Serving Christ and sharing the Gospel

Peter, do you love me? (Jn 21:1-19)

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I’ve just returned from a few days away in Chester and North Wales. Overall, it was a good trip, a chance to recover after Easter and spend some quality time with my family. But whilst away I did let my children down in one way. I’d promised them we would go swimming on holiday, but for various reasons I failed to deliver. I’m afraid the nearest they got to a swim was being drenched in a Welsh downpour! Thankfully Alice and James have found it in their hearts to forgive me…or at least I think they have!

But the truth is we all let people down sometimes don’t we? At one time or another, I assume we have all broken a promise to a family member, let down a work colleague, or failed a friend in some way. And if you are a Christian here this morning, we can all recall times when we’ve let down the Lord Jesus, can’t we? If we are honest, we must all be able to recall occasions when we’ve said or done something that we knew displeased him. We can all think of times when our words or behaviour has been rather less than Christ-like.

In such times should we despair? Are our sins and failures an excuse to give up on the Christian life? Have our sins sacrificed our salvation and destroyed our hope of heaven? And even if al is not lost, do our errors and omissions at least rule out our chance of playing a part in God’s work in the world? Having let down the Lord, can we only expect a very minor role, a very limited responsibility, in his future plans for his church?

In our passage this morning, Simon Peter could certainly be forgiven for thinking this way. He had every reason to question his salvation and succumb to despair. Because Peter had let down the Lord ‘big time’. His fall from grace was especially tragic because his early Christian career had been so exciting, so full of promise.

  • After all, Peter had been personally called by Christ on the banks of Lake Galilee. He had been called from a career in fishing to be a follower of Jesus.
  • And as he’d followed him, Peter had very much been Jesus’ right hand man, with privileged access to the most momentous and significant events of his life. Peter was there to see the feeding of the 5,000, he saw Jesus walk on water, calm a storm and heal the stick. He was there as the Last Supper, he was a witness to the transfiguration - he was with Jesus as he awaited his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • What’s more, having seen such things, Peter had been the first to recognize Jesus’s true identity. He was the first to confess that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was a confession that millions of Christians would echo in subsequent centuries. Peter’s confession was the rock upon which the Church would be built.

But one night in Jerusalem, it had all gone so tragically wrong, hadn’t it? On the night of Jesus’ arrest and trial, as he stood warming himself by a fire, Peter had denied him three times. Just as Jesus himself had predicted, Peter denied his Lord three times before the cock crowed.

So when Jesus subsequently rose from the dead, Peter could be forgiven for thinking that he had blown it! Surely there was no chance that the risen Jesus would want him back on his team? No chance that his relationship with the Lord could be restored?

But a breakfast meeting beside the sea of Galilee would prove Peter wrong. Alongside another fire, Christ would forgive his friend. Peter’s relationship with Jesus would be restored, and he would be re-commissioned for service. It’s a story that should encourage us whenever we ourselves have let down the Lord. It’s a true story that tells us that even if we have failed the Lord in the past, we can be forgiven fruitful disciples in the future.

  1. Christ can forgive our failures

Today’s story is set on the shores of Lake Galilee, a place that must have been very familiar to Peter. It was the region where he had lived and worked before Christ had called him - somewhere he could call ‘home’. Its no surprise that after the dramatic events of the first Easter, Peter and his friends returned to Galilee to regain their strength and gather their thoughts. Its no surprise that they returned to fishing on that familiar lake to recuperate and reflect on everything they’d experienced.

In verses 1 to 14 we’re told what happened one memorable morning. After a night of fruitless fishing, they were returning to shore - no doubt tired and weary. But a stranger on the shore encourages them to have one last try. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” he says. And “when they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish”. When they counted them later, they discovered that their catch had gone from zero to 153 – all thanks to this one man’s inspired advice!

The penny must have dropped for one disciple, because he suddenly recognized this stranger on the beach as Jesus. Peter, impulsive as ever, immediately jumped in and swam to shore. Once there, he discovered that Jesus had already prepared “a fire with burning coals, with fish on it and some bread”. It was a meal he intended to share, a meal meant for more than one person, because in verse 12 Jesus says to Peter and his companions, “Come and have breakfast with me!”

True Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus Christ. A real Christian is a man or woman who personally knows Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Authentic Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. A relationship that Peter, Thomas and the other disciples enjoyed on the beach that morning. By inviting them to eat breakfast with him, Jesus was extending an offer of renewed friendship to them. He was inviting them to enjoy fellowship with him, just as we might enjoy fellowship with our family and friends over Sunday lunch or an evening meal. It was proof that even the most wayward disciple can enjoy forgiveness and friendship with Jesus if they return to him.

There are so many features of this story that should reassure us it is genuine - it contains so many marks of authenticity. Eyewitness details like the number of fish caught, the distance from shore, the admission that the disciples didn’t recognize Christ at first, and the description of Peter’s leap into the lake. All these things should give us great confidence that what we read really happened. Confidence that Jesus really did offer a restored relationship to Peter and his friends that morning.

This should all be great news for us, shouldn’t it? It should come as a great comfort to know that even Peter ‘the denier’ and Thomas ‘the doubter’ could come back to Christ. If Jesus was willing to forgive this fallible pair and welcome them back into relationship with him, then the same invitation extends to us.

But will be accept it? Because whenever we let down the Lord, whenever we are conscious of guilt, we have a choice to make. We have three routes we could follow. Two are wrong, only one is right:

  • One wrong option is denial. We can deny to ourselves and to others that we have done wrong. That might fool other people, it might even silence our conscience for a tme – but it won’t fool God. We may deceive ourselves but we can’t deceive him. Our Creator can clearly see our sin. God knows all about our guilt.
  • A second wrong option is to despair. Confronted by our guilt, one option is to give up hope of forgiveness, to abandon any effort to follow Jesus, to condemn ourselves to a Christless eternity. But this attitude underestimates the grace of God. It ignores Christ’s willingness to forgive. Despair may actually be evidence of great pride, a sign of a stubborn heart unwilling to seek God’s mercy.
  • The right response to our sin, therefore - the third option on the table - is repentance. Repentance means to turn around, to turn back to Christ, and humbly seek his forgiveness. That’s the attitude we see in Peter this morning. Peter literally leapt at the chance to go back to Christ – and he eagerly accepted Jesus offer of forgiveness by sharing breakfast with him on the beach that morning.

So if you are sitting here this morning with a troubled conscience or a guilty secret, please don’t try to hide it from Christ. He knows all about it already. But don’t despair, because he is ready and willing to forgive us if we repent. Come to him - run to him - just like Peter did, and he will welcome you back with open arms!

  1. Christ calls us to be fed by his apostles

What does your typical breakfast involve? Some of us survive on cereals, some swear by porridge oats, others enjoy a croissant, while only a ‘Full English’ will satisfy some. But whatever you eat first thing in the morning, its meant is to set us up for the day ahead. A good breakfast should ‘fuel us up’ and ‘get us going’ for our day’s work.

But Peter’s breakfast is our passage today set him up for a lifetime’s work, not just a day’s. Because Peter’s encounter with Christ on the beach that morning included a re-commission to service as well as a restoration of their relationship. Verse 15 today tells us that “after they had finished eating” Jesus spoke directly to Peter. In this conversation, Christ reinstated Peter to his role as the chief apostle. Jesus entrusted Peter with responsibility for leading the early Church.

Peter had denied Christ three times on the night of his trial. Three times he had rejected any association with Jesus. So its fitting that beside the Sea of Galilee Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to reaffirm his love and loyalty. Three opportunities to reverse and replace his three denials in Jerusalem. “Do you love me?” says Jesus. “Yes”, says Peter, “you know I do!

I hope we could all answer “yes” to that question as emphatically as Peter? I hope we all know enough about who Jesus is and what he has done, that we love him too.

  • I hope our love for Christ means we delight to spend time with him in prayer;
  • I hope we love him enough that we long to tell others about him.
  • And I hope we love him so much that we want to serve him wholeheartedly, whatever the cost to our wealth, health or popularity.

But if you look within and find your love lacking, then do come on our Christianity Explored course this month. Remind yourself how glorious Christ is, how great his love for you really is. You’d be very welcome!

Peter’s passionate response to Christ’s question leads to a job offer. Rather than throwing him on the dustbin after his infamous denial, Jesus gives repentant Peter a great role to perform. “Feed my sheep” and “take care of them” says Jesus - “Feed my lambs” says the Lord.

In other words, Peter’s new role is to be the chief pastor of the Church, to be the shepherd of Christ’s flock. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had explained to Peter and his fellow apostles what this role would involve. They would proclaim his words and deeds to the world with the help of the Holy Spirit. After his ascension the world would need reliable witnesses to everything that Jesus had said and done. New Christians would need Peter and the other apostles to tell them what following Jesus really meant.

That day Jesus had fed Peter and his friends with fish for breakfast. In the future, their task would be to feed the early Church with Spirit-inspired words.

When you think about it, we are in the same position today, aren’t we? None of us has seen or heard Jesus directly, none of us knows first-hand what he said and did. So we too need to rely on the words of Peter and the other apostles for our information about Jesus - information they faithfully recorded for us in the New Testament. Peter, for example, personally wrote two New Testament letters, and in all probability guided the author of Mark’s Gospel.

You see, the words of the apostles should have far higher status for us that the pronouncements of contemporary church leaders or conferences. The apostles spoke and wrote with the full authority of Christ and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We can trust them completely - what they say in the New Testament scripture is totally true. Jesus expects us to feed on their words, to be familiar with what they wrote. To be truly Christian, our beliefs and behaviour must be guided by the teaching of Peter, Paul and the other apostles. To flourish in our faith, we need to keep being fed by their words.

So please do pray for those of us here at St Michael’s with the special responsibility of explaining and applying the apostles’ teaching. Please pray for myself, Mike Dowler and our guest preachers over the coming month. Please pray for our Sunday School leaders, as they teach the Scriptures to our children. And pray for Helen and Stuart as they lead our Bible study groups each fortnight. May they help us all to be fed from God’s Word.

Conclusion: Peter’s self-sacrifice

As I finish, our passage this morning has described Peter’s rehabilitation and recommissioning. Beside the Sea of Galilee Peter’s relationship with Jesus was restored, and his responsibility for Christ’s flock was reaffirmed. It’s been a precious reminder for us all, I hope, that our sins don’t need to destroy our faith or drive us to despair. A reassurance that Christ can still have plans and purposes for us whenever we repent and turn back to him.

Wonderfully, in verses 18 and 19 today Jesus personally reassures Peter that he would remain faithful for the rest of his life. Wonderfully, Peter would sacrificially serve the Lord until his dying day. Indeed, even in death, Peter would glorify God.

Sure enough, history tells us that Peter died about thirty years after his breakfast on the beach with Jesus. He was arrested and executed by Emperor Nero during his persecution of Christians in the mid 60s AD. Peter’s sacrificial service brought glory to God, and his written words continue to feed God’s people today. May our own lives be similarly faithful and fruitful.