Restoring a Right Relationship with the Resurrected Christ
Journey to the Empty Tomb
Restoring a Right Relationship to Christ
John 21
For the last eight weeks, we’ve been on a journey to the empty tomb as we’ve studied the 18th, 19th and 20th chapters of John. And we had the privilege of seeing the Resurrected Christ, fresh out of the grave,  as He made some of His appearances to the those who loved Him the most last Sunday on Easter.
This week, as I pondered and prayed about where to go next, the Lord impressed me to continue our journey to the empty tomb by traveling just past it to see what happened next. I want to invite your attention to the 21st chapter of John for a few moments this morning.
Next week will be the 19th anniversary of my pastorate here, and unfortunately, I won’t be able to be with you.  Bro. Jimmy will be preaching both services next week as I will be in revival services at Finley Baptist Church near Antlers.  I will have the privilege of being the house guest of Andy and Kristen Johnson and their family during those days.
Anniversary times always provide an opportunity to reflect and that can be a dangerous thing.  You can get to longing for the good old days although I’m convinced they were never as good as we remember them being.  There can also be sadness as you reflect on those who are no longer with us.  I’ve preached around 150 funerals just since late 2002, and I’m not sure how many more between 1995 and then, but I would guess a total of over 200.
And it’s dangerous to think about the good things as well, lest we become boastful.  I’ve preached something in the neighborhood of 3,000 sermons and Bible studies in that time.  We’ve had the privilege of baptizing over 350 people and had over 500 join by letter or statement.  We’ve received $8.4 million dollars in gifts and offerings and given $2.5 million to missions.
And yet for all of that, our total membership in 1995 was 995 and in 2013 we reported 1024 resulting in a net gain of 29 people.  So while anniversaries can be sad or happy, they can also be depressing, and I must admit to you, I sometimes have to wonder if we are really making any difference.
That’s why I want us to spend some time here in the 21st chapter of John this morning because in this text, we get down to the nitty-gritty.  This is what it’s really all about and it is appropriate that we see the interaction here between Jesus and His followers while the wounds are still fresh and they stand in the shadow of the cross and the empty tomb.
The single most important thing in anyone’s life is their relationship with Jesus Christ.  The statistics of previous years must be assessed in that light.  It doesn’t matter how much money was given or sent or how many songs we sang or sermons we preached if our relationship with God is not what it ought to be. Nothing is more important than your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not your relationship to your family or church or how committed you are to doctrine or theology or even your relationship to the Bible, but what is the condition of your relationship to Jesus Christ?
No matter what kind of Christian activities you engage in or "religious" things you do, what is most important is your personal relationship to Christ.
Now in case you haven’t noticed, life is infinitely complex. And sometimes it becomes so complex that we lose sight of what is most important.  We live in a world that has so many options that it's almost overwhelming.  We can’t even agree on which fast food restaurant to eat at.  Sometimes I just pull over in a parking lot and get out of traffic until we can decide where to go.  We have this amazing number of choices before us in life.
Choices about what we eat, what to wear, how we entertain ourselves, our education, recreation, which cellular phone service we want, what kind of car, what kind of house, what kind of clothes and on and on the list goes.  And I’m afraid that we tend to approach church and our faith in the same way.
Meshed into all these other choices we have to make, we now include, not only where we will attend church, but how we do things regarding the Lord and His church and they just have to find their place in this massive list of all the other choices we have to make.  And unfortunately we believe them to be just as optional as anything else.
Some Sunday’s we might choose to go to church.  Others we’ll just stay home or go play golf.  Maybe we can go to the lake or take a drive.  We might go to Wednesday evening prayer meeting or we might decide that the program we want to watch on TV is a better choice.  And the result is that with this tremendous myriad of choices we have forgotten there are some things that are not optional.
So we wind up just  sort of fitting the things of the Lord in there some place with whether we’ll wear Reeboks or Nikes and choosing McDonalds over Burger King.
Now unfortunately, when we do that, what suffers is our relationship with God.  If anyone were to ask us if we love the Lord, of course we do.  But we have learned to love the Lord rather selectively. So while our lips might say it, the issue is whether or not that in fact fleshes out in the way we live. And if the truth be told, with all the options and alternatives we have before us, we really find ourselves loving a whole lot of other things just as much as we love the Lord Jesus Christ, and maybe even loving some things more than we do Him.
And I'm concerned about this because I think we have lost all sense of an obligation to that which is divine.  It's just become one other choice to make.  We’ve forgotten there are so things that are non-optional.  The Ten Commandments are still in effect. Jesus’ instruction to His followers are still binding.
We are called to love the Lord Jesus Christ with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and unfortunately, when we look at our lives and our church we don't see that kind of devotion and commitment and abandonment to the priorities that are the divine priorities.  So since we have recently journeyed to the empty tomb and there seen the kind of love that Jesus has for us, this morning I want to help us assess our love for Him.
Now when we come to the opening verses of John 21, we find Peter.
Peter had just spent three years with the Lord Jesus and I would say they had a rather intense relationship. He had what I would describe as a fairly deep understanding of the nature and work of Christ.  For instance, it was Peter who declared Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.  Jesus said of Peter that he could only know that because God revealed it to him.
He had witnessed the miraculous power of Jesus in action.  He knew that He was God. He understood that there was no one like Him. And I think as much as any man alive at the time, Peter understood Christ. He had had intense conversations with the Lord, even to the point of rebuking Jesus for the things He said.  It was Peter who said he would never forsake Him. Others might, but not him.
And yet, when the time of testing came, he collapsed in a heap of denials. And as you come to John 21 the Lord is coming to restore him. Peter has been called to be an Apostle. Peter has been the leader of the Twelve, their spokesman. He was chosen by the Lord Jesus personally as part of the inner circle of three, including James and John.
He is always listed at the head of every listing of the Apostles. He stayed close enough to Jesus Christ to walk on water and speak profound revelation.  He could be amazingly bold and grab a sword in the garden to try to defend Christ against the Roman soldiers.  But he also stands as the ultimate model of weakness, intimidated by a little girl, losing his courage, acting in disobedience and ultimately denying Jesus with curses.
So as we come to John 21, I think it safe to say that Peter's relationship with the Lord isn't what it ought to be. No doubt, he is a believer. We don’t have to look any farther than his remorse and repentance to find evidence of that.  But what we see here in John 21 in this encounter between Peter and Jesus proves that Peter is not yet where he ought to be in his relationship to Christ.
Before we look at the text, let me insert one word of background that helps us understand what is happening. In Matthew 28:16, just before Jesus delivers the Great Commission, He instructs His disciples to go to a certain mountain in Galilee and wait there for Him to join them.
So they did. That’s what’s happening in John 21 and verse 2 tells us who was there and they are with their leader Simon Peter. Now Peter is on record as loving the Lord.  He has affirmed that in no uncertain terms.  Others might bail out, but not me! And in so many words, Peter was saying, “I'll love You even if it cost Me my life.  I'll love You no matter what the price.  I'll never forsake You." He had made all this verbal commitment.  All the words were right.
So the Lord gave him a little test.  Now remember, the Lord had just said, "Go to a mountain and wait."  Now that’s not too difficult is it? That’s not a very tough assignment.   That’s not one of the Lord’s all-time great challenges.  Just go sit on a hill till I get there.  But the first thing we see is
1. The Failure of Love
Verse 3
Now Peter was a very influential guy. We see that here.  The Lord said, "Go to Galilee to a certain mountain and wait till I come." Peter said, "I'm going fishing." And everybody said, "We're going to follow you instead of doing what Jesus told us to do."
Now we find out quite a bit about Peter in this little verse because the Greek text indicates that what he was really saying was, "I'm going back, in a permanent way, to do what I used to do." In fact, did you notice that verse 3 tells us they got into “the” boat instead of “a” boat which may well indicate it could have been the very boat that Peter had once used as his own fishing boat?  So now he was going back to his old profession.
He wasn’t going out to spend the day fishing.  He was returning to the vocation he had before leaving it behind to follow Jesus. He may well have been thinking, "I am a failure as an Apostle.  When it came down to the crisis, I bailed out.  I denied Christ three times.  I even cursed at a little girl.  I can't keep my foot out of my mouth. I've said so many foolish things. I almost drowned because of a lack of faith and maybe it's just better if I go back to doing what I used to do. I'm going fishing."
And all the other disciples who came from basically the same profession, certainly able to sympathize with his failures, said, "We'll go too."  Now they had been given a simple command.  Just wait on the mountain till I get there but they disobeyed it.
I don't know what all of the factors spiritually and psychologically were in their mind, but the fact is they just flat out disregarded the very simple and direct command of the risen Christ.
And here we see the failure of love. All the big talk and powerful testimony in the world was meaningless when given a single, simple command.  Jesus said, “Just do this because I've asked you to do it," and Peter completely failed and his love went right down the proverbial drain.
Now I want to suggest to you a very obvious point. Love always fails when it disobeys. I don't care how much sentiment you feel, I don't care how much emotion you show, I don't care how many tears you shed, or how misty-eyed you get when you talk about the Lord.  That is not the issue.
Jesus said in John 14:21, "If you love Me you will keep My commandments." Your love for the Lord always fails when you disobey.  So that night, according to verse 3, they got in the boat and went fishing, but they caught nothing. In fact, I’m convinced no fish even got near their boat.  I think the Lord rerouted all the fish from the boat.
Some of you wonder why your life is such a mess and nothing ever goes right and you can never get ahead.  Maybe Jesus is rerouting the fish in your life also as He waits for you to return to the place of obedience.  Understand this:  If you are a Christian, you can never go back and be blessed.
How ignorant is it for someone to think they can violate God’s law and live a life that is blessed and happy?  What makes you believe you can bypass God’s requirements and still know His blessing on your life?  God will see to it that your nets come up empty.
And by now, Peter must really feel like a failure.  He can’t cut it as an apostle and now he can’t even do the one thing he knows how to do and that is catch fish.  And after working all night, they are still out there on the water, with nothing to show for a hard night’s labor. It’s the failure of love. But then we see
2. The Restoration of Love
Verses 4-5
And I personally think they probably muttered a few more things under their breath that didn’t make it into the Bible. 
Verse 6a
Don’t you just love back-seat drivers?  That person that is always ready to give you some advice about something they know nothing about?  Here are these professional fishermen who’ve been out there all night trying every technique and trick they knew and have caught nothing and now they’ve got some yea-hoo standing on the shore trying to tell them what to do.
But He was so powerful in His command that they just did it. And in verse 6 they weren't even able to haul in all the fish because there were so many.
And about that time, according to verse 7, John figures out what’s going on and says to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”
Verses 7-8
Now it seems to me that even though Peter had problems maintaining his relationship with Christ he really wanted it, enough so that he would once again forsake all and follow Jesus.  He just jumps in and takes off, leaving the others to catch up.
Verses 9-13
Now this is the restoration of love. And it's a happy thought. Listen, no matter how our love has failed, there can be restoration. And I want you to notice one thing in particular and that is the restoration was initiated by the Savior who was offended.
It was Jesus who got the ball rolling when it came to getting Peter back where he needed to be and it will always be that way. I am afraid that sometimes Christians who know they have failed to love and serve the Lord as they ought to feel some shame or anxiety about coming back.
What we need to realize is that He is eager for us to come back and when we get to the shore He doesn't have a whip to beat us with.  He has breakfast ready and waiting.  You understand that? That is the heart of the restoring love of the Savior.
One of the greatest things you can experience outside of your salvation is the restoration of love. Listen; there is not a one of us who hasn’t been out on the sea when we should have been on the mountain.  And it is wonderful to know when you come to the shore He's not there with a whip, He's there with breakfast. He's there to have a meal with me. That's the way it is with the one who restores.
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.  Not even our own disobedience or lack of love from time to time can violate that love which is unending on His part and which reaches out to bring us back and bring us back and bring us back.
And learn from Peter's eagerness.  He just dove in and swam.  He knew. His conscience was pricked the moment he knew it was Jesus Christ.  He had no business being out there on the water when he was supposed to be in that mountain. He knew he was out of line.  But that is the key to the restoration.  It is not that you have never failed that makes you useful to God.  It is that when you do fail you are in a hurry to be restored.
But when you fail and you become complacent about that failure and you do not desire that restoration to be what God wants you to be or you resist His offers to return and you find yourself comfortable with some shallow kind of Christianity that avoids the real priorities of God's Kingdom, that's when you should be worried for that's when God finds little use for you.  Listen for the voice of the Lord and hurry to be restored in that love He has for you.
And notice there at the end of verse 13, not only did Jesus prepare the meal but He served it. Isn't that something? He serves them. He didn't sit down and point His finger and chew them out for being disobedient.  He didn’t boss them around and demand they serve Him.  He just serves these loveless, disobedient disciples breakfast.
How many times have failed to love Him and yet He has never failed to love me to the point where when I come back He serves me. And by the way, when you find yourself in some situation where you’ve been offended or sinned against, you are never more like Jesus than when you respond in service and love.  That’s what Jesus does for you and requires that we do for others.   Aren’t you thankful for the restoration of love? Then see
3. The Requirement of Love
verse 15
Jesus has a little alone time with Simon Peter and notice He calls him by his old name.  I suppose if you’re going to go out acting like your old self and return to your fishing boats, you should take your old name back right?
Simon, son of Jonah, do you supremely love Me more than these?" He uses the word for the highest kind of love there is.  Simon, do you supremely love Me more than anything else?  That’s what Peter had said.  Everyone else might forsake you, but that’s just because they don’t love you like I do. I will never forsake You."
And it may be that the Lord is saying, "Do you really love Me more than all the rest of these love Me?" Or maybe he’s referring to the boat and the nets and the sea and the fish and all that stuff that Peter loved and grew up with.  And maybe it’s the whole ball of wax.
“Do you really love Me more than you love your own way and your own life and your own fulfillment and your own desires and your own enjoyments and anything else in the world? Do you really love Me like that, Simon?”
And Peter says to him in verse 15, "Yes, Lord, You know that I like You a lot." The Lord used agape; Peter used phileo. Was Peter trying to slip one by the Lord and maybe just use a different word like He wouldn’t notice?
I think sitting there face to face with the Lord, there was no way Peter could have said, "Yes, Lord, I supremely love you.  I said it before and I’ll say it again.  Nobody loves you like I do.  I will never forsake you.”  See, his actions betrayed his words.
If he had said that, then the Lord could have said to him, "You hypocrite! How can you say that when you've just disobeyed Me?  How do you explain what happened at my trial?” So Peter knows he can't claim that, so what he says is, "Well I like You a lot."
And the Lord says, "Well if you do then don't catch fish, feed lambs. You're not a fisherman, you're a shepherd. And you're not catching physical fish, you're feeding spiritual lambs and the priorities of your life need to reflect that.  What do you spend your mind planning to do? Where are your priorities? If you really do like Me a lot, then prove it by what you give importance in your life.  Feed My lambs.
Then He repeats the question, word for word. "Simon, son of Jonah, do you really love Me, supremely love Me?”  Peter gives the same answer. “Lord, You know that I like You a lot.”
This time Jesus gives a different answer.  “Tend my sheep.”  In other words, ”Take care of My flock.”
And I think what He is saying here is if you really love Me then show you love Me by loving Me with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and putting all your energy into the thing that is most central to My purpose. Not only prioritize your life, but demonstrate you are serious by following through with it.
By the way, what do you spend your time doing? What do you spend your money doing? What do you spend all the energy in your physical frame doing?
And then He asks a third time and I believe He did this three times because Peter denied Christ three times. So He gave him one shot for each one.  But this time He asks a different question.  "Simon, son of Jonah, do you really like Me a lot?" Now He comes down to Peter’s word.  And the phrasing is such that He seems to be saying, “Simon, I question whether you even like Me a lot.”
See, Peter couldn't say, “I super love You.”  He knew that was a lie, but he thought he could get away with I like You a lot.” And the Lord says, “I even wonder about that after the way you’ve acted.” And the Bible says Peter was grieved, not because He asked him three times, but because of what He asked the third time. 
So notice how Peter responds.
Verse 17
Peter said, "Lord, You know everything, but don't look at the way I've acted. Look at my heart.
You know I love You."  And Jesus said to him, "Then tend My sheep. Let’s start there."  Did you know the Lord is willing to do that with you?  You may have to honestly say, “I don’t love the Lord like I ought to.  I’m not ready for all the big heavy responsibilities that come with serving the Lord.”
Then start where you are.  The test of love is not your emotion or getting goosebumps when you hear a song.  It's not having warm fuzzy feelings about Jesus.  The test of your love for Christ is whether or not the priorities of your life are spiritual or physical, and what you do in regard to those priorities.  Are you all about earthly fish or are you about heavenly lambs?  Is your life more interested in the spiritual or the physical?
And I want to remind you of how that happens.  Some people think about spiritual leaders or missionaries or pastors as being up on some higher spiritual level than are they. And somehow those people got to that place through some sort of extraordinary, spectacular event.
It’s kind of like some holy catapult or trampoline that is kept in secret somewhere, just for the super-spiritual.  Listen:  That’s not how it works. It's not an event; it is a process.  Every Christian grows in the same way.
Some grow faster than others, but only because they want to.  There is no magical potion or event that gets you there.  It is simply gradual growth toward Christ's likeness that comes about through daily obedience and everyone gets there the same way.  And by the same token, many never arrive because they refuse to participate with God in the process.
It simply comes down to obedience.  That is the requirement of love.  Finally, notice
4. The Cost of Love
 verses 18-19
Jesus says, “Peter, in your youth, you ruled your own life and went wherever you wanted to go.  But when you grow old, you're going to stretch out your hands." That’s a very interesting phrase.  It is used in extra-biblical literature to speak of someone who was nailed to a cross. And according to verse 19, Jesus is telling Peter that there will come a time when following Him will cost him his life and he will be nailed to a cross.
That’s exactly what happened.  According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down because of his faith in the Lord Jesus.  Jesus says, “Peter, I want you to know what that kind of love and commitment is going to cost you.  You’re going to die.  It will cost you your life.”  And He says the same thing to us.  Listen:  The cost of loving Jesus is everything.  Then Jesus brings Peter to the point of decision.
Verse 19
Now that is not a difficult command to comprehend. Just go where Jesus goes, and apparently, maybe to give a little object lesson, Jesus begins to walk somewhere.  And notice what happens in
verse 20
Why do we need to be told that Peter turned around?  It’s telling us he wasn’t going the same direction as Jesus and if you’re going to follow Jesus, it would be best to be going the same direction that He is!
And when he turns around, he sees John and asks the question we find there in
verse 21
Now the Lord has just told Peter he will have to die for his faith and what’s foremost on his mind?  What about John?  And I love Jesus' answer
verse 22
Jesus says, “Peter it’s none of your business if he lives till the Second Coming.  You follow Me.”  That is the need of the hour.  Don’t get distracted by anyone or anything.  Just follow Jesus.
So here is the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ restoring a relationship with Peter and reminding us that if your relationship is right with Him, it will be characterized by loving Him more than you love anything else, sacrificing for Him anything and everything, including your life, and following Him at any cost no matter what He asks of you with no regard for what others are asked to give.
What if Jesus were to sit down over breakfast with you and say, “Terry, do you love me?  Do you love me more than anything else, be it my career, my profession, as in the case of nets and boats? Do I love Christ more than others love Him? Am I supremely a lover of Christ?
And what if He said, “Terry, are you willing to sacrifice for Me even if it means that someday it will cost you your life?  Do you love Me that much?”
Then what if He said, “Terry, will you follow Me no matter what it means? No matter what I ask of you and don’t require of someone else, will you just follow Me?”  You see friend, how you answer those question will define for you your relationship to Christ.  The bottom line is obedience.  Jesus wants His people to love Him.
We ought to be like the little girl who was loving her baby doll and all of a sudden she came in and gave her mother a big hug.  Her mother said, "What's wrong?" "Oh nothing's wrong,” she said.  “I've just been loving my dolly for a long time and she doesn't love me back and I came in to love you because you always love me back."
I think there's a sense in which we have to understand that the God who poured out such infinite love to us by sending His only begotten Son to the cross of Calvary and raised Him victoriously out of the tomb expects that we should love Him back.
And I’m afraid in some sad ways in the life of the church we've lost that love; that whole-hearted, unreserved love.  Somewhere along the way we got our priorities all messed up and we use our energy and time for everything but loving Jesus and maybe it’s time we just sat down with Jesus, eye ball to eye ball and got serious about the question of our love for the Lord.
Let’s pray.
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