John 21:15-19 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series C)
“Forgiven to Follow”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 5, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from John 21:
15Therefore, when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved that He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to Him, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Truly, truly I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and walk where you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch forth your hand, and another will dress you and will bring you where you do not want to go.” 19Now this He said signifying by what kind of death he will glorify God. And after He said this, He said to Him, “Follow me.”
In his mind and heart, he was ready to go with Jesus to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). He was fully prepared to lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37). But under the stress and fear of the situation, Peter’s desires were turned into denials. From Luke 22:
Then they seized [Jesus] and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
When we talk about “contrition” or sorrow over sin, this is what we mean. It is a sorrow that is deep and painful to the conscience. It is the recognition through the Word of God’s Law that we are not as God would have us be. The Law hammers us so hard that it hurts. Indeed, the Law breaks us into pieces; it crushes us to death under its weight. That’s what Peter was feeling on that first Maundy Thursday. Yes, his spirit was indeed willing to go to death for Jesus, but his flesh, like ours, was weak. He caved under the pressure, under the threat of his own possible arrest and death. Peter denied knowing or even being associated with Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.
Peter had boldly, by the power of the Holy Spirit, confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (Matt. 16:16). But that confession of faith and trust crumpled like a piece a paper in his hand. Maybe Peter remembered Jesus’ words recorded by St. Matthew, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33 NASB). Peter denied Jesus before people! Would Jesus now deny Peter before the heavenly Father and so exclude Him from salvation and eternal life because of Peter’s sin? Thinking about this would have brought the sheer terrors of the Law down upon Peter’s heart and conscience! Peter had denied the Christ and the Christ can now deny him before the Father!
Have you, like Peter, denied Jesus Christ? Likely not in the same way. You probably haven’t stood before someone and said, “I don’t know Jesus.” But what have your words and actions confessed about your faith and trust in Jesus? Have you acted in public as if you are not a Christian? Have you behaved in a way that someone would ask themselves, “Is she really a Christian?” “Does he speak in the way Christians really talk?” Many times you and I deny Christ by denying before others the new life of faith that we are to live and display before the world who doesn’t know Christ. It is a tragedy when Christians live as though they are not, when Christians speak and act just like the rest of the world that they are no longer to be conformed to. If called upon to give a witness to the hope that is in you, do you shy away from telling people about the work of Jesus Christ? Are we always faithful in confessing in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God?
No, we are not. As the penitent says in the service of Individual Confession and Absolution, “I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin.” Are not our sins a denial of Jesus and the new life He has gifted to us? Are not our sins a “walking away” from the life of faith and a failing to confess our trust in Jesus as Lord and, instead, a placing of our trust again in our personal idols?
Jesus says to you also, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33 NASB). Peter denied Jesus before people! So have you! Would Jesus now deny you before the heavenly Father and so exclude you from salvation and eternal life because of your sin? Thinking about this surely brings the sheer terrors of the Law down upon your heart and conscience. You have denied Christ and Christ can now deny you before the Father!
But Jesus didn’t deny Peter and cast him aside, did He? Jesus doesn’t deny that you are His beloved nor does He cast you aside. In love and grace, Jesus absolved Peter. He restored Peter. Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to confess his love for Jesus three times—a stunning reversal of Peter’s earlier threefold denial of Jesus. Jesus personally renewed Peter in his call to follow Him and tend His sheep, His lambs. And thanks be to God, your Lord does the same for you in dealing with your sins and failings to be faithful to Him.
Jesus restores you after you fail Him time and time and time again with your denials and sinful rebellions. The blessings of Jesus’ cross and resurrection are given to you personally just as Peter received the gifts of Christ personally from the Savior. The Absolution you receive every Sunday morning really works time after time. It is not my Word of forgiveness but God’s Word that truly forgives you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Supper you eat and drink with faith in the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” grants you forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are blessed with the assurance that you are not rejected by Jesus nor will you be denied by Him because you are His beloved who have a seat at His banqueting table. Here at the altar, this blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood strengthens you in repentance and faith. It empowers your holy living so that you are more faithful in confessing Christ by word and action in the world.
In the power of Christ’s forgiveness and the new life of faith, the Savior welcomes you again today to follow Him and tend His sheep as His disciples. You are forgiven. You are restored to the Father’s good pleasure. The crushing weight of the Law has been borne by Jesus at the cross for you. His death and resurrection have set you free from its condemnation. So even though, like Peter, you at times have been embarrassed, slow, or afraid to admit before others that you are disciples of Jesus, the Lord is not embarrassed with you whom He calls disciples by Baptism and faith. By means of the Word and Sacraments, the risen Lord calls broken disciples to come to Him again and again and to be filled with His Word of forgiveness and new life so that you might follow Him. And following Him, you go out into the world to bring His Word of absolution to others just as Peter and the other disciples and followers of Jesus have done throughout the centuries.
In your mind and heart, you also like Peter have been ready to go with Jesus and face the costs of being His disciples. But under the stress and fear of the situation, your Christian desires have been turned into denials. Know then that, by means of the loving grace of God in His Son Jesus Christ, you are forgiven in order to follow Jesus now in faith and holy living unto life everlasting. Amen.