Simon Peter: A Story of Redemption
Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on April 14, 2013, the Third Sunday of Easter. The sermon text is John 21:17: He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Today’s resurrection appearance is a wonderful story of redemption. It is the story of someone who utterly messed up, and yet was forgiven and then used mightily to be a witness for Christ.
Of course I am speaking about Simon Peter. During the last night of Jesus earthly life, Peter denied 3 times that he was a disciple of Jesus. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live with that guilt. You remember the setting in the courtyard outside the high priests courtyard. The girl asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He replied, “I am not.” He stood warming himself by the fire and another person asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you.” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” One of the high priests servants challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. And Peter remembered that Jesus had foretold that Peter would do this…
Peter’s denial takes place in chapter 18 of John’s Gospel. The story of Peter’s redemption takes place in chapter 21. Again we have a fire and this time Jesus is standing there with all the disciples, including Peter. Jesus could have berated Peter, could have called him a turncoat and a traitor, but he did not. Instead, Jesus asks him a question 3 times.
Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Because of Jesus, chapter 18 is not the end of Peter’s story. Peter is not remembered for his 3 acts of denial. Thankfully, that is not the last word. Peter is remembered because of his love for Jesus and his willingness to minister to the needy. So the last word for Peter is redemption.
I pray that you and I see our story in the story of Peter. The way of faith is not along some pristine path of us always getting it right. Often we mess up and need to be redeemed. Thankfully the church did not gloss over the story of Peter’s denial. Surely there must have been folks who thought that only the purest and best would be selected by Christ to carry on his mission. Surely if you have been bad, God cannot use you for good. But here in Peter’s story, we learn that just the opposite is true. If you have been bad, God goes out of his way to restore you and forgive you, and God can use you for God’s purposes. Denial and redemption are deeply rooted in all of our stories of faith.
One of the deeply held theological understandings of Lutheran Christians is the doctrine of Saints and Sinners. We are not sometimes saints and sometimes sinners. We are always both saints and sinners. It is this way with every human being on earth. Every day we face a conflict or struggle between our two selves. In the Small Catechism Explanation of Holy Baptism, Luther puts it this way: Daily the old person in us with all our sins and evil desires is to be drowned through sorrow for sin and repentance, and that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
The take away for us today is this: we are not called to be sinless, for only Jesus Christ was without sin. We are called to faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection. Then, like Peter, we can surely be used in mighty ways to witness and serve all of the sheep and lambs entrusted to our care.
Thanks be to God for this holy privilege. Amen!