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“Peter’s Three-Peat Repeat”
John 21:1-19


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday of Easter—April 14, 2013

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Before I became your Pastor at Holy Cross, I served for five years as Director of Communications at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin, which is operated by our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and is the largest Lutheran university in North America.  One of the people who worked for me was the Director of Sports Information.  From him I learned a new word, which is popular with sports enthusiasts—or at least sports information directors: “three-peat.”  You may know that when you win for the third time over a particular opponent, or in a tournament or other event, it’s not called a repeat, but a three-peat.  Before I was called to Concordia, I served as a Pastor in Lawrence, Kansas, and although the Jayhawks were knocked out early this year, in 2008 they had a three-peat as they won the Final Four for the third time.

During the Lenten season we just read again how on the night Jesus was betrayed the Apostle Peter experienced not a triple victory, but a triple failure.  At the Last Supper, Peter boldly declared to Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

Three times that dark night Peter was asked, “Are you not one of his disciples?”  And three times he failed:

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Again he denied it, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’”

“Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’ Immediately a rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him. . . and he went outside and wept bitterly.”

In Biblical numerology three is symbolic of something complete and perfect, like the Three Persons of the Trinity, the complete, perfect Godhead.  But, in this case, Peter’s three-peat denial of his Lord and Master means that he is a complete, perfect failure.  “And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

On Easter morning the angel told the women at the tomb, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. . .  go, tell his disciples, and Peter.”  And Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians that after Jesus was raised from the dead, “He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.”

On the night Jesus was betrayed all the disciples deserted him and fled.  But, except for the traitor Judas, Peter was the one disciple who fell the farthest, from boldly pledging to die with Jesus, to cowardly denying him three times.  That is why after his resurrection Jesus appears to Peter privately, to receive from Peter his confession of his shameful doubt and denial, and then to absolve Peter and personally assure him he is forgiven.

But, Peter’s disgraceful fall has become known among the followers of Jesus.  Would they ever accept him again as an Apostle?  Because Peter’s infamous denial was so public and well-known, if he is to assume his role as an Apostle again, so that there can be no doubt that is what Jesus wants, Peter needs to publicly proclaim in front of the other Apostles his love for the Lord, and publicly receive from the Lord reinstatement as an Apostle.

“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.’ 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.’ 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?’”

Peter doesn’t realize it at the time, but Jesus is graciously giving him an opportunity for a “three-peat repeat.”  To replace his triple denial with a triple confession of faith, his three-peat failure with a three-peat pledge of love and service to his Savior—a “three-peat repeat.”

Paul is given similar opportunity in today’s Reading from the Book of Acts.  He is “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” He later confesses in Acts, “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death.”  And he says in 1st Corinthians, “I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”  But, like Peter, the Lord calls Paul also, from the depths of doubt and denial, to repentance and faithful service. 

One of the nice things about computers is the “undo” command, which in many applications is “Control Z.”  It was actually Xerox that assigned that key combination, based on a research paper in 1976 which stated, “It would be quite useful to permit users to ‘take back’ . . . the[ir] . . . preceding [action].”

There have been times in my life when I wished I had a universal “Control Z” command, so that when I did something I regretted I could just magically “take back” what I had done, undo it, as easily as on the computer.  But, really, even if we had that power, it still wouldn’t be enough.  For, the book of Genesis says, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”  And David confesses in Psalm 51, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Some computer programs have multiple levels of the undo command, allowing you to undo your last five or ten or 15 or 20 actions.  But, in order for us to be innocent, we would need a spiritual undo command going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, collectively for humankind.  And for you individually, all the way back to before you were conceived.  Otherwise, even if you could magically undo what you regret, whatever you revert to would still be sinful in the sight of God.

But, Jesus does for us what we are unable to do.  He does undo all our sin, all the way back to the Garden of Eden, all the way back to before you were conceived.  Paul puts it this way in Romans and 1st Corinthians: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned . . . Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For, just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. . . For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

All your sins, all your regrettable actions, in the sight of God it has all been undone, for you, by your Savior, as if it never happened.  Not magically, but by your Savior taking your sinful actions upon himself, and suffering the consequences for you, in your place.  Paul puts it beautifully in Colossians: “He forgave us all our sins . . . he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

That’s the Good News of Easter—your sins are all forgiven, because in Christ they were nailed to the cross.  As Paul says in Romans, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus graciously gives Peter an opportunity for a “three-peat repeat.”  To replace his triple denial with a triple confession of faith, his three-peat failure with a three-peat pledge of love and service to his Savior—a “three-peat repeat.”  In the same way the Lord gives you the opportunity to replace your own denial and unfaithfulness with faithful love and service to him.  As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians: “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him, who died for them and rose again.”

Replace your past indifference toward Christ with trusting faith in him as your Savior and Lord.  For he invites you, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. . . I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies, yet shall he live . . .  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. . . Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust in God, trust also in me. . .  I am the way, the truth, and the life. . . whoever comes to me I will never drive away. . . I am the Good Shepherd . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep. . .  I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Replace your past self-centeredness with humble, selfless love toward others.  As Paul says in Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Replace your past grudges with humble forgiveness toward others.  As Paul says in Colossians, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Replace your past coldness with love, toward Christ, and your brothers and sisters in Christ.  As John says in his First Epistle, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we would live through him. . .  he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Like Peter’s infamous, shameful denial of Christ, what is it in your life that you wish you had a “Control Z” so that could undo it?  Jesus does for you what you are unable to do.  He does undo in the sight of God all your sin.  And just as Jesus graciously gives Peter an opportunity for a “three-peat repeat,” he gives you the opportunity to replace your own denial and unfaithfulness with faithful love and service to him.

Amen.

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