The Rock

My name is Simōn Petros… the “Rock.”

No, not your modern Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. (Although I am a fan.) No. I’m the original Rock. That’s me: disciple of Jesus, Simōn Petros. Simon Peter.

But that wasn’t always my name. Until just a few years ago, I was known as Simōn Bariōna: Simon, Son of Jonah. It was Jesus who gave me my new name.

He gave it to me after I answered a question. It was a question much discussed among those of us who had left it all to follow Jesus. It was a question I had wrestled with many times in the middle of the night as I watched the stars cross the heavens above. It was a question I had asked myself whenever I watched Jesus heal someone sick, when I witnessed him reaching out with compassion to people who were hurting, when I heard him talk about scripture with such passion and authority and clarity. Over and over again, I asked myself…

“Who is this man?”

Then, one day, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where I used to fish, Jesus himself asked all of us the very question that had been burning in our hearts for so long:

“Who do you say that I am?”

Before I could stop myself, the answer leapt from my throat: “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

It’s as if that answer had been laying within me, all that time, as I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing, what I was learning, as I walked alongside this man who had called me to follow him. I didn’t know it, but the answer was already there.

I mean, who else could he be? This man of such power, such authority, such grace and love and joy. Who else could he be?

“You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

As I said this, Jesus looked into my eyes, and smiled. “Blessed are you, Simōn Bariōna,” he said, “for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter — Petros — and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Whoa! Seriously! On this — on this Rock — he was planning to build his community of believers. On this Rock! Me! Suddenly, I could see it! Me, standing by his side, his right-hand-man as he took his position of power in Jerusalem, as he showed the world what he was capable of. This man, this Christ, the Messiah. We had been waiting for him for so long! And I was to be with him, at his side, for it all!

Simōn Petros
that’s pretty awesome,
I thought.

But things took a weird turn almost immediately after that. Looking back now, I think Jesus had been waiting for one of us to say out loud what we had been thinking: that he was the Messiah.

Because after that, he started talking about how he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

I have to tell you, that was not what I expected. I mean, what would be the point of it? What was the point of having all that knowledge and power and ability, just to go to the Holy City… to die?

No. Just no. He couldn’t mean it. He was so powerful, so awe-inspiring. I had seen him heal people who had been desperately sick for years. I had stood with him as he confounded the snooty intellectuals who tried to trick him. I had witnessed miracles.

What would be the point?

“Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus said. “You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Jesus… he actually called me Satan! Just hold on a second! I thought I was the Rock upon which Jesus’ followers would be built. Now… now I was the devil, the adversary, the tempter. All because I didn’t want this future that Jesus was laying in front of us. It didn’t make sense! A future of confusion and despair. A future without Jesus.

No. No! I didn’t care. I meant what I said. He was the Christ, the Messiah. And I had been waiting my whole life for him. My parents, their parents, their parents… all waiting for him. And he was here. And I… I was a part of it all.

I. Was. The. Rock.

But then…
Jerusalem.

We went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover together. That Sunday, as we entered the city, people placed their cloaks on the road in front of him, they waved palm branches as a sign of victory, they welcomed him.

But then everything he said would happen… it happened.

He was torn from us. He was taken to trial in front of the elders of our faith. And he suffered. Oh, he suffered. I don’t know what you’ve all heard, but I was there. I had, you could say, a front row seat to it all. Not many of us were able to get in to the chief priest’s courtyard that night, but John got me in. And I heard, right there, all about what had happened.

I can’t tell you, there are no adequate words to explain to you, how terrible that night was. I was so confused, so terrified. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t understand how this had happened! Jesus — this amazing man, this Christ, my Messiah — was being tried as a criminal.

That hit me. A criminal. And I… I was guilty by association. If they found him guilty, what was to keep them from taking me next?

Hear me: I am not proud of what did, of how I acted. I was the Rock. And, that night, the rock shattered. Three times as I stood in that courtyard — a short walking distance between me and the cell where Jesus was being held — three times I was asked if I knew him.

And I denied it.
Three times.

I, Simōn Petros, who had been so excited to stand by Jesus’ side as he took power… I denied even knowing him.

I did not stand by him.
I was too afraid.
And I am so
so
so
sorry.

You, sitting in this sanctuary this morning, you know the story. That mockery of a court, they convicted him. Innocent of anything but stirring up within his followers a desire for the truth. Kind, loving, compassionate, brilliant. He who healed, who taught, who saved us and loved us and challenged us: they convicted him. They hung him on a cross… until he died.

I heard that his body had been taken down from the cross. I heard, because I was too ashamed, too afraid to be there when it happened. I wasn’t there when they took down his broken body, when they placed it in the tomb, when they rolled the stone in place. I wasn’t there.

Some “Rock”
I turned out to be.

Those of us who were still in Jerusalem gathered together that weekend. We huddled together in a room in the city. We were afraid to venture outdoors. Because, who knows what awaited us out there? Were we next for the cross? We stayed inside.

But there was a small group of women, all followers of Jesus along with us, who mastered their fears, and went out. By that time it was very, very early on Sunday morning, and the Sabbath was over. By Law they were now permitted to finish the burial process for Jesus.

I could have gone with them.
I could have done it.
Could have gone to offer him
one last act of love.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t.

They came back with the most extraordinary story! They had seen Jesus. Not Jesus’ body, but actually, really Jesus! Walking around, talking with them, telling them not to be afraid. Jesus.

John and I leapt up, threw open the door to the room where we had been hiding, and we ran. We ran and ran. I felt as though there was something drawing me, pulling me, making me run faster and faster and faster toward that tomb.

But…
When we arrived…
there was
nothing.

No body.
No Jesus.
Nothing.

John and I walked together back to Jerusalem. Back to that room where the rest of our friends were waiting for news. We walked… slowly. We didn’t speak. After all, what was there to say?

Back in that room with our friends, our fellow followers of Jesus, who had been killed: shut away from the world, we sat together. In confusion. In grief. In uncertainty.

Then…
suddenly…
he was there.

He was there with us. Jesus! There, in that room, with the door locked and barred, with us hiding away inside, terrified and uncertain:

He. Was. There.
With us.

Over those next few days, I tried — best I could — to wrap my head around the fact – the undeniable fact — that he was not lying forgotten in a borrowed tomb outside the city of Jerusalem, but was with us. Alive!

All we had seen, all we had learned, all we had experienced: what did it all mean? And what would we do now?

We couldn’t stay in Jerusalem. Things were so tense there, so dangerous still. So we went back to where we came from. I went back — along with Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and a few others — we went back to the very place where Jesus had first called me: the Sea of Galilee.

I don’t know if you know… but I used to be a fisherman. It was my business, my livelihood. I have fished that sea all of my life. I supported my family, my wife’s family, on the fish I brought back from that beautiful sea. It has been a place of comfort, of familiarity, all of my life. So… we went back.

Remember: we were restless, we were unsure. With anxiety and adrenaline burning within us, as the sun went down over the sea, I took my friends out on my boat to fish.

I told you, I am a life-long fisherman. I know those waters. I didn’t need any of your new-fangled GPS devices, chart plotters, or fish-finder sonars. I just knew where to catch fish. My father had taught me. His father had taught him. Down through the centuries, we were fishermen. So I took my friends out into my boat to fish. To take our minds off of the confusion of all that was happening.

Because there is so much
that I did not know right then…
but I knew these waters.

But that night,
we caught…
nothing.

Tired, smelly, bone-exhausted, we came back to shore early the next morning. As we came closer to the shore, we could see the light of a fire on the rocky beach.

Then we heard a voice call through the lightening skies: “Children, have you caught any fish?”

“Children,” that voice said. Children. Paidia, the voice said. Little children, infants, young sons and daughters.

I should have known.
I should have known right then.
But I didn’t.
Not yet.

“Children, have you caught any fish?”
“No!” we responded.
“Throw your net on the right-hand side of the boat!”

We did. Tired as we were, we threw that net over the starboard side of the boat. We cast that net wide, and watched it, in the morning light of the sun, sinking down, drawing low under the surface of the water.

Then…

The boat tugged to starboard. In our feet, we felt the boat lean to the right, saw the ropes of the net tighten, then strain, then the boat tilted, water spilling in over the side. Looking over the side, we could see fish — so many fish — flapping madly in that net suspended below our boat. We could not pull it in.

I looked back to the shore, where that light from a campfire glowed, where that voice had come from, and… I knew.

And… John whispered with a sound of awe:
“It is the Lord.”

I grabbed my tunic, threw it on, and jumped over the side of the boat toward the water. With every stroke of my arms as I swam toward shore, I thought: “He is here! Oh, my Lord… He is here!”

I actually made it to shore before the boat did. I have no idea how I managed that, but that voice called out again as I touched the shore, saying, “Bring me some of the fish you’ve just caught.”

By then, my other friends had anchored out, just a bit off the beach. I waded back out, and took some of the fish they had already counted out. We had caught 153 large fish in that net, I would later find out. The largest single catch of my life.

But in that moment,
I could not have cared less.

Because… Jesus was waiting for me. 
For us.
He. Was. Here.

And our Savior, our Christ, our Messiah, for whom generations of our families had been waiting, this Rescuer, Redeemer, this Son of the Most High God…

He made us breakfast.

He fed us, tired and hungry and bone-exhausted. He fed us bread and fish. Then he asked me the strangest question:

“Do you love me?”

Do you love me? Of course I loved him! I gave up everything — home, family, job, reputation — everything to follow you, I thought. Of course I love you!

He responded: “Then feed my lambs.”

I thought that finished the discussion. I really did. But then he asked again: “Do you love me?”

My heart hurt, as suddenly I remembered standing in that courtyard in Jerusalem, 70 miles and seemingly a lifetime away, listening to the rooster crow as the sun began to rise the morning as Jesus was held in that prison, awaiting executing.

I remembered how my heart hurt then, how frightened I had been, how uncertain. And I answered his question: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” he said.

But, even then, Jesus wasn’t finished with me. He drew breath to speak… and I knew what was coming. The spirit within me cringed as he asked a third time:

“Do you love me?”

I answered his question, one last time: “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

“Then feed my sheep,” was his response.

That…
That is when it hit me.

Just days before, standing in the courtyard of the Chief Priests’ house as Jesus was humiliated, as he suffered, three times — three times — I had denied knowing him.

And here, on the shores of the sea that I loved, where he had called me, the Savior I followed had given me the opportunity to declare, out loud, three times, with that same voice that had betrayed him… to declare that I loved Jesus.

And, three times, Jesus had given me the command, the order, the opportunity to show him, to demonstrate to him the depth and seriousness of that love.

By this:
by caring for,
by feeding
his flock.

By giving of myself
out of love
in the same way
Jesus gave of himself
for us.

You and I, we’ve never met face to face. You live two thousand years in my future. But I pray that you, this morning, would know, that you would understand, that this same Jesus who called me by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, this same Jesus who I followed across hundreds of miles, this same Jesus who taught and healed and suffered and died… and who came back to us…

This same Jesus taught
and healed and suffered
and died
and came back …
for you.

It’s not an easy question… but it is the most important one of your life.

My brothers and sisters across the miles and the centuries… as each of us gathered here this beautiful morning… Jesus asks you:

“Do you love me?”
“Then take care of my sheep.”

 

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