Summary: A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Easter, preached 4/18/2010 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Big Cove Tannery, St. Paul Lutheran Church, McConnellsburg, and Mt. Zion, Little Cove. It talks about how Jesus both forgives and restores Peter and us.
You have probably heard the saying “you never truly understand someone unless you walk a mile in his or her shoes.” As I was thinking about how to approach this sermon this morning, the easiest way I thought I could do this was to have you put yourself into someone’s shoes in today’s Gospel reading. Today, we’re going to put ourselves in Peter’s shoes to really understand what’s going on in today’s text.
Some of you may remember during the Lenten season, we spent one of our midweek services talking a little bit about Peter. He’s one of the more interesting character studies in the Gospels. In fact, I’ve even heard it said that Peter was the “disciple who is the poster child of Attention Deficit Disorder.” He’s brash and bold. Often impulsive. One to act one minute without thinking about the consequences of his actions the next. In Matthew 16, one moment, he’s the disciple who hits one out of the ballpark when Jesus is asking them who they think He is, and Peter responds with his bold confession “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) Then, in just a few verses later, Jesus is telling the disciples what being the Christ was really all about when He tells them that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). Peter is the one who pulls Jesus aside and says “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (v22), in effect, trying to prevent Jesus from going to the cross and following through with His Messianic office. Jesus had to rebuke Peter by saying “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (v. 23)
Peter’s contradictions come through again during Jesus’ passion. Again, on that Maundy Thursday night, as Jesus is sharing the Passover meal with His disciples, He tells them that He is going to suffer and die, and that the disciples would all fall away from Him before the night was over. Peter was the one who was bold enough to say to Jesus “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33) Yet, later on that same evening, Peter denies knowing Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, just as Jesus had predicted would happen. The rooster crows, Jesus looks right at Peter, and Peter runs off into the night. Jesus is lead off to His suffering and death. As for Peter, he’s nowhere to be seen, likely afraid for his life, wondering if he will be the next to be arrested and die.
So, with this kind of a history behind him, what do you think might be going through Peter’s mind by the time we get to today’s Gospel reading in John 21? We’re told in the text that this was the third time that Jesus had appeared to His disciples following the Resurrection. By now, the news that Jesus has risen from the dead is kind of old hat. The first time they saw the resurrected Jesus, they had to have just been completely overjoyed. The One they thought was dead was indeed alive! It was just as He had said would happen several times to them. It really was true. Any other thoughts about Jesus’ being alive again had to have taken a back seat to that. The second time, maybe they were sitting back, watching as Thomas, the one who didn’t believe them the first time when they told him that they saw Jesus, got to see for himself that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead, and maybe even have a little bit of satisfaction, a “see, we told you so” sort of moment. But now, this is the third time. Remember, Peter was the most vocal of the disciples in saying he would never fall away from Jesus that first Maundy Thursday, even if it meant imprisonment or death, but when the rubber met the road later that night, he was the most vocal to deny knowing Jesus. Not only that, but remember, after the third denial was spoken and the rooster crowed, Jesus looked directly at Peter, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said, and Peter ran off into the night.
Jesus is alive again. Peter knows that Jesus knows what he did that night. What would you do if you were in Peter’s shoes, knowing that Jesus knows what you did? Would it be awkward being around Him after the initial joy of Jesus being alive again wore off and become old news? Would you hope that Jesus wouldn’t say anything about the denial stuff, since it seems that everything turned out okay in the end? Would you wonder what your role would be as a disciple, or if Jesus would still count you as a disciple, after what you had done? Would Jesus, now that He’s proven His power over sin, death, and the devil, now be back to extract some vengeance from Peter for denying Him? A lot of unknowns for Peter.