Encounters with Christ: Jesus and Peter John 18:12-27; 21:15-17 We are in the second week of our series Encounters with Christ, in which we are looking at how Jesus interacted with real people – people often just like us. Last week we looked at Judas Iscariot and the dangers of betrayal. Today, we want to look at Simon Peter, a man who also betrayed Christ, but with an entirely different outcome than that of Judas. Peter‟s ordeal began during the Last Supper. During that meal, Jesus taught the disciples a few last lessons before His arrest and one of those was the danger of pride. He knew they were going to be entrusted with the leadership of the church in short order and that they weren‟t yet ready. And the reason they weren‟t ready is because they were susceptible to pride. He doesn‟t want them to act like leaders in the world act. He wants them to lead the church the way He would – with humility and the idea that others are more important than themselves. And of all the disciples, there is one man most susceptible to pride and leading in an improper way: and that‟s Peter. And since Peter is so bull-headed, he is going to have to learn humility the hard way. The way you and I generally learn. And so Christ tells Peter that Satan has demanded permission to sift him like wheat. And the form of this sifting is going to be that Peter will deny Jesus three times before the night is over. Peter will betray his friend and as a result experience total brokenness. The Bible is full of people who God allowed to be broken. In the Garden of Eden, Adam refused to stand up and be a man and as a result was cast out of God‟s presence. He was broken. And he experienced the grief of having one of his sons 2 murdered by his brother. Job was another man who experienced brokenness. He did everything right and yet God allowed Satan to sift him like wheat and destroy his family and his health. Eventually, he ended up chastised by God and a broken man. Moses tried to do what he thought God wanted from him and ended up spending years and years in the desert feeling like God had put him on the shelf. Joseph was sold into slavery. Jeremiah watched his people suffer and wept endless tears for them. David made bad choices and saw his whole world crumble around him. He spent years and years of his life a broken man dealing with the consequences of his decisions. The prodigal son chose pride and pleasure over his family and his God and ended up eating with the pigs until he was totally broken and came home. Each of these people was broken by God. But each of them saw God‟s grace through the brokenness. You may have heard it said that God cannot use a person until He has broken him. King David came to understand that. Listen to the words David cried out at the end of his sifting: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17) A man by the name of Alan Redpath put it this way, “God will never plant the seed of his life upon the soil of a hard, unbroken spirit. He will only plant that seed where the conviction of His Spirit has brought brokenness, where the soil has been watered with the tears of repentance as well as the tears of joy.” In other words, God is best discovered, best experienced, in our brokenness, not in our successes or in our pride. 3 We saw in our drama and read in our Scripture reading about Peter‟s sifting and how he denied Christ three times. Luke, though, adds one poignant statement that we didn‟t see in John 18, and that is that when Peter denied Christ the third time, Jesus turned and looked Peter in the face. Imagine for a moment, what that means. Imagine what it would feel like to have Jesus look you in the face the moment you denied Him, the moment you, in effect, betrayed Him. What would your thoughts be? “How could He ever forgive me? What kind of a weak person am I? He will never respect me again.” I think that the pain and grief Peter experienced was the sifting Satan was after. Satan wants us to hurt. He wants us to think that Christ doesn‟t love us and won‟t forgive us. The evidence that Peter was hurt through his betrayal is that when he left the courtyard, we‟re told that he wept bitterly. Have you ever gone through what men like Peter or King David went through? Guys who thought they were men after God‟s own heart, only to do something that said, “I don‟t care about you, God. I don‟t love you. I only care about myself. And deep down I am a wicked person.” Have you ever done something bad that you thought you would never do? Think for a second. What was it? Have you ever felt like you betrayed God through some action? If so, then Peter is your man. And what we‟re going to see Christ do with Peter is your hope. It‟s my hope. Let‟s look at John chapter 21 and see what happens to Peter after the denials. In this chapter, Christ has already been crucified and resurrected. But Peter is still living under a huge shadow: “I … betrayed… my Savior.” 4 The context of the verses we are going to examine is this: after the resurrection of Christ, Peter and six other disciples go fishing. These men are still dealing with everything that‟s happened. And especially Peter. I can‟t help but wonder if Peter feels like he‟s never going to be able to be used by Christ, so he reverts back to what he knows – fishing. These seven disciples fish all night, but strike out completely. And then in the early morning someone calls to them from the shore and tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. They do and catch a miraculous amount of fish – 153 to be precise. I keep waiting for Jesus to show up on the shore while I‟m fishing one day. Anyway, John recognizes that the man on the shore is Jesus. So Peter, who is still Peter, jumps into the water and swims to shore. He‟s always the first one out of the boat. I find it curious that he couldn‟t wait to see Christ. I think I would have wanted to hide my face from Him. But Peter knew the character of Christ and maybe he was thinking that Christ was there to forgive him. We don‟t know for sure. Christ has built a charcoal fire on the shore and cooks the disciples breakfast. The last time we read about Peter being near a charcoal fire, was the fire in the courtyard where he denied Christ. Christ is setting up the scene to undo what Peter had done. In verse 15 of John 21, after breakfast, Peter and Jesus evidently go for a walk, with John following behind. And Christ begins to ask Peter three questions – questions designed to bring Peter to the other side of his brokenness and despair. Verse 15, “So 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, „Tend My lambs.‟” If you‟ve heard me speak on 5 these verses before, you may remember that there is quite a bit going on in respect to the Greek in this passage. So let‟s go over the highlights. When Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him more than these, He‟s asking: “Peter do you love me more than the other disciples love me?” Tough question. Peter, before the denials would have answered, “You betcha. I love you more than anyone.” But now being broken, Peter answers the question, “Yes, you know I love you.” But the yes, is not yes I love you more than they do, it‟s simply a statement that he loves Christ. Peter has learned. He‟s not better than the other disciples. He stated before that even if the other disciples were to abandon Christ, he never would. And yet, he was the one to first abandon. He‟s learned that he‟s weak. Just like everyone else. The other thing that‟s going on here is that Christ uses the Greek word agape for love, and Peter responds with a different Greek word phileo. Christ asks: Do you love me with agape love or the love based on commitment; and Peter responds I love you with phileo love, or affectionate love. Peter has also learned that he dare not use the higher word for love, because he is prone to waver in his commitment to Christ. As I said before, Christ is undoing what Peter had done. And so by having Peter say “I love you” He has just erased the first denial. We have two more to go. Verse 16, “He said to him again 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.‟” Once again, Christ asks, “Do you agape, committed love, Me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo love you, have affection for You.” Denial number two erased. Peter must be getting the point by now. Look how formal Christ addresses him, “Simon, son of John.” It would be like Christ saying, “Paul DeWitt (no snickering) 6 Garrison, do you love me?” If Christ addressed me that way, I‟d know something formal is going on. So Jesus, asks Peter a third time if he loves Him. Verse 17, “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 all things; You know that I love You.‟ Jesus said to him, „Tend My sheep.‟” Peter is grieved not just because he‟s being forced to relive his worst moment in life, but also because Christ changes the word He uses for love this time. Instead of asking, “Peter do you agape love me, He asks “Do you phileo love Me?” Christ questions even Peter‟s affection for Him. Jesus is hurting Peter in order to heal him. Jesus is forcing Peter to admit that his love for Christ is very weak. But notice that each time Christ questioned Peter‟s love and made Peter respond with statements of love, He also gives Peter a job: tend My lambs, shepherd My sheep. The proof that Jesus has forgiven Peter is that He is entrusting those He loves into Peter‟s care. Can you imagine, Jesus pulling you aside and looking you in the eye and saying, I saw the three most despicable things you ever did. And I know that when you did them, you proved that you didn‟t love Me, in effect you denied Me in the same way Peter did. But if you admit the truth, and give yourself to Me, not only will I forgive you, but I will give you something significant to do for Me – something that will change all of eternity. Ask yourself if you would put the church of Christ into the hands of a man who betrayed Jesus at the moment when He needed love the most? Would you put your trust 7 in a man who had proven himself untrustworthy? That‟s what Jesus did. Why? Because Jesus knows Peter‟s heart. When Christ offered Judas bread during the Last Supper, Judas could have repented, but Judas‟s heart was cold and unrepentant. But on the beach, when Christ offered Peter bread, Peter responded with a repentant spirit. Peter‟s heart was broken and soft toward God. God can pour Himself into a broken, repentant heart, but He can‟t pour Himself into someone who is cold toward Him and will not admit the truth about their need of Him. Peter has been put back on the path of what Christ had in mind when He called him in the first place. And that path is going to be a very difficult one. According to John 21:18, Peter is going to be martyred for his faith. And Christ says to him, “Follow Me” – meaning, “Follow Me into death.” Peter had told Christ in John 13:37 that he would lay down his life for Him. And yet, when confronted by a little girl, he cowered in fear. But now that he has been broken and restored, God will be able to pour the courage into him to actually do what he said he would do. Peter is given the privilege of experiencing the same thing that Christ experienced and now he is ready to face it. Let me put all of this in different terms that I think will help us understand how Peter‟s ordeal actually relates to us. Peter‟s problem, before his brokenness was that he hadn‟t given himself fully to Christ yet. This is why Jesus allowed Peter to fall the way he did. Without experiencing how low he could go, without experiencing the brokenness, Peter would never have come to the place where he would be willing to give everything over to Christ. We are often just like that. We hold something back. Peter, before the 8 denials, hasn‟t died to himself. He is holding on to his safety. I think he wants Christ to be what he wants Him to be. He can‟t imagine not getting from Christ what he wants from Him, which is, of course, victory and position and power. Once Peter sees that Christ is going to die, he gets scared. Peter is afraid for his own safety, his own life. Someone who is afraid to die is usually someone who has not decided that death is secondary to something more important. But people who are not afraid to die are people who love something else more than their own life. The guy who jumps on a grenade is the guy who loves his buddy more than he loves his own life. In Peter‟s case, by experiencing the despair and the feelings he went through after the denials and during Christ‟s crucifixion, he was able to discover, by the time we get to the beach in John 21, that his love for Christ was more valuable to him than his life. You see, it is my belief that the reason Jesus talks about Peter‟s martyrdom in the verses following the erasing of the denials and the reason Jesus tells Peter: “Follow Me,” meaning “Follow Me into death,” is because Christ was helping Peter to realize that when Peter says “I love you,” he is coming to the point of true submission to Christ. He is coming to the point where all of life, including even the scariest part of it, death, becomes secondary to his love for Jesus. And I‟m afraid that many of us are like Peter before John 21. We have professed faith and love for Christ, but by our worry, and preoccupation with life and our drive for material success or position, we betray the fact that our love for Him is secondary to something else. In America, we live in such comfort and are removed from real suffering to the point that suffering and death are so foreign to us that we fear them way more than we 9 should, and we would do anything to avoid them. And our fear of those things takes on a primary role in our lives and dominates practically everything we do, and that dominance removes Christ from the primary position in our lives. We end up saying “I love you, Lord,” but in actuality that love is secondary to the circumstances in our lives. “As long as You do what I want, God, as long as my comfort is secured, as long as You preserve my health, as long as I don‟t have to risk rejection or embarrassment or harm by following You, then, yes, I love You. But if bad things happen, if my health causes me to fear, if life becomes too difficult, then my love for You is called into question. And the way I call it into question is by throwing it back on You and doubting Your love for me. I blame You and accuse You of being absent and not loving me. But in reality that‟s the way I avoid admitting that my love for You is conditional and shallow.” So the real issue is this: Have I placed myself on the beach, in a position of allowing Christ to question my love for Him, so that I am forced to admit my weakness, and have I come to the place in Christ where I choose to submit my entire life over to Him? Which means being willing to follow Christ into death or hardship. I asked myself this question this week: Do I love Christ so much that my safety, my circumstances, my health or even my death, are secondary to that love? If Christ said to me, “Paul do you love me, even to the point of dying for Me?” how would I respond? I have to confess that in my case, as I‟m sure is true in many of our cases, the answer today would be: “I love you Lord, really I do… up to a point.” And my conditional love is proven by how I worry over this or that. If I truly loved Christ the way He asks to be loved, then whatever He wants from my life – even if that‟s a life of constant struggle – even if that‟s a life where nothing that I want is given to me – it would be o.k. with me. 10 I‟d submit every fear, every worry, my entire future into His care and let it happen the way He wants it to happen. Christ never said it would be easy. But He did say that His yoke is light. Which means, if I love Christ the way Peter eventually does; if I love Christ with submission; if my love for the world, for my safety, for my future is made secondary to my love for Christ, then He will give me the power to be able to handle anything that life throws at me and the yoke will not feel heavy. But if my love for Him is secondary, if my love for Him is conditional, then the yoke will feel heavy, because I will be blocking His power in my life. I‟ll be trying to walk through this life and facing the people in the courtyard in my own strength; and my own strength is the same kind of strength Peter had in the courtyard. That strength will fail us when we need it most. And given enough stress, our strength will turn into betrayal and denial, even if we don‟t want it to. And Jesus will look at us and know that our love is not truly His. But let‟s remember above all else: Christ invites us to a breakfast on the beach anytime we want to come, and He will ask us again and again: “Do you love Me?” until we become broken enough to put this life with all it‟s worries and struggles into His hands, and love Him more than life itself. This coming week is the week of Good Friday. There is probably no better week than this one to confront the very questions I raised this morning. I would encourage you, as I have myself, to go to the beach this week and let Christ ask you if you love Him. And we need to be totally honest with Him and examine our level of submission. And the way we do that is by examining how well we do at putting this life, with its worries or ambitions secondary to our love for Him. If there is something that would cause us to stop believing in Him, because we didn‟t get what we want, or our health went down the 11 drain, or He didn‟t do what we thought He should, then Christ would challenge us when we say “I love You.” He would say, there‟s something in the world that you love before Me. Easter and Good Friday would be a great time to die to ourselves and live for Him. And when we do that, there is no limit to what He can do in us. He can give us the same kind of power He gave Peter – the power to face whatever we‟re afraid of with courage. When it came time for Peter to be crucified, he didn‟t deny Christ. He had the courage to lay down his life for His savior. And so could we. Let‟s pray.
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