“Jesus Is in the Restoration Business” (John 21:1-19)

Third Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019

“Jesus Is in the Restoration Business” (John 21:1-19)

So far this Easter season we’ve heard about Jesus appearing to his disciples two times, on Easter Day and then a week later. Today we hear about a third appearance to a group of his disciples. Why does Jesus do this? Why does he manifest himself to his disciples repeatedly during these forty days from his resurrection to his ascension? The most obvious answer is to show that he is indeed alive, risen from the dead, physically, bodily. Christ’s resurrection shows that he who died on the cross now is risen from the dead. These resurrection appearances demonstrate that the sacrifice for sin Jesus made on the cross was sufficient to remove the curse of death. Showing himself to his disciples, with the marks of his wounds in his risen body, makes the connection that the crucifixion was not a defeat but rather a victory. Christ’s death was God’s plan for solving the sin-and-death problem. These resurrection appearances underline the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ in the good news the apostles are being sent out to preach.

So far, so good. But there’s also another dynamic at work in these resurrection appearances. And that is, in a word, restoration. Jesus has some restoration work to do, and it has to do with these disciples. But why? What had they done that they need restoring? All the disciples, really, needed to be restored. They all had deserted Jesus in his hour of need. They all had fled, fearing for their safety. Then they all failed to believe in Jesus’ promise that he would be raised on the third day. So they all were in need of restoration, forgiveness, absolution. And the good news is, for them and for us: “Jesus Is in the Restoration Business.”

Jesus has already done some of that restoration work. On Easter evening, Jesus greeted his fearful disciples with a reassuring “Peace be with you.” Then a week later, he appeared to them again, this time with disbelieving Thomas present, and Jesus spoke his word of peace to Thomas and called him back to faith. So also today. Today the focus is on Peter. Jesus will be doing his restoration work on him. And this will have implications for us. Because we will be able to see ourselves through the lens of Peter.

When Jesus rose from the dead, the angel at the tomb sent word to the disciples that Jesus would go before them to Galilee and there they would see him. Well, now the disciples are back in Galilee, where many of them had come from. Seven of them are together on this occasion. A number of them had been fishermen when Jesus had called them. So that’s what they go back to, as they’re kind of chilling out, waiting for further instructions. Peter, the natural leader of the group, says, “I’m going fishing.” The others decide that sounds like a good idea. “We’ll go with you,” they say.

So these professional fishermen work all night, in a lake they know like the back of their hand, and they end up catching nothing. Now it’s very early in the morning when they see someone standing on the shore. The stranger on the beach tells them to cast their net again and they’ll get some fish. Now normally why would they listen to such crazy advice from someone a hundred yards away, when they, the professionals, are right there in the boat, and all of their skill haven’t gotten them anything? Even so, there’s something about this man’s voice, a certain ring of authority. So they go ahead and do what he says. What happens? A miraculous catch of fish! Again. You see, this had happened before, on this same lake, with this same man with the voice. Now it dawns on the disciples: “It is the Lord!”

Peter can’t wait. He, the most impetuous of the disciples, girds his garment around him and casts himself into the sea. He’s got to be the first one there, of course. And maybe it begins to dawn on him, something else about that previous catch of fish. On that occasion, Peter’s own sinfulness hit him like a ton of bricks, and he fell to his knees before Jesus and confessed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” But Jesus forgave him and told him of his new direction in life: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Well, that was then, but this is now. As Peter reaches shore, maybe he remembers that previous incident and even more recent incidents, when Peter would once again have to confess, even more bitterly, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” And if that’s not enough, there’s something else there to remind him. When he gets to shore, there lying before him is a charcoal fire. Peter had seen such a fire not too long ago. In fact, the only other time that the word for “charcoal fire” occurs in the New Testament, it involved Peter. That charcoal fire was in the high priest’s courtyard, on that night–yes, that night. The night when Jesus was betrayed. The night he was also denied. And it was Peter who had done the denying. Peter was standing in the courtyard, curious to find out what would happen to Jesus, yet afraid to make it known that he was one of his followers. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?” “No, I’m not.” Yes, you are!” “No, I’m not!” “Yes, you are one of his disciples!” “I tell you, I don’t know the man!” It was a chilly night, that night in the courtyard. And there it was, a “charcoal fire.” Peter was standing by it, warming himself, when he denied his Lord.

That was then, this is now. Now, here on the beach, there is another charcoal fire. What will Peter say this time? This time Jesus himself will ask the questions. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Ouch. Peter must have remembered that night when he had boasted that he did love Jesus more than the other disciples: “Even if they all fall away, Lord, I will never fall away!” Oh, really, Peter? Do you love Jesus more than all these others? You denied him, remember? But now, this morning on the beach, that prideful boast is gone from Peter’s lips. Now, humbled, Peter knows he needs the forgiveness of his Lord. So Jesus’ question calls forth a confession of faith: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, Jesus follows this up by giving Peter a commission: “Feed my lambs.” Well, maybe that’s not so surprising. On Easter evening Jesus had followed up his word of peace to the disciples with a word of commission: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Now he’s doing it again, this time individually with Peter, reassuring him of forgiveness, restoring him before sending him out into mission.

A second time Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answers: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” There comes another word of commission: “Tend my sheep.” But now a third time, a third questioning: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter is grieved, it says, because the Lord asks him a third time. But think back to that night in the courtyard, that other time by a charcoal fire. Peter had been asked three times about his love for Jesus, and three times Peter had denied him. And the rooster crowed, and Peter realized what he had done. And he was grieved that time too and wept bitterly.

That was then, this is now. Why is Jesus putting him through this, this questioning? What’s he trying to do, humiliate him? No, Jesus is restoring Peter. That night in the courtyard Peter had been asked three times, and three times he denied his Lord. This morning on the beach Peter is asked three times, only now he will have three occasions to confess his love for the Lord. In this way, Jesus restores Peter, reassures him, and commissions him for service.

And he’s doing it publicly, in front of the others. In case there was any resentment among them toward this disciple with the most bravado and bluster, the one who had claimed to love Jesus more than they all did–now Jesus is publicly reinstating Peter in their presence. And he’s doing it for Peter’s own sake, also, in case there was any lingering doubt in his mind, whether the Lord really would have him back after his dismal failure.

So Peter answers: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And so, now, a third commissioning: “Feed my sheep.” The risen Lord fully restores Peter and commissions him for ministry. The Lord has some fishing for Peter to do, and some shepherding, as well.

Yes, Peter, from now on you will be fishing for men, hauling them in with the net of the gospel. The gospel net will haul them in, lots of them, from every tribe and language and people and nation. And it will be the Lord’s doing, not the result of your own techniques and expertise. It will be the Lord’s voice, his authority, his direction, that will haul the fish in.

Yes, Peter, from now on you will also have some shepherding to do. You will be an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd, Jesus. These are his sheep, his lambs, his flock. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for these sheep. Which sheep? You, dear friends, you sitting in this sheepfold called the church here today. You are the sheep, the lambs, for whom Christ died. And he gives you undershepherds, pastors, like Peter and his successors, to lead you and guide you and feed you in the pleasant pastures of God’s word.

So, Peter, feed and tend and shepherd these sheep and lambs. But know this, Peter: Just as the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep, so will his undershepherds. You may gird your garment around you now, but there will come a day will someone else will “gird” you, bind you, wrap a rope around you and lead you where you do not want to go. That, in fact, is what would happen some 35 years later, when Peter was led to his death in the city of Rome. But Jesus will gird Peter with strength, the strength to do what he now calls him to do when he says, “Follow me.”

Today, my friends, we can see ourselves through the lens of Peter. Have you denied and failed your Lord? If you’re like me, you’ve done so many times–more than three, I’m guessing. But know this today: For as many times as you have failed, as many times as you’ve faltered in your discipleship–for all those times and more–Jesus is here, standing on the beach, ready to restore you. Jesus is in the restoration business, and that includes you!

Jesus laid down his life for your restoration. He let himself be led off to a shameful death. Christ laid down his life for you, to take away your sins, to pay the price for your failures and denials. And the blood he shed, the precious blood of God’s own Son, dying on your behalf, is more than enough to cover all your sins. Able to remove even the sting of death. Jesus Christ has won the victory over sin and death, and now he shares his life with you.

Today Jesus is restoring you. He’s standing here by the water, speaking his word of absolution. You may have been working all night, coming up empty, but Jesus is here on the beach, and he has a meal for you this morning, to strengthen you for whatever lies ahead. And from here, Jesus will send you out on whatever mission you have in life, to carry out your various vocations: husband, wife, father, mother, worker, citizen, church member, whatever. Because, as Peter will tell you: Jesus is in the restoration business.

Published in: on May 4, 2019 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: