First Mennonite Church
September 3, 2017
Jesus Meets and Restores Peter
Text: John 21:1-19
The last two verses of chapter 20 read: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (20:30-31).
From this assertion of the Gospel writer John, we understand there were many other things Jesus did before and after his resurrection but were not recorded. However, those recorded have the purpose of inspiring faith, which brings life in the name of Jesus. To prove this assertion, John gives the following account—our passage this morning.
This appearance was Jesus’ third to the disciples after his resurrection. For some reason Peter determined he did not want to stay in Jerusalem anymore. “I am going fishing,” Peter said to the disciples. Six others joined him. Was Peter breaking away from the Jesus group? Was he considering going back to his previous life? Was he discouraged by the fact that Jesus was not permanently staying with the group? Was he disappointed with himself for not standing up for Jesus during his trial and crucifixion? We should remember Peter’s offer to Jesus in chapter 13. There Jesus announced his imminent death, but Peter somehow picks up the idea that Jesus must go away. Therefore Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times (13:37-38).
Peter genuinely believed there was nothing he would not do for his Lord’s sake, even laying down his life if necessary. Peter had a burning desire to be that strong, reliable, and loyal friend of Jesus. But Jesus warned him: Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
Since this warning, Jesus’ last personal interaction with Peter was after his erroneous attempt to defend Jesus with the sword (18:10). Since then Peter began to lag behind, following Jesus in the shadows.
Matthew’s account of Peter’s denial is more dramatic. In chapter 26, verses 69-75 the Message Bible puts it this way:
All this time, Peter was sitting out in the courtyard. One servant girl came up to him and said, “You were with Jesus the Galilean.”
In front of everybody there, he denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
As he moved over toward the gate, someone else said to the people there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.”
Again he denied it, salting his denial with an oath: “I swear, I never laid eyes on the man.”
Shortly after that, some bystanders approached Peter. “You’ve got to be one of them. Your accent gives you away.”
Then he got really nervous and swore. “I don’t know the man!” Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Peter was devastated in his spirit. His words had fallen to the ground; they were only empty words. Jesus’ words turned out true. Peter felt remorseful for having failed to admit his association with his Lord. Hence, Peter’s sense of failure could have been the motive for his wanting to go away. He was carrying the burden of having denied his friend and Lord. He carried with him a weight that only forgiveness and reconciliation could remove.
Early that morning Jesus appeared to his disciples after a fruitless night of fishing and he calls them, “Children, you have no fish, have you.” Jesus addressed his disciples, “Children”. What a tender heart! How compassionate it was of Jesus to address his drifting disciples and to call them so lovingly. But that is the way Jesus deals with the weak and frail. That is the way he deals with us in our own weaknesses and failures. He tenderly calls each of us “my child.”
When Peter was told it was Jesus who was calling them from the beach, he clothed himself because he was naked. Peter was not only naked physically but even his very soul. He needed the garment of grace and forgiveness.
Once on the shore, Peter found something that might have brought his shame and guilt to the fore. Jesus welcomes them most graciously and invites them to eat breakfast. Imagine the atmosphere around that fire where Jesus was grilling fish. The disciples were gripped by mixed feelings between anxiety and confidence and between joy and embarrassment. The disciples may have had difficulty swallowing their food. John notes: Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.
Jesus passed fish and bread around. And when breakfast was over, he directed his attention to Peter. “Peter, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter’s response was immediate and affirmative. “Yes, Lord. You know how much I love you.” This dance of question and answer goes back and forth three rounds. But on the third time Peter feels his heart and soul being pierced by the living word. Peter feels his heart and soul piecing together once again and being restored by Jesus’ persistent love and care. Peter succumbs to the will of his Lord. Peter is empowered and allows God to “fasten a belt around him and take him where he did not wish to go.” And right then and there Peter realizes the kind of death by which he would glorify God. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
My beloved brothers and sisters, Peter denied the Lord three times and three times he had to be asked by the Lord, “Do you love me?” If it were me, I confess to you, it certainly would be more than three times Jesus would have had to ask me that piercing question. How about you? Yet, just as Jesus did with Peter, he wants to do with you and me today. He offers us his hospitality and fellowship around his table. He wants to feed us with the living bread. He is speaking to us with his gentle and inviting words, “Follow me.”
There is something each of us should ask ourselves: Is there something I love more than the Lord? The Lord might be asking you, “Do you love me more than (fill in the blank.)” What can it be that you love more than the Lord? Could it be your job? Your family? Your earthly possessions?
One last item I’d like us to think about. It was only after Peter had bared his soul to the Lord that he was able to fully surrender to the will of God. God’s will can only prevail when we surrender to God. May I ask you, who is the master of your time, your money, your relationships, and your decision-making criteria? Let us hear once again what Jesus said to Peter.
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go . . . . Follow me.”
I pray the Lord would inspire faith in us and reaffirm to each of us his promise of eternal life in his holy name. Amen!