Peter

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 21:12-22

What happens if you encounter the Lord Jesus after you have failed him in some way? A meeting between Jesus and his disciple Peter following the resurrection shows the answer.

Peter had decided to go fishing. He and some of the other disciples were in Galilee; it was a few weeks after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. They had all seen the Lord alive, for Jesus had appeared to them first in Jerusalem and had told them to travel back to Galilee, where he promised to meet with them again. But now that the disciples were there nothing much seemed to be happening. Reading the story in the last chapter of the Gospel of John, I get the impression time began to hang heavily on their hands – especially for the restless and impulsive Peter – while they all waited for Jesus to appear. Meanwhile, there sat their old fishing boat on the beach, with its nets carefully washed and folded and stored away. Peter looked at the boat, thought and fretted a while, and finally jumped up. “I’m going out,” he announced, and as usual the others all followed his lead.

They toiled all night long, just like in the old days, with the nets played out astern as they swept back and forth along the drop-off, straining over the oars, the little boat groaning and creaking in the darkness. And they caught nothing. As the eastern sky shaded into light gray and the first streaks of salmon pink tinted the horizon, the disciples decided to give up their fruitless effort and pack it in. They were tired and hungry as they pulled for home, and it didn’t help their mood any when a voice called out to them through the misty twilight from shore.

“Caught anything?”

“No,” somebody said rather shortly, with a hint of annoyance in his voice.

“Try again on the right side,” the voice came back.

For a moment the disciples sat there in the stillness of the dawn, the only sound the gentle lapping of the water along the hull. Then with a shrug they tossed a net over the side, and as it played out suddenly it came alive with fish; 153 of them to be exact – big ones – as John the gospel writer later noted precisely. Many years afterward, as a very old man, John could still see every detail of that remarkable morning on the Sea of Galilee as if it were yesterday. As the other disciples strained to haul in the bulging, wriggling net, John looked intently at the figure on the shore, and the memory came flooding over him of another morning three years before when a stranger’s telling them to cast their nets upon the other side of the boat had produced a similar miraculous catch. “It’s the Lord,” whispered John to Peter, whereupon in typical fashion Peter jumped up, leaped overboard and swam in to the shore.

The others followed in the boat, dragging the net which was too heavy to pull aboard, and when they were all together on the beach they shared a strange breakfast with Jesus. They ate in silence, no friendly banter or easy joking around the fire. The disciples were not altogether comfortable sitting with the Lord. To be fair to them, they had very little experience associating with someone who had died and risen again. Who could relax in the presence of the supernatural?

Then when the meal was finished Jesus spoke to Peter. Peter, we may presume, had already been forgiven by Jesus for denying him on the eve of the crucifixion. He had been restored to his place among the disciples. Both Paul and Luke refer to a private appearance of Jesus to Peter which occurred sometime on Easter day, though we are not given any details of what must have been a painful experience for proud Peter. But now Jesus wants to restore Peter publicly and commission him to ministry in the presence of those whom he will be called to lead. So we have this memorable exchange coming at the heart of an encounter between the risen Jesus and his apostle.

A QUESTION

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

John 21:15-19, NIV

The Lord begins with a simple question for Peter: “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Yes, I do,” and Jesus immediately asks him the same question again and then yet again. Jesus’ triple question could not help calling to mind Peter’s threefold denial of the Lord on the night when Jesus was arrested and brought to trial. You might recall how it happened. While Peter was waiting with the crowd outside the high priest’s palace, he denied ever knowing Jesus three times when challenged by a young serving girl. So now Jesus asks him three times over: “Do you love me?” “Do you love me more than these others do?” Jesus adds. That must have made Peter wince too, as it called to the outspoken disciple’s mind his boast in the Upper Room that even if all the others deserted Jesus he never would. Peter had been so sure that he was the bravest and most committed of all Jesus’ followers.

You know, there’s one good thing about a spectacular failure like Peter’s. It produces genuine humility. So now Peter answers Jesus’ question humbly, three times in succession, confessing his devotion without bluster or boasting: “Lord, you know that I love you.”

Think of all the questions Jesus might have asked Peter on the beach that day, all the ways he might have humiliated Peter or tried to punish him and make him suffer more than he already had. Jesus could really have rubbed Peter’s nose in it. For instance, he could have been angry: “Well, Peter, where’s all your bragging now?” He could have challenged Peter: “How about it; are you going to be loyal to me from now on?” He might have turned sarcastic: “Tell me, Peter, do you think you can manage to acknowledge me, or are you going to be intimidated by the next girl who threatens to embarrass you?” But instead Jesus chose only one simple question: “Peter, do you love me?”

That is the great necessity, really the only necessity. The one requirement for a disciple is love for the Lord Jesus. The simplest child can understand this demand, and yet it tests the most advanced Christian. If you truly love Christ then all is well – even mistakes in doctrine or failures due to sin can be put right. Again and again the New Testament makes love the key to discipleship. The apostle Paul put it most bluntly: “If any love not the Lord Jesus,” he wrote, “let them be anathema [accursed]” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

I think that love is also the key to Peter’s restoration. Whatever else he may have been or done, Peter genuinely did love the Lord. That is what distinguishes Peter from Judas Iscariot. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but it strikes me that what these two men did wasn’t all that different. Judas betrayed Jesus for money, but Peter denied him out of pride and the fear of embarrassment. Both serious sins, but neither one unforgivable. So why did one man hang himself in despair while the other turned back to the Lord in repentance? I believe the difference was in how they felt toward Jesus himself. Sincere, genuine heart-felt love for Jesus is the reason Peter repented of his sin and was restored, while loveless Judas went to his doom.

Perhaps we should each take a moment to examine our own heart. You and I need to sort through our various affections and see what’s there. There will be love for family and friends, that’s only normal. And if you are anything like me, you will also feel an affection for some of your favorite pleasures and pastimes. But what about Jesus Christ? What about the person of the Lord himself? How do you feel about him? It’s not enough just to say that you accept the Bible or believe in God; such opinions don’t really change us. You can spend your entire life walking around with Christian facts in your head and they might not make any more difference to you than a list of U.S. presidents or the kings and queens of England. Life-transforming faith does not consist just in believing certain ideas or holding a particular set of opinions. It is a relationship of trust warmed by personal devotion. It consists in knowing, believing in and above all loving a person, a specific person. So, do you? Do you have love in your heart for the person of Jesus Christ? Remember Paul’s word, “If anyone does not love the Lord, a curse be on him!”

A COMMISSION

Along with his triple question, Jesus also charges Peter three times with a task. “Feed my sheep,” he says; “take care of my lambs.” While the language Jesus uses varies somewhat, his basic commission is the same. Jesus is giving Peter not three different jobs but one: to care for his people by means of a pastoral ministry. Peter is to shepherd the sheep – that’s the root meaning of the Latin word pastor – the sheep who constitute the body of Christ. He must take care of all their spiritual needs, those of young and old alike. To feed the sheep of Jesus, as this metaphor implies, means to promote the spiritual nourishment and growth of Jesus’ flock, the Christian church. This is done primarily by means of preaching and teaching the Word of God within the context of a personal, caring relationship between a pastor and a particular group of Jesus’ followers – a congregation.

There’s a close connection between Jesus’ question to Peter and the commission he gives him, because love for Christ is not only the key mark of a disciple, it is also the real motive behind all Christian ministry. Little effective service for the Lord can be done out of a mere sense of duty. It is love that sends men and women into Christian ministry and out to the ends of the earth in Jesus’ name with the gospel, love for suffering people, to be sure, but most of all love for Jesus himself, a love that reaches out to everyone everywhere so that the Lord Jesus may be known and may receive the glory he deserves. This kind of love must be expressed in action. We can’t just talk about him. We can’t just sing “O, how I love Jesus.” If we really do love Jesus, we will respond when he tells us to go out and help and serve in his name. Without love for Christ, service to others can become manipulative and self-seeking; without service to others, professed love for Christ becomes meaningless sentimentalism.

A COMMAND

There’s one last word here from Jesus to Peter. After the question and the commission the conversation takes another turn. Having just entrusted to Peter an apostolic ministry of the Word, Jesus now speaks in cryptic terms of the end of that ministry – and of Peter’s life. One day, it seems, Peter would have to seal his devotion to the Lord by giving his life, by glorifying God through an obedience that takes him to a martyr’s death.

Finally Jesus gives Peter one last command: “Follow me!” You might recall that this was also the very first thing Jesus ever said to Peter, years before on this same shore of Lake Galilee, on the day he invited Peter to become his disciple. So we have come full circle; the first command is also the last. And once again, love is the key. Love for Christ leads us to serve him, to sacrifice ourselves for him, above all to follow him. Love binds us to Jesus and compels us to seek out his company. It makes us want to go where he goes and do what he does. Peter would be a great leader in the early church, but he could only lead if first he followed. The only leadership worthy of the name “Christian” is to follow Jesus as closely as you can, and urge others to come along as well.