The Resurrected Jesus: Peter, Do You Love Me?
Donnell Wyche — April 18, 2021
I’m continuing in our, “The Resurrected Jesus” sermon series. We are coming to grips with the resurrected Jesus and his followers post resurrection, so that we can learn a little along with them about what Jesus being alive is all about.
Last week, Pastor Marissa took us on a journey down the road to Emmaus as Jesus heard from his followers what they really thought about his life, ministry, and eventual death on a Roman cross.
I want to join this stream by looking in on another encounter with the resurrected Jesus and some of his followers. In this story, John, the gospel writer paints a bleak picture for us. Jesus’ friends are in a locked room hiding out from the authorities because Jesus invited them into a death cult instead of changing the world like he promised he would. They fear the ruling occupying force and its state-sponsored violence. Put plainly, they fear the very fate that Jesus faced, death.
Our text for today is John 21, we will start with verses 1-3:
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
As Peter decides to head out to fish, I wonder what’s at the top of his mind? Is this attempt at fishing a distraction or a comfort? The world isn’t going the way I thought it would, but I know how to fish. Is he replaying over and over again what happened to Jesus? How could they just arrest and kill him, and what about what he told us, promised us? Is Peter trapped in an endless loop of what he said when he rejected Jesus three times? I do not know him.… I am not one of his followers… I never knew him… Is he caught up in his grief, hurt, disappointment, and sadness?
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
I wonder if the reason that Peter plunges into the water ahead of the other disciples was borne of his need to try to make things right with Jesus. He swims the 90 meters instead of waiting in the boat with the others. Does this give us a clue about the condition of his heart, a picture into his mind. Maybe, if I can get a moment alone with him, I can explain why I abandoned him. Maybe, I can finally tell him that I was scared to die. Maybe, just maybe.
Friends, if you are like me, you have people in your life who left before you could make things right again, and you are full of regret, with pain, and sorrow. So, when John said, “It is the Lord.” Peter, thought, this is my moment. I can make this right. I can fix what I screwed up. I just need a moment alone with Jesus.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
Maybe Peter wanted to start the conversation, to try to make things right, but Jesus has his own questions for Peter. One of the gifts from Pastor Marissa in this sermon series is her invitation for us to consider how traumatic it was for Jesus to be betrayed by his friends, abandoned, and killed by state-sponsored violence. Plus, being resurrected… what was that like?
What Pastor Marissa is offering us here is a gift. She’s inviting us to see the humanity of Jesus. He was hurt, not just in death, but he was wounded emotionally. She’s inviting us to see that Jesus shares in our own experiences of betrayal, abandonment, not just by his friends, but also by “his parent.” Where most of us don’t see our betrayal and abandonment coming, Jesus had a sense of what was going to unfold, and knew that he needed “ride or dies” to share the burden with and instead of sharing the burden, his friends denied even knowing him.
So, maybe Jesus’ question to Simon Peter is about more than just restoring or forgiving Peter, maybe it’s a really real question for Jesus. I hear Jesus saying, “Simon, I was hurt by you, betrayed by you, abandoned by you. So, Simon, can I trust myself with you?”
Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?
Peter responds, “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
There is so much hope in this exchange, I can hardly contain myself. Jesus, hurt both emotionally and physically, is here before his friend, who betrayed and abandoned him, offering a chance to make things right. There’s so much hope here for me because in this exchange I hear that no matter what we’ve done, no matter where we’ve been, no matter what, we have an opportunity for restoration.
16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
What did Peter know about himself before this interchange on the beach with Jesus? Does this moment help reveal that Peter was trusting himself and his assumptions about how God would act on his behalf? Was he remembering when he rebuked Jesus for saying that he had to die to reveal what God was doing?
Peter rebuked Jesus because only failed messiahs died on the cross in Rome.
Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you! (Matthew 16:22)
No ambiguity here. This echoes our cultural obsession with celebrity, we only want the successes, we don’t like failure. It’s the temptation of “the shortcut.” Peter was trying to force Jesus to take a different route, but fully trusting God, Jesus resists Peter’s demands.
Brené Brown says that when “failure isn’t an option, neither is innovation.” The cross looked like failure to Peter, so Peter was trying to innovate another solution for Jesus.
Here’s Jesus right here before him having gone through death to the other side. Resurrection.
Maybe when Jesus asks, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Jesus is asking, are you still trusting yourself and your assumption about how God will act, or are you willing to trust me now?
Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
I want to know whether Peter’s hands were opened or closed? I think we respond like Peter when we continue to reject living in the Kingdom of God under God’s economy. I think Peter’s rebuke of Jesus is important because it is a product of the scarcity culture which is antithetical to the kingdom economy. When we live in a culture of scarcity, then we only have our one shot, if we blow it, that’s it. Jesus you can’t die. You have to defeat the occupying forces. You have to restore Israel’s glory. If you fail and die like the other failed would-be Messiahs, then it’s over. This exchange help us reject the often repeated mantra that “opportunity only comes around once.” But that’s not true. When there’s too much pressure to get it right, to do it right, we can become paralyzed from acting and trusting a God who has limitless resources. Friends, this is why we so often find our hands closed around what we have, hoping that it will bring us safety and security.
Instead of this painful exchange between Peter and Jesus, where Jesus unpacks for Peter all of the ways he has let Jesus down, I’d prefer for Jesus to forgive and restore Peter. But the restoration actually takes some effort. It’s all the ways that I have witness in the church the power of forgiveness and restoration. I have watched many of you fail in lots of ways and find restoration, forgiveness, and new hope. I have watched you fail in school. I have watch you fail at work. I have watched you fail at relationships. AND I have seen you face your failures and make things right. I have watched you ask for forgiveness. I have watched confront the harm you experienced and write a new story. I have seen you face your demon and see them vanished by God. I have watched you make right what was wrong. And I have seen it in my own story. Rachel if there’s time.
We need each other’s stories.
As we read this story, we are moving back and forth in time. Because of John, we have a lot of insight into this exchange. At this point, I wonder what Simon Peter is hearing when Jesus asks a second time, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” Has he grasped that Jesus is asking him the questions that were put to Simon at the fire when he denied Jesus three times. Or is Peter thinking about all of the times he asserted that he would never fail or abandon Jesus? Or was he remembering when he wept bitterly (Luke 22:62) after Jesus made eye contact with him as he was being led away.
Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?”
You can imagine Peter standing there, having denied the Lord three times, having seen all the things he did, heard all the things he did, having participated with Jesus in his public ministry: having seen the miracles, perform some himself, walked on water, seen the transfiguration all of that is coming back to Peter… Peter is realizing that he is ruined, he is broken, it invokes an emotional response, of course Peter is hurt… he has seen what he has done, maybe it’s only after the third time does he finally get it… he sees how he has walked away… how he let his fear rule him…
I believe it takes three times before Peter is able to access the pain and hurt he caused Jesus.
So Peter answers the Lord, “you know all things…” It’s his plea, “I can’t say it any better, I don’t know how to express it anymore, I get it. I see the pain I caused you. I am sorry that I have walked away, you know that I love you.”
Jesus says, “feed my sheep.”
I understand Peter‘s fear of state sponsored violence because of who he is, because of where he is, and because of who he associates with. But Jesus in the resurrection says to Peter, and to us, you don’t have to fear death. For Peter the inevitability of death was the thing that seemed unmovable in his life. God, in Jesus through the resurrection, says death is nothing to be afraid of. Go back into the world with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God.
Resurrected Jesus meets us where we are. He walked along the road, he had breakfast with his those who betrayed him. There isn’t a place that you “should” be to meet Jesus, there is only the place you are, and the way Jesus is present for you in that moment. There is nothing about you, your family, your relationship status, your education, your finances, your appearance, your lifestyle, that puts you off limits to Jesus showing up and asking, “do you love me?”
If so, then following me into resurrected life, full, and abundant. In this resurrected life, full of hope, we can open our hands, take a breath, and enter into life with abundance.