Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Psalm 30 John 21:1-19 Acts 9:1-20 Revelation 5:11-14
Peter said, “Lord, why can’t I go with you now? I would die for you!” Jesus asked, “Would you really die for me? Peter, I tell you for certain that before a rooster crows, you will say three times that you don’t even know me.”
Later: The girl said, “Aren’t you one of that man’s followers?” Peter said, “No, I am not!” Someone said, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ followers?” Peter said, “No, I am not!” A relative of the man whose ear Peter had severed said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with that man?” Once more Peter denied knowing Jesus. The rooster crowed.
Later: On the beach, after the cross, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples on the shore – early in the morning – where seven disciples were fishing without success. Jesus commanded them to drop their nets on the other side of the boat. They did. The nets were heavy with fish. Jesus had a fire going. Jesus cooked fish for everyone’s breakfast. Jesus ate fish. Jesus was real. This is the resurrected Jesus.
Peter was one of the fishermen. This occasion is the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples since he came alive after being dead. Do you suppose Peter is apprehensive about his standing with Jesus after those three denials and that awful voice of the rooster? The third time. The third time of being with Jesus and apparently no personal reconciliation has happened.
Here it comes. Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the others do?” Peter, also known as Simon son of John, answers, “Yes, Lord, you know I do!” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” Again, Jesus says, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter answers, “Lord, you know I love you!” “Then care for my sheep,” Peter hears Jesus say. For the third time, Jesus says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Impatiently, Peter adds, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” But, this time there is more. More than Peter wants to know. Peter can look forward to a cruel death in order to glorify God. This is what he heard Jesus add: “I tell you for certain that when you were a young man, you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will hold out your hands. Then others will wrap your belt around you and lead you where you don’t want to go.” Then Jesus says, “Follow me.” Peter followed.
Peter became the rock of the church. Yes, the rock. Matthew 16:13-20 holds this conversation. Before the shore breakfast scene, before the actual denials, before the rash promise by Peter at the Last Supper, Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying that he is. After the disciples murmured some replies, Jesus asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter hit the jackpot by saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Listen to the promise of Jesus to Peter then. “Simon, son of Jonah, you are blessed! You didn’t discover this on your own. It was shown to you by my Father in heaven. So I will call you Peter, which means “a rock.” On this rock I will build my church. And death itself will not have any power over it.” So that is how Simon, son of Jonah or Jonas or John, came to be called Peter or Simon Peter.
You see, Jesus knew the potential of this Simon, son of John. Jesus knew what God had planned for Peter. It seems that Jesus was charged with molding this compulsive, impulsive person. It seems that Peter needed to have a shock, a stone wall. The episode of denials was used to trim the sails of Peter, maybe even upset the boat but not to wreck the boat. This is not a shipwreck where the boat floats piece by piece in the water eventually to find themselves on the shore, good only for making a fire.
But think! Jesus needed some kind of wood that day for a fire. Jesus also needed Peter. Even though our own lives seemed to be adrift the wrong way or even shipwrecked and our pieces seem to be exposed on the shore where everyone can see our failures, Jesus needs us. Jesus will gather the pieces of our lives and mold us into a person for his own purposes, the purposes of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Did Peter ever have peace within? Did Peter die a peaceful death.? No. It did not happen that way. Remember the belt that Jesus mentioned the day of the fish breakfast on the beach? Peter is believed to have been put to death by hanging upside down on a cross. But the truth of our Christian faith is that peace awaits us on the other shore wherever the “other shore” is. If we believe that the kingdom of God is coming to us, peace will find us on our own shores with a whole new perspective. Instead of talking ourselves into allowing the peace of God to flow into us, the peace will just be there – inside our beings, around us, filling the atmosphere, flowing into everyone who stands still and into everyone who is running or jumping or swimming or playing tennis – if tennis is a heavenly kingdom pursuit.
Have you heard of the island of Patmos? Patmos is a small, rocky island in the Aegean Sea some 50 miles southwest of Ephesus, off the coast of modern Turkey, where prisoners were sometimes kept by the Romans. This is not the heavenly kingdom yet. I am bringing us to the island of Patmos because another disciple of Jesus found himself here at the end of his life which happened to be a very, long life. John, the beloved disciple, spent his last days on this island writing. Some scholars are not convinced that the John of the three letters and the book of Revelation are one and the same with the John who claimed to be Jesus’ favorite disciple. But we won’t let that deter us from the idea that this is the very disciple who raced Peter to the empty tomb.
Here John is a prisoner of the Romans because he could not be quiet about Jesus. But, God has a reason for having John here. John receives this giant vision that is now our book of Revelation. This book holds great mysteries, secret messages and puzzles so that the officials of the cruel Roman Empire would not understand it. Great promises of hope are tucked between the fearful, strange happenings.
John was led to write these blessed words that tell of the kingdom of God coming to us instead of our going to it. “God’s home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever. (CEV, Revelation 21:3b and 4)
Peter became the rock of the church. John was needed to share his vision with us – the vision about the coming of the kingdom of God in all its fullness. Did the other disciples just fade away? There are fragments of information about the other disciples. Poor, poor Judas missed the whole forgiveness experience! Imagine! Or was it part of God’s plan that Judas would remove himself from the picture? Was the new disciple, Matthias called to do something special?
What about Paul? You are trying to tell me that Paul was not one of the twelve disciples. You are correct. He was a late comer. He came into the program by force. We first heard of him persecuting the followers of Jesus. Then Jesus got his attention and turned Paul, himself, into a follower! Wow! There is simply no end to what God will do to get our attention and turn our feet and hearts! Acts 2 tells how Paul had his great awakening.
Peter, John, and Paul were devoted followers who shaped the work of Jesus Christ into the church that has lasted for 2000 years and is still going; in fact, depending where we look, this church of Jesus Christ is stronger than ever before. These hard workers for the kingdom did not get to retire comfortably. These great saints did not find comfort, or peace, or a sense of completed work.
Paul spent much of his life in prisons of one sort or another. His life goal was to reach Rome to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, as God would have it, Paul got to Rome but it was as a captive prisoner for unceasingly preaching the word of God.
Why am I dwelling on the hardships of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Why indeed? Well sometimes to get to this thing called peace, sometimes to really get to know Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit, we need to suffer. Sometimes we need this trimming of the sails, sometimes we need to find our noses against a stone wall to realize that God is waiting to embrace us fully, to forgive our most hurtful or foolish sins, to charge us with the energy and the focus we need to complete the other half of being a follower. Being a follower is fine to a point. I maintain that being a disciple is being a follower. Being an apostle is being the stone in the sling of God. On our way we go and we are not in charge of the destination or of the speed or of the mission. God is totally in charge of our lives! We can resist or we can acquiesce.
Peace did not come to John the Baptist, or Peter, or Paul, or John of Patmos while they lived. Full, true, honest, deep peace will fill each of us when the Kingdom of God embraces us in all its fullness and we are transformed. As John writes to the seven churches, “I pray that you will be blessed with kindness and peace from God, who is and was and is coming. May you receive kindness and peace from the seven spirits before the throne of God. May kindness and peace be yours from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.” (CEV Revelation 1:4 and 5)