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Sermon: ‘Peter’s next step’ by Rev Vincent Gardner given on 18 April 2010

 

Peter’s Next Step. Rev. Vincent Gardner 18/04/10

During a Minister’s fraternal, an old pastor stood up to share his faith and attitude to his lifelong ministry. Yet his testimony surprised a number of people. The pastor stood up and looked at the group and said, “I am a pastor of a small, not-growing church. I am not ordained. I am not college trained. I was asked to leave two Bible colleges I attended. On any given day I am capable of being obnoxious with my wife and family. I am terminally insecure, which causes me to compensate with bouts of arrogance. At times people irritate me, and I hide from them. I am impulsive, which causes me to say things I shouldn’t and make promises I cannot keep. I am inconsistent.

My walk with Christ is a stuttering, stumbling, bumbling attempt to follow Him. At times His presence is so real I can’t stop the tears, and then, without warning, I can’t find Him. Some days my faith is strong, impenetrable, and immovable—and some days my faith is weak, pathetic, helpless, knocked about like a paper cup floating on the ocean in the middle of a hurricane.

I have been a Christian for 45 years. I am familiar with the vocabulary of faith, and I am often asked to give advice about matters of faith. But I am still a mess. I am light-years away from being able to say with Paul, “Copy me.” I am 56 years old and still struggling—a flawed, clumsy, unstable follower of Jesus. A bona fide failer.”

Have you ever felt like you let somebody down? A spouse, a boss, a work or  team-mate; it’s not the best feeling in the world, especially when you had boasted how they could beyond a shadow of a doubt depend on you. You could be trusted, you wouldn’t let them down. But you did. Now to disappoint someone who loves you hurts, but to disappoint the One who laid down His life for you, that’s painful.

Peter’s life was one of ups and downs. After boasting that he would never leave Jesus, Peter watched from a distance as Jesus is led away. Peter followed at a distance, close enough to see Jesus, but not too close to be seen with Jesus.
And as Jesus was being tried in the Kangaroo court of the High Priest, Peter stood outside and chose to warm himself by the fire, and three times he was recognized, three chances he had to make a bold stand for his Lord, and three times he blew it. And when the rooster crowed, scripture says, that Peter wept bitterly. A bona fide failure.

Yet three days later, the woman came with news of the amazing. The tomb is empty, Peter is elated, and Jesus appears to Peter and the others. Yet I wonder what must have been going through Peter’s mind. Will he still call him friend, or was his act of cowardice too much.

I imagine this is how Peter must of felt. He was glad that Jesus was alive, but how would their relationship be? Did Peter go too far away to return? Perhaps you can put yourself in Peter’s place this morning. Can God still love me after all that I’ve done. Is there still a place and purpose for me in His kingdom?

 John 21:1 starts off, “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” Now notice the similarities here between Peter’s first calling to follow Jesus and this account. Both occurred on the Sea of Galilee, both times Peter couldn’t catch a thing, both times Jesus told him to throw his nets into the water and both times there is a miraculous catch. Sometimes when you have fallen, it’s good to go back to where it all began. Here Jesus is going to offer Peter another starting point, a second chance to make things right.

So after a meal together, Jesus turns to Peter. And in full view of all the other disciples, Jesus confronts Peter. Peter was full of doubts concerning where he now stood with his Master. I suspect he feared the day when Christ might say something like, “Peter, why did you deny Me?” Yet our Lord had too much compassion to push the knife of guilt any deeper into Peter’s heart. Rather, His goal was to remove Peter’s guilt, to perform deep soul-surgery and effectively cut out the ache from Peter’s heart.

In vs. 15 we read, “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Notice the name change here. Jesus doesn’t refer to Peter as Peter “the Rock”, simply as Simon. The title of Peter no longer fit. A rock is strong and above all dependable, and Peter had been anything but dependable. “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” More than what? More than the fish? No, this is a reference to Peter’s boast in the upper room where he stated that even if everybody else fled he never would. Peter had been boastful, and Jesus was asking, “Simon, are still willing to make that claim?”

And Peter wasn’t. He responds by saying, “”Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” No comparisons, no boasting on how his level of commitment was superior to anybody else’s. Peter through his mistake had learned humility and he realized that maybe he wasn’t as strong as he thought he was.

Often times we underestimate just how strong our faith is. We have all thought a time or two that if I went through a tragedy such as my child dying, I couldn’t handle it…yet when the time comes you realize that your faith was stronger than you had thought. But at the same time, we often overestimate our strength and our need for others and for the strength of God’s Spirit.

Peter was sure that he would never do what he did. And many of us make the claim that we would never find ourselves in the sins that others commit. But we never know. That is why we should always be vigilant, always on guard. David never thought he would commit adultery, Solomon never thought he would get caught up in idolatry, and Peter never thought that he would deny even knowing Jesus Christ. That’s why 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “If you think you are strong, you should be careful not to fall.” Peter was overconfident. But Peter learned that he wasn’t as strong as he thought, and because of his mistake made, Peter was humbled and became honest about his spiritual condition. And this is most evident in the word exchange between Peter and Jesus. Now as you know, the Greek language is a more exact language than the English language. That’s why often times its hard to translate certain passages in the Bible. And a good example is here.

In the Greek, there are three words for our word love. The first is Eros which is a physical love, and is where we get our word erotic from. We can compare it to lust. The second kind of love is known as Phileo; which means brotherly love. Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love. We can compare it to the word “like”. The final kind of love is known as Agape love, and this is the unconditional, self-sacrificing love. It means the complete devotion to someone.

Here in the text, Jesus says, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me.” And the word He uses for love there is the word Agape. Well, Peter responded in an honest fashion. He knew that his actions didn’t match that kind of devotion, and that he wasn’t quite there; so Peter responds by saying, “Lord, you know that I love you.” But the word he uses for love there is Phileo. So to paraphrase this text, “Peter, do you love Me 100%, more than anything else?” “Lord, you know I like you.”

Peter was simply being honest here. He wasn’t quite at that level of love yet. He was honest, but tells the truth, how often are we honest about our spiritual condition. Honesty. We respect it and we admire it. The absence of honesty is detrimental to a relationship. If a person fails to acknowledge that everything is not okay, then trouble is a brewing. Sometimes one person may be ignorant that a problem exists within the relationship.

An aged farmer and his wife were leaning against the edge of their pig-pen when the old woman wistfully recalled that the next week would mark their golden wedding anniversary. “Let’s have a party, Homer,” she suggested. “Let’s kill a pig.” The farmer scratched his grizzled head. “Gee, Ethel,” he finally answered, “I don’t see why the pig should take the blame for something that happened fifty years ago.”

Honesty about the strength and health of the relationship is important, but how often are we truly honest about our condition. Ask a person how they are doing and rarely will you get an honest response. A woman sits at home while her husband is busy at work. She is surrounded by three screaming children in a house that even after a full day of cleaning is still in shambles. Her husband rarely is home and when he is he rarely often speaks. He has his career and she has her home, and though she would never complain about the wonderful family God has blessed with, she secretly fills unfilled, unmotivated, and unappreciated. When her husband arrives home and says, “Honey, how are you doing?” Her response is…“Fine, just fine.”

A man sits talking to his friend from out of town. His has been passed over for a promotion for the third time, his career has stalled and with the company downsizing, he fears a layoff at any moment. Yet when his friend asks, “So, Frank, how are things at work?” Frank responds by saying, “Fine, just fine.”

A Christian arrives to church on Sunday morning. And even as he enters the church, he feels that God is a million miles away. He no longer has the urge to pray. He is mad and at times a stray thought or two has crossed his mind that maybe, just maybe there is no God. Yet on Sunday morning, when the Vicar asks the question, “How is it with your this morning?” the man replies, “…Fine…just fine.”

Let me ask you, how is it with your soul this morning? Is it “fine”? Don’t pretend your relationship with Christ is fine when it’s not. And let me tell you, it’s okay to admit that. If you go to an AA meeting, the first step they will tell you in recovery is to first admit the problem; to be honest about it. And here within this church, this is the place to say that.

The church is not a pretty place of fine people; it’s a place of dirty, hurting people in need of grace and assistance. And we come together to help each other grow in the faith and grow closer to God, but we need to admit that we need that help.

“Do you Agape Me?” No, I’m not there yet, but I want to be. I want to be there, but I have a lack of desire, I still feel attached to doing wrong, and I need help.” And when we do that, God says, “Good, now we can work on fixing it.” 3 times Peter had failed, and 3 times He is restored; and done so in full view of all the others. Now they all knew that the Rock was back. Peter had been restored.

Now real quick let me give you points I want you to leave with this morning. First, no matter how gross your past may be, Jesus stands not only ready to forgive, but also to restore. He can restore you and use you for His glory. Even if you are a bona fide failure, Jesus stands ready to restore you and use you for great things for His kingdom.

Some of you here today are not “fine” in your faith. You lack commitment to Jesus and to His Church. So the first thing you need to do is to admit that. Admit that your relationship with Christ is not what it should be and then allow Christ and His church to bring you up to the point where you need to be.

Third, recognize that when you are honest with God, be prepared for God to be honest with you. God is not a fool. And if you come to God saying, “I just don’t feel close to You,” be prepared to hear, “Well, I haven’t heard from you in a while. I’ve been here, where have you been?” God will strike directly at the root of the problem and that is not always an easy thing for us to take.

So let me ask you this morning, ‘how is it with your soul? Honestly. How are you doing? We are going to close this morning with a prayer time, and I want you to respond honestly this morning. If you are not fine, whether it be spiritually, physically, or even emotionally, I want to invite to come forward to this altar to pray. I want to pray with you for your situation, so you come and I’ll meet you here.

 

When a vice-president of IBM came up with an idea to set up a separate division, he was given permission by the CEO, Thomas Watson. When he put the plan in motion, he promptly lost ten million dollars. He came in and told Mr. Watson that he was resigning, and when Watson asked why, the vice-president said, “Because this thing was such a miserable failure.” Watson responded, “You’re not resigning after I just spent ten million dollars on your education.”

Well, that is an attitude that we all appreciate. And it is the reaction that we often long for.
We are glad for a new opportunity to get it right.

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