Isaiah 44:21-28, John 21:15-25
April 21, 2013
Last week, we looked at the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples by the sea. It was after the resurrection, and we said how that was the moment he laid to rest the expectation that their lives would ever be the same again! There, he told them that they had only just begun to do the things he was calling them to do. They were no longer just disciples – those who follow. Now they would be Apostles – those who were sent.
That’s a great story! And we can only imagine that scene out on the lake with these men struggling with the nets! They had caught so many fish they couldn’t even haul the nets into the boat like they normally would! So they rowed ashore dragging the nets behind them! Then they hauled them ashore, and they did whatever they did with fish at that point – I dont know, put them in bags or something. We know they took time to do that because they counted them. Were told there were 153 large fish, and that was apparently way more than their nets could ordinarily hold!
I think John wants us to know that the disciples were amazed by all of this. Of course he was there with them, and he too was overwhelmed, like the rest of them, by what had just happened! But, that wasn’t the end of the story. There was some unfinished business that day. And I believe that business is the reason John included this story at the end of his Gospel.
They finished with the boats and the fish, and then they had this breakfast with Jesus on the lake shore. And while they were eating, Jesus turned to Peter, and he asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Now, Ive heard many things said about that question. Some have suggested that this question, “Do you love me more than these?” could mean “Do you love me more than you love these men.” In other words, do you live me more than anyone else in your life? The question could also mean “Do you love me more than these?” meaning the trappings of the fishing trade. “Do you love me more than your livelihood?” Or it could mean “Do you love me more than these men love me?” I believe it was that’s what Jesus meant, and Ill tell you why.
First of all, let’s be certain that this whole little vignette here is about Peters denial in Pilate’s courtyard. I once heard somebody try to say that wasn’t the case. But I don’t see how we can read this any other way! In fact, to me denying that connection is like saying, “Ok its big and grey and has a long trunk, but it might not be an elephant…” There”s little doubt that the repetition of these these three repetitions “Do you love me?” corresponds directly to the three times Peter denied Jesus! John even tells us that when Jesus asked him the third time “Do you love me?” Peter was “grieved.” Sure he was! He knew what this was about.
If you think about it, this whole chapter seems to be about Peter. He’s the one who suggests they go fishing. He’s the one who dives in and swims ashore when the disciples realize it’s Jesus standing on the shore. He’s the one who Jesus confronts directly in this passage. Because, even though things had turned around for Peter, even though he and the rest of them had gotten through their terrible despair and had seen the light of Easter morning, still there was this nagging failure haunting Peter’s heart. It was likely that it was less than a week before this story that Peter heard the cock crow!
It was more than that, though. “Do you love me more than these” was also about the brash statement Peter made earlier. It was a time before Holy Week and Jesus was telling his disciples how he would be arrested and put to death, and how all of them would abandon him. Do you remember what Peter said then? “Even if everybody else deserts you, Jesus, I will never desert you.” And that was the point at which Jesus told him, “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.”
I’m sure Peter remembered that moment. I’m sure that failure was still haunting him. There was no doubt in his mind what this was all about! Then add to that the fact that Jesus addressed him, not as Peter, but as “Simon, son of John.” Remember, Simon was his old name. Jesus gave him a new name. Now he was “Peter – the Rock.” But now the Rock had crumbled, and he knew it. When Jesus went back to using his old name, I think that grieved him as much as being asked the third time.
So, Jesus was confronting Peter about his betrayal in all these ways. He didn’t actually say it, but he didn’t have to! And I hope we see that picture here. It’s very important, because I believe this has a lot to do with another expectation that Peter felt at that time, and one that we feel in our lives, too. And it is the expectation that we are not good enough! Peter felt that. And I’m sure we’ve felt that way at times in our lives, too! Maybe there’s something weve done that were ashamed of, or maybe there’s some shortcoming in our lives, or some place where we just don’t feel like we measure up to God’s standards. Whatever the case, we feel like were not good enough.
That’s why I like this story. Because this is a story of redemption. It’s a story about healing. That’s what Peter needed. And he wasn’t alone! Remember that they all ran! Yes, Peter was the only one who was confronted in the courtyard. He was the only one that verbally denied Jesus. But that’s only because he was the only one who was there. The others were nowhere to be found. So you see, they betrayed Jesus, too! They would have been feeling the same thing Peter was feeling by the lake that day. In fact, they might have felt even more shame that day. While Jesus confronted Peter about his betrayal, I think they would have been confronting their own betrayal! I think there was more than one person squirming that day! And maybe we have our own version of that. As I said, there are times that we think we’re not good enough.
So, what I like about this story is that it is a story of redemption. And redemption is different than forgiveness. Jesus didn’t simply say, “Peter, I know you denied me, but I forgive you.” I’m sure he did forgive him. Hey, he forgave the soldiers that crucified him! But for Peter he did more. He gave Peter a chance to redeem his actions – to fix them – to make amends for them. And I believe that helped fix Peter! And that’s what he needed. But it only happened when it was personal. Jesus got to the heart of the problem. And in doing so, he healed Peter’s heart!
I believe that’s what he does for us. I believe that’s what he wants for us! He wants our broken hearts to be healed! His forgiveness is wonderful, but sometimes when we hear words about forgiveness, they seem to be just words. There’s still a nagging feeling that were not good enough. We need to know that we have been redeemed, too. And redemption is personal, like it was for Peter. And thats what draws us back into God’s presence.
That’s why we have this thing called Confession. Confession isn’t just about beating up on ourselves. It’s what allows for that redemption. It’s what allows for the healing. And I mean more than just the confession we pray in unison on Sunday mornings. That’s good. That helps us to acknowledge our humanness and our sinfulness before God. But that doesn’t preclude personal confession. We need to do that, too. And by personal confession, I mean private confession, but I also mean specific. At the first service, we do confession a different way. It’s more of a silent prayer, and as I begin that time, I ask people to think about those things that stand between them and God. Thats what happens to us, isn’t it? Like Peter’s failure, things can stand between us and God. We need to be redeemed from those things.
Now please know that I’m not talking about making lists here. Sometimes people want to do that. Ive heard people talk about the importance of making sure “we have no unconfessed sin in our lives.” I’ts almost as though the idea is to search ourselves, to eradicate every last sin that might be lurking in the background somewhere, and we’re “not going to be right with God until we do.” That”s not the idea. In fact, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s even possible! The idea here is to look at your life and see what might be standing between you and God. It’s to ask yourself, what are the things that are hurting that relationship? Those are the things you need to be talking to God about!
In the end, the cross is about more than just forgiveness. And again, God’s forgiveness his Grace is wonderful! Don’t get me wrong here. But the forgiveness represented in the cross is not simply the wiping clean of sin or wrongdoing. It’s about redemption! Again, it’s about the healing of our hearts! And that’s a personal thing. That has to do with the state of our soul. And that’s what always important to Jesus.!
Jesus redeemed Peter, and he redeems us, too. And he calls us to be part of that ongoing process. He told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” That was part of each of these questions he asked. And part of what he meant by that was to share that redemption. That’s what matters to him. We need to practice redemption in our lives. We need, not just to forgive others, but to make amends with them, or to allow them to make amends with us. (And, by the way not to demand that they do!) When we do that, it helps heal both of us, doesn’t it?
So, think of Jesus by the lake with his disciples. Think of how he healed their hearts. And think of how he heals us, too.
Eternal God, we thank you for sending your son to be our redeemer! We thank you that through him, you heal our hearts, and set our spirits free. Help us to be people of redemption, people who help heal broken hearts, as Jesus himself did. Let your Joy flow through us, as we live our lives in you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.