John 21: 1-19
I wonder if I was to ask you what it means to be a disciple, or a follower of Jesus, how you would answer? Or another question might be: how do you live out your daily walk with Jesus in your life? What things do you think about? What comes to mind when you hear these question?
How do you and I live a life following Jesus?, or what does it mean for you and me to be his disciples?, is the focus of my sermon this morning.
Today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 21 tells about Jesus appearing to his disciples again, after his resurrection, and also about Jesus and his conversation with Peter. One of the things that stood out to me from this word from God is that it sounded familiar.
Luke’s Gospel describes to us in chapter five how Jesus saw these men out in a fishing boat, they had been fishing all night, yet caught nothing, so Jesus calls out to them to put their nets deeper. They obey his word and all of the sudden the catch so many fish their nets began to break. It is in this situation that Jesus then calls James, John and of course Peter. This is first call to follow him (in other words become his disciples).
Fast-forward to today’s reading we find James, John, Peter and this time other disciples, in a boat out all night fishing and again not catching anything. They do not recognize Jesus, but again he calls to them and tells them to put their nets on the other side and again the catch so many fish. It is John who then recognizes Jesus at this moment. This is no co-incidence. What follows when Jesus speaks to his disciples and more specifically to Peter, is seen as a another call from Jesus to discipleship.
The apostle Peter is one of the most well known of all the disciples, and he is often the one in the Gospels who has the courage to speak to Jesus and answer him. Peter is the one in Mark chapter eight who answers Jesus question: “who do you say that I am” with “you are the Christ”.
Earlier in the gospel of John after the feeding of the five thousand some those who were following Jesus decided to turn their backs on Jesus. Jesus asks his disciples “Do you also want to leave?” It is Peter who puts his belief in Jesus, and says: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). Later on it is Peter, who had promised Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you” (13:36–38).
And yet, when the pressure was on, it was Peter who denied three times and Jesus said he would. Stating that he was not a disciple of Jesus; that he was not a follower of Jesus. Notice here that in Peter’s denial he does not deny who Jesus is. But he denies he is a follower of him. In doing so he turned his back on Jesus.
Peter was there with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them in the upper room. He was there again when Jesus appeared to Thomas, he heard the words of Jesus spoken to him: “peace be with you”. When he realizes in today’s reading the it’s the Lord he immediately jumped into the sea to swim to him. You see this is Jesus discussion with Peter is not about forgiveness. He has been forgiven; he was at peace with God because of Jesus. But it is about Peter now following Jesus. It is here that Jesus transforms this Peter from a disciple who cannot follow to one who again confesses him as Lord and receives his word to “feed my lambs/sheep” (21:15–17) and the invitation to be his disciple yet again. Jesus words to Peter in verse 19: are “Follow me,” this time Peter does, even unto death (vv. 18–19a).
As much as this reading is about Peter, it is also about you and me. You and I have been called through our baptism to follow Jesus, to walk with him, to listen to his Word. It is a journey of faith, a life in which we believe and trust in Jesus, and commit to listening to his words of life—especially, as John 20:31 tells us: 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
But as you and I well know, following Jesus is not easy. We, like Peter, all too easily grow weary in the face of the attacks of the world against our belief and trust in Jesus, and the temptation is always there to deny following him, and to stop listening to him through his Word. The temptation to walk away and turn our back on following him is with us constantly. And the thing is we are just as fickle as Peter.
Yet in the midst of spiritual and worldly attacks, and in spite of our struggle with sin, the Lord continues to gather unfaithful disciples like you and me around himself for fellowship and the hearing of his word, just as he did that day for Peter and the other disciples.
John 14:26 tells us that our Lord does not leave us “orphans,” but sends us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us in order to defend us from attacks against our faith in Jesus by reminding us of his words to us. When we lack faith, which you and I so often do, the Lord comes to us, supplies our need, and restores us to fellowship with him.
In today’s reading, our risen Lord Jesus spoke his Word once again to Peter, and as Peter again heard Jesus’ words and believed in him, Peter “passed from death to life” Chapter 5:24 says: 24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. In this we have a wonderful image of restoration, not only the restoration of Peter, but the restoration of you and me.
Being a follower of Jesus, is not about living a perfect Christian life. It is not about having it all together. It is not about never struggling with our sinful natures. All of us struggle.
One of the areas the many people struggle with is with understanding what it means to be repentant. There are many ways to understand what repentance means, but for Luther he was clear that repentance is “nothing else than a return and approach to your baptism, to resume and practice what has earlier been begun to be abandoned” (LC). In baptism we receive God’s Word of promise. In repentance we cling to this. He says elsewhere that this needs happen every day. He speaks about a daily repentance. In our baptism our Triune God spoke his Word to you, he branded you with his name. You belong to him and are called to live out this call in your everyday life.
The restoration that happens for you and me happens every time we return to his Word. When we stray, walk away, we change our minds, we come back to his Word to us, we once again put our trust him. And he receives us with open arms. And this is something that we will have to continually do until Jesus calls us home. Continually turning back to Jesus is a part of our discipleship walk with him, it is a part of what it means to follow him. But he never leaves us alone to do it by ourselves, rather he comes to us and helps us. We need to take comfort and hope from this.
So as you live your life with our risen Lord Jesus, take heart that he is with you in the midst of your everyday struggles. And be confident that he is with you and will never abandon you. Also continue to turn towards him, by coming to Worship, receiving Holy Communion, and reading his Holy Word. In these things he gives you strength, to live life as a true follower of him.