Simple, But Not Easy
Text: John 21: 1 – 19
MP (Text): Because Peter loved Jesus, Jesus was willing to forgive and restore Peter to the where Peter would be able to lead the rest of his life in a Christ-like manner.
FCF: If we love Jesus – are teachable and available to him – then he can use us.
1. Be Teachable [John 21: 1 – 6]
2. Be Available [John 21: 7 – 14]
3. Be Restored and Used [John 21: 15 – 19]
a. Simplicity & Easy
i. My first boss hated fishing. He thought it was incredible simple and therefore too easy…
ii. Simplicity vs. Complexity is a different issue from Easy vs. Hard
iii. Simple things are harder because technique is more important
b. In this text
i. Peter is the simple guy – but he had been through a hard time
ii. Jesus restored him to simple faith and gave him the strength to do hard things
c. How do we do this Christian life thing anyway?
2. Be Teachable
a. So quick to peg Peter as being impetuous that we skip over how teachable he was
i. Here & Luke 5 (Same basic story – Peter does what Jesus says)
ii. Acts 10 (Cornelius Vision)
iii. 2 Peter 1:3 He has already given us everything we need
b. People think I’m smart – I’m not. I’m teachable
c. Origin of the word ‘idiot’ (like idiosyncratic)
3. Be Available
a. Jesus didn’t need the fish – he simply gave Peter the opportunity to be involved
b. Church here is a privilege – the privilege to be involved
c. Agnes Bojxihu –a simple Albanian nun whose ministry was nothing more than being available to change the bedpans of the untouchables who sick and dying in the slums, but undoubtedly one of the most influential Christians of the 20th Century. See the newsletter for details. [No, don’t say its Mother Teresa!]
4. Be loved
My first boss hated fishing – he thought it was simple and too easy. Well, I’ve been to Men & Boy’s Go Fishing, and I have seen that the best fishermen among us where those who kept it from getting too complex – but I know better than to think it easy. I guess more accurately, good fishing is as simple as putting bait in front of a fish, but catching is far from easy. Indeed, it is the simple things in life – the things where we already know what we need to do – it is those things in life that require the highest attention to technique. In theory they are simple, but in practice they can be hard indeed.
In our text this morning, Peter would be Exhibit A in things that are simple but not easy. Oh just a few weeks back he thought it would be easy to do something as simple as stay true to the Lord he loved. He boasted that he would stay true even if everybody else would fall away. And Jesus loved him for it, but he did a miracle – saying that even before the cock crowed, Peter would deny him three times. The miracle wasn’t so much knowing that Peter would deny him as that he could keep a rooster from crowing long enough for anyone to get out three sentences. But seriously, Peter was right – staying true to the Lord is simple, but he was wrong in thinking it was easy. But thankfully, our Lord knows how hard it is for us to keep the simple things simple, and he will restore us into his service if we are open and available to him.
This morning, I want to examine what is a well-known story – the epilogue to the Resurrection – the story in which Peter is forgiven and restored to Jesus. And, as we examine it, I want us to keep in mind that the Christian life is simple, if not easy. It is simply being teachable and available and loving. It is not a faith that requires a scholar’s mind or a scientist’s analysis. As Peter would later go on to tell us, we already have all the things we need for life and godliness – there is no additional knowledge that is keeping us from knowing him.
It is just the simple technique of living lives of love, but it is not easy. What I want to examine this morning is how we can live that out, and from this account I want to pull out three observations – that if we would simply follow our savior, we must be teachable, available, and ready to love. I’m going to locate those principles in three parts of this text – In verses 1 – 6, I want us to see that we must simply be teachable if we would serve. In verses 7 – 14, I hope to show that we must be available. And, in verses 15 – 19, we will see that the simplest point of all is this – that we must do everything in love.
But I want to start at the beginning – in verses 1 – 6, and see that one key to simply living this Christian life is this – We must be teachable.
Now, I know that when I think about Peter, my first thought is his impetuousness. He’s the guy with the sword cutting off a servant’s ear, only to have Jesus look at him, and love him, and say, “Put that away, Peter.” But one thing I often overlook is how teachable Peter is. When Jesus says, “Put it away,” Peter does.
When here and in Luke 5, Peter hears someone say, “Hey, you catching anything? Try casting your net on the other side!,” Peter is humble. As an experienced fisherman, Peter should by rights have been offended. You don’t tell an artist, “Hey – put a little paint over there.” You don’t tell a painter how to paint; God help you if you tell a farmer how to farm, and you don’t tell a fisherman how to fish. Peter sufficiently teachable to think to himself, “Well, I’m not catching anything, and I have nothing to lose by listening.”
As Otto Von Bismarck said, “Only a fool learns only from his own mistakes.”
Next week, we are going to hear about a dream Peter has in which God tells him to eat some unclean animals. Six hundred years of cultural conditioning had told him, you don’t do this. But when God says, “What I have declared clean let no man declare unclean!” Peter listens. That is openness to God’s direction. It the ability to correct course even when pride might stop you. It takes humility to admit, you could be wrong. And when we are following God, we will be led right.
Now – don’t confuse teachability with gullibility. A teachable spirit is open to correction, but it is not tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. It tests all things against what God is saying. It has the intelligence to have the conviction of belief.
Last week, Peter was told by the High Priest to stop preaching Christ Resurrected. But Peter already understood, “We must obey God rather than men.” And, when later in life he was threatened with Crucifixion if he persisted, he was strong to say yes. Indeed, Christian tradition tells us that when Peter was told he would be crucified, he simply said, “I am not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as my Lord!” and so they turned his cross upside down.
Teachability is being open to Truth and being sufficiently convicted by it that your life changes.
I’ve been pondering a statement by C.S. Lewis recently, “Faith is the ability to hold to what your reason has already accepted, even when your moods change.”
Teachability means that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the world, knowing every last detail of how God works – you simply follow the lead of the One who is.
Now, I know that I have been blessed by a great number of friends who think I’m pretty smart, but honestly I don’t really think that’s my gift. In high school, I was 85th out of a class of 430; in College I was 50th percentile; and in seminary I had as many B’s as I did A’s. Now, I’m not an idiot – but I really think what God has blessed with me is more the openness to learn than raw intelligence. Knowledge puffs up, but the ability to be taught builds up.
When I say I’m not an idiot, I mean that in the historical sense. Obviously today when we say ‘idiot’ today, we’re usually thinking about that guy who cuts us off on the freeway, takes our parking spot, or just continues to believe that the Patriots are great a team But do you know where we get that term?
Back in the Middle Ages, an idiot was simply the guy who lived off by himself. The wise old hermit could lovingly be called an ‘idiot.’ You still hear that in words like ‘idiosyncratic’ or ‘idiom.’ They were just people who kept to themselves. But a funny thing has happened to that word. We’ve figured out that people who only take their own counsel are not necessarily all that wise. Indeed, most of the time, people who only listen to themselves are fools.
It is no accident that God directs us to be in that community together, being sharpened and challenged and forced to grow by other Christians. He does that because in making us teachable, he is preparing us to be teachable by him. To be, as it were, available. Ready for his direction. Capable of doing what he says even when it may not make sense to us. As Master Yoda said, “Thinking is not important. Doing it is!” And that brings me to my second point.
God’s ways are not always understandable to us, but ultimately his instructions are. When he says, ‘Love your enemies,’ that is not something I understand the why of, but I can do the how. Here in John 21, Jesus is going to give that teachable Peter some seemingly strange instructions – and Peter is going to do them, even though they don’t make sense. And the effect is to show that his simple obedience – his simple availability to do what Jesus says makes all the difference.
Look at verses 7 – 14. After Peter & Thomas & the guys have pulled in all these fish, they are straining to actually reel them in. Peter sort of says, ‘To heck with this! These fish aren’t nearly as important as being with Jesus,’ so he dives in after the Lord. The six other disciples can’t pull in the catch, so ultimately, they have to leave the nets too. When they get to shore, what’s Jesus doing? He’s already cooking some fish. And what does Jesus do? He asks Peter to go back and get them.
Now, I don’t know if it’s because Peter is exceptionally strong, or just so psyched – like a mother pulling a car off a child, or if Jesus supernaturally empowers Peter – but see what happens. What six other disciples couldn’t pull in to a boat, Peter simply drags to shore. Now, that’s pretty incredible on its own. But remember this: Jesus already had some fish cooking over the fire. Ask yourself this: Why did Jesus tell Peter to go get the fish? He didn’t need them; he simply wanted to give Peter the privilege of bringing them back in.
Jesus does not need us to come to church and serve him. He does not need our praise or require our devotion and duty. He simply affords us the privilege of participating in what he’s doing.
By being available, responsive, whatever you want to call it, Jesus affords us the privilege of being part of his work. That view will totally transform how you think of your “Christian duty.” It’s not that we have to do what God says, but that he lets us.
Possibly one of the most influential Christians of the 20th Century was a simple Albanian nun by the name of Agnes Boxihu. She wasn’t particularly gifted intellectually or charismatically, but she understood the privilege of participating in God’s work. Her amazing gift was simply being available to serve the poor, the sick, the dying, and in so doing to serve those that Jesus loved. As a result of simply being a part of God’s work, he lifted her up to literally silence Presidents and Queens and the world’s elite with her simple faith. In the interests of time, I would simply direct you to this month’s church newsletter so that you can read more about this amazing woman – but see the point. Simple obedience, simply doing what our Lord commands in love can empower even the poorest to lead the most powerful on earth. It isn’t the person, it’s the love. And that brings me to my last point: the whole point of this thing we call the Christian life is simply this: Love.
Verses 15 – 19 are possibly some of the most familiar in the whole Bible. Peter is hurt personally and is probably even damaged goods in the eyes of the other disciples. He denied Jesus even to little servant girls not too many nights ago. He had doubts that night and even the morning of the Resurrection. He had fallen mightily and he needed Jesus’ restoring love. And Jesus did love him. He loved him enough to reinitiate Peter into good standing three times – one for each time that Jesus denied him.
Now, much has been made of the Greek words for love in Jesus’ question, “Do you agapo me (Do you love me),” and Peter’s response, “Yes, I phileo you – Yes, I love you.” There may or may not be a lesson in that – but even in English there is a lot to consider in that word love. As much as Peter was confessing his love for Jesus, Jesus was loving Peter in these various questions.
Love isn't necessarily a feeling. Think about it - what is the best expression of love? When Jesus stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross. There were no warm feelings that came out of that. Or, what about when I have to discipline Jonathan and Rachel? That doesn't warm my heart.
But I had a pastor who explained this to me well when I was growing up. My working definition of love is this: Doing what is best for the one you love, no matter the cost to you.
In Jesus case, he knew he was going to hurt Peter deeply by asking him the most simple and basic question you can: Do you love me. And he didn’t ask it once, but three times. It had to hurt. It wasn’t a warm, gooey feeling. But it was the thing that Peter needed most – to understand that for each time he had denied Christ, Jesus would forgive him. Jesus would restore him every time. He knew what Peter needed and gave it to him. That, my friends is love – Doing what is best, not because of how you feel but because what they need.
Now, I have to tell you that this church knows how to love. I have felt it very deeply in the last few days, and it is a powerful, transforming love. Those of you who follow me on Facebook may have read that on April 1st, I lost not just my job, but the ability to even work in a large section of the federal government. The details aren’t as important as the fact that for 7 months I had been in a sort of waiting pattern that had been sapping my strength. The Men’s Bible Study got a note from me too, where I admitted, as bad as losing that authorization was, there was an even deeper hurt for me – I was angry with God for his seeming silence on the matter. In short, I felt like he had abandoned me. That he wasn’t a particularly personal God and I questioned if he was good.
Well, here’s the thing about God. He could have answered me out the heavens with some incontrovertible proof, but instead, he chose to love me through his church. And let me tell you, he did. This whole church rallied around me and sustained me, and lots of people played parts. I could go on naming names, but again, in the interests of time, I want to tell you how three families in this church loved me.
John Ellis was the first person to write me back, and his note was so encouraging that I nearly cried. All I could do is write back, “You don’t know how awesome you are.” His note really stopped the hemorrhaging of my faith. And then, very practically, he & Nikki started shopping my resume around to all their friends.
Two days later the Roebucks cam around me and supported me in prayers that I could feel. You and I both know there is the “I’ll pray for” courtesy that we do one another, but man I have to say when Bill & Jillian pray, they pray. Bill also gave me a book – Second Guessing God by Bryan Jones – one which I would heartily recommend to you if God seems hidden and mysterious and just plain far off. Bryan Jones does a great job of talking about how God is simply working “upstream” in our lives. But the point isn’t even so much this book as the fact that Bill shared his soul and his experience and his love for me. It made all the difference.
And then, there was Alexander. Now, Alexander has a gift – the gift of prophecy – the gift of telling people what God is saying. Don’t ever confuse the gift of prophecy with the gift of love or encouragement, because believe you me, when a prophet speaks, encouragement is rarely the word that comes first to mind. He said, “You need to pray and fast and ask the Lord to overturn this. He needs to restore this.” Now, I have enough Christian training to know a few things. I know how some people can only be put off by humoring them, so I basically patronized him. Yeah, Yeah, prayer and fasting, whatever. I tried to tell him how that just wasn’t going to happen. When the government decides on something it rarely reverses it. But then he said, “I’ll fast with you. On Tuesday.” And that got to me. You see, I can’t patronize someone when they’re willing to go hungry for me. So you know what? We did. Both of prayed and fasted. That day, I ended up with two job offers. But it gets better. The next week, encouraged by the response, I fasted again. And I prayed. And that very morning, one of my dad’s friends decided to check on the computer about my authorizations. Would you believe she found nothing to indicate that I couldn’t work there any more? Turns out I hadn’t lost my clearance – it was just one branch chief who had misunderstood what I did and was saying no. I couldn’t believe it and so I had another person check – a friend from the last company I worked with – one that I love and miss deeply. She agreed. There was nothing to prevent me from going back to that last employer. They liked me, I missed them, and they know I can do the work.
God literally used people willing to love me enough to do what was best for me to encourage me, rebuke me, teach me, and now even give me back a job I thought I had lost for good.
Do you want to know how God restores us? It through his children listening to his direction do what he has taught them in order to love us.
Can God do it all himself? Sure. But in his love he has allowed an entire fellowship of believers to participate in his plan. He has let everyone in on the love because that is the kind of loving God he is, and the loving kind of church he delights in. A church like this. A church that is teachable, that is available, and that loves. It is simple, but it is not easy.
So, yes, God has done a great thing in my life, but I would be remiss if you went away thinking, “Wow, God really loves Michael.” When it comes to your life, you’d have to ask, “So What.” Well let me suggest to you this. Don’t settle for hearing about love – take the privilege of participating in it. Let me suggest a way you can do that.
I want to ask you to consider doing some simple if not necessarily easy ministry of love. One of the things this book says is really simple – If you don’t feel God’s presence, try ministry. In doing what God says, you will feel his power – in the same Peter felt God’s power when he caught the fish, when he reeled them in, and when he was told that for the rest of his life, he would be a fisher of men.
As you leave the church, you’re going to see some church brochures. If you are a part of this church, I’d like you to pick up 5 and take them home. This evening, before you go to bed, I’m going to ask that you would put the names and addresses of 5 different families on them – 1 per, and write the same information on an index card. Go ahead and put stamps on the envelopes if you’d like, but don’t mail them right away.
On Monday comes the hard part. Pick one and pray for that family. Don’t pray the prayer that I would pray: “Dear Lord, Please bless this family but please don’t let me be an interruption to them!” No, go ahead and pray that you could have the privilege of loving them. Loving means getting involved. Pray that you would love this one family enough to do what is best for them – namely invite them to have the same support, encouragement, and love that you have in this church. Then mail just that one. On Tuesday, pick another and do the same thing. This week, you probably won’t be investing more than 15 minutes total on the project – it’s simple, right?
Next week, take those index cards and just write a simple little note telling this family you’re thinking about them and mail those. Again, it’s simple – but I know it may not be easy. But what you will be doing is a real, tough ministry of love. It can bring restoration and hope and encouragement – it will be an act of love no less than what Jesus was showing to Peter.
What you are doing in writing simple letters of invitation is become a fisher of men. It is the essence of evangelism without all the gear and pomp and circumstance. It is simple and effective. It is not easy but it is powerful. To be in fellowship like this is nothing less than love, pure and simple. Think you can it give it a try?