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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Peter wanted to know where Jesus was going. When they were gathered in the upper room, eating the Passover together on the night when Jesus was betrayed, Peter wanted to know where Jesus was going. He had told His disciples, like He told the leaders of the Jews, that they could not follow where He was going. And Peter wanted to know not only where Jesus was going, but why he couldn’t follow Him. He says, Lord, I will lay down my life for You, if that’s where You’re going. But Jesus says, You will lay down your life for Me? I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times. You cannot come where I am going now, but you will follow Me afterward. Peter wanted to know where Jesus was going, and now, afterward, he knows. Jesus was going to the cross, and He had to go alone. He alone, God and Man, could go to the cross and be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the whole world. He alone could bear the eternal wrath of God; He alone could suffer and die; He had to go alone to receive His kingdom, His throne, His crown. And then, when He was raised from the dead, He came and revealed Himself to His disciples, and He gave them all the wealth and all the riches of that Kingdom: He gave them the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, the peace of the resurrection, and the assurance that because He is risen from the dead, there is nothing and no one who could separate them from the love of God in Jesus Christ. That love had become flesh of our flesh, and if He is alive, and you are in Him, then you cannot be separated from Him, nor He from you.
Peter could not follow before, but now that it is afterward, he will follow. Here on the shore of this lake where they had spent so much time, around a charcoal fire like the one by which Peter had warmed himself for denial, here Jesus makes Him a follower again. Three times Peter denied that he was a follower of Jesus, that he was a disciple, that he was with Him. So three times Jesus asks: do you love Me? Feed My lambs. Do you love Me? Shepherd My sheep. Do you love Me? Feed My sheep. And then: Follow Me. What Peter could not do in his fear and denial, Jesus gives to Him afterward. And Peter will follow, all the way to the cross: When you were young, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted to go. When you are old, someone else will stretch out your hands; someone else will dress you, someone else will lead you where you do not want to go. He said this to show what kind of death Peter would die, to glorify God. Tradition has it that when Peter was about to be crucified, he refused to be crucified in the same way as his Lord, so he was crucified upside down. He took up his cross, very literally, and followed Jesus. But then he turns around and sees John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and he says to Jesus, But what about him? And Jesus says, What does that have to do with you? Follow Me. You will follow Me along one path; he will follow Me along a different way. Peter goes to the cross and martyrdom; John lives in exile and dies an old man. But they both end up in the same place: resurrection; because they’re both following the same Jesus.
The same Jesus who calls out to Saul on the road to Damascus: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? Who are you, Lord? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. When you put a member of My body into prison, you imprison Me. When you wound a member of My body, you wound Me. When you stand and approve while a member of My body is stoned to death, you stand and approve of My death. Saul is blinded, and he doesn’t eat or drink for three days. But on the third day, he’s raised from the dead, when God sends to him a preacher named Ananias, who is initially a little reluctant to go, in light of Saul’s past. But God says, Saul is My chosen instrument to take My Name to the Gentiles, to take My Name before kings, to take My Name to the children of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name. So Ananias goes, and baptizes Saul, and Saul receives the Holy Spirit, and scales fall from his eyes, and he sees; for the first time in his life, he sees. He eats some food and is strengthened, and he goes immediately and he doesn’t need to ask who the Lord is: he says, Jesus is the Son of God. He is the long-promised Messiah for whom we have been waiting. And Saul suffers, and is martyred as well.
All of them: Peter, John, and Saul, and the rest of the apostles, they all go different ways, and do different things. Saul takes the Name of Jesus to many places, where congregations of Christians begin, and because he bears the Name, he is killed. Peter follows Jesus, feeds Jesus’ sheep, and is crucified for it. John is exiled, and proclaims the victory of the risen Jesus to persecuted churches, and he dies an old age. But they follow the same Jesus through death and into life. They do that because they all know what Peter confessed when Jesus stood on the shore of Tiberias and fed the multitude. The crowds were looking to fill their bellies and have the needs of their flesh satisfied, but Jesus told them that He was the true bread that comes down from heaven to give life to the world. His flesh is true food, He says; and His blood is true drink. Life is in His flesh and blood to eat and drink. And some of those who had believed in Jesus go away from following Him because Jesus’ words were too hard to hear, too hard to fit into what they already knew. And Jesus asks His own chosen disciples, Are you going to go away also? Where are you going? And Peter answers for all of them: Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and come to know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. They all know that no matter what happens, no matter how good or bad things seem, everything apart from Jesus is death. He is the only life and to go away from Him, seeking after some other words, is to go away from life itself. But they knew Jesus was life, and so they could do what had been given them to do.
So it is for us: each of us individual, unique people, but part of the single, united Body of Christ. We gather together around that same Jesus who fed His disciples on the shore of Tiberias. He feeds us here just as certainly and just as sufficiently as He fed them. Catching nothing all night, Jesus changes it all with a word, and they can’t even draw up the net, it’s so full. And when they get to shore, He already has fish. Was Jesus worried? Was Jesus anxious about whether they would have enough to eat, or whether His disciples would have what they needed for where they were going and what they were doing? Not at all. Jesus promised that from His cross, He would draw all people to Himself, like a fisherman drawing up a net full of fish. He will gather His Christians by His own powerful Word. We need not worry about whether He will do it. He will do it even if, God forbid, we are unfaithful. We cannot keep Jesus from justifying, choosing, and gathering Christians. His Name is going to be holy; His Kingdom will come; His will is going to be done. May His Name be holy, may His kingdom come, may His will be done also among and for us. He gives us everything we need and more as His one Body. And then He sends us back out to our individual, unique relationships and jobs. None of us is the same, none of us has the same place to fill. We are each given different people to serve in different ways; we are each given to different people to serve them in love. God has ordered His Church perfectly in the way He wants it to be.
Where then do anger, bitterness, gossip, backbiting, and suspicion come from? In part, they come from sinners doing what Peter does after Jesus restores him. He says, What about him? What are you going to give him to do? What are you going to tell him? What is that to you? You follow Me. Unless it is part of our given vocation, it is not our place to question what God has given someone else to do by office and relationship. What if each member of our congregation did not ask, What about him, or what about her, but instead said, Lord, what have you given me to do here and now? And to do that, strengthened by the food the Lord feeds us. Wouldn’t the Body of Christ then be built up in love and unity, as we live by the same Spirit, in the same Baptism, because of the one Lord?
What a marvelous picture of the Church of Jesus Christ! That all the members of the Body gather around the risen Lord, hear the words He speaks and eat the food He gives, and then goes out and faithfully does what the Lord has given each one to do? That’s the Church, because we know where we are going: through death with Jesus, and out into the resurrection and the new creation, because Jesus has broken open death and hell, and we walk with Him victorious and free into life. And because we, like Peter and John and Saul, know that Jesus is life Himself, we can do with joy and contentment whatever we have been given to do. We know where we are going: to Jesus, who is the goal, and we go there in Him, who is the way. May the Lord keep us as He kept all His disciples, in that Way until eternal life in Him.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/09/16