Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter Message 2015

John 21:15-17 - Fixing Failure: How the resurrection meant one man’s restoration

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know EVERYTHING; you KNOW that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

This was a critical moment in Peter’s life. We first find him in chapter 1, where his brother, Andrew, introduced him to Jesus. THERE, by the Sea of Galilee, his whole life changed – and for the next 3 and ½ years, Peter walked with the Lord.

Those were great times. He saw countless miracles… his faith grew immeasurably… and he eventually found himself a clear leader among the disciples and one of our Lord’s dearest friends. As you study the gospels, Peter stands head and shoulders above the others in boldness. The Lord even told him he would one day become a GREAT leader.

But THAT was THEN. Something tragic had happened that tarnished all those beautiful memories. Peter, on the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas, the night He was put on trial and sentenced to crucifixion, on THAT night Peter denied even knowing his Friend. He didn’t just “deny” Him, he PASSIONATELY denied Him - THREE times. He turned his back on the Lord at a time when He needed him the most.

So here he is, living in the shadow of immense failure... his confidence shattered… himself at a crossroads. What will he do? Quit? Will he throw that life away? OR will he recommit himself to the Lord?

This story draws us in, doesn’t it? No matter how many times we read it, there is something particularly agonizing about this story. Maybe it’s because it is a story MOST OF US can personally identify with – as we grapple with our OWN frailties – as we wonder how to move beyond our OWN failures.

Though this event is familiar to us, I want you to look at this text through the prism of your own experience. As you do, I want you to think about HOW YOU will respond the next time YOU fall. There are three principles we need to keep in mind here:

1. First, it is human nature, when we fail, to withdraw to the familiar… whatever your familiar place may be. It may be old friends… it may be some hobby or activity you gave up when you started living for Jesus… an immoral relationship perhaps … an addiction - whatever. For Peter, it was fishing. It’s what he knew. His life was in a shambles… his relationship with Jesus would never be the same… so he returned to the ONE THING he felt SURE he was good at – fishing.

He WAS, afterall, a professional fisherman when he MET Jesus. On THAT day, the Lord challenged him to forsake his nets and become a FISHER OF MEN. And for the last three and a half years, his life had been all about the Lord’s work.

But after such miserable failure, he wanted to return to his OLD life. He had sacrificed everything for Jesus and look what it got him – embarrassed, broken, and alone.

Maybe YOU’VE been there - YOU know those times of bitter disappointment - when you feel that serving the Lord isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Perhaps it was a PERSONAL failure - OR maybe you fell out with the church - and - disillusioned with it all, you withdrew to the familiar.

Funny thing about withdrawing though, according to verse 3, there was no fulfillment or joy in that old way of life for Peter. There was no success found in his decision to go back. Running away from it all hadn’t produced the meaning and purpose serving the LORD had given him. He went back to fishing - but that life was no longer fulfilling.

And what was true of Peter will also be true for you.

So maybe you have hit a rough patch. Maybe YOU are going through a period of disillusionment, thinking that living for the Lord ought to be different. Maybe YOU failed or God’s people failed YOU. And you have been kicking around in your mind the idea of quitting - thinking of putting yourself first, convinced that that is what you ought to do.

I’ve got news for you, just like for Peter – that decision won’t produce the results you are looking for. Nothing can give you the joy and peace you long for but a renewal of your commitment to Christ. No promotion… no immoral relationship… no amount of putting yourself FIRST will EVER be able to satisfy that longing in your heart for God.

King David knew this. That is why, after falling into sin, he cried out to the Lord in agony of soul, “restore unto me the joy of Your salvation!”

Some of the most UNhappy people on the face of the earth are those who have known what it is to be forgiven and free, those who have served the Lord faithfully, only to experience failure – but rather than bringing their brokenness to the Lord and finding forgiveness and restoration, they returned to a life of “ME.”

So FIRST we learn - It’s human nature, when we fail, to withdraw to the familiar.

2. Secondly, this story shows us how the Lord pursues us when we fail. You see it in verse 4. After a long and exhausting night of fishing, Jesus was waiting on the shore for His broken disciples, and called out “Hey guys!! Have you caught anything?” “Do you have anything to show for your time on the run?”

I love their answer – “No.” No grand stories of the “one that got away.’ No enthusiasm – just plain “No.” He told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, as if one more cast would really matter. But they obeyed and caught so many fish that their nets nearly broke. And when they finally reached the shore, Jesus had already started preparing their breakfast.

Don’t miss the symbolism here:

There was another time when Jesus had told the professional fishermen how to fish and it produced the same results. Maybe He is reminding them that TRUE BLESSING can only be found when the Lord is directing our lives.

Then, the Bible says in verse 9 - “they saw a charcoal fire.” Interestingly, that exact same phrase in the Greek was used to describe the fire Peter warmed himself by the night he denied knowing Jesus. This phrase is only found here and there – nowhere else. Coincidence? With God there are NO coincidences. Maybe this word was specifically chosen to remind us of the truth, that, even in our LOWEST moments, HE will NEVER forsake US.

I also find it interesting that Jesus prepared the same meal for these men that He had provided for the 5,000. You remember that story? The meal where the disciples picked up 12 baskets of scraps and were in awe of His greatness? Maybe He was reminding them that He is STILL more than enough to meet the need of the hour no matter how impossible it seems. Maybe He was giving Peter another opportunity to reflect on His glory – on all the things he was missing while on the run.

THEN Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast.” Could they hear that invitation without being reminded of the time when Jesus called, “Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”? How wonderful, that, Christ would invite those who are defeated and discouraged to come and fellowship with Him again… even those who had failed.

That’s the thing about the Lord, you know? He doesn’t throw us aside when we sin - He pursues us. We cannot escape Him. Maybe that’s why David wrote, “Where shall I GO from Your Spirit? Or where shall I FLEE from Your presence? If I ascend up into heaven, You are there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou You there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea; EVEN THERE shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”

Some of YOU are on the run. But it’s not bringing you joy. It’s not meeting your needs. Like the disciples, you’ve gone back to doing things YOUR way. Just like them, you have tried the self-centered approach. But over THERE, on the bank, stands Jesus, calling out, inviting you back, desiring to nourish you and show you His love DESPITE your failure.

Can you hear Him calling out to YOU? If so, then there is one more truth you need to see in this text:

3.  Our failure is NOT without remedy. Jesus wants to forgive and restore those who have fallen. Did you notice how Jesus wouldn’t let this occasion pass without dealing with Peter’s guilt? Notice our text again… v. 15 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

There are a couple of things I want you to notice here:

First, I want you to see how the Lord Recalled Peter’s Failure. He called Peter by his old name – Simon. He referred to Peter by the name he went by BEFORE he met Jesus. For you see, on the night he betrayed the Lord, he reverted back to the language of his old nature and cursed, saying he didn’t know the Lord. Jesus calling him by THAT name must have stabbed his conscience.

We must understand, the Lord desires to forgive and restore us when we fail, but it is important for us to face what we have done, turn away from it, and accept His forgiveness. We can’t just pretend that nothing happened. We've got to confess it before we can be healed. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In Proverbs 28, Solomon said, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

The Lord didn’t want to embarrass him - but to EMBRACE him. Until he dealt with Peter’s sin, there would always be something between them ... they could not enjoy fellowship.

THEN, Jesus asked him “Do you love me me more than these?” “These” could mean a couple of things. Maybe Jesus was holding the net in His hand, asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than his old way of life.

That’s a good question, you know? One that He might be asking YOU this morning. Genuine repentance requires us to love the Savior more than our sin… to turn away from the old life and embrace the new.

OR, He could have been reminding Peter of the night of His betrayal. How that before Peter denied the Lord, he had said with his own lips that he loved Jesus more than all the other disciples. Did he truly love Jesus as much as he professed? There is great danger in our boasting and arrogance - maybe the Lord wanted to HUMBLE him???

Whatever Jesus meant, our Lord was probing Peter’s heart… stirring him to repentance and confession… because that’s what He does. God doesn’t IGNORE our sin. He doesn’t close His eyes and say, “Oh, it’s no big deal.” No… sin must be CLEANSED if we would enjoy the fellowship of God. Though He loves us INSPITE of our sin, He loves us too much to LEAVE US IN IT.

But after recalling Peter’s failure, Jesus Rekindled Peter’s Fervor. He questioned Peter’s love three times in order to show Peter that he had been forgiven for each time he had denied knowing the Lord. He is showing Peter that his forgiveness is complete – there is no need to walk around wondering if there is something between him and the Lord. Asking him of his love three times matched the three times he had denied knowing the Lord, so Peter could move ON from this failure to become something great – just like Jesus SAID he would.

What a beautiful ending to a tragic story.

But what makes this story even MORE beautiful is the fact that it can be YOURS too. I don’t know where you are this morning in your relationship with the Lord. Maybe YOU have experienced the shame of failure too. You’re on the run, but the Lord has caught up to you. Friend, He doesn’t want to humiliate you – but to heal you. He wants to completely forgive and restore you. He’s standing on the shore, asking if you are happy – knowing full well you aren’t. And just as He restored Peter, He wants to restore you.

Will you let Him? Will you come to the Lord this morning and receive His forgiveness and love? The choice is yours.

But if YOU, like Peter, want to be restored, if you need the Lord to heal YOUR hurts, then why not take that brokenness to Him right now?