Sunday, April 12, 2015


We return to John this morning. We've worked through the terrible events at the end of Jesus' life which bring about such amazing good in His resurrection. But there is some unfinished business that needs to be taken care of. Today, we look at Jesus' sobering conversation with Peter.
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.” He 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, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep." (John 21.15-17)
This must have been so very uncomfortable for Peter. It must have also been pretty uncomfortable for the others sitting there.
Just put yourself in the situation, and you will feel the awkwardness. What is Jesus doing? He is creating a very strained situation. Why? It's about Peter's denial just a few days earlier. Jesus wants to deal with that. It is so very important to understand Jesus' goal in this. This isn't payback time. Jesus is actually restoring Peter. If you miss that then Jesus is just being cruel. But if you see what happens here in the framework of restoration then Jesus is expressing His love for Peter. Let's look at this using a few questions.

Here's the first. How does Jesus restore Peter? He grieves him. And Jesus does that intentionally. The first thing that Jesus does to grieve Peter has to do with the name He uses. There is no 'Peter' on Jesus’ lips. He calls him Simon. The familiar nickname that Jesus gave him is gone. And it isn't even just Simon. It's the more formal 'Simon son of John'. The relationship had been damaged on that night of Peter's denial. Jesus is recognizing that. In a way, He is taking the relationship back to where it began. And what do you think? Would that hurt Peter? How can it not?

Then, there are the three questions that are really one. 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Repeating the question three times is significant. Jesus is making a connection. He is reminding Peter that he denied Him three times. A painful reminder. Was that necessary? If it wasn't, would Jesus have done it?

Did you notice that the first of the three questions is slightly different? 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' Here, remember what Peter had said on that fateful night.
Even though they all fall away, I will not.
Who's the 'they'? It's the other apostles. The confident Peter compares himself to his fellow apostles. Thus, Jesus' question. 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' Jesus pokes a little more into that open wound in Peter's heart.

Then, notice that Jesus didn't say, 'Simon, will you serve Me?' or '…will you obey Me?' or something like that. Those are on the level of behavior. Here, I'll remind you that earlier that morning when John told the others, 'It's the Lord', Peter jumped into the water to get to shore quickly. And when Jesus called for some more fish to cook, it was Peter who went to get them from the net. Do you see what’s going on? This is a man who's plagued with guilt. He's trying to make things right by his actions. Many people think that an exuberance of good behavior will deal with a guilty conscience. Jesus disagrees. And that's why He asked His probing question, 'Do you love Me?' It's a question about affection. And that's something that goes deeper than just behavior. Once again we see Jesus dealing with the heart while others are content just to deal with actions.

That was about how Jesus acted. Now, a different  question. Why? Why did Jesus do this? Some might think that He was punishing Peter for his failure. But how could He do that having just died for all of his sins, including his denials? There is no punishment for a Christian. Now, to be sure, this was painful. But it was painful like surgery is painful. The goal is health.

This is what’s going on. Jesus is refusing to just sweep things under the rug. And understand why. That would have been really bad for Peter. For the rest of his life Peter would have been wondering what Jesus really thought of him because of what he did. There would be these recurring questions in his head. 'Are things okay with Jesus and me? How could they be?!? He must still think I'm a terrible person. And who could blame Him? It must be that He's just tolerating me.' And every time he sinned it wouldn't just be that sin. He would remember, all over again, how he failed that night. What a burden! Peter needed to know that things were good between Jesus and him. Jesus made it clear that they were. Yes, Peter blew it. Jesus was clear about that. But all was forgiven and forgotten. And Jesus made that clear. He renewed Peter’s call to ministry.
Feed My Lambs.
Tend My sheep.
Feed My sheep.
But Jesus also wanted Peter to understand some things. He had failed. Three times. And the reason for his failure was clear: pride. Peter thought he was better than the other men and said so. He thought he could face whatever would happen and deal with it well. But when the chips were down, he failed. In his weakness, he thought of himself and not his friend and master. Part of wisdom is understanding yourself. Jesus made sure Peter did. The lesson was not about failure but about weakness. In a striking way, Jesus was pointing to something that He had said before.
Apart from me you can do nothing.
Peter understood that better now. He understood himself better.

Jesus pained Peter by the words that He used. But it is also by words that Jesus healed him. Peter heard Jesus say, 'Feed My sheep.' In the days to come, whenever Satan would remind Peter about his failures and tempt him to think that he was disqualified to be a pastor, Peter could recall what happened on this morning. Peter could recall Jesus’ words. Fully aware of Peter's failures, Jesus still called him to care for His flock. So, Peter could respond to Satan’s whispers with a clear, 'But Jesus doesn't think I'm disqualified. He told me so.' The use of clear, spoken words can bring such healing and protection.

And when Jesus asked His question, 'Do you love Me?', the goal was the same. He wanted Peter to respond with his own words, 'Yes, Lord I love you' and to know that Jesus accepted them as true. A painful question but a glorious protection.

Add to that the fact that the other apostles there were witnesses to all of this. So, if they had any doubts about Peter as a shepherd they were removed. But maybe more than that, they would be able to encourage Peter when the evil one was giving him a hard time about this. All they would need to say is, 'Peter, remember what Jesus said on that morning.' Peter didn't have to deal with this alone.

So, what lessons are here for you?

First, let's use Jesus as an example. You all have had relationships damaged. Somebody said something or did something, and what was once a really good relationship wasn't so good any more. How do you restore it?  I can't stress enough the importance of clear communication, of saying what really needs to be said. How many marriages suffer because things are swept under the rug or treated slightly? Jesus used words, clear words. He spoke. What He said grieved Peter, but it resulted in much good. You just might need to say, 'There is a problem between us. I need to tell you what it is so that we can deal with it'. And the next words may hurt - a lot. But the alternative is a relationship that isn't what it could be. The alternative is a taste of death.

Now, does it have to hurt to restore a relationship? There are times when the problems are small. Those can be quickly and easily dealt with. But there are times when the problems are large. So, it may hurt to sort things out and restore the relationship. But is that necessary? Jesus thought it was with Peter. So, at the very least, there must be some times when, yes, it really is necessary. If you want healthy, growing relationships, the hurt will, at times, be necessary.

This is where it is important to understand the motivation for bringing up things that will hurt. It's love. That's why Jesus did it. He loved Peter. That's why He poked around in that heart-wound. Love has been re-defined these days so that it means never hurting another person. Jesus disagrees. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to cause someone deep pain so that they might be healed.

One last thought. You all have experienced what Peter did. I'm not talking about denying Jesus and then being restored. I'm talking about Jesus dealing with something in your life. I'm talking about Him poking at some heart-wound. And it hurt. Consider this. After that third repeat of the same question, Peter could have jumped up, all offended, said something about how he never wanted to see Jesus again, and walked off to return to his fishing business. He could have bailed part way through the process of being healed. And if he had done that he would have lived the rest of his days as a wounded man. His sense of himself would have been deeply damaged - after all he chickened out when it counted - and there would be no balm to heal that. He would have been a very troubled man who would have expressed that in any number of destructive ways, like so many today. But he didn't bail. He stayed through all the painful questions. He stayed to see that Jesus really did forgive him. He stayed to see that his weakness didn't disqualify him. Rather, understanding more deeply how weak he was, made him more qualified to minister to Jesus' flock. He didn't bail. And so, he was restored.

You will find yourselves in pain as Jesus deals with something in your life, as Jesus grieves you. Don't bail out in the middle of the process. There are many Christians who have done just that, even though they show up every Sunday. Instead, entrust yourself to your faithful Savior so that you might be healed. There are times when life is just hard for me. Jesus is dealing with something in my life. Those are the times I find myself saying, 'I still trust You, Lord.' That's something I need to hear me saying. That's the kind of thing that you need to say also. And I say those words because I consider the goal that He is working toward. The pain He brings into my life will lead to something very good, good for me and good for others. That's true for me. It was true for Peter. It is true for you.