Some service music
Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior
Depth of Mercy (Kauflin)
Draw Me Nearer (Crosby/Sheets)
September 5, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell
(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
Today we are wrapping up the “follow me” series. Over the course of his ministry, Jesus issued that basic “follow me” invitation many times. We’ve looked at a number of those invitations and seen some important things.
Jesus didn’t reside in the holy places waiting for people to come to him. Rather, he went where people were, teaching and loving them, healing them, and inviting them to listen, believe, and follow.
Jesus didn’t limit his followers to holy people. Rather, he said explicitly that he came to seek and to save the lost. So he spent his time with those known as sinners, with the sick and the broken, and with those who needed him the most.
Jesus was a Lord worth following – proving himself to be the Messiah (anointed Son of God) and the Good Shepherd.
Following Jesus is also a costly thing, involving surrender and sacrifice in all aspects of life. It is neither a hobby nor a casual thing, but a commitment of one’s very life.
And following Jesus means FOLLOWING Jesus – looking and listening carefully to see where God is at work around us and sharing in that work in Jesus’ name.
Today we come to a final aspect of Jesus’ invitation, which may be something many need to hear most clearly.
To say it most simply, God has not given up on you.
It is a normal part of human life to have highs and lows, and with faith to have times when we have felt close and connected to God and then other times when we don’t. And sometimes, our doubts or actions or failures leave us thinking that we are no longer of any use to God. If you can relate to any of that, then today’s encounter with Jesus is especially for you.
The Bigger They Are…
Peter, to whom Jesus is speaking in today’s text, is perhaps the most “famous” disciple. There are others who are prominent and well-known, but probably none more so than Peter. He was the one who clearly confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and on whose testimony Jesus declared that he would build the Church. He was the one who asked Jesus if he could also walk on water. He is the one who tried to banish demons and heal people and tried to answer correctly so many times. He was all heart and effort and faith. He’s the one who fiercely refused to let Jesus wash his feet, then volunteered a full bath when he realized Jesus was making a point. And he’s the one who said he’d never, ever desert Jesus.
And he’s the one who fell the hardest. In the hours of the night after Jesus had been arrested, he stayed close by to see what was going on, but when he was recognized and questioned by a young girl and then others, he loudly denied knowing Jesus, swearing finally that he did not know the man. And he ran away, not even present at the crucifixion of his Lord and friend.
Can you imagine what it is to fail or fall, particularly before God? My guess is that most of us can.
And my guess is that, like Peter, such an experience can leave us feeling cut off from God. And often, if that feeling persists, we can, also like Peter, go back to our “life of fishing (old life)” doubtful that God has any useful purpose left for us.
Second Chance Love
I have preached on the first part of today’s text several times before. It describes Jesus’ love and forgiveness of Peter, specifically related to his denials the night of Jesus’ arrest. You may have heard this before, but listen with fresh ears, perhaps imagining yourself in Peter’s place.
The group that was gathered for breakfast was the group that had followed Peter, who went out fishing. Again, Jesus had come to where they were rather than summon them to the empty tomb or some other holy site. He had come out to that place where he had first found Peter – the place to which Peter had returned… the fishing boat. And Jesus ate breakfast with the group and then pulled Peter aside.
Three times Peter had denied Jesus.
Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”
Three times Peter answered, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Three opportunities to counter his denials and re-affirm his love for Jesus.
Three times Jesus responded, “Take care of my flock.”
Three times, in effect, Jesus said, “I love and trust you, and I forgive you.”
It was just what Peter needed and it wasn’t a gimmick or a ritual; it was genuine forgiveness. It was genuine grace – unexpected, undeserved, and more than Peter could ask or imagine.
And that was not all.
In that invitation to “take care of my flock” Jesus not only implicitly forgave Peter, but also said, “I still want you as a follower and disciple.” Jesus still had work for Peter to do. He was still saying, “Follow me.” Forgiveness didn’t just promote the fallen Peter to a second-class version of disciple who now had to sit on the bench while other less tarnished disciples were in on the action. Jesus forgave Peter and called him freshly into service as a disciple.
And so in addition to the three times Jesus said, “Take care of my flock,” he also twice said, “Follow me.” (vv. 19, 22)
I just want to look at the second half of the text briefly, but that’s where Jesus twice says, “Follow me.” Jesus gets to those invitations by giving Peter a glimpse of what is to come. And this may be the most compelling part of the whole invitation. Not only did Jesus forgive him and renew his call, he indicates how much more Peter has yet to do and grow. He says, “…when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished.” This is just an image of childhood, but doesn’t it describe the headstrong Peter we read about in the Gospels? That’s the immature Peter who rushes into action and fails and falls so hard. But then Jesus says, “…but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” And we are told by the narrator that this indicated the way Peter would die. Tradition says he was crucified (upside-down, not worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord) years later for being a Christ-follower.
The last time Jesus predicted Peter’s future, it was to say that Peter would deny him. Now Jesus holds forth an image of growth and maturation. One day, Peter’s service to the Lord and depth of faith will be so mature that he will give his very life for the sake of Christ.
“And when he had spoken this, he said to [Peter], ‘Follow me!’”
Interestingly enough, we see that Peter is not quite there yet. He then looks back over to the younger disciple, John, and asks, “What about him?” And Jesus responds, “Don’t worry about him… YOU follow me!”
Not only had Jesus not given up on Peter, how much more he had for him to do!
What I hope you hear as Good News today is that even as Jesus had not given up on Peter, neither has God given up on you. Even if you have failed and fallen, even if you have doubted and grown distant from God, even if it has been months and months or years and years, God still loves you, offers extravagant forgiveness and grace through Jesus, and says to you, “Follow me!”
Oh, I pray that God will open your ears to hear this, especially if you feel like God has given up or isn’t interested in you. This is the very heart of God, as described in His Word and at the heart of the faith – in Jesus Christ, sin is forgiven and lives are redeemed, and God invites YOU to listen, believe and follow.
Hear Jesus’ words again, God’s Word spoken to you:
Do you love me? Follow me.