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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:The Keys of the Kingdom (Part 3): “Restoring Lost Sinners”
Text:LD 31 John 21:15-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Discipline

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

The Keys of the Kingdom (Part 3): 
"Restoring Fallen Sinners"
John 21:15-19 

LD 39 (Q&A 85 - last phrase)

Trinity Psalter Hymnal songs:  150C, 230 (4), 431 (1, 3, 5) 168, 563
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The Keys of the Kingdom (Part 3): “Restoring Lost Sinners”

John 21:15-19; Lord’s Day 31 (Q&A 85, last segment)

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the previous sermon I mentioned that there is a lot of ignorance and confusion in our churches about the practice of church discipline. For example, some members believe that excommunication from the church is the end of the matter, that there is no coming back from that, that this is the final word, the final judgment of God upon the unrepentant sinner.


But that is not true. There is a way back from excommunication – it is called restoration. And there is something worse than excommunication – namely -- to remain excommunicated. It is to remain unrepentant and therefore unforgiven and therefore, still separated from God. This is why it is said that there is really only one unforgiveable sin -- the sin of an unrepentant heart.


From that, there is no coming back. That results in one’s eternal condemnation in hell. But there is a way back from excommunication. There is a Godly and proper and desired response to church discipline and excommunication: it is the humility of heart, the turning away from sin, and the genuine reform and conversion of one’s life to follow after Christ.


As the very last segment of Lord’s Day 31 reminds us, such individuals are received again as members of Christ and of his church. And as we see on page 63 in our Forms and Prayers booklet, what form follows the form for excommunication? It is the form for Readmission.


This is why we never stop praying, we never stop hoping that those who are under discipline and even those who have been excommunicated will eventually be restored unto favor with Christ and in good standing in the church. Tonight, we consider the third and very important part in this sermon series on LD 31 and the Keys of the Kingdom: Restoring Lost Sinners.


We do so with the backdrop of John 21, where the Risen Christ Restores His Fallen Disciple

  1. The Difference Between Peter and Judas Iscariot  
  2. The Gentle Way Jesus Restores Peter  


1. The Difference Between Peter and Judas

To begin with, I just want to talk about what happened to both Judas and to Peter, and the fall out of their sin. Both Judas and Peter were hand-picked disciples of Jesus. Both followed Jesus and heard him preach and saw him heal and witnessed his supernatural power time and time again. And both Judas and Peter fell into sin. One betrayed Jesus into the hands of sinful men for 30 pieces of silver. That was Judas. The other disciple, Peter, denied ever knowing Jesus.


Looking at Mark’s account of this denial (Mark 14:66-72) it is clear that Peter did not deny Jesus weakly or timidly. Rather, he altogether disowned him. Peter called down curses on himself and he swore on oath I do not know the man!


Whose sin was worse? Whose fall was greater? At this point, they are equally at fault, for they both fell into temptation and sin. They both failed Christ. But then what? Then what did they do? That is the more important question to consider. For the fact is we all fall into sin. And every time we sin, we choose to follow after Satan instead of following after Christ. We choose to love sin and Satan more than we love God and His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.


So that much is true. That much is the same. But what do we do with our sin? What do we do with our shameful failures? That’s the real question. What did Judas do? Yes, his soul was filled with guilt for what he had done. He threw back those 30 pieces of silver which the Sanhedrin had used to bribe him to betray Jesus (read Matthew 27:3-5). Judas confessed that he had sinned!


But that confession was not enough. Judas was still filled with the guilt of his sin. So even though his sin was no greater than Peter’s, he failed to look to God for His grace and help and deliverance in his time of need. Instead, he despaired of God’s grace and mercy, and being overcome by his sin and guilt, and he went out and hung himself on a tree.


Peter on the other hand, though he too was filled with grief and remorse and shame for what he had done, by God’s grace, he did not despair of God’s grace and mercy. And it we stay with the account of John, we read where John records the story of Christ’s crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.


But it’s interesting to see how, on Easter resurrection in chapter 20, Mary runs to the disciples to tell them that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. But who does she tell? John 20. 2: She told Simon Peter and the other disciple (John). So, Peter was there even after his denial. 


John doesn’t mention one word about Peter’s denial. He doesn’t say that he was angry with Peter. He doesn’t say that Peter shouldn’t have been there among them. And then after that, vv. 19-25, John tells the story of how Jesus appeared to his disciples on Easter evening. They were all gathered together (except for Thomas). So, Peter was among them.


This was the first time Jesus appeared to them like this after his death and resurrection – and after Peter’s denial. But nothing is recorded about any conversation between Jesus and Peter.

Then, in vs 26ff, we’re told that a week later, on the next Lord’s Day, Thomas was present among the disciples. Jesus appeared to them again. On this occasion, Jesus addresses a faith problem among the disciples – but it was not Peter he addressed. It was doubting Thomas.


All this to say, that while we know the moment is coming when Jesus will address Peter’s denial, that Jesus will restore Peter, still Peter doesn’t run away. Peter does not give in to a spirit of despair or hopelessness or self-pity for that matter. He just patiently waits for the time when he and his Master will talk.  


What a study in contrast this is -- to the way judas responded and Peter responded. May this be a lesson to all of us who have fallen into sin. We must believe that there is no sin so great, no shame so humiliating, no guilt so heavy that God’s grace and mercy cannot save us and redeem us and restore us.   


I know that we often fear what others will think, and what others will say if they were aware of our sins. We think, what will my friends think of me, what will my parents say, what will they do to me? Or, what will my pastor or elders think of me, what will the church do if I confess what I have done. If they discover my sinfulness.


Let me assure you, people of God, fearing what people will say or do if they find out about us is all part of the self-deception of sin. It’s the strategy Satan uses to keep us under his control. We are to fear God, not man. And we should fear what God can do to us if we do not confess our sins! He is the one who can throw body and soul into the fires of hell.


And we must trust and believe that God wants to free us from our sin. He wants us to confess our sins, and to look to others to help us, to counsel us, to pray with us and to help keep us accountable. God has given you faithful and loving parents and friends and elders and pastors to help you.


And keep in mind, all of those helpers are also sinners. We have all fallen into sin. I can guarantee you that none of your sins are greater than any of my sins -- or perhaps I should say none of your sins deserve greater judgment than any of my sins. We are all sinners in need to God’s grace mercy and forgiveness and we are all eternally grateful that God sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross, so that we could before forgiven by God and restored to His favor once more.


2) The Gentle Way Jesus Restores Peter       

So that is the difference between Judas and Peter. Secondly, let’s consider the way Jesus Gently restores Peter. I’m reminded of what Galatians 6:1 says, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.


We who are sinners are to show compassion, sympathy, understanding and patience. Like a loving parent, we have to find that balance between the firmness of our conviction – holding to the truth that sin and disobedience is wrong and needs to treated and punished as sin, but that firmness but be coupled with love and compassion and gentleness so that as 2 Corinthians 2:7 says: the sinner will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  


Here in John 21, Jesus asks Peter three simple questions. In verse 15 we read: “When they had finished eating Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’” Then in verse 16, after Peter responds, Jesus asks again: Simon Son of John, do you truly love me? And then finally, in verse 17, “A third time Jesus said to him: Simon son of John, do you love me?


There’s no doubt that Jesus asks Peter this question these three times to correlate or correspond to Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus. And in this, the Lord’s intention is not to unnecessarily embarrass Peter, or to try to get back at him in a vindictive way.


No, the Lord is gently rebuking and lovingly admonishing Peter. But even as gentle as this is – it still hurts, doesn’t it? Look at verse 17: Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time “Do you love me?”


This helps us see that gentleness and compassion does not mean that there will be no tears, no pain, no sorrow or anguish or grief. Sin is a serious matter, and shame and grief are feelings and emotions that God sends for good reason -- because we have sinned. We have offended God’s majesty and holiness. Shame and grief are an indication that we still have a sensitive conscience.


I’ll also add this: the hurt that Peter felt is a good thing. It is a necessary thing. We sinners are all very proud. We can have stubborn and hard hearts. And God’s job is to break our spirit of pride. God despises a proud heart and a haughty spirit. Therefore, he must break them in order to bring about a true awareness of sin, and in order to pave the way for reconciliation and forgiveness.


We must be broken, every one of us. We sing those familiar and beautiful, yet sorrowful words of Psalm 51: broken humbled to the dust by thy wrath and judgment just! But where does brokenness lead? It leads to the joy of forgiveness. Let my contrite heart rejoice, and in gladness hear thy voice; From my sins O hide They face, blot them out in boundless grace?


If you are living in sin, blinded by sin, in bondage to sin, pray that God might break you; humble you, and bring you down to the dust to repent in dust and ashes, so that soon He might raise you up again in the joy of His salvation!  


This is what Jesus is doing here. Three times Peter denied Jesus and three times Jesus asks: Do you love me?  Do you truly love me? People of God, Christian discipline, the process of confrontation, confession, reconciliation and restoration is not a painless experience. It hurts. Hebrews 12:11 says no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful! But then what does that verse say? It says: But later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. The momentary sorry and pain and shame is worth the rich harvest of righteousness it produces.       


There’s another angle that I want to explore here. Have you ever wondered why Jesus asks this particular question? Why not ask Peter: why did you betray me? Or why were you so afraid? Or why were you so unfaithful? Why ask him: Do you love me?               


It’s because this exposes what was really behind Peter’s denial of Jesus, and what is really behind every sin we commit against God. Our sin exposes a lack (a deficiency) of love, of affection for the Lord our God. Peter, do you love me? Because if you had loved me as you claimed that you did, as you boasted and bragged that you did that you were ready to follow me to prison and even unto death – then you would never have denied me!


Let me direct this to you: Do you love Jesus? How do you show it? How do you know it? How do you express that love? What is it in your life – what sin, what secret sin or habit -- is keeping you from loving God as you ought?


Jesus calls us to love him more than anyone and anything else. When we are working to restore fallen sinners, we’re really working to restore their love for Christ and for the things of Christ.

And of course, it sometimes happens that those who are under discipline, and even those who’ve been excommunicated, might still claim: I love God, I love Christ.


But how do you show that love? How do you express that love? Where is the good fruit of your love? When Christ calls out to wayward sinners through the office of the elders, when they show us our sin, and show us the pathway of repentance, but we deny that we’ve sinned, we justify ourselves, we blame others then clearly, the love of God is not in us.


If we truly love Jesus then we will let nothing stand in the way of that love. Then we will die to our sins, and confess our transgressions, and look to Jesus for forgiveness and grace and his restoring love!! In humility and brokenness, we will come before the One who gave himself up for us on the cross, and we will surrender all to Him, and love him with all our heart and soul and being!  


This is what Peter resolves to do. Twice Peter answered the Lord: you know I love you. Then the third time, after he was hurt, he said Lord you know all things. You know I love you.


Peter is humbled. Peter has been broken down and now he is like a lump of clay in the hands of the Potter and he is ready to be restored into service and molded and shaped by God after the image of Christ Jesus.


The Lord’s work of restoring Peter concludes with four commands: Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me!


Isn’t that so beautiful to see and to hear?! Jesus forgives. Jesus restores. And Jesus reinstates Peter to his office and calling once more. A point should be made that Jesus did this publicly, in the sight and in the hearing of the other disciples. So they too know that Peter has been forgiven and restored – but it also serves the purpose of showing them (and us) see how sinners are  forgiven and restored and reinstated into the service of Christ.


So you see, there is a way back beloved. And the way may be painful and tearful, but the way back to God is not hard. Christ is the way. It was hard for Him, because He had to endure God’s wrath for our sins. But now it is finished, and Christ is risen, and he offers to all the free gift of grace to those who believe in Him. So, leave your sins behind. Look to Christ. Declare you love for Christ. And follow after Him wherever he may lead. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2023, Pastor Keith Davis

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