The last few weeks we have been exploring the life of a man from the New Testament named Peter. Last week, we saw that Peter pledge to defend Jesus from all enemies, even if it cost Peter his own life. Then within a matter of a few hours, we saw Peter deny ever knowing Jesus not one time but three times. Today, I would like us to complete our review of Peter’s life by exploring what happened to Peter when Peter encountered Jesus again following Peter’s denials. The conversation between Jesus and Peter was a powerful one for through it we can feel Peter experience his denial of Jesus but see Jesus forgiving Peter. We could feel Peter deny Jesus again, but see Jesus restoring Peter. We could feel Peter deny Jesus a third time, but see Jesus calling Peter. Jesus’ and Peter’s conversation is important to us because we learn that God’s love compels Him to forgive, to restore, and to call each person who will receive Him. God’s love transforms lives.
We do not talk enough about love; God’s real love. We need to talk more about love. Allow me to give you an illustration. A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a two-day training program called, ASIST, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. This training equips attendees to intervene in the life of someone who has become suicidal. There were 32 people in my class. Thirty-one people who were social workers of various stripes and one church pastor. We learned that people who have suicidal thoughts often feel alone, isolated, and hopeless for the future. We learned strategies to talk to suicidal people and to help them develop choices to keep themselves safe. When the two days of training had been completed, the instructor asked the entire class, “Suppose you intervened and kept someone from suicide, what services could your agency offer to that person to help them move forward with their life?” A couple of the social workers stood up and gave long and impressive lists of life skill training programs, workshops, and seminars offered by their agency. I squirmed a bit in my seat because I thought the point was missed. Life is not about programs, workshops, and seminars. So, I stood up and said, “We offer love.” The room was very quiet after I spoke because I think people know life without love cannot be sustained. We just do not talk about love; genuine love. And yet the Bible speaks over and over about love. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). “Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17). Finally, Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43, 44).
Jesus words about love were carefully chosen. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” While Jesus’ statement is about love, he showed how special God’s love is by included one of the most important words in our language. That word is the word “but.” I have spoken of this word in previous sermons. Whenever we see or heard the word, “but,” we should pay attention because that small word is full of power. The word but is intended to have the audience ignore what is said before the word “but” and give extra attention to the words that comes after the word “but.” We might say in a tongue in cheek way, that what follows your “but” is most important. Let me offer an illustration. Two people get into a heated argument. Harsh and angry words are exchanged. The two people separate from each other for a time. Then one person goes to the other and says, “I am sorry that I said some harsh things to you, but you made me angry when you said...” You can fill in the blank from your own experience. The speaker offered an apology in the first part of the sentence and then took the apology away by using the word but leaving the focus on the second part of the sentence; that the fault lies with the other person. Hear the sentence again. “I am sorry that I said some harsh things to you, but you made me angry when you said....” The focus is on words following the “but.” This is the essence of Peter’s experience with Jesus from today’s Bible reading. Peter had denied Jesus, but Jesus forgave Peter. The focus is forgiving Peter. Peter denied Jesus again, but Jesus restored Peter. The focus is Peter’s restoration. Peter denied Jesus again and again, but Jesus called Peter. The focus is on giving Peter a mission. Why would Jesus forgive, restore, and call Peter? Simply because Jesus loved Peter.
Let’s revisit our New Testament reading from earlier today and listen in as Jesus speaks to Peter. Please turn with me to the Gospel of John, Chapter 21, beginning with verse 15.
As we enter this scene, we find that Peter and six other disciples with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. They had just finished breakfast. “15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Let’s pause there for a moment. First, notice Jesus refers to Peter as “Simon, son of John.” Jesus referred to Peter in this manner only one time previously. That occurred when Jesus first met Peter. John tells us, “And he [Andrew] brought him [his brother, Simon] to Jesus. Jesus looked at him [Simon] and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter)” (John 1:42). Jesus began this conversation with Peter along the shores of the Sea of Galilee by referring to him in the manner Peter was known before he met Jesus. This must have grabbed Peter’s attention. Jesus’ words were penetrating Peter’s being. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” These meaning the other disciples. “Peter do you love me more than these [other disciples] do [love me]?” It is a reflective question about the inner heart of Peter. Jesus question may have reminded Peter that when Jesus told his disciples that one of them would betray him, Peter said, “Though they [the other disciples may] all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). With those words of bravado, Peter was saying his love for Jesus was greater than the love of any other disciple for Jesus. Peter’s words condemned the other disciples. And yet, it is not hard to imagine that Jesus’ words “Do you love me?” brought Peter’s words of denying Jesus into Peter’s mind. A servant girl had come up to Peter and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” Peter said, “I do not know what you mean” (Matthew 26:69-70).
Now, after Peter’s denial of Jesus, Peter was being asked by Jesus, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these [other disciples] do?” Peter thought for a moment taking in his bravado and denial of Jesus and said quietly, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
This was a humbling experience for Peter. Peter had denied Jesus. Now Jesus wanted to know if Peter still loved him. “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” When we express our love for another person, especially for the first time, we wonder how that person will respond. Will our words panic them or please them? Peter wondered how Jesus would respond to Peter’s expression of love. After some quiet moments, Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.” The Greek word used for feed means literally to provide nourishment and tend while grazing. Jesus was telling Peter to care for Jesus’ disciples. Peter must have felt relieved the conversation was over. Jesus had received Peter’s love and Jesus called Peter back into his life. Peter had denied Jesus, but Jesus had forgiven Peter.
But the conversation was not over. Verse 16, “Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter must have wondered, “Why is Jesus asking me this question again?” Perhaps, Peter recalled his second denial of Jesus. Matthew recorded Peter’s second denial this way, “Then he [Peter] went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, ‘This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He [Peter] denied it again, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’” (Matthew 26:71-72). Again, the strength of Peter dried up before the voice of servant girl and he denied ever knowing Jesus. Peter now had to sit quietly and think about Jesus’ question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” After a few moments, Peter said quietly, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” After a moment of quiet reflection on those words, Jesus said to Peter, “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16). Peter affirmed he loved Jesus, the person he once denied ever knowing. In response, Jesus commanded Peter to tend those most precious to Jesus, his flock, Jesus’ congregation. This was a position of authority that before his denial Peter was told would be his. Peter had denied Jesus, but Jesus had restored Peter. I can imagine that Peter was relieved, believing this conversation was over.
But the conversation is not over. Look at verse 17, “He [Jesus] said to him [Peter] the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he [Jesus] said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” Scripture said Peter grieved. In the Greek language of the original Gospel writings, the word used for grieving was λυπέω, lypeō, lü-pe'-ō, which means to be sorrowful, or to be thrown into sorrow and sadness. Peter was crushed and he began to weep. Perhaps Peter remembered the emotion of his third denial. You see Scripture tells us, “After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them [Jesus’ follower], for your accent betrays you.” Then he [Peter] began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:73-74). And after Peter’s third denial, Peter left his accusers and wept bitterly. Now again on the beach in Galilee and Peter grieved because Jesus asked him for a third time, “Do you love me?” Having collected himself enough, Peter replied to Jesus, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) Peter’s response carries an admission that nothing is hidden from Jesus. Jesus knew the painful denials, for Peter had denied Jesus again and again, but Jesus called Peter to care for those who would become part of Jesus’ church.
Peter’s painful past has been dealt with and Peter had been reconciled and made right with Jesus. Peter denied Jesus but Jesus forgave Peter. Peter again denied Jesus but Jesus restored Peter. Peter denied Jesus again and again, but Jesus called Peter. The forgiveness, restoration, and calling not because of Peter’s love for Jesus, but because of Jesus love for Peter.
Now here is the good news. Jesus wants to do the same for you and me. Jesus wants to remove the poison of sin from each one of us and gives us a new task, a new meaning to life. “6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
Suppose for a moment, you were sitting on the beach with Jesus beside you. And Jesus said to you, “Do you love me?” What behavior or disappointment in life might that cause you to recall? Think about. Now give it over to Jesus and do not carry it any longer because Jesus will forgive. If after you have done that, Jesus asked again, “Do you love me?” what would come to our mind this time. Think about it and give that moment of denial or disappointment over to him. Jesus will restore you. Finally, if Jesus asked a third time, “Do you love me?” what then would come to mind. Give that over to Jesus and he will call you to do great things for the kingdom of God.
Jesus promises to forgive, restore, and call each person who comes to him. We may think we are not worthy but God’s word says to us, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I am glad you are hear today. We have only one thing to offer you and that is “the love of God.” Let us pray.