The following are Pastor Kevin’s preaching notes. They are neither a transcript nor a professionally edited document. They are provided for personal and devotional use and should not be distributed without permission.
Good morning, my name is Kevin Labby, and I'm the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church. I want to welcome all of our guests here today! And I also want to welcome everyone watching this online either live or throughout the week. We know that most people will check us out online before they ever visit. We hope to see you soon.
I hope you enjoyed a wonderful celebration with family and friends, and are now already five days into realizing your resolutions!
This is the time of year when most of us look ahead. We’re trying to shape the future into something more beautiful, more desirable than the past.
We do that in many different ways, some more popular than others.
What do you think is the most common New Years resolution? Think about it. What would you say?
If you said, “Eat healthier” or “Get more exercise” or “Save more money,” you happened upon the three most popular resolutions.
Others want to sleep more. Put me down for that one. It’s not that I don’t sleep enough. It’s just that I’d just like to sleep more. That’s one of the reasons I’m a Christian. Jesus said if I follow him, he’d give me rest. I was like, “Search over. That’s my religion.” I jest, but many a trust is said in jest.
Others want to read more, make new friends, get a new job, or pursue a new hobby. The list goes on from there. What are your resolutions as we enter 2019?
In one sense, I like resolutions. They can be optimistic and, when you think of it, humble. They rest on the assumption that there’s room for us to grow; things we need to change; and things left for us to learn and accomplish. We aren’t yet complete.
Seeing how our selfishness has hurt others, we might resolve to be a better husband or wife, parent or friend, son or daughter, employee, or just a better version of ourselves in all of those roles and relationships.
Realizing the toll sin has taken on our lives and those we love, we might resolve to finally quit smoking or drinking or eating junk food or viewing pornography or turn from other vices.
Recognizing that we could be more fruitful to God’s glory and the good of others, we might resolve to finally give him top priority in the way we use the time or the treasure he entrusts to us.
We could easily multiple examples.
However, in another sense, I don’t like resolutions. They can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on us. When we don’t achieve our goals, we easily start to feel like failures. Confronted by our failures over and over again, we might lose heart; stop seeking; settle; and give up.
The truth is this: we all have failures. We all have hurts. We all have things in our past that can haunt us in the present, things done by us and things done to us. How do we make peace with our past? That’s the subject of this morning’s message.
This morning, let’s make it personal. What are those past failures and regrets that greeted you on New Years Day? What past hurts linger year to year? What ghosts of the past threaten to steal your joy, erode your peace, and cause you to question God’s unmitigated love for you in 2019? You don’t need to say them aloud. This is between you and God. What are they?
This morning, I want to share with you a simple idea. It’s this:
To enjoy greater peace in the future,
we need to make greater peace with the past.
Thankfully, in Jesus Christ – but only in Jesus Christ – we can find true and lasting peace.
This morning, we’re going to look at one of the more notorious failures in human history: the Apostle Peter. And we’re going to look especially at perhaps his biggest failure - how it affected him; how it affected Jesus; and how the faithfulness of Jesus triumphed over and in some ways through the failure of Peter..
Now, don’t get me wrong: Peter didn’t always fail. He was capable of amazing successes. When he got it right, he really got it right – like the time he confessed, before any others, Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. Nailed it.
However, when Peter got it wrong, he really got it wrong – like when Peter denied what he once so boldly professed. Look briefly with me at Matthew 26:31-35. Here, we read how Jesus predicted Peter’s betrayal.
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
Now, look at how this played out in Luke 22:54-62:
54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
In response to this sad episode, I’m convinced Jesus taught Peter and, through him, us a four-fold pattern for making peace with our past. Some of you need to be set free this morning.
It’s time to end the secret guilt, the secret shame. The guilt of what you’ve done or failed to do. The shame of the bad done to you, or the good deprived. It’s time to take the rock out of the enemy’s hand, or to maybe even let go of the rock you’re holding over another.
#1. OWN IT
The first thing you need to do is own it, what you’ve done or maybe what’s been done to you.
Have you ever messed up really, really – I mean really – bad? Of course you have. You’re a human being, a fallen human being. You’re not exempt. You’re not special. As the bumper sticker jokes, “You’re unique. Just like everyone else.”
Do you remember what you felt like? The sorrow? The attempts to rationalize? The desire to hide? The fear of condemnation and wrath?
If so, you can at least somewhat empathize with Peter after his three-fold denial of Jesus Christ, during the hours of Jesus’ greatest need. Would Jesus abandon him, as he abandoned Jesus? Would he be the worthy object of our Lord’s revenge? No doubt, Peter was full of questions. Thankfully, Jesus was full of answers.
What did Jesus teach Peter after his failing? He taught him to own it. Let’s look at verses John 21:15-17:
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Now, there are six important layers to this. Here they are.
First, Jesus seeks after Peter, even though Jesus is the One wronged. He takes the initiative. This is the mark of Christ, serving - not waiting to be served. He’s the righteous judge, but the One who delights to show mercy.
Second, notice how Jesus refers to Peter as “Simon, son of John.” Why would he do that? After all, Jesus renamed him Peter. Why go back to his old name? The answer is profound. Jesus is making a point: Peter, in failure, is acting as his former self - not the new creation Christ called him to be. There are a few instances in the gospels where Jesus reverts back to the name Simon, in instances where Peter needs correction.
Third, notice Jesus’ question: “Do you love me? “ Now, why is that? Simple: because love for God is reflected in obedience (John 14:15). To whatever degree we love God, we will love the things of God. Jesus is literally getting to the heart of the issue.
Fourth, several scholars point out an interesting dynamic hidden in the Greek, the original language of this text. Jesus’ first two questions of Peter employ the Greek word for love, AGAPAO. However, Peter’s response (“You know that I love you.”) resorts to the much less confident and all-encompassing, PHILEO. Peter is saying, by implication, that he loves Jesus - but not as he should. He knows that even his best falls short.
Fifth, the third of Jesus’ questions offers a unique flip. Instead of AGAPAO, Jesus adopts Peter’s word, PHILEO. It’s as though Jesus even questions Peter’s lesser affirmation of love. This explains Peter’s grief. It’s not just the amount of repetition; it’s the word choice. More on that in a second.
Finally, Jesus leads Peter to own it, all of it. It’s not just that Peter denied his Lord; he denied him repeatedly – three times in fact. And so Jesus asks Peter three times if he truly loves him.
This is not vindictiveness; this is not Jesus rubbing Peter’s failures in his face. This three-fold process is ultimately for Peter, not against him. This is Jesus showing Peter that he doesn’t need to hide anymore. When Jesus chose the word PHILEO, but then responded with “Feed my sheep,” he was making a profound point: Peter is loved, accepted, and welcomed back - even if his love isn’t all that it should be, and all that it one day will be.
Your Savior offers the same to you.
#2. TRUST THAT CHRIST ATONED FOR IT
That brings us to our second point. Peter can own it because Jesus atoned for it.
Why did Jesus tell Peter of his coming failure? It’s a good question. He didn’t tell John Mark that he’d flee the Garden of Gethsemane half-naked. He didn’t tell James and John the specifics of their act of abandonment. Why did he tell Peter about his betrayal ahead of time?
Could it be that Jesus wanted to make it clear to Peter that he went to the cross with eyes wide open? Could it be that Jesus wanted Peter to know that Jesus was prepared not only do suffer and die for Peter’s past sins, but for his future ones as well - that Christianity is not the good news of a fresh start or a second chance? Could it be that Jesus wanted to show Peter, through vivid and visceral personal experience, that his once and for all sacrifice was sufficient for sin - all sin - past, present, and future?
We don’t need a second chance; we’d screw that up too. We don’t need a million chances. We’d use them all up, and need more and more. We need a Savior who leaves nothing to chance, One who accomplished and offers our full redemption.
We’ve said it before. Others have said it before, too - and they should. Christian: your worst sin might be in front of you, not behind you. So, be careful. Sin has consequences, painful and destructive consequences - for you, for those you love, and for those affected by you. However, one consequence God will never allow is the separation of his children from his love. Sin might rob you of joy. It might rob you of peace. It might rob you of a sense of assurance. It will not and cannot rob you of God’s love, something Peter learned from Jesus.
Now, some of you today might also be thinking about things done to you in the past, not just by you. What is the word of Jesus here?
First, know this: God sees all. God saw what happened to you. He saw the sin. He saw the injustice.
Second, know that God feels all. He’s never indifferent to your pain. He’s never indifferent to sin. He empathizes in a way no human being can, save One. He despises it with a holy vengeance, and will one day eradicate it. His delay is not his disregard.
Third, know that God punishes sin and sinners. He pours out his wrath for sin, either on his Son or on those who reject his Son.
Finally, vengeance is therefore the Lord’s. Any sin against you was, is, and will be a sin against God. He will repay. He never - never - turns a blind eye to sin.
#3. YOU CAN GROW FROM IT
There is a third lesson here: God wants you to grow from and through failure. In Christ, we might fall - but we always fall forward. Let’s continue in our passage, looking at verse 18 through the first part of verse 19:
18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)
Before we look at these verses, consider Jesus’ commands to Peter: “Feed my lambs.,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” What is the full weight of Jesus’ words?
The Bible uses three words for pastors, those called to lead the flock of God.
PRESBUTEROS - elders
EPISCOPOS - bishops
POIMEN - pastors/shepherds
Jesus isn’t simply restoring Peter to Christian fellowship; he’s restoring him to pastoral ministry.
Now, in view of this, let’s look back at verse 18 through the first half of verse 19. What is Jesus saying? He’s saying that Peter will be a martyr, that he will one day die for his Christian faith, and that his death will glorify God.
In some ways, this is bad news. However, in another sense, this is good news. Jesus prophesies that Peter, sustained by the Holy Spirit, will one day succeed where he just failed: in standing by and for Christ, even faced with the penalty of death.
#4. IN FAITH, LET GO OF IT.
As we close, consider the final half of verse 19:
And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
What is Jesus saying? He’s saying, “Don’t keep looking back, Peter. Look forward. I’m leading you.”
He’s saying the same thing to you. Your Savior is leading you into a glorious future. The old has gone. The new has come. Don’t let the past discourage or demotivate you. Let it drive you to keep your eye on the prize for which God’s called you heavenward in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:14). Keep focus. Keep forward. Keep the faith.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.