The link to this week’s sermon is coming soon. In the meantime, here’s the text from this week’s sermon:
This morning’s sermon comes from John 21:1-22. You can turn there if you’d like. It’s at the end of the final chapter in the Gospel of John. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. John 21:15-19 is found on page 945 in that Bible. You’re welcome to follow along as we share this remarkable story together.
Simon Peter worked with his friends to pull the net out of the water. Nothing. They had been out on the water all night long, and not even one fish to show for their efforts. Peter sat down – hot, sweaty, exhausted…frustrated. He took off his sweaty tunic in a desperate attempt to cool off. He looked around at his friends in the boat. Here they were, 7 lifelong fishermen, with absolutely nothing to show for an entire night’s work. Talk about frustrating.
But it was OK. This was what Peter knew. They were fishing again. He grew up around the boats of the Sea of Tiberias, which his friends called the Sea of Galilee. Well, one could hardly call it a sea. It was more like a lake. It didn’t really matter if you called it a sea, a lake, or a puddle. There were fish. And lots of them. Peter had spent countless days and nights on the water here. This was his livelihood before he left everything to follow the Master.
And this was the very same Sea of Galilee where he had seen the Master perform a majority of his miracles and heard the Master preach about the kingdom. Yes, he knew this area well. And after three and a half years, he’s found himself on the water again. He’s not fishing for men anymore. He’s back to fishing for fish. At least, he’s trying to. But he’s too distracted to do much good.
Normally, there was something about the beating of the waves against the boat that was comforting to him. There was something about being here that helped him sort out his thoughts. He felt at home on the water. Well, most of the time he did. Except tonight.
Come to think of it, this night had become an illustration of his life over the past few weeks. Once they arrested the Master, everything had gone downhill. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be. He had promised the Master that he would die for him. He swore that he would lay down his life for the man he had followed for more than three years. The Master told him it wouldn’t happen. “Before the rooster crows…” he said. Peter knew better. Peter knew he would stand up for the Master.
But when they came to arrest the Master, all Peter could do was swing around his sword for a few minutes before he was overcome with absolute fear. So he did what everyone else did. He ran.
A little later, a friend of his managed to get the two of them into the Temple courts. He watched from behind a charcoal fire as the religious leaders beat him and mocked him and threatened him with the death penalty. Three times he was asked if he knew the man who was on trial. Three times he was given the opportunity to stand up in defense of the Master. Three times he denied being connected with the man in any way. And then the rooster crowed. Every sunrise since the betrayal served as a reminder of his cowardice. Every morning, the roosters mocked him as they sang their wakeup call. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.
His friends looked to him for leadership. He was supposed to be the bold one. He always had something to say – even if it didn’t make any sense. But there was that one time when he said something… and it made Jesus burst with pride in his disciple. One day, it finally clicked. “You are the Christ,” Peter told him, “the Son of the Living God!” And Jesus told him that it was upon that rock that His Church would be built. Peter was going to be a leader among the fishers of men. But in the hours after his denial, all Peter could do was sit back and dwell on the failure he had become. Some leader he had turned out to be.
Three days after they crucified him, Mary burst into their hiding place with the news that the tomb was empty. “Robbers,” he thought to himself. He and his friend ran to the tomb to figure out what was going on. He didn’t know what he thought he’d see there. But he ran anyway. And Peter, well…being Peter…went into the tomb first. He looked where the Master’s body should have been. But there was no body. Instead, linen wrappings had been folded up and placed where the body should have been. “How odd,” he thought to himself. “Where has the body gone?” He went home frustrated and confused. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.
They came to find out that the Master had come back from the dead. They had gathered in a secret hiding place, wondering what was going to happen next. When suddenly, He appeared! There he was in flesh and blood, talking with his friends. They saw his pierced hands and side. They knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was the man they had been following. He was once dead. Now he was alive! Then, just as instantly as he appeared, he was gone.
Peter scanned the Sea again. Dawn was starting to break. He began to see the faint outline of the shore. The roosters would soon begin their daily mockery of his failure. If only he had a chance to talk with the Master face-to-face. If only he had a chance to tell him how sorry he was and how horrible he felt for denying him. He should have stood up for him. He should have been there for his best friend in a moment of need. And he wasn’t. Not even close. Some friend he’d turned out to be. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.
The Master was probably upset with him. After all, he appeared to Thomas. He even had him touch the nail scars and put his hand in the Master’s side. Peter had tried to say something to him then. But ‘poof’ – he was gone again before he could say anything.
But his friends were still looking to him as their leader. “Why?” he wondered aloud. He was a failure. He couldn’t even stand up for his Master on the day he needed him most. He was no leader. He was a failure. So he decided to do what he had always known – to do what came natural to him. He decided to go fishing.
Then he heard a voice coming from the beach. “Hey, kids! Have you caught anything yet?”
Talk about pouring salt in the wound. First the roosters were mocking him. Now this guy that he didn’t even know was mocking him, too. Couldn’t he dwell on his failure in private? He was a failure as a friend. He was a failure as a follower. He was a failure as a leader. And now he was a failure at fishing. Why make a public spectacle of their ineptitude?
“No,” he responded. “And leave us alone,” Peter thought to himself.
“Why don’t you throw your net on the other side of the boat?” the voice called back.
‘Great. Just what we need,’ he thought. Another joker trying to tell him how to do his job. He didn’t know why he even bothered to listen to him. Maybe because he had nothing to lose. It’s not like he could have been any more embarrassed than he already was. And besides, the roosters would be crowing soon stacking mockery upon mockery.
Suddenly, they felt a tug on the net. And before they knew it, the net was full of fish! And not just the little sardines that were popular in this area. These were monster fish! Peter felt the rush of adrenaline as he joined his colleagues in trying to pull in the net. Who was this guy? What did this stranger know that he didn’t? Some fisherman he was. He couldn’t do anything right. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.
Then, they realized who this strange voice was. “It’s the Master!” Cried one of Peter’s friends. And Peter couldn’t contain himself. He fumbled all over himself, trying to get out of the boat. With his arms flailing all over the place, he fell over his friends in the boat as he tried to put his tunic back on. As soon as he was dressed, he jumped into the water. He couldn’t wait any longer. He had to see Jesus face-to-face. He had to tell him how he felt. He had to beg the Master for forgiveness.
The swim was short, but it felt like an eternity. He couldn’t get to the shore fast enough. When he reached the shallow water, he stood up and practically jumped out of the water. And, finally – there he was. Water still dripped from his hair as he gazed into the face of the resurrected Jesus. Peter opened his mouth to say something – to pour out his heart and try to somehow make amends with the friend he betrayed. But he couldn’t say anything. He was awestruck.
After what felt like an eternity, Jesus opened his arms to him and said, “Come on, let’s have some breakfast.” Still speechless in the presence of the Master, Peter followed him to a breakfast that had already been prepared on a fire.
A charcoal fire. He couldn’t forget that smell. How could he? Every time he smelled a charcoal fire over the last few days, the guilt would overcome him. How could he even be in the presence of the Master? Wasn’t he disappointed in him? He had failed. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.
The once ecstatic Peter sat quietly as the rest of his friends joined them for a very memorable breakfast by the sea. As Jesus shared bread and fish with his followers, Peter drifted his way into the background.
After they finished their meal, the followers went back to the boat and tended to the fish they had miraculously caught. Peter found himself alone with the Master. This was the moment he had been hoping for. And he would rather be anywhere but there. After all, he was a failure. And now Jesus was going to let him know. He tried to explain himself again, but he could barely open his mouth.
After a few moments, Jesus leaned over to Peter. “Oh boy, here it comes. He’s going to send me away,” Peter thought.
“Simon, son of John. Do you love me more than these?”
What did he mean “more than these?” More than these fish – his livelihood? He would give up everything to show Jesus how much he loved him. Or what about his friends? Was he asking if he loved Jesus more than his friends did? He certainly sounded like it before the recent events. If he had known the cheer, he certainly would have been the loudest in the crowd shouting, “I love Jesus, yes I do! I love Jesus – how ‘bout you?”…”I love him more! I love him more!” But not now. Not after what he had done. So he answered the only way he knew how: “Master, you know I love you.” He winced after he said it. He knew Jesus was going to drop the bomb and tell him he knew nothing about love and then kick him out of the kingdom.
“Feed my lambs.” Huh. No condemnation. No humiliation. Jesus being the Jesus he always knew.
He asked again, “Simon Son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes,” he replied, a little more confident in his response.
“Be a shepherd for my sheep.” Sure, Master, Peter thought to himself. I’ll do whatever you ask.
Then Jesus asked again, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Three times. Three times he had asked. Peter stared Jesus in the face and a tear rolled down his cheek. He smelled the charcoal fire and couldn’t help but remember what he had done. Peter, the Rock, began to bawl. Through his tears, he said, “Master, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus put his hand on Peter’s shoulder and said, “Feed my sheep.” Then he continued, “You have been telling me for years that you are going to follow me to the death. That will happen at some point, but not yet. It’s time for your life to bring glory to God. I have a job for you and your friends.”
In the background, Peter thought he heard the sound of a rooster crowing.
And Jesus looked at him and said, “Follow me.”
The Master continues to offer that invitation to us today. “Follow me.” It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. Jesus still offers you this invitation: follow me. You don’t have to get cleaned up. He’ll do that for you. You don’t have to start doing things right in order to experience the rightness that comes from His grace. You just have to respond to his invitation: follow me. As we sing our hymn of invitation, this is an opportunity for you to respond to the invitation that He’s issued to you: follow me. You won’t find condemnation or harshness in Him. Just Jesus being the same Jesus He’s always been – pouring out grace and forgiveness to those who respond to His call.
If you’d like to know more about how to respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, you’re welcome to come forward during this song and someone will talk with you about taking the first steps towards following Him. If you don’t walk up here today, that’s OK. I pray that you find someone – anyone – you know who is following Him and ask them how to begin this journey of following Jesus.
Every time I hear the story of Peter’s breakfast at the beach, I can’t help but think of the amazing musical Christy and I saw a few years ago called The Rock and the Rabbi. There are very few movies and musicals that make me feel like I have to go out and create something. The Rock and the Rabbi is one of those performances. I check the website rather frequently because if there’s ever a performance within driving distance, I’d like to arrange a trip for all of us to go see it. Yes – it’s that good. It’s that inspiring!