Bible Text: John 21:1-17 | Preacher: Brendan Reilly | Series: The Life of Peter | Peter is both apostle of our Lord Jesus and a glorious mess and it’s in his story we meet the God of grace.
One of my favourite writers is Wendell Berry and he has created a fictional town in rural Kentucky (USA), called Port William. The most recent book of his that I have read is called ‘The Memory of Old Jack.’ When you first meet Old Jack, he’s the oldest person in the town and is greatly respected and loved, he’s been through wars, has seen generations grow up around him and has been a mentor to younger men. You get the impression that Old Jack couldn’t set a foot wrong, but as the book continues, it goes back though Jack’s memories and you see what shaped him. What you see, is that his life was filled with mistakes and with mess.
Jack had a cold and unfulfilling marriage, an affair and a daughter that he never really knew. He was stubborn which meant that he was unable to ask for help and he became sad and isolated. Jack grew in wisdom, but that wisdom was gained through heartache and struggle.
Today we’re going to look at my favourite disciple, Peter. If John was the disciple that Jesus loved, well Peter is the disciple that Brendan loves.
Peter’s a bit like Old Jack.
We have Peter’s two wonderful letters in the New Testament and most people think that the Gospel of Mark are actually Peter’s words, that Mark then wrote down. We revere Peter as the great Apostle that he is, but his story is messy. Let’s just say, on the journey of life, Peter learnt his lessons the hard way.
Today, we’re going to look at three things. Peter the man, Peter the mess, and Peter the glorious mess.
Peter the Man
A quick bio. He was married, he was a fisherman and he was Jewish.
In Acts chapter 4 the religious leaders called him ‘an unschooled and ordinary man’. So no ivory tower education for Peter, he was just your average bloke that knew about boats. He knew about weather patterns and he knew how to catch fish. Somehow in God’s mysterious ways, Peter rose to become the great leader of the New Testament church that would change the face of the world. Jesus gave him a new name, from Simon to Peter, or Petros, which is the Greek word for Rock, and said ‘On this Rock, I will build my church.’
In the New Testament, James and John get about 30 mentions each- not bad, not bad at all, Peter gets 178! Peter is such a prominent figure, wherever there’s something exciting going on, Peter’s right there in the middle of it. He doesn’t want to miss out on anything.
We don’t know much about his private life, but we do know about his thought life, because as soon as he has a thought, he just blurts it straight out.
Peter’s confident, bold, loud, loveable, eager to please and he wears his heart on his sleeve, what you see is what you get. And what you get most of the time, is a mess.
Peter reminds me a lot of my dear brother, my actual blood brother, Wazza. Now I guess many of you know Wazza, Wazza’s traveled quite a bit and has a good head for languages. He’s really friendly and loves to meet people and as soon as he hears an accent he’ll try and guess the accent and then drop a word or two (or even more) that he knows in that language.
In our family we have Wazza stories and everyone loves a good Wazza story. One of my favourite stories was when he worked for our brother–in-law whose name is also Brendan, but we always call him Brenno. One day Wazza’s driving a small truck for Brenno and let’s just say, Wazza’s better at meeting people than he is at driving trucks. Wazza had a ‘small’ accident when he’s reversing into Brenno’s driveway, so Wazza gets on the phone, ‘Yeah Uncle Brenno, how ya doing mate?’ (Wazza always calls everyone Uncle or Aunty) ‘Yeah Uncle Brenno, a bit of a problem here with backing up the truck in your driveway. Yeah, yeah. Um, it’s the gate. Yeah, I just nudged it, I just nudged the gate Uncle Brenno, just a little bump mate.’ ‘Yeah, Yeah, Fix it? Fix it? How can I fix it Uncle Brenno? It’s in a 1,000 pieces!’
Peter, like my brother Wazza, has a heart of gold, tries hard, is very enthusiastic but often, well most of the time for Peter, there’s some sort of mess involved as well.
So there’s Peter the man, and now Peter the Mess
So here’s my list of Peter’s top 5 fails, it’s a tough call and I had to leave some out. But here we go.
Number 5. The transfiguration. Peter’s one of the 3 chosen to go up with Jesus on the mountain. When Moses and Elijah appear Peter says, ‘Yeah, this is so great, we should just camp out together.’
Mark records it as an editorial footnote in his gospel, ‘Peter was so scared he didn’t even know what he was saying.’
Number 4. Peter is the first to realize that Jesus is the Messiah. His famous admission, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!’ Yes! Peter gets it! Let that be said, Peter got it right. But then Jesus starts teaching that he’s going to be killed and then he’ll rise from the dead. Peter, the ever-insightful, pulls Jesus aside and give Jesus a good talking to. ‘Jesus no! No way!’
And then Jesus’ scathing rebuke to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan, you’re thinking your thoughts, not God’s thoughts.’
Number 3. When Jesus walked on the water it was Peter who cried out, ‘Jesus if it’s really you, let me walk on the water too.’ And for a moment he did! But then he takes his eyes off Jesus and looks to the waves, his heart sank first, and then his body starts sinking as well.
Speaking of people and their failures. I’m a mountain biker and I love to watch YouTube clips, there’s lots to learn on YouTube. But I’ve got to admit, I also love watching the fails, where people get it so badly wrong. I feel so much better knowing that I’m not the only one that crashes into trees - a lot. And I think that’s why we have a special place for Peter in our hearts, he makes us feel better about ourselves.
Number 2. Jesus chooses Peter, James and John again for his hour of agony in Gethsemane. Jesus said ‘I need you guys, please just watch out for me.’ But they slept instead, three times. Bad friend moment right there.
Number 1. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus says to Peter, ‘you’re going to deny me 3 times tonight’.
Peter’s response? ‘I will never fall away Jesus.’ Jesus says, ‘You will.’ Peter says, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’
There’s bravado, self-confidence and naivety. You know the 80’s Christian song ‘Jesus, lover of my soul.’ To this day I still can’t bring myself to sing the words, ‘though my world may fall, I’ll never let you go’ That’s what Peter’s just said to Jesus. ‘I’ll never let you go Jesus.’ but what he needed to say was, ‘Jesus though my world may fall, you Jesus, you’ll never let me go.’
And that night, before the rooster crowed, Peter had said three times, ‘I don’t know the man.’ And in a way, it was true he didn’t really know Jesus and he didn’t really understand Jesus.
On this rock? Really, Jesus? On this rock, you’re going to build your church?
Jesus built his church because he’s a good builder, not because Peter was a great Apostle. Peter was a mess. What about you? Have you got your stuff together? Or do you relate to the very messed up Peter?
When I got saved, I thought I’d give myself 2 years and that I’d be like Billy Graham. I’m an optimistic guy! Still waiting. When I promised to love and serve my wife, I promised with all my heart. Still learning, often failing, very often failing. Daily picking myself up and asking for forgiveness.
You know what the good news is? The Christian faith is built on this incredible concept of forgiveness. And for forgiveness to work there needs to be failure. There needs to be a mistake, and a sorry.
I can provide that mistake, I do it every day. I’m not trying to make light of my sin I just can’t escape it. But God has it worked out.
My son Taran introduced me to the band 21 Pilots. I love those guys. Did you know they’re Christian? They have amazing lyrics. Deep, agonizing, doubting, believing.
Their song ‘screen’ says….
While you're doing fine, there's some people and I Who have a really tough time getting through this life So excuse us while we sing to the sky. We’re broken people, we’re broken people.
He sings that a lot. We’re broken people.
This brokenness is one of our core beliefs as Christians. It’ll either attract broken and needy people, like the people that flocked to Jesus - people that had messed up. Or, it’ll repel people that have their lives together and don’t subscribe to the concept of brokenness, thank you very much.
But the freedom of embracing our brokenness and then in that brokenness, being embraced by our God who was broken for us. Jesus knows about brokenness.
The reason I love Peter is because his story gives me hope.
Switching gears a little here. We need to share our stories of struggle with one another. When your marriage is in a bad place and then you hear of others that have been in tough places and made it through, it gives you courage to keep trying. When you have a new born baby and you’re not sleeping and the happy hormones have all gone and you feel like your brains have turned to marshmellow, and then you hear other people say their brain is marshmellow, it gives you hope.
When you’re trying to share your love for Jesus with others but no-one seems to be listening and others share similar stories, we give each other hope.
One of my mentors is 80 years old and he said one of the hardest things he went through was suffering burnout in his mid 30’s. He said he was trying to do two jobs at once and the things that suffered were his health and his soul. He said he can smell burnout a mile off. He’s spent the last 45 years helping people avoid and/or get through their burnout and his openness about his struggles has helped so many people.
Because vulnerability breeds vulnerability. It’s taken me a long time to learn this, but watching my wife be surrounded by traveller women who share very intimate struggles with her is because she’s very open and honest with them. They respond back because vulnerability breeds vulnerability.
Peter the Glorious Mess
Like Peter, we’re going to make mistakes, but will we learn from them?
My friend tells a story of working in Australia in a big store that sold beds. He moved a lot of beds. He says there was an old guy that had worked there forever. Now as someone whose lived with international travelers for years, I’ve got to let you in on something, we Aussies have a bit of a reputation of not being the most culturally switched on people. It’s a fair enough criticism. Australia’s a long way from everyone else, and from everything. We Aussies think everyone else is just weird. So anyway, back to the old guy selling beds. He grabs a mattress and says to my friend, ‘Grab the other end of the Rendezvez would you.’
My friend looks at the mattress and sees that it’s called the ‘Rendevous’. ‘Oh you mean the Rendevous?’
The old guy says, ‘Na, the rendezvez!'
Josh says, ‘It’s a French word, it’s pronounced ‘Rendevous’.
The old guy says, “Yeah whatever! Just grab the other end of that Rendezvez would ya!”
Will we learn from our mistakes? Peter did.
From Acts chapter 1 and all the way through, we see Peter bold and ready to die with Christ. No more running away. He preaches his first sermon in Acts 2 and it’s all about Christ dead, and then risen. Peter gets it now, he preaches it, he understands it and it shapes his whole life. He’s beaten up, he’s imprisoned, he sees miracles happen, he sees thousands converted. And he just keeps going and going and going.
But all the stuff that he does, that wonderful good stuff, that’s not the thing that drives him. He serves faithfully and he serves passionately, but that’s not the end goal.
The end goal is love for Jesus. John 21:15-17.
Jesus had come to the beach and has just cooked the disciples breakfast.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’
He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. (NIV)
Three times Jesus asks Peter the same question? Because one night just a little while earlier, around a different fire, Peter had denied Jesus 3 times. ‘Do you love me?’ asks Jesus. He doesn’t ask Peter, ‘Will you do great things for me?’ He doesn’t say, ‘Will you be a success?’ He asks, ‘Do you love me?’ Is your heart mine Peter? Is your heart for me? Because if it is, your body, and your mind and your time and your passion, they will follow along as well.
Friends, I think our great challenge as Christians lies right here.
As we serve in our communities. As we come to church and get involved in good things, the biggest question is, do we love Christ? Is our life fuelled by this relationship with Jesus or by something else? And there’s an inbuilt test right here in this passage? The test of whether we love Jesus or not, is whether we do what Jesus asked Peter to do. Jesus said…. love my people. Care for my sheep. Love my bride the church. Love them.
I think we want to hold up to God our successes. ‘God I haven’t missed a quiet time/bible study in weeks’. But he asks, do you love me? Do you love the wife or the husband that I’ve given you?
We want to hold up our regular attendance at Christian activities, maybe a Growth Group/committee or a prayer meeting, even during the State of Origin. But he asks, do you love me? And do you love the people from your church when you see them outside a Sunday service?
For those of us in leadership positions, at work or in church, I want to hold up my emails, or my newsletters, or my generous financial giving, or my public achievements. But he asks me and he asks us patiently, ‘Do you love me? And do you love my people that I’ve put closest to you? Or are they slowly losing respect for you, because privately, away from the public eye, you’re not really loving them well?’
Peter took Jesus’ call to love his people seriously. In 1 and 2 Peter he tells us 8 times to love one another.
I don’t know where you’re at in the process of your own struggles and messes in life. Maybe it’s just mess, nothing’s coming together- yet! You feel stuck. Or maybe you can see the hints of glory in it.
If some things are taking a while, don’t be too discouraged.
You know why? 20 years later, Peter was still struggling with the same issue of being a people pleaser. Do you remember in Galatians chapter 2, Paul had to point out to Peter his hypocrisy. Peter had been eating with Gentiles believers having a great time with them. But when some strict Jews arrived, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles, because he was afraid of what the Jews would think of him. Sound familiar of Peter? Denying Jesus, by denying his people, for fear of what others would think? Maybe there was another rooster in the background of the crowd that night as well.
20 years later, there’s still mess in Peter, but God kept tinkering away. And in time, Peter works it out.
I feel that today’s talk is more for people who do fail. Maybe who are failing. To broken people who can relate to Peter in his mess.
Broken people need a saviour. A saviour who is wise and skilful.
One of my favourite verses from the Bible is from a very strange chapter in Genesis. When the angels rescue Lot and his family from destruction in chapter 19. Have you ever noticed it says that Lot hesitated and so the angel held his hand and led Lot and his family to safety. It’s a beautiful image.
On the night that Peter was sinking in the ocean, he reaches out his hand and he cries the most important words that anyone can ever say, ‘Jesus save me.’ This time it’s not an angel, but Jesus himself who grabs Peter by the hand.
And for us, an even better hand can save us. It’s the same Jesus. But that hand is now a scarred hand. This is a hand that’s experienced the worst possible mess, that entered into the worst possible darkness and brokenness. And out of that mess brought incredible glory.
That hand. That caring, skilful, capable, strong hand is extended to you and to me. To make broken people, into glorious messes.
To finish I want to tell very briefly about my last year. For the first time ever I’ve undergone a serious bout of depression. I’ve been deeply discouraged. I have felt spiritually dry and barren. I’ve been sad, really sad. And worried and anxious. There’s been good things as well, but I’ve never struggled so deeply as this past year.
You know what I want to do? I want to take a physical, symbolic step away from all that, and step into the good that it is to be with Christ. I don’t want to just stand as Brendan Reilly, I want to stand with Jesus.
And I want to give you the opportunity now to do the same.
You heard him ask Peter, Do you love me? Do you love me Peter? Well he says to you today, in whatever mess you’re in, ‘I love you, I can save you, my death is enough for you and all your mess, I love you. Come to me today.’
If God is calling you, take that step now. Step into Christ. Step out of death and step into life with Jesus today.