The First Sunday after Easter April 15, 2007

INI

Jesus Wants Sinners (like Peter and Us) to Work for Him

John 21:15-19

Scripture Readings

John 6:65-71
1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Hymns

207(1-5), 198, 423, 203

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, 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, “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ our risen Lord:

I have never conducted a job interview. In fact, I can only remember being interviewed for two jobs and that was quite a few years ago. Although times change, the qualities which employers look to find in employees do not change. If a person were to arrive late for a job interview, and be dirty and smelly and uninterested in what the interviewer was talking about and even unable to do the job correctly, it would be unlikely that he would get the job.

We might ask then, how in the world did we get the job as Jesus’ disciples? We are not qualified to do the work. We are sinners working for a holy God. We’re not focused completely on the task at hand. We’re inept because we rely too much upon ourselves. But Jesus still wants you and I to work for Him. As we view a conversation between Jesus and Peter we will find how Jesus qualified him and us to work as His disciples. I. Jesus restores the fallen, Jesus redirects focus, and III. Jesus shifts reliance onto Him. May we apply ourselves to this glorious work.

I.

Peter’s qualifications were not great as far as being a disciple of Christ. He was not a religious scholar. When the going got rough he denied Jesus. He swore up and down that he didn’t even know Him. Not just once but three times in the presence of many witnesses Peter distanced Jesus from himself. This came after he considered himself too strong to ever leave Jesus. He boasted that even if everybody else left Him, he “Peter the Rock” never would never leave Jesus (cf. Matthew 26:31ff).

Yet here we find Jesus—who called Simon from his fishing nets and who had given him the name Peter (“rock”)—picking him up after he had fallen. Knowing that Peter felt terrible after his denial, Jesus went to him immediately after His resurrection. We find that He appeared to him personally on Easter Sunday to assure him that all was right (cf. Luke 24:34). Now in front of all the rest of the disciples, Jesus places his confidence once again in Peter to do the work of an apostle.

At the same time Jesus takes the opportunity to prepare Peter for this work. Three times Peter denied His Lord and three times he would be given opportunity to affirm his love and dedication for Him.

It is interesting how Jesus proceeds. He seems to ask a very simple question, “Simon son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” There is a lot packed into that question. First of all, Jesus doesn’t call him, Rock. He calls him by his given name, Simon. Secondly, the word Jesus used for “love” refers to the highest form of love that there is. The Greek language had three words for love: 1) agapao referring to the love that God has for us, the love that He demands of us, a selfless love. 2) The second is phileo which is a friend-to-friend love. 3) The third is the romantic love between a man and a woman. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you agapao Me more than these?” Jesus was actually asking quite a bit from Peter. To top it off, He used the same language as Peter had used a few weeks earlier when he boasted that he would not deny Jesus.

Peter did not give the same type of answer. In humility Peter referred to the omniscience of Jesus, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.” [v.15] Peter does not even use the same word as Jesus used. Peter said, “Yes Lord; You know that I phileo You. In other words, he was saying, “I like you. You are my friend.” Peter had been led to realize that there were limitations in his love.

The second time Jesus asked Peter the same question—He asked with agapao. Peter again answered with phileo. The third time Jesus asked, “Peter do you have a friendly love for me (phileo)?” [v.17] This is what grieved Peter as much as the fact that it was the third time. It was as if Jesus was questioning his own answers. But Jesus did know all things. He was giving Peter the opportunity to give the right answers, because Jesus wanted him for the job of feeding His lambs and sheep.

You and I should derive a great deal of comfort from this conversation between Peter and Jesus. Every single one of us had the swagger of Peter before his denial, and every single one of us has the need to weep like Peter in knowing our sin. And it is true that the Lord has worked on restoring every single one of us. Jesus does not write us off when we sin. He’ll deal with us as individuals with the goal of restoration, and to lead us to place confidence in Him rather than in ourselves. He has sent friends and family members with the Word of God reaching out to us not only to make us aware of our sin, but to assure us of our forgiveness.

II.

We know that Peter gave the right answers because Jesus validated them with instructions for work. “Feed my lambs… Tend My sheep… Feed My sheep.” Jesus does not entrust this work to just anybody. His flock is most precious to Him. After all, He was willing to give His own life for the flock. As Peter was once again fishing, Jesus reminded Him that He had more work to do as a fisher of men.

We can see that even though Peter was not perfect, the Lord had work for him to do. There can be two extreme thought patterns that we use to try get out of doing God’s work. We might think, “Since I can’t keep God’s commandments and because of all of my sin. Why bother even trying?” The other extreme is: “I can’t do the work of Christ. I don’t even belong here in church or around His Word.”

Neither one of these comments would come from Jesus. His resurrection is the ultimate sign of forgiveness. It guarantees all those who are connected to Him a spot in heaven. Jesus wants you to regard sin for what it is: disobedience, life-threatening, a disconnect between Him and you. He wants you to know that you are a sinner, and that you can’t walk in perfection, but at the same time you should strive to do so. You have been given not only a new life in heaven, but also a new life on this earth as well.

He redirects our focus. You are a full-time Christian. No matter what your job is you have been given the Word of God to share. There are lambs of God who need to be fed. These might be the children that God has blessed you with. What more precious work is there than fulfilling our God-given responsibility as parents? Lambs could also be those who are spiritually children, and who don’t know the very basics of sin and grace. Tending the sheep is also important. It is not just called workers who bring the Word of God into a person’s life. There is no way for a pastor to be aware of every situation in a flock that needs God’s Word. There is no way that one man can be involved intimately with every detail of everyone’s life. But the Lord has given us each other as fellow Christians. You are in a position every single day to communicate God’s Word.

This is the focus that Jesus has given you. He has restored you as a child of God not just so that you could be with Him, but so your energy and your gifts and your very way of life will be used for work in His Kingdom. The longer we sit on our hands and do nothing, the more time the Devil has to sow his seeds of hopelessness and false confidence.

At the same time we want to recognize those who are bringing us the Word of God as those who are helping us and be willing to listen. It can be very difficult to hear what we need to hear when we are the ones needing correction, or when God’s direction is different from what where our desires would lead. Not receiving godly counsel from fellow Christians is a disservice to the Lord Himself who has given us the job to watch out for each other.

III.

Working for Jesus only works when our reliance shifts to Him. What a difference we see in Peter. A short time ago he drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, ready to fight for Jesus, but not realizing that Jesus could quite easily defend Himself. Before he believed in his own abilities and did not see any weaknesses. In this form of questioning, Jesus shifts Peter’s reliance from himself to Christ. He went on to show Peter just how completely this would be needed.

Jesus informed Peter of how he would die. It would be as a result of persecution because he confessed and preached Christ. According to Christian tradition Peter was crucified about 30 years after this conversation with Jesus. Yet Jesus still said to Peter, “Follow Me. I will give you the strength that is needed to endure what is ahead for you.”

Peter could have averted such a death. If he would have never again spoken of Jesus there would have been no need for him to be arrested. Peter could have coasted through the rest of his life. He could have lived in fear knowing what fate awaited him. Instead he lived in boldness. Read through the two letters that Peter wrote (1 & 2 Peter) and see that he did not flinch at his role as a disciple of Christ, nor did he waver from it. Peter wasn’t mistake free by any means. His sinfulness didn’t change. The change was that Peter relied on Christ and His forgiveness instead of himself to get through the rough patches.

It is no different for you and I except that Jesus hasn’t told us the way in which we are going to die. He does tell us that it won’t be smooth sailing and that there will be rough times ahead, but He says to you in the same way that He said to Peter, “Follow Me.”

Have you learned to rely on Christ? It is a work in progress. Not one of us is master at this yet, but hopefully we learn—as Peter did—what working for Christ really means. Speak up for Jesus. Stand up for Jesus. Have confidence in His forgiveness and resurrection. Are you going to spend the rest of your life doubting Christ’s forgiveness? Are you going to spend it in self-reliance? Are you going to spend it in fear? You can spend your life working for Christ. He has restored you. He has redirected your focus, and you may rely on Him. Easter is over, but the joy remains, as does the work. Amen.

—Pastor Michael M. Schierenbeck


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