Sins not Dealt With
4/25/04Times New RomanArial
Notice the title. It's not "Sins not Forgiven," but "Sins not Dealt With." Our Lord loves us too much to leave us in our sins. He took on our flesh and blood, lived our life, died our death to forgive us our sins. But this justification produces something else called sanctification. In justification our sins are forgiven; in sanctification they are dealt with. Justification brings the new creature to life; sanctification is the living of the new life. Here our sinful habits, pets, manners of life are confronted and dealt with. How else would you explain what's going on in this text?
It's after Easter. The disciples have at last did what Jesus had told them to do before Easter and on Easter. They have gone to Galilee. And quite naturally for a former fisherman, Peter decides he's going fishing. The farthest thing from his mind was the night on which he had denied Jesus. That was in the past just like your many sins are in the past. Jesus had already forgiven Peter even as He has forgiven you.
So anyway, Peter goes fishing along with some others, and though they fish through the night, they catch nothing. Ring any bells? Go to Luke 5. There too Peter and the 2 Sons of Zebedee fished all night and caught nothing. Suddenly Someone calls from the bank. What He really says is, "Friends, you don't have anything to eat, do you?" Immediately after they admitted that they don't, Jesus commands them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and He promises they will find fish. They do as commanded and catch as promised more fish than they can drag in.
Do you see all that Jesus is bringing to Peter's mind? Not just the time when Peter had fished all night and came up empty, not just the last time Jesus had commanded Peter where to fish and promised a catch and Peter hadn't believe Him, but the time Jesus had put before His disciples the matter of feeding the 5000. He had used a similar expression telling them, "You give them to eat," which exposed that they didn't have anything to eat.
Jesus is bringing before Peter's eyes a series of failures, and more are to come. As soon as they catch the fish, John recognizes Jesus and says, "It is the Lord." Those words seem to propel Peter into the water. When is the last time Peter had gotten all wet? Right after the 5,000 are fed, Jesus came walking on water to the disciples in a boat. They thought He was a ghost. After Jesus assured them that it was Him, Peter had said, "Lord if it is you, command me to come to you upon the water." There was no command to come here. The boat was stuck about 100 yards off shore weighed down by the fish. Impulsive Peter can't wait and throws himself into the water; he sinks instantly. Surely he's reminded of the time he had met Jesus on the water when his bold, impulsive faith had failed and Jesus had to save him.
In our fallen reason, we think the best thing to do is forget about forgiven sins. After all, Jesus did say, "It is finished." Nothing from us needs to be added to pay for our sins, so there is no point in bringing them back up. Well, there must be from God's point of view. How else do you explain what Peter is going through? Picture this. Peter swims 100 yards to shore in the garments of that day. To get a feel for this, wrap yourself in two bed sheets and try to swim across Barton Springs. So, Peter gets to shore breathing hard and what does he see? Actually the question is: what does he smell? A charcoal fire. When was the last time Peter smelled a charcoal fire? It was a charcoal fire in the High Priest's courtyard on that night when Peter had miserably denied Jesus 3 times.
Smells are one of the most evocative things for memory. The smell of roses made my mother sick to her stomach because at her father's funeral her mother had all but buried the coffin in roses. A friend of mine in college was a former heroin addict. He would come with me to Church. When the candles were snuffed at the end of service, that distinctive smell wafting over the congregation made him nauseous. The smell of a candle being snuffed brought to his nose and mind him snuffing the candle that cooked the heroine he was about to put into his vein.
Smells make the past present faster than anything else, and kind, loving Jesus does this on purpose to Peter. Jesus had appeared privately on Easter to Peter, personally forgiving his denial of Him, but now Jesus brings the whole disgusting matter up again. And Jesus doesn't just do it subtly. No, after they had finished eating on the beach, Jesus turns to Peter and says, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these other men?" Now that's really sticking it to Peter. He had proclaimed greater love and loyalty to Jesus saying that even if they all deserted Him he would not. With one pointed question, Jesus confronts Peter's brashness, pride, and sinfulness.
Jesus does this not to torment Peter but to heal him. Forgiven sins need to be dealt with, faced, protected against. You can rest assured that as Jesus did for Peter, so He'll do for you. Jesus brings our forgiven sins, our paid for failures to mind, so that we might see where they arise from and how to deal with them in the future. How many more times would Peter be faced with the opportunity to deny Jesus? Peter needs to see where his lack of faith flows from, and how the grace of God in Christ is to reach that sore spot to heal it, to empower it.
Pay attention not just to the questions Jesus asks Peter but what He calls Peter: "Simon son of John." When was the last time Jesus called him that? When Peter had confessed that Jesus was "the Christ the Son of the Living God," Jesus had said, "Blessed are you Simon son of John for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but My Father in heaven." Jesus is bringing to Peter's mind that time in Ceaserea when God by divine revelation had revealed to the sinner Peter just who Jesus was. Peter had failed to confess in the courtyard, but he had confessed earlier. In the courtyard, Peter had tried to confess by his own determination and failed. In Ceaserea, the heavenly Father had brought a true confession from his lips.
Then Jesus gets Peter to confess the real root of the problem, not a failure of his lips but a failure of his heart. Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me more than these other guys?" Peter replies, "Lord you know without me telling You that I like You." Then Jesus asks Peter, "Never mind about the others; do you love Me?" Peter answers, "Yes, Lord, You know without me telling You that I like You." Then Jesus changes the question saying, "Simon son of John do you even like Me?" The text specifically says, "Peter was hurt because Jesus said to Him, "Do you even like Me?" Peter then lets it all hang out saying, "Lord You know everything without me telling You, so You recognize that I do at least like You."
Peter doesn't love Jesus more than the other disciple love Him. Peter sees he doesn't love Jesus enough. No man, woman, or child ever has. If your service of Jesus is based on your love for Jesus, well, it will be pathetic. You will never have the willingness or time. You will have a dozen good reasons why you can't do this or that for Jesus. Your love for Jesus is sinful and inadequate, so rather than profess it, you must confess it as Peter did.
Jesus gets Peter to see that He already knows this about him. This is like when a child in their adult years realizes that their mom or dad knew all about them before they even did. Jesus knew all along Peter's love was sinful, fallen. He had called Peter to be a fisher of men right after Peter had declared to Him, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man." Neither Peter's sins nor yours surprise Jesus. What's surprising is that each time Peter confesses his inadequate love Jesus nevertheless affirms His call to Peter to feed His sheep. But the comfort gets even better. The text ends with Jesus promising Peter that He will die in the faith even though he will die for the faith. Bold, brash Peter will be bound and brought where he doesn't want to go, but his death will glorify God. What a promise to make to a man who realizes how many times his boldness brought him to a point where his faith couldn't make him stand. Nevertheless, Jesus says brash Peter will be faithful to death.
There are other promises in this text. When Peter the fisherman comes up empty, Jesus appears out of nowhere to provide the fish. When 6 men could not drag upwards of 600 pounds of fish to shore, Peter alone does it. Where the net in Luke 5 had begun to break, the net here doesn't. And Jesus doesn't even need their fish to feed them. He has fish and bread and get this, fire, on the shore waiting for them. Our Lord does more than we ask or even think. The Lord doesn't want our service to be based on our love for Him but on His love for us; not on what we bring to Him, but on what He gives to us; not on what we think or promise, but on what He commands and promises.
What we see working out in this text is the fulfillment of Paul's promise to the Philippians. In 3:15 he promises them, "If on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you." God has not only forgiven, justified, saved you by the blood of Christ. He will sanctify you as well. He will put you in situations in life that will bring up in you the same sort of sins, failings, and shortcomings that He has washed you clean of, just so that you might learn to deal with them. You can't avoid this happening, nor can you pick and chose when it happens. Peter set out to do nothing more than fish, but Jesus had other plans in mind for him. The same goes for you. Jesus will bring your past sins to mind, not so you might beat yourself up over what you are, but so you might relish the Savior Jesus is. See that He doesn't just forgive your sins. He is actually powerful enough, loving enough and graciousness enough to deal with them too. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter III (4-25-04); John 21: 1-19