Easter 3 2019
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-22, Revelation 5:8-14, John 2:1-19
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After Jesus’ crucifixion the disciples are terrified. If this is what the Jewish leaders and the Romans do to Jesus, what is going to happen to us? Even after hearing that Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples hide out in a locked room. Jesus appears to His disciples in that locked room on the evening of His resurrection and then again a week later when Thomas is with them. They see the resurrected Jesus. Jesus comes into their midst and they touch Him and see that He is risen from the dead. But what next?
In the Gospel of John, we next find that the disciples have left the upper room and fled Jerusalem and gone back to their familiar place in Galilee at the Sea of Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee. They saw the resurrected Jesus, but must not know what to do with that knowledge, or perhaps they are starting to doubt whether it was really real. So they go back to the Sea of Galilee; they go back to fishing. Sometimes, when life is all topsy-turvy it feels good to do what is familiar.
So the disciples go fishing, seven of them. Five are identified: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John. Two are not identified. As we examine what happens that day, let’s identify one of those two unnamed disciples. Today, you take the place of one of those unnamed disciples and go fishing with the other six. Put yourself in the place of that unnamed disciple with a front row seat to this drama on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
You have been out fishing all night and now you’re exhausted from putting the net out and dragging it back in, over and over and over. You are out of shape for fishing and out of practice, and each time you throw the net it comes back empty and even though that makes the net lighter, you tire more quickly when there is no reward for your labor.
Just as the sun is starting to peak over the eastern hilltops a man appears on the shore watching you all fish. The man yells out, “Children, do you have any fish?” You and the others yell back, “No!” The man yells, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” You have nothing to lose, so you do.
You have no fish in the boat after fishing all night. Suddenly the net is full to abundance; full to overflowing; so full you cannot pull it into the boat. You and the other six struggle with the net and while you are struggling, John has a great revelation and tells Peter, “It is the Lord!”
Now Peter is the de facto leader of the disciples and it was his idea to go fishing. And you have spent all night working like a dog to try to catch fish with no success and you finally now have caught some fish and what does Peter do? Peter leaves the fish. You and the others are left in the boat to pull in the fish as Peter jumps into the water to swim to shore. Peter abandons the huge catch of fish because something much more valuable is here. Jesus is right here with you. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Jesus is more valuable than all the fish in the sea.
Peter swims to shore to be with Jesus. You and the other five disciples row the boat in, dragging the net full of 153 fish. When you get to the beach, Jesus has a fire going with fish roasting and bread ready for breakfast. Where did that come from? Jesus is present with you and the other disciples and the memories come flooding back with everything that Jesus does. Jesus provides fish and bread and the disciples must be flashing back to Jesus feeding the 5,000.
Peter gets back on board the boat and helps pull the net in and then you all go to be with Jesus for breakfast. You are eating with Jesus once again. The last time you ate with Jesus was on Holy Thursday in the upper room. The memories come flooding back of Jesus’ washing your feet and His transforming the Passover meal into the great gift of His body and blood in the bread and wine.
You and the other disciples finish breakfast and the seven of you bask in the presence of the resurrected Lord Jesus. All is good. And then Jesus turns to Peter; devoted Peter; Peter who left the fish to swim to Jesus; Peter, the leader of the disciples. What praise is Jesus going to give to Peter this morning?
Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Things get suddenly tense. What is Jesus doing? Why is Jesus questioning Peter’s love? What must Peter be thinking? Peter must be flashing back to that night not so long ago when he and John followed Jesus to the house of the high priest. As Peter passed by the servant girl who was at the door she asked him, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” In fear, Peter denied Jesus, and answers, “I am not.” Does Peter love Jesus? Peter denied Jesus. Peter failed Jesus, but Peter does love Jesus and answers Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my Lambs.” Jesus is giving Peter the responsibility to preach and teach the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection to the people who are like sheep without a shepherd.
You and the disciples breathe a sigh of relief that this tense conversation is over, but only for a moment, because Jesus asks Peter again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter wilts under the question as he stares into the glowing coals of the breakfast fire. His mind’s eye takes him back to the fire in the court of the High Priest when someone asked him, “You also are not one of His disciples, are you?” and Peter denied it again, “I am not.” Peter denied Jesus, but Peter does love Jesus and replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus tells him, “Tend my sheep.” Peter is being restored to his place as a servant of God, not from anything He has done, but by the forgiving Word of Jesus.
A third time Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me.” Peter is grieved because Jesus asks a third time. His grief must be compounded by clearly remembering his third denial of Jesus right before the rooster crowed. Peter replies “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
What if it were you? What if Jesus next turns to you and asks you, “Do you love me?” Do you love Jesus.
Peter knows his denial and failure. His face must burn with shame and humiliation. There are no excuses. No rationalizations. No blaming others. It is Peter’s own failure; Peter’s own denial. He proudly declared to Jesus in front of the disciples, “I will lay down my life for you,” and then denied Jesus three times. For the third time, Jesus speaks words of restoration. Peter is restored to his place as a disciple of Jesus and given work in the kingdom, “Feed my sheep.” Peter is restored to his place as a follower of Jesus and Jesus then describes how Peter will indeed follow Jesus to the cross. Peter is restored to a life of humble service and submission and ultimately martyrdom for Jesus.
You are there with a front row seat to this drama. You got to see Peter squirm under the questions. What if it were you? What if Jesus next turns to you and asks you, “Do you love me?” Do you love Jesus. What flashes in your mind as you suddenly become acutely aware of all the times your thoughts, words and deeds have not shown love for Jesus? What moments and events come to the forefront of your memory? Jesus asks you, “Do you love me?” and you think of all those times when you acted like you loved the devil and all his works and all his ways. Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” and you feel the shame of failure and denial.
You do love Jesus, but you have failed Him; you have denied Him. All you can say is, “Lord, you know everything: you know that I love you.” And Jesus restores you as He does each week as you get on your knees and confess that you have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what you have done and by what you have left undone. You confess your failure and denial. And Jesus forgives you all you sins and invites you to come to His altar and receive His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus pours out forgiveness in abundance and puts you in your place as a disciple of Jesus; a follower of Jesus with work in the kingdom; a follower of Jesus who daily takes up your cross and follows the one who is more valuable than all the fish in the sea. The one more valuable than money. More precious than power and popularity. More wonderful than all the pleasures of the world.
Being a follower of Jesus is not a promise of success in life. It is not a guarantee that all will go smoothly. In Sri Lanka and Nigeria and Egypt and many places around the world, being a follower of Jesus can get you killed. Being a follower of Jesus is not a promise of an easy life, but it is the promise of true life; eternal life, working together with others in God’s vineyard to serve one another and expand the kingdom doing the work given to you to do.
Jesus came to restore sinners. Jesus died to forgive sinners. Jesus rose from the dead to conquer death for sinners. Jesus did it all for you. Amen.