Well I wanted to wait to post on John 21 until this morning. It’s been a great journey together through the text. I know that I’ve benefited greatly by reading the scriptures together in community. I’m glad I waited to post until today because something unexpected happened yesterday.
Do you suffer from guilt? I do. From as long as I can remember I’ve always had a guilty conscience. I rarely break rules because my conscience won’t let me (unless its speeding, I do that all the time). The moment I do something I know I shouldn’t, my conscience goes into overdrive.
There are a couple of things from my high school years that I would like to totally forget. One of those moments was in my Senior year of high school. I was having a terrible day after someone was making fun of me endlessly. I shouldered most of it, until one of my good friends said something to me and I totally flipped out. I slammed him up to the lockers and I’m pretty sure I cussed him out.
This was not normal for me. I was typically pretty easy going, but my anger inside overflowed and it hurt someone, someone I considered a good friend.
I almost immediately asked for forgiveness if I remember correctly, but my friend was rightfully angry with me. I didn’t think forgiveness would ever be available.
I have lived with that guilt for a long, long time.
My friend and I got along better, but there was always a degree of separation.
He went to the same church as I did, and one Sunday I had the opportunity to preach. He was in the audience, and I had the guilt of the world on my shoulders that day. I thought to myself, “What will he think? He knows I’m not a very good person.” I felt like I was the most two-faced preacher ever to exist.
We went our separate ways after graduating from high school. I can’t remember a time we spoke since then.
On the occasions that I would go home, I would see my friend’s grandfather. I would ask how his grandson was doing and he often expressed concern for him and wanted me to pray for him and talk to him.
I prayed for him, I didn’t think he wanted to talk to me, and I didn’t know how to get a hold of him even if I did want to call.
It’s been almost eight years since I spoke with him. I’ve carried guilt with me that whole time. My guilty conscience had me thinking that my friend had run away from God because of my sin, my hypocrisy, my hurting him.
John 21 is the concluding chapter of what is an amazing discourse on the identity of Jesus Christ. In this chapter, we see Peter, who undoubtedly was filled with guilt after his mishap from a few days prior.
He denied knowing Jesus, three times. Peter was telling Jesus just days prior that he would never forsake him and the next we know he is denying him when it matters most. The guilt must have weighed heavy on the shoulders of Peter in the days following. Perhaps he was trying to forget about it by going back to fishing, or maybe he didn’t think he was worthy of ministry because of his sin.
God’s grace is sufficient for my sin. John captures this in Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter:
Jesus Reinstates Peter
15 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.”
16 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.”
17 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. 18 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 do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter would go from this interaction with Jesus and play a significant role in the advancement of the Gospel and establishment of the Church.
Jesus reinstates Peter to ministry, instructing him to “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” and “follow me.”
Jesus reinstitutes Peter with a question, “do you love me?”
Let’s quickly go back to my story. Yesterday, I received a friend request on facebook from my friend in high school that I slammed into the lockers. It turns out, he’s still a Christian, he’s doing well, he’s getting married, he’s going to church. And in our conversation catching up, he said, “I hope all is going well for you and your family. Keep doing the Lord's work and God Bless”
My guilty conscience had him far away from God, never to return. What my guilt was really doing was keeping a part of me away from God. I learned something about the sufficiency of God’s grace yesterday. I cannot put into words the feeling I have today that my friend remains a Christian.
John 21 changed my life yesterday. When I read it the first time, in the morning Peter’s reinstatement didn’t mean nearly as much as when I read it later in the evening.
I’m a new person today because when Jesus reinstated Peter for ministry, he reinstated me too. Because of the forgiveness for Peter I know the guilt and inadequacy I felt because of past sins are forgiven in Christ.
I’m still going to work on my friendship with my friend, and pursue forgiveness with him. I pray it goes well.
I don’t know that my sin is quite comparable to that of Peter’s denial of Jesus, but in my actions towards my friend, I certainly denied Jesus’ Lordship over my life.
That happens from time to time for all of us. But as John’s Gospel has so beautifully reminded me, Jesus forgives. He forgives and he reinstates us to the task of ministry and calls us to follow him.
My prayer is this:
Heavenly Father, merciful and mighty God,
I Love you Lord. Your grace is sufficient for my sin. Lord, you well know that I am a recovering sinner, prone to lapses in judgment, hurtful speech and actions. You know that on any given moment I may deny the Lordship of Jesus by my words and deeds. Yet you forgive because you are a patient and loving God. You are longsuffering for your creation to return to you. For that, may my love for you Lord be undeniable.
I praise you for these things: Your mercy, Your Grace, Your Love, exemplified and poured out for me in the life, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Forgive me as I forgive others. Lead me Lord and be my help that I may preach of you and your Son Jesus Christ to the very end of my days. I choose to follow you Jesus, you know that I love you Lord, Amen.
Jordan Ickes, Minister of Etna Green Church of Christ.