Summary: This sermon got rather long, but I tried to show what Peter’s cowardice did to him and how Jesus dealt with it in a wonderful way. If you’ve got some time give it a perusal.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter - From Confidence to Cowardice to a Cutting Love
I. The “confidence”
When I was in-between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I applied for a job with a corn de-tasseling company. The job brought me into the company of some of the slimiest characters of Watertown, Wisconsin. Yet I did have one friend - named Todd - from high school - who also worked there. Todd had a very outspoken personality, and even though he was short, he wanted to show everyone that he was afraid of noone. This led to some rather heart pumping situations, especially when I went to work. Todd ended up becoming enemies with some of the shady characters that we worked with. In associating with him, I found myself on the edge of several fights while on the way to work. As this continued to progress, I was finding it difficult to associate with Todd, and one day I didn’t even sit with him on the bus. I felt like a coward and a traitor for doing that. Yet his personality was getting both him and me in a kind of trouble that I wasn’t asking for or think was worth fighting for.
Right before Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus predicted that all the disciples would fall away on account of Him. These words state the reason WHY they would fall away - BECAUSE of their association with Jesus. They would decide NOT to associate with Jesus. This is the most shameful thing that can be done to Jesus - to turn your back - to be too embarrassed or too afraid to associate with your Savior. It’s like saying, “I don’t think your cause and message are worth risking my life for.” Peter knew what a grave and terrible sin it would be to fall away on account of Jesus. He was determined not to do so. He said, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. . . . Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
This is what each and every one of us has done at our confirmation. In our new Occasional Services, it is asked of the confirmand, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this teaching and to endure all things, even death, rather than fall away from it?” The confirmand then answers, “I do, and I ask God to help me.” When we accept an adult into the congregation, we also ask, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in the true Christian faith, be diligent in the use of God’s Word and sacraments, and lead a godly life even to death?” The adult then answers, “I do, and I ask God to help me.” Nobody joins our church with the idea that remaining a Christian is some easy thing that requires NO sacrifice. With the disciples, we are clearly told in Revelation 2, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Therefore, we set our minds for a war. We are ready for a fight. We prepare for death. We also recognize that God asks for us to be willing to forsake ALL - even wife, husband, and children, for the sake of the Gospel.
In an earlier parable Jesus had warned what would happen because of this sacrifice. He talked about some seed that would fall on shallow soil. In the time of persecution, it would have no firm grounding. The sun would burn it out. It would die in persecution. Jesus also said that the road to destruction was WIDE - and MANY find it, whereas the path to salvation was NARROW - and few find it. Knowing this, Peter was determined NOT to be like that seed. I’m sure that he was in fact, appalled that Jesus would even dare to suggest such a thing. Notice what conviction he has in his response. Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. What Peter was saying, with these words, was that he was DIFFERENT from all others. He knew that he was STRONGER - that even IF all others would fall away because of what Jesus said or did or what would happen to Jesus - HE was convicted for life. There was no way he would be so weak as to fall away - he was not a part of the ALL who would fall away from him. Satan saw Peter’s arrogance, and wanted to sift him like wheat.