There is no question in my mind that Peter was a dedicated follower of Jesus.
· Jesus speaks two words: “Follow me,” and Peter leaves a thriving fishing business, a family, a secure life and follows Jesus.
· Out in the storm, Jesus beckons Peter out of the boat on a raging sea, and Peter comes.
· At Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” It is Peter who answers, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
· In the Upper Room, Jesus tells his disciples that they will all fall away from him and Peter announces that if every last one of them were to fall away, he would remain true. Jesus looks at Peter and pointedly tells him he will disown him before the night is over, and Peter adamantly insists, “Even if I have to die with you I will never disown you.”
· That night, on the Mt. of Olives, the other disciples retreat from the arresting party, but Peter jumps out with a sword and lops off an ear. The other disciples flee in fear, but Peter follows close behind Jesus all the way to the house of the high priest, all the way into the courtyard – within sight of Jesus. Was it foolhardiness or bravery?
There is no question in my mind that Peter intended to follow Jesus to the death. But Peter hadn’t planned on the intensity of pressure he would find in that courtyard. Hours earlier, Jesus had told Peter that Satan had asked to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31). And now the sifting begins.
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75
Relatively few events are included in all four Gospels – but this is one of them.
We find ourselves standing with Peter around a fire that had been built in the center of the courtyard. It was a bitterly cold night, and those few people who were there were huddled around this small fire trying to keep warm. The flames flickered in their faces – they were close enough to reach out and touch one another.
It begins with a servant girl of the high priest, who thinks she recognizes Peter – “You were with Jesus.” Certainly, Peter hadn’t expected to be recognized, and if he is captured now, he’ll be of no use to his master. His reply – “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Peter moves away from the light of the fire to the porch, and another maid looks at him and said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Even in the cold night breeze, Peter is beginning to sweat. No weapon, no way of defending himself, trapped in a courtyard, just feet away from a unit of Jewish soldiers. Peter does what any cautious person would do – he says, “I do not know the man.”
Luke says it was about an hour later, when a man came closer to look at him (John’s Gospel tells us it was a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off) – he had been looking at Peter, and listening – (Peter couldn’t keep his mouth shut) – and he exclaims, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
Push has come to shove and Peter knows he is in trouble. He does something that will remove the doubt that he could possibly be a follower of Jesus. He begins to curse, swear and say, “I never met the man.”
No sooner had the words left his mouth than the rooster crows – Jesus, through the window of the high priest’s house looks straight at Peter. Their eyes meet. The text says, “Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
Peter realizes he has failed the only one who ever really trusted him.
· The loud boast, the proud assertion like chaff in the wind – blown away by doubt and fear. Peter, the rock, has crumbled.
· He didn’t mean to, his intention was the best, but now Peter looks into the eyes of Jesus and sees the hurt and disappointment and his heart is broken. Peter is crushed.
· Satan has indeed sifted Peter, found his weakness, and delivered the knockout punch right to the chin.
· And as we all know that’s the last we hear of Peter. A defeated man, he slinks off to nurse his wounds and try to forget…. Isn’t it?
· You mean we hear from Peter again? Well, certainly he returns just a shell of the man he was before. He didn’t?
Fifty-three days later, Peter stands before thousands of Jews in the Temple courtyard and delivers perhaps the most powerful sermon ever preached. It’s not just the same old Peter, but a Peter that has been reenergized with confidence and courage. What happened? What made the difference in Peter’s life?
I believe we find that difference molded out of the conversation between Jesus and Peter on that Galilean seashore in John 21.
The night before, Peter had told his companions, “I’m going fishing.” Now, he may have been thinking of just a break from the hectic events of the past weeks; or he may be so discouraged and still inwardly struggling with his self-doubt after denying his Lord, he has decided to go back to the old life, a life of little responsibility, no grand dreams, no failing people. At any rate, Peter is going fishing – and the other disciples say, “We’re coming, too.”
· All night long they fish – not a fish caught, not even an old boot in their nets. Skunked, an empty boat. Sunrise come3s and on the shore some 100 yards away, they can see a figure walking along the beach. He shouts out to them and asks how they’ve done. Nothing.
· “Throw your nets on the other side” – Tired and frustrated, they are hesitant to take the advice of a land-lover – but for some reason, they take the nets once more and throw them over the side. Within minutes they are bulging with fish and are so heavy they can’t haul them in.
· John is the first to sense what has happened. This is déjà vu – this is where they came in three years earlier. He shouts, “It is the Lord!” Peter’s excitement is so great he re-clothes himself and jumps in to swim to shore. As they arrive, Jesus has breakfast fixed for them. Some fish and some bread – he had fed 5000 not far from here – now he serves 11 hungry fishermen. But their attention is not on the food – it is on the one who prepared it. John tells us that this is the third resurrection appearance. They are still left speechless every time they see him again.
Breakfast finished, Jesus rises and Peter walks with him down the shoreline. Jesus asks him a simple question – “Simon, do you love me more than these?” Jesus may be pointing to the fishing boat and asking him whether he loves his old life more than he wants to follow Jesus, or he may be pointing to the other disciples and asking whether Peter thinks his love for Jesus is greater than the love the others have for him. Whether Jesus is asking him about the kind and intensity or a comparison of Peter’s love – it is interesting that Jesus should begin there.
· Jesus isn’t worried about Peter’s leadership ability – not his ability to preach – not his understanding of the gospel, but his love – “Peter, do you love me?”
· “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” No boasting here, no swaggering promise to die with him this time. The wind has been let out of his sails. And he meekly replies, “Yes, I love you.”
· The reply comes back from Jesus, “Feed my lambs.” Peter, who had been nursing his pride, ashamed of his failure had stepped out of the limelight, and out of service. Peter was focused on Peter. Jesus prescribes the cure for inward pain and failure: service – “Feed my lambs.”
· A little further down the shore they walk. A second time, Jesus asks the question, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?” A second time, Peter can only answer, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” A second time, the call to service, “Take care of my sheep.”
· A third time – not to humiliate or berate or ridicule – but to imprint on Peter’s heart what was truly lacking – Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
· Peter is hurt that Jesus is so concerned about his love, his loyalty, his devotion. His heart, filled with this pain, replies, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” And once more, Jesus sends him back to minister to others – “Feed my sheep.”
· Jesus doesn’t stop there. He describes the ultimate cost of Peter’s love. What will it mean? Vs. 18 – “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus is telling Peter that his following him will ultimately lead to his own suffering and death.
· And finally, the words that began Peter’s walk with the Lord, set him back on the journey – “Follow me.”
Jesus could have said a lot of things. He could have put Peter through that painful night all over again, word by word, denial by denial – Peter had already been through it a thousand time. But Jesus cuts through all that and gets right to the heart of it – Peter’s heart – “Do you love me?”
· Maybe you’ve walked in Peter’s sandals, and felt that terrible realization of having failed your Lord. And all of the guilt and recrimination and sense of failure that followed.
· You put your life on hold – no longer fit as a follower, you meekly sit on the sidelines watching helplessly, uselessly on. You handle your own failure by avoiding the crowds, retreating from involvement. You can’t look your Lord face to face, so now you follow at a distance – and the distance increases a little more every week, every month, every year.
You know the saying, “No one remembers who came in second.” Every now and then, there’s an exception. You probably don’t remember who won the 400 meter race in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. But you very well may remember who came in last. Derek Redmond was the British record-holder and as the gun sounded he was out in front with the leaders. But halfway through the race the hamstring muscle in his right leg ripped and he fell to the track in excruciating pain. He tried to get up and hobble to the finish line, and it was then that something wonderful and touching happened. Derek’s father, Jim Redmond had been in the stands watching his son, and as his son went down, he leapt from his seat on the top row of the stadium, ran down the steps and climbed a 4 ½ foot concrete barricade and onto the track. He had to push past security, yelling “He’s my son!” and to his side. Jim said, “You don’t have to do this, you’ve got nothing to prove,” Derek said, “I’ve got to finish the race.” And his father said, “Well, we’ve started everything together. We’ll finish this together.” And taking his son’s arm over his shoulders, together they hobbled to the finish line to the cheers of 65,000 fans. 4 ½ minutes earlier, the winner had crossed the finish line, but let me tell you who the real winner was in that race.
Some of God’s greatest servants have walked with a limp.
Walk along the shore with Jesus this morning. Hear the same questions asked of you: “Do you love me?” “Oh yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Others may wonder, people may have given up on you, written you off, left you out – “But Jesus, you know I haven’t quit loving you.”
Please, also hear Jesus’ words of prescription to you – “Feed my sheep” – serve my people. Don’t flee from the body – immerse yourself in it. Find strength and the courage to recommit yourself. Be restored to the Lord and to his people. Start walking again, close by his side. Hear the words Jesus speaks to you – “Follow me.”