peter saw the connection, and his heart sank. But this is all intentional on the part of Jesus.
We will never be freed to follow Jesus unless we confront our failure in his presence. There is no freedom in avoiding it, because the memory and the burden will continue to hold us in bondage to shame and guilt. The only way to be forgiven and restored is to bring them into the presence of Jesus.

Jesus restores Peter by repairing his community.

Second, Jesus restores Peter by repairing his community. Growing up I had always pictured this conversation happening in private. Jesus and Peter having a moment together. But it’s very clear that that is not what’s happening. This conversation, this confrontation, this restoration is happening with all six other disciples right there in the midst of it, and that doesn’t make this scene awkward, it makes it beautiful.
Jesus is repairing this community. Undoubtedly, Peter’s failings were known to the other disciples. Whether he confessed them himself, or it just got out, we don’t know. But you can bet that it would have relational consequences. Shame and guilt, they are not private, though we tend to think they are. Even if you’re harboring a secret guilt over something that you’ve done, something you’ve tried very hard to keep from your friends and family, do you recognize that that shame has had relational consequences for you and your community? You have not been free to truly love them or be loved by them.
But by making this conversation public, Jesus mends the cracks that had formed in the community of the disciples. Could the disciples trust Peter to still be a leader in the Jesus movement? Could they trust that he’d be there for them when opposition arose? After all that he had done, could he still play a role in Christ’s ministry? Jesus answers those questions for them with a resounding yes. Even after all he had done, Peter had a place in Christ’s ministry. He is restored, and his community is repaired.

Jesus restores Peter by (re)calling him to action.

Finally, Jesus restores Peter by calling him to action. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asks. Peter says, “Yes Lord; you know that I love you.” And Jesus says commission Peter three times, “Feed my sheep.” He calls him to action once again.
The primary purpose of Christ’s forgiveness is to restore us that we may do the work that he has given us to do. To free us to live as God intends for us to live. God’s blessings have always been connected with a mission - going all the way back to Abraham, where God promises to bless him and his family so that in him all the families of the earth shall be blessed. The nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, were afforded an opportunity that no other nation on earth was given: they lived in the presence of God - they heard his voice, saw his wonders, and all so that they could be a light to the nations, a kingdom of priests that brought that presence of God to all the nations of the earth. And in keeping with this pattern, those who put their faith in the Son of God, are blessed with forgiveness so that they can be free to bring the blessing of the resurrected King to the ends of the earth.
Jesus restores Peter by calling him back to the mission. His failure should disqualify him, but Jesus does not forgive and throw away, he forgives and restores. He confronts Peter’s failures, he repairs Peter’s community, and partners with him once more to bring God’s blessing to the ends of the earth.

Jesus exclusively uses the restored in his ministry to the world.

There are many reasons to avoid following Jesus.

Family, we can think of many reasons for why we cannot follow Jesus. But all of your reasons are undone by his willingness to forgive and restore you. Your past cannot exclude you in view of the cross and resurrection.
English Standard Version Chapter 8

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Family, the Son will set you free. He will forgive your past failings. He will forgive your debts. And he will restore you to the life you were designed for: a life lived in partnership with King Jesus, bringing his restoration to your friends, family, and neighbors, even the to the ends of the earth. Do not let your shame or guilt keep you imprisoned any longer. Confront them in the presence of Jesus, and be restored. Open yourself to the grace that is the lifeblood of the Christian community, and be restored. Hear and receive the call to follow Jesus into a life of adventure for his name’s sake. In Jesus you are not just forgiven. You are restored. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
So if every one of your reasons not to follow Jesus are undone, there remains only the challenge. Will you follow him? Jesus exclusively welcomes the restored in Kingdom . He exclusively welcomes the redeemed, a word that means those who have been freed from slavery because their debt had been paid. Jesus has paid that debt on the cross, and now the resurrected Jesus appears to us who have failed him in every way, and he calls us to join him once again, as members of his redeemed community, to be a part of his mission of restoration.
So if your reasons are undone. The challenge remains. Will you follow him? Let’s pray.
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