Redeemed by love

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming today.

Everything Christians do is always in the light of Easter. We read about other stories and other times in the Bible. But it’s always part of the build up to the Easter story.

I wish that we could simply read and entire gospel aloud. That’s the way to really understand it. For the gospel of John, it would only take about two hours to read it, from start to finish.

John starts, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was at the very beginning with God. All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing was created. In the Word was life; and the life was the light of all people. And the light still shines in darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it. . .” (John 1:1-5)

Then we’d go through the story of John the Baptist, the calling of the disciples, and the wedding feast, where Jesus turned water into wine.

We’d read about Nicodemus, the elder who wanted to believe in Jesus but was afraid to come out in public. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. That’s the place where Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that through him, the world might be saved. . .” (John 3:16-17)

Read on, and we’d find the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, where Jesus talks about himself as living water, and how everyone who drinks of him will never be thirsty again.

Read on, and in John you find the great I AM sayings – “I am the bread of life. . .I am the light of the world. . .I am the gateway. . .I am the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. . .I am the resurrection and the life. . .I am the way, the truth and the life. . .I am the true vine. . .”

Read on, to how Jesus forgave the woman who was caught in the act of adultery, and how Jesus said, “Whoever is without sin among you, throw the first stone. . .” And then he told her, “Go home, and sin no more. . .” (John 8:3-11)

We’d read about the raising of Lazarus, and about the woman who anointed Jesus.

We’d hear Jesus shout, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me, but in the one who sent me. . .I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness. . .” (John 12:44, 46)

If we read the whole gospel, all in one sitting, we’d read John’s version of the Last Supper – how Jesus knelt down, and washed his disciples’ feet, and said, “You ought to do this, too.” (John 13:1-17)

We’d hear Jesus say, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms. . .I go to prepare a place for you, so that I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you will be also. . .” (John 14:2-3)

And we’d hear him say, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . .I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what the master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. . .” (John 15:12-15)

And as I said, it all builds up to Easter. Easter is the climax of the good news. Jesus suffers – he suffers terribly. And he dies. He dies like a common criminal.

But on Easter morning, as we heard together a couple of weeks ago, the grave is empty. Jesus is alive again, forever. And Jesus promises that same life to every one of us.

Last week, we read a bunch of Easter stories. We read about Mary Magdalene, who first discovered the empty tomb.

We read about Peter and the other disciple, who came to see, and found the same thing. They didn’t understand it right away, but they knew that God had done something.

And we read again about Mary, how she met Jesus in the garden. Mary was crying so hard she couldn’t see that it was Jesus. She only recognized him, when he called her by name.

And last week, we read about Doubting Thomas, the disciple from Missouri, who wouldn’t believe unless he could touch Jesus for himself.

The gospel of John, the original version, probably ended right there. It says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and so that believing you may have life in his name. . .” (John 20:30-31)

But in your Bible, the gospel doesn’t end there. It’s almost as though there were so many stories about Jesus, John wanted to squeeze just a few more in.

So, let’s read those last few stories today.

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.

It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.”

So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize that it was Jesus. Jesus called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?”
“No,” they answered.

Jesus said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It’s the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

John 21:1-8

When Jesus isn’t here, we just don’t get ahead. We don’t catch any fish. It’s like he said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; without me, you can do nothing. . .” (John 15:5) So, without Jesus, they worked all night, and they didn’t even catch a single minnow.

Jesus showed up, and said, “Try throwing your net on the other side of the boat!” So they did, and they caught more fish than they’d ever seen before.

There were so many the boat was about to sink. The net was so full, they couldn’t even pull it in. That’s the way things are, when Jesus is here. If we’re not succeeding, always ask, “Is Jesus present?”

Let’s read on just a bit.

When they got to shore, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish – 153 of them! – but even with so many the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

John 21:9-14

There’s a moment – there’s always a moment – when we don’t dare to speak, because we know that the Lord is here.

You’d think they’d be cheering their heads off, but they didn’t. They knew it was Jesus. They’d just landed the biggest catch of their lives.

But the fish didn’t matter somehow. Jesus was more important. And they didn’t want the moment to end. And they all sat down and ate breakfast together.

Then there’s a third story. All these stories are part of Easter. They’re all part of the resurrection, the life that never ends. And this last story, in a way, is the most important of all.

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. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.

Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!”

John 21:15-19

This last story is so important. You remember, at the Last Supper, Jesus said that everyone would run away?

And Peter said, “Not me, Lord! I’ll stand by you, no matter what happens!”

And Jesus said, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. . .”

And Peter did. Jesus was arrested, and they all ran away. Peter followed, at a distance, to where Jesus’ trial took place. They were questioning Jesus, and beating him, and accusing him.

Peter was waiting outside, trying to stay warm around a fire in the courtyard. And a woman asked him, “You’re one of his disciples, aren’t you?” And Peter said, “No!”

Another person asked Peter the same thing, and he denied it again. Somebody else said, “Didn’t I see you there with Jesus in the garden?” And Peter denied Jesus a third time.

Just then, the rooster crowed. Peter realized what he’d done. And he broke down and wept bitterly.

So, in this last story, Jesus asks Peter three times – “Peter, do you love me?”

And Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I do!”

And three times Jesus tells him, “Feed my lambs. . .take care of my sheep. . .feed my sheep.”

It’s as though each time Jesus says it, he’s wiping out one of Peter’s failures.

Peter wasn’t a bad person. But he was scared. And at the crunch time, Peter denied Jesus, when Jesus really needed him.

It’s like three times Jesus says, “I forgive you. . .I forgive you. . .I forgive you. . .”

Jesus forgave lots of people in the gospels. He forgave paralyzed people, and sick people, and people who were comatose. And in that moment of forgiveness, they got their lives back. They were well again, completely well.

Jesus said there was no limit on forgiveness. Seven times. Seventy times seven times. Jesus doesn’t keep count. He just forgives.

When Jesus was on the Cross, he cried out, “Father, forgive them! They don’t know what they’re doing!” Jesus forgave the people who killed him, with his dying breath.

Easter is about forgiveness. It’s about new life. It’s about resurrection. And it’s about starting over.

At Easter, just like Peter, everybody gets a fresh start. Everybody gets forgiven. We start over. It’s a new day, a new life. And it’s all because of Jesus.

For the rest of his life, Peter always remembered that he was forgiven. He knew that Jesus was alive. He lived the rest of his life in the light of Easter. And so do we.

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