Breakfast Absolution (John 21)

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Service Notes

  • Liturgical Date: Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 25, 2014
  • Order of Service: Matins
  • Hymns: LSB #465, 469, 475

Theme Verse

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, do you have any fish?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
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." 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." 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. 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." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me."
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:1-25)

Sermon Text

The disciples were gathered together in Galilee. Waiting for Jesus. Waiting for Him to appear as He had promised (Matthew 26:32; 28:10). And Jesus appears. At the table. Giving forgiveness.

This is Jesus' third post-resurrection appearance (v14). Everyone knows it's Him. Everyone is expecting Him. How else would John be able to tell Peter who was on the shore? Why else would Peter rush out of the boat to see Jesus (v7)? They were expecting Jesus. And He shows Himself this morning as He did the morning that He called them to follow Him. When Jesus climbed into Simon's boat, He had him pull out into the deep. He taught the crowd gathered on the shore. Threatening to push Him into the sea. Wanting to get as close as possible to Him. To confirm His teaching, Jesus gives Simon Peter another great, miraculous catch of fish. So many fish the nets were breaking. Peter fell at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:1-8).

Again, Peter receives a miraculous catch of fish by Jesus' hand. This time, he rushes from the boat to get to Jesus. He doesn't fall at Jesus' knees to declare his sinfulness. He runs to greet the risen Lord. Peter's competitive nature comes out as he leaves the other disciples behind in the boat a hundred yards offshore (v8). When Peter gets competitive, he doesn't like the "prize" he wins.

Even though Peter was the first person to greet Jesus, he doesn't get to do the bulk of the talking. "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?'" (v15). At face value, it seems like Jesus is doing what our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters believe (Tr 22). That Jesus is setting up Peter as the "Prince of the Apostles." But He's not. He's not building Peter up. He's crushing him with the hammer of the Law.

The miraculous catch of fish reminded Peter of the first time he met Jesus. Jesus' question brings back that dark Thursday evening. A dark evening with great bragging. "Though they all fall away because of You, I WILL NEVER fall away" (Matthew 26:33). Peter had bragged that he would be the only one standing with Jesus at the end. That he was better than everyone else. That he loved Jesus more than any of the rest. So Jesus asks him point-blank, "Do you love Me more than these?" (v15)

The first time Jesus asks, Peter quickly responds, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You" (v15). Jesus is looking for repentance from Peter. But it's not coming. Jesus asks the second time. Peter answers again with the same boldness. Jesus is still looking for repentance. Peter doesn't feel it yet. Not until the third time. Now, Peter crumbles under the hammer of the Law. Now, he feels contrition for his denials. Now, he grieves over his sin (v17).

Repentant, Peter begs for Jesus' forgiveness. Jesus freely absolves Peter. Peter is forgiven of his denial of Jesus. The same forgiveness that could have been Judas' had he thought himself worthy. While Judas hangs himself on a tree (Matthew 27:5), Peter hangs his head in shame. He is still the same sinful man that Jesus had met on this very sea three years earlier.

Just like you and I aren't any different from before our Baptism. We're the same old sinner we were when Jesus met us. We are forgiven. But we continue to sin. To deny our Lord. To betray Him with our words and thoughts. We find ourselves looking for repentance from our betrayed, denied Lord. We seek absolution.

And He freely gives it to us. Jesus freely absolves all who come to Him in repentance. Whom He asks, "Do you love Me more than these?" To all who answer, "Yes, Lord," He says, "Feed My sheep" (v15). Feeding His sheep in whatever way God has called you to feed. "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:5-7). Each of us has gifts of the Spirit. It is our Christian duty to use our God-given gifts to the best of our God-given abilities.

But sometimes we want gifts that others have. We aren't satisfied with what God has given us. This is Peter on the beach. His competitive nature again gets the better of him. Jesus tells Peter about his last days: "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" (v18). Peter will be executed. Crucified upside-down. Drug by the hands to his own execution. But that wasn't enough for Peter. He knew his end. But he wanted to know John's end as well. But that was not his gift.

"What is it to you?" Jesus asks. You don't need to know some things. You don't even understand the things you do know. Be satisfied with what you have. "You follow Me" (v22). We are to follow Jesus. Not that we're not supposed to expand our knowledge of salvation. But we must stay within the boundaries that the Holy Spirit has given to us. Each of us has gifts of the Holy Spirit, but those gifts were given as He deemed fit for us (1 Corinthians 12:11). He knows best what we need. We need forgiveness. He forgives us. As He gave Peter on the seashore. Absolution of all sins because we have asked for it.

Forgiven Peter later remembers his time with Jesus. The ministry it inspired. Looking back, as he writes to Christians scattered throughout what is now Turkey, he writes about the suffering for righteousness' sake. The suffering he had boasted in Gethsemane that he would endure. The suffering he tried to avoid. The avoidance he had been forgiven of. Forgiven through Christ's suffering. "That He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). He points us back to Baptism. The cleansing of our conscience through Christ's resurrection (1 Peter 3:21). Peter's witness brings this truth home: Jesus forgives sinners. All sinners. THAT is what we need to remember today. Amen.