The Fourth Sunday After Trinity July 13, 2003
1 Peter 3:8-15
16, 400, 423(1, 5-6), 46
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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.”
Fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus—the Savior whom we love by faith:
The Gospel lesson today tells us about Jesus in an earlier meeting with Simon Peter. This was a meeting that ended with Jesus urging Peter and others to “Follow Me.” It resulted in the fishermen “forsaking all” to follow Jesus. Obviously, the invitation to follow Jesus held some kind of power for them. It offered something attractive enough that they were willing to lose everything to gain it.
But where were they going as they followed Jesus? What were they leaving behind? After three years of following Jesus, did Peter have any better idea of the answer to these questions? It took this occasion, during the forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, to lead Peter forward from forgiveness. May the Holy Spirit work in us this same love for our Lord that we ultimately see in Simon Peter.
Peter had often asserted his love for Jesus. He also recognized his sinfulness before the Lord, just as we saw when he was in the boat, and fell down before Jesus, saying “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Fortunately, that was exactly what the Lord did not intend to do. God’s grace and forgiveness are the qualities that keep Him around even though we have sinned and earned something far worse. So Peter was no stranger to the Lord’s forgiveness. He understood that he could not be in the presence of God any other way that through God’s gracious pardon of his sins. But in many cases, it is possible to go a long time accepting this as a truth, without being deeply appreciative of it. We confess our sins, we hear the absolution, and we go on with life without any great impact on our life.
This was no mere intellectual exercise for Peter after Jesus’ arrest, death, and resurrection. Something had happened during that time—something that lingered around Peter and would not let him go. It was his denial. It was that three-fold statement and oath declaring to the world that he didn’t even know Jesus of Nazareth, and certainly had nothing to do with Him!
Now, how often don’t we do the same thing? We deny our Lord by the things we say, or fail to say. We deny Him by living in a way that suggests we’re content to live with sin, rather than be delivered from it. Let us take stock, as Peter was compelled to do, and realize that it is so easy to deny Jesus’ name.
But when we are faced, as Peter was, with our faults, when we feel the guilt of our sin pressing down on us, let us do as Peter did and accept the Lord’s forgiveness. The living Jesus was an absolution for Peter and all the fallen disciples and all sinners everywhere. In rising from the dead, Jesus was assuring mankind that all sin is removed and that the gate to God’s presence is open.
In the sphere of that forgiveness Jesus took Peter aside. It was in love that Jesus asked the question Peter hated to have to answer: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these do?” [v.19] It was, of course, a direct reference to Peter’s earlier boast when he had said his love for Jesus was superior to that of the other disciples. It reminded Peter of his failure to measure up.
Why “Simon, son of Jonah?” Jesus was bringing up Peter’s human origin and given name. Peter, when he boasted of his love for Jesus had been acting on his own strength and feelings. He had drifted from the rock of Christian faith and truth which Jesus had emphasized when He gave this disciple the name Peter, meaning, “rock.”
Jesus asked Peter “do you love me.” He asked the question using the word for love that describes a deep, purposeful love like God’s redeeming love for man. Peter answered with a much more modest claim. Peter said that he had an affectionate love for Jesus. This love in Peter Jesus Himself must have known. Peter would not try to boast of more.
Jesus asks us every day, “Do you love me?” We can never, ever, measure up to what we ought. But when we answer with faith that He is the Christ and the Son of God we are asserting our love. How can there be faith without love? How could we know and believe what He has done for us without loving Him in return? This love He knows. He reads it in our hearts and He accepts it for what it is.
Jesus’ questioning of Peter also had another purpose. It cleared the air for a troubled disciple. It gave opportunity for him to acknowledge his sin and to be assured of forgiveness. This is what the Church means by confession and absolution. In this case, it also went on to assure others in the Church of Peter’s repentance and restoration. The fallen disciple had returned. This being done, there was no need for any in the church to question the state of Peter’s soul, nor his relationship with his Savior.
We need to act similarly to Jesus and do this, from time to time, among Christians. We speak of it as the “removal of offense.” When someone has committed a rather public sin, it may leave questions of whether he is truly a believing Christian, whether the Lord’s forgiveness is precious to him. When such an individual has repented of his sin then he may be encouraged to go to his Christian brothers and sisters, acknowledge his fault, affirm his faith in the Lord’s forgiveness, and seek their spoken forgiveness as well. Just as Jesus did with Peter, it may at times be important for us to take such an opportunity to set the record straight and remove offense within the church.
Not only was Peter restored to the Lord’s fold, but Jesus gave him a place—an integral place—in the service of His kingdom. Jesus redirected the apostles’ goals in life: “I will make you fishers of men.” Now, again, Jesus makes it clear that to be restored is to be called into the Lord’s service.
When Jesus calls us to ‘follow Him,’ He not only calls us out of sin; He also calls us out of futility. When we were lost in sin, a rational perspective on life would have been “who cares?” “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” And yet, when the prospect is ultimate judgement and Hell, that can be of little comfort. Life without Christ is utterly futile.
Life with Christ, on the other hand, is absolutely valuable. It delivers from sin. It has the hope of life everlasting, and all that is done in service to Him is pleasing and enduring in the sight of God.
Jesus said: “I will make you fishers of men.” Their lives would have meaning. They would draw lost souls out of the clutches of sin, deliver them from the power of death, and overcome in them the dominion of Satan. Jesus told the disciples that they would do this through His Word, leading sinners to Him—the Savior of all people. Fishers of men catch souls for everlasting life. What could be more worthwhile than that?
We are all called into this service. In our following Jesus, it becomes our goal to lead others into the same path. We don’t do this by coercion or deceit. We don’t entice others by suggesting that becoming a Christian means a more pleasurable, successful life here on earth.
We are called to do as Jesus directed His disciples at the end of Luke: “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in Jesus’ name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). This is our method. It may not be flashy. It will not be popular. It will often not even seem fruitful. But this is our privilege.
So it was with Peter. But he had fallen. For a short time he refused to follow Jesus. He had denied, not only Jesus, but the Gospel. So now, when he was restored, it may be surprising that Jesus not only calls him into the kingdom, but even gives him the role of shepherding souls. He is made an overseer, charged with the feeding of the Lord’s sheep whom He purchased with His own blood. Peter, having asserted his love for Jesus, is told to feed and tend the lambs and sheep of Jesus’ flock.
Was Jesus making a mistake? Putting a miserable failure and an impulsive fool in charge of those precious souls? Or is it part of the very wonderful nature of the Gospel that the Lord takes the least worthy and employs them in a very high calling? Peter was made a Gospel minister, a teacher, a counselor of souls. But Jesus did so with a repentant person who could appreciate what it meant to be lost and ashamed, and then to be saved and cleansed of sin. Such people are the ones who can appreciate the seriousness of sin, the subtlety of temptation, and the value of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.
Our church is in need of pastors, teachers, missionaries. It also needs those who are in a position to support this work. But we realize that the Lord alone gives us those servants and frees up our purse strings to support them. Pastors and teachers will run their earthly course, as Peter and the others did. We’re grateful for their zeal and faithfulness. But others are needed to step up to the plate. Missionary Koenig and Mary need help over in Africa. Who will enter the harvest? Who will train and accept the role of the ministry? Ultimately, it is those whom the Lord calls. But He is going to call shepherds from among those who know and appreciate the value of the Gospel—this Gospel that reaches so deeply into our hearts.
Jesus showed Peter what love is really about. It flows out of the love that God has for us. The claim that love has over us is ever so powerful. It was forward from forgiveness that Peter went to do what he thought he could do earlier, namely, be bound so closely to Christ that he would lay down his life for Jesus. We too have been forgiven. Where will that forgiveness lead? May our course be unwavering and faithful, wherever it goes. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.