September 10, 2017
So, how are you doing? No, I don’t mean today – Sundays are kind of like spiritual pep rallies, right? We gather in the gym and the cheerleaders – that’s the worship team – they lead us in some cheers. 2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate – Jesus. A principal stands up and gives us some announcements. Then the coach takes the floor, and talks about how we’re going to kick some butt this week. But it’s going to take some work – so we have to practice all week – read the playbook, that’s Bible, pray, do some spiritual exercises – called disciplines. Then the big game comes on Friday night – or maybe it was Monday or Tuesday for you.
So, how’d it go? Again, not today, this is the pep rally where we get pumped up, but, how’d the week go? You see, I know we’re really good at putting on the team face paint – we call those masks – do the cheers, raise our hands, App-State. Rally the troops. How did it go? Maybe you left here last week, like the week before that, and swore the new week would be different. You would do what the coach said. And you would never do that, again. You wouldn’t lose your temper with your kids or your spouse. You’d watch your mouth, and your mind. You wouldn’t watch that show again – I mean, Christians probably shouldn’t watch Game of Thrones. And you wouldn’t go to those websites this week. You wouldn’t go that far with your boyfriend or girlfriend again. You swore, and you meant it. And you’d do the right things. You’d read the playbook. You’d practice the disciplines – faithfully. But then Sunday somehow turned to Monday. And Monday, Tuesday. And before you knew it, Friday was here. How’d it go?
Have you ever failed the Lord? Blown it, really big, more than once? We strive to be what God wants us to be, and sometimes, we fail miserably. And what becomes especially frustrating is when circumstances are of our own making, our own negligence, our own apathy – or even worse, our own failure. Have you ever found it difficult to know the peace that comes with God’s forgiveness after you have failed? If so, and I imagine I’m talking to most of us, the passage today is for you. Let’s read the story of Peter.
I don’t know what you think of when you think of Peter. A churchy kind of guy etched in stained glass. Or a man who was constantly messing up – a guy who boasted too loudly, constantly ran his mouth, prayed too little, slept too much, acted too fast, and followed too far. I can, I will, I won’t. The fact is, Peter was a man who needed a Savior, just like you, just like me; who needed forgiveness, again and again, just like you, just like me; who needed to be transformed, just like you, just like me. But, Peter had one thing going for him: in all his shortcomings, frailties, failures, he had flaming heart for Jesus Christ. He was known by God, whose power is perfected in weakness. Some of you need to hear that today. You need to know this unschooled, inept, ignorant, fighting, fearful, sometimes faithless man God used to turn the world upside down. He is an encouragement to every person who has ever had the thought, I’ve failed too greatly, again, Jesus could never use me.
We know Peter as the disciple with the foot–shaped mouth. He was impetuous – he said and did things without thinking, and it got him into trouble all the time. Outside of Jesus, Peter is the central figure in the gospels. In the list of disciples, he always appears first. He was first, the chief, among the disciples. And the qualities that made him a leader also made him a stumbling block, mostly to himself.
Apart from Jesus, no one is mentioned more in the New Testament than Peter. Oh, but after today, he’s not mentioned again until Mark 16 – in a passing reference after the resurrection. No other person speaks as often, or is spoken to as often. No disciple is reproved as often, and no one but Peter is so presumptuous as to reprove the Lord. No other disciple so boldly confessed Christ, and so boldly denied Him. No one was so praised by Jesus, and called Satan by Jesus. Peter is a bundle of contradictions, inconsistencies, strengths and failures all rolled into one person. He failed the Lord many times, maybe like you.
You know the stories: in Matthew 14, he said, “Lord, let me walk with you on the water.” Then he took his eyes off Jesus, found himself sinking, unable to keep his head above water. Anyone feel like that this morning? I only took my eyes off for a moment, now I’m drowning.
There was the time Jesus was teaching on forgiveness, Peter interrupted and said, well, how many times should I forgive someone – seven times? Peter knew the tradition of the elders –you’re supposed to forgive someone three times, so he thought he was being real magnanimous. Seven times, Lord, aren’t you impressed? Not really, Jesus said, you should forgive seventy times seven, meaning forgiveness is unlimited. Aren’t you glad, Peter?
There’s the time in Mark 8 Jesus was talking about His coming crucifixion, and Peter pulled Him aside and said, “God forbid – I’ll never let that happen.” Open mouth, insert foot. What did Jesus say to Peter that time? “Get behind me, Satan.”
Very next chapter, the Mount of Transfiguration – Jesus was transformed before them. “Lord, it was good for us to be here. Let us build three tabernacles – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” This time, God Himself reproved Peter from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, be quiet and listen to Him!”
At the Last Supper, Jesus was teaching on servanthood. He took a towel and a bowl of water, began to wash the disciples’ feet. When He got to Peter, Peter said, no way, Lord – not me – I could never let You do that. Jesus said, if I don’t wash your feet, you have no part of me. Okay, give me a bath. Peter, sit down and be quiet – you don’t get it.
Later that evening, Jesus prophesied all the disciples would fall away – desert Him, flee that very night. It was, after all, a fulfillment of prophecy – strike the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. Peter? Not me, Lord, you can count I me – I can, I will, I won’t. Lord, I’ll follow you – even if everyone deserts you, I’ll follow, even to death. Peter, Jesus said, Satan has desired to have you – to sift you like wheat. But I’ve prayed for you. You’ve got it all wrong, Jesus – you forget who you’re talking to – even though all fall away, I’ll never desert – you can count on me, Jesus – I’d even die for you. Peter, before the rooster crows twice, this very night, you will deny me three times.
When they got to Gethsemane that evening, Peter couldn’t even stay awake to pray. And then the final act in the drama of redemption began to unfold. They came to take Jesus, ultimately to the cross, to fulfill the script written before the creation of the world, to provide redemption for mankind, and what did Peter do? He drew a sword and cut off Malchus’ ear. He actually tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross, even though Jesus had been telling him for six months, that’s where I’m going.
Jesus took this guy – this inconsistent, big–mouthed, bumbling, self–centered man, and made him first among the disciples. Peter is the encouragement to every person in this room who has ever tried, and blown it. Every person who finds the mouth open before the brain engaged. The one who leaves weekly after the pep rally and tries really hard, and fails often. The one who has a flaming heart for Jesus. Today, we read about Peter’s greatest failure, Mark 14:66-72.
I’ll never fall away – even though everyone else does, I never will – you can count on me, Jesus. I can, I will, I won’t – I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back. It’s early Friday morning, Good Friday – Jesus will die this day. He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, where all the disciples left Him and fled. Verse 54 says Peter followed Him from a distance. Jesus was taken first to Annas, former high priest, then to Caiaphas, reigning high priest. An illegal trial was held through the night, and Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy, claiming to be the Christ, the Son of God.
John 18 tells us Peter and John made their way into the courtyard – outside Caiaphas’ house. John was known by the high priest and was able to gain entrance before he disappeared – we don’t read about John anymore that night. But we do Peter – we know the story well. Three times Peter is accused of being a follower of Jesus. And three times, before the rooster crows a second time, he denies it.
The first accusation came from a servant girl. She apparently followed Peter over to the fire, looks at him closely, and says, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene.” More literally, with the Nazarene, Jesus. It’s derogatory – northern Jews – Galilean Jews were looked down on by their southern Judean Jews.
The other gospels indicate those around the fire heard the accusation. And big, bad, I’ll-never-fall-away Peter makes his first denial. He says before them all – that is, loud enough for everyone to hear, girl, I neither know nor understand – the idea is, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. But the accusation rattled him, so he left the warmth of the fire and went to stand at the front porch, by the gate – to make a fast getaway if necessary. And a rooster crowed.
The servant girl – very threatening – accused him again, saying not to Peter this time, but to those standing around, “This is one of them!” That’s a little more threatening – the girl first accused him of being with Jesus – now, she’s telling others. Well, Peter couldn’t have that, so he denied it again. Mark doesn’t tell us exactly what Peter said, but Matthew does, “I don’t know the man!” Notice each time his denial become stronger, more vehement. The first time, he said, I don’t know what you’re talking about – this time, he said, I don’t know the man. Not, I don’t know Jesus – I don’t know the man. He denies Jesus without ever saying His name. And the rooster begins stirring again.
A little while later – Luke tells us an hour later – the bystanders came and said to Peter, we are confident you’re one of them because you’re a Galilean. How did they know that? Because, the way you talk gives you away. You sound like you’re from up north – you sound like a Galilean – you must be one of His followers. Notice, the accusation is stronger – this time it wasn’t just a servant girl, it was several bystanders. And this time, we know you’re one of His disciples. John adds the fact that one of the bystanders was a relative of Malchus – the guy who lost an ear to Peter in Gethsemane. He said to Peter, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with Him?” You know, when you took off my cousin’s ear?
They had him cornered, it’s do or die. So this time, Peter actually began to curse – likely calling curses down upon him if what he said wasn’t true. He swore – that is, he swore by an oath, and said, I swear to God, I don’t know this man you’re talking about!
Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. No sooner had he denied the third time than Jesus’ prophecy came true – Peter, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times. And Luke adds this detail [Luke 22:60–61], “Immediately, while he was speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Somehow, either through a window or perhaps He was in the courtyard at the time, the rooster crowed, and Jesus, who was possibly beaten and bleeding, turned and looked Peter in the eye – to his very soul. I can, I will, I won’t.
Peter remembered what Jesus said, and he went out and wept bitterly. For perhaps the first time in his life, Peter was a defeated man – broken, mourning, defeated. His I can, I will, I won’t had become I can’t, I did. Peter barely gets one mention in the rest of the gospel. This is it. Which is exactly where some of you are – broken, defeated, feeling like you’ll never measure up – you never deserve to be mentioned in the context of the gospel again. I deserve neither grace nor mercy – you got that part right. You don’t deserve it.
But you need to know the story does not end there – we can’t leave it there – we can’t leave you there. We pick up the rest of the story in John 21. We’re in Galilee now, and we find Peter is still down. And we find him failing the Lord, again. Listen carefully as we see how the Lord graciously restores Peter after his greatest failure. Let’s read John 21:1-3.
In Mark 16, after the resurrection, Jesus had told His disciples, and Peter, to go to Galilee and wait for Him there. They obeyed, but Peter is still defeated. When they get there, he said one evening, “I’m going out to fish.” Understand, he was saying more than he was taking the evening off for a leisurely time of fishing. In Mark 1, Jesus had called him to be His disciple. “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” He and his brother Andrew had pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him. And for 3½ years, those boats sat on the shore – the nets dried out – Peter didn’t fish – he followed the Lord, failures and all. This is the first time since Jesus called Peter to fish for men we see him fishing commercially for fish. After his most significant failure, I believe Peter was quitting. He had failed the Lord for the last time and he was quitting the call Jesus had given him. He felt he could never measure up; he checks it in. He was returning to his old way of life, a miserable failure.
How about you? Lord, I just can’t do it – I can’t be what you want me to be. It’s too hard to be a Christian – I keep failing. I can’t measure up – I can’t fulfill the responsibilities you have called me to. I have failed for the last time, I’m quitting. I think that’s exactly the way Peter felt. Notice: when Peter, the leader, got in the boat, where he did not belong, six others followed.
They fished all night and, interestingly, they caught nothing. Don’t miss that. While it had been over three years since they had last fished, they were pros. They didn’t break out the rod and reel. They used nets and boats. They knew what they were doing – night was the best time to fish, they knew the best spots – they caught nothing. The emphasis in verse 3 is on the word “that” – that night they caught nothing – this was unusual.
Why is that important? If you’re familiar with the story, you know Jesus is going to perform a miracle in the morning – they’re going to catch a lot of fish. But, what we often overlook is the miracle actually began that night. Their nets looked like neon signs all night that said “Stay Away!” Let’s continue the story, verses 4–11.
After a night of fruitless fishing, Jesus appeared to them on the seashore, although, they didn’t know it was He. Which is typical, isn’t it, in our times of failure and disobedience it becomes difficult to recognize the voice of God. Jesus called out and asked if they had any fish. Actually, “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” How did He know? Because He had kept the fish away all night. The dejected, perhaps angry answer came back “No!”
So this stranger recommended they throw their nets on the right side of the boat. As I understand it, it was not uncommon for someone standing up high on the seashore to be able to look down and see a school of fish. And so, the disciples, complied with this stranger’s suggestion and cast their nets.
Now, you need to understand what happens. First, Jesus kept the fish away all night. Now, as the nets are cast, every fish in the Sea of Galilee made a beeline for the nets. No, that’s not quite right – not every fish – verse 11 says, just the big ones. Before the nets, like neon signs, spoke of danger, now they invited the fish to respond to the Master’s call. And there were so many fish, 7 grown men couldn’t pull the nets into the boat – they had to tow it ashore. 153 large fish, John, the former fisherman reports.
Now, why did Jesus do this? Why perform this particular miracle? Couldn’t He just call them ashore? He could, but I believe it was a subtle rebuke. He was standing on the shore, where they should have been, and He was saying, “I’m still here, I’m still the Lord, I called you to be fishers of men, what are you doing in the boat?”
Think about it. The disciples were in the same water, same boat, using the same nets, same techniques. They didn’t change anything, except now they were listening to God. And under the same circumstances they had found failure, they now found success.
And when they started pulling in the net, it was like “Deja vu.” We’ve seen this before. You see, it was almost the same story from 3½ years earlier in Luke 5 when Jesus had called them to be fishers of men. A subtle rebuke, quietly asking them, what are you doing in the boat?
It hit John first; you can almost hear him say in a hushed, excited whisper, “It is the Lord.” Peter immediately remembered the events in Luke 5, the great catch of fish, the calling to be a disciple, the last 3½ years, and he asked himself, “What am I doing in the boat?” So he jumped in the water, swam ashore to find Jesus already had breakfast prepared. The point? He would provide for their needs on the shore where they belonged. They ate their breakfast in silence, ashamed of their actions again, wondering what would come next. Let’s read verses 15–17 and see.
Jesus begins restoring Peter. He does so by probing the deepest part of Peter’s heart. He asked Peter three very similar questions. First, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” These what? Either, these things, pointing to the fishing equipment, the boats and the nets – if so, Peter, what are you doing in the boat? Or, Jesus may have been asking, do you really love me more than these disciples – you said you did. You boasted, I can, I will, I won’t – even if all of them flee, I won’t – you said I could count on you – remember that? Peter, do you really love Me more than these?
You should be aware of the word choice used by Jesus and Peter during this conversation. There are different words for love in the Greek language, and they can refer to different kinds of love. We find two of these words in this text, agape and phileo. Agape speaks of a self–sacrificing love, phileo of a brotherly love.
Jesus asks Peter the first time, do you have an agape, that is, a self–sacrificing love for me? Peter couldn’t say yes, could he? The old Peter would have – you bet, Jesus, I can, I will, you can count on me. But his denial of the Lord proved he didn’t. So he responded, “Yes Lord, you know that I have a phileo love for you – you know that I have a brotherly affection for you.”
Verse 16, again Jesus asked Peter the question, do you have an agape love for me? And again Peter answers the same way, Lord, you know that I have a phileo love for you. Then we get to the real knock-out blow in verse 17. Jesus asks Peter a third time, do you love me? Only this time, He used Peter’s word. “Peter, do you even have a phileo love – a brotherly affection?
The text says Peter was deeply grieved – distressed. He was down for the count. His love and loyalty for the Lord had been brought into question a third time, perhaps reminding him of the three times he denied the Lord. Try to understand the choking emotion that must have flooded Peter’s soul at this very moment. But you may not have to try too hard – you may be feeling the pain that comes with failure right now. Peter had been pierced to the heart.
And he responded with one of the greatest statements in Scripture: “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” He appeals to the Lord’s omniscience. You know all things! Yes, you know that I failed You over and over. You know I denied You three times. You know I failed You again last night. But Lord, You are also able to look at my heart – please don’t look at my actions – look at my heart and know that I love you.
My beloved, Jesus knows us when we fail Him. I am not trying to minimize the importance of our failures, but I am trying to encourage you through them. He knows, when we fail Him, if we truly belong to Him, it grieves us. And there are times you have to come to the end of a day, to the end of a week, you drag yourself into the pep rally, and say, Jesus, I blew it. But please, look at my heart and know that I love you. And when He has us at that point, when we are at the bottom, nowhere to look but to Him, He then restores us. Look at verses 18–19 as we close.
Jesus finally had Peter where He wanted him. He said, “Peter, you’re right, I do know all things. I do know you love me, in fact, Peter, I know something else. You will one day have an agape love for me – a self–sacrificing love – because Peter, you will die for Me.”
When you were young, you were impetuous – you said what you wanted and went where you wanted to go. But, when you are old, someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go. They will stretch out your hands and you will die for Me. Most believe Jesus revealed to Peter right there that he would die for Him on a cross. The one to lead him where he did not want to go would be the executioner.
Jerome later wrote of the circumstances of Peter’s death, “He was crowned with martyrdom under Nero, being crucified with his head downwards and his feet upwards, because he alleged himself to be unworthy of being crucified in the same manner as the Lord.”
What an encouragement the Lord’s words must have been to Peter. Peter had promised he would follow Jesus anywhere. I can, I will, I won’t. Even if others flee, I will follow You to death. And eventually, empowered by the Holy Spirit, he did.
And in verse 19, Jesus said to Peter, again, follow Me, and he did. Oh, that doesn’t mean we never see Peter failing again, but we never see him fishing again. His life is drastically changed, from this moment on.
How about you? How are you doing – and I’m talking about pep rally. Have you failed the Lord, yet one more time? I want to encourage you again –follow Him. You will likely fail, but you’ll make it, because “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” I don’t care how badly you’ve failed – if you know Him, you will make it. Stay out of the boat of pity – stay out of the boat of failure and disobedience, and resolve to follow Him.