Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 May 1, 2022
“A Most Welcome Word to Blown-Its”
Have you ever really, really blown it—before God and others? It is an awful feeling—a feeling involving shame, regret, and many other such facets. It is a feeling, once experienced, not to be wished on anyone else. Moreover, any of us would do just about anything to be rid of it.
Peter, obviously, really, really blew it on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. He denied his Lord thrice on the night of His betrayal, and he aggravated his denial by his earlier boast to follow Jesus to the death. Yet Jesus does something marvelous, spectacular, and so forth with all of this. Let’s see what Jesus does, and may what He does fill our souls with love for Him and with hope in Him.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
The scene (1-14) is the Sea of Tiberias, that is, the Sea of Galilee. Seven disciples of Jesus find themselves about a hundred yards from shore one early morning—having fished all night with no catch to show for it. As day breaks, Jesus stands on the seashore, but these disciples do not recognize Him. He asks of their success, and, in their narration, He hears of their lack of success. He tells them to cast on the right side of the boat, and they catch 153 large fish, yet the nets tear not. They cannot not haul in the haul because of the number of fish. John, the disciples whom Jesus loved, said to Peter, of the Man on shore, “It is the Lord!” Peter, in response to this, wraps his outer garment about him and swims to shore. The others come in the boat—dragging the nets full of fish behind them. The Man, cooking fish and bread over a charcoal fire, invites them to breakfast. None dares ask Who it is, for they know that it is the Lord Jesus. Jesus gives them bread and fish, and no doubt they enjoy a hearty breakfast—though it well may be that one enjoys the meal a bit less than the rest.
Breakfast eventually ends, and Jesus addresses Simon Peter for the first time directly in this narrative. Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love (Greek agapao [agapaw]) Me more than these?” The phrase son of John is no throwaway. In Aramaic it is rendered bar-Jonah, and doubtless the phrase takes Peter back to his confession that Jesus is the Christ of God. Jesus said then, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah!” (Matthew 16:17). Now, after the denials, after the resurrection and the inestimable victory it brings, Jesus asks if Peter loves Him with a high, self-sacrificial, other-centered love—and, does he love Him more than his fellow disciples, his former employment, and everything else?
Peter responds, “Yes, Lord. You surely know that I love You.”1 Interestingly, Peter responds with the Greek word phileo (filew) to denote his love for Jesus—a love that is more akin to a proper love between human friends than that of God for Himself or for His redeemed.2 It is as if Peter, in view of what he did to Jesus and what he now views himself to be, cannot rise to Jesus’ level—or Jesus’ love. Jesus, for his part, passes over this for now and simply commands Jesus to feed (Greek bosko: boskw) His sheep (Greek arnion [arnion], which can be translated lambs). This we understand figuratively, as Peter did, and as Jesus understood. Peter will feed Christians, especially new ones, upon the Word of God and truth rightly derived therefrom.
Then Jesus addresses Peter the second time: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Jesus again uses His verb for love, and Peter responds exactly as he did to Jesus’ first query, complete with his earlier verb for love, “Yes, Lord. You surely know that I love You.” Again, Jesus lets this pass for now and issues another, similar command to Peter, “Tend (or shepherd, Greek poimaino [poimainw]) My sheep (Greek probaton: probaton). Now Peter will lead and guard both lambs and mature sheep—under the leadership of the Good Shepherd Himself, Jesus Christ.
Now Jesus addresses Peter the decisive third time—one address, and one question, for each of Peter’s three denials. Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Now Jesus descends (or, if you will, condescends) to Peter and uses Peter’s preferred verb for love, phileo. It is as if Jesus asks Peter, “Are you My friend?”
This grieves Peter. It grieves Peter that Jesus asks the third time—remembering his three denials. It may well grieve Peter that Jesus asks with Peter’s word for love. In either case, Peter responds more vigorously this time: “Lord, You surely know all things. You surely know I love You.” When Peter says that he loves Jesus, he finally rises to Jesus’ verb and uses it.
This is an emphatic, high confession from Peter. All the bluster is gone. He was a broken man at cock-crow on Good Friday, but, upon this confession, Jesus remakes the rock upon whom He will build His Church. Jesus, in response to Peter, commands him, “Feed thou My sheep.” Then Jesus informs him concerning his future. He contrasts his former condition with his future one, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (18). Jesus, with these words, refers elliptically to Peter’s eventual death by crucifixion. Then Jesus makes the restoration complete by repeating some of earliest words He uttered to Peter—to wit, “Follow thou Me.”
Peter’s future, and especially his final hours, do not appear especially rosy. In view of this, Peter wonders about the future of John (20 ff.). Jesus says, in effect, that John’s future is not Peter’s concern. In short, Peter must follow Jesus, wherever He may lead, without overmuch inquiry into His plan for others—and the balance of the New Testament record shows that Peter did just this.
The fact is that we each, in view of God’s perfect holiness, have really, really blown it. In fact, Christ’s Church on earth—considered both as a whole and as individual churches, including ours—is the company of the blown-its. Yet look at Jesus’ treatment of the penitent Peter—who obviously blew it. He treats Peter gently, even though He is the offended party. Jesus restores Peter, one affirmation for each denial, to full fellowship with Himself and to ministerial service in His Name—and these in the presence of his fellow disciples
This is how God, in Christ, treats us. He gives to us—both in the conversion process and thereafter as a believing child of God– the Godly sorrow that works repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Furthermore, He restores us, upon repentance and confession, to all which He restored unto Peter: full fellowship with Himself, ministerial service in His Name, and wholeness with other believers and their families. Glory be unto His Name, forever and ever.
1The Greek construction here is emphatic.
2So Dr. Loyd Melton, longtime professor of New Testament at Erskine Theological Seminary, Due West, South Carolina, in remarks made to our Spring 1993 pastoral care and counseling course. The point is debated in the literature, but I think Dr. Melton’s reading of agapao (agapaw) vs. phileo (filew) in this text is compelling—both on exegetical and narrative grounds.