The Forgiving Challenge: Restoration

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Banana Beer Together

In 1994, the world was horrified at the stories coming out of Rwanda. Civil War turned to genocide. When it was over more than 3/4 of a million people had been brutally murdered, all because they came from the wrong ethnic group. Father André Sibomana was a Catholic priest whose views about unity and peace were forced out of the country during the genocide. When it was safe to return, the priest worked to bring the Hutus and Tutsis together. It was hard work. Everything had to be rebuilt: schools, houses, gardens, villages, towns, cities. Father Sibomana pulled Hutus and Tutsis to work side by side in the rebuilding of Rwanda. At one point, during a work break, Sibomana caught a glimpse of reconciliation. To his amazement, Hutus and Tutsis working on the same project were now drinking banana beer from the same cup. That doesn’t happen in Rwanda. But that picture, that moment, showed Sibomana the hope of restoration and forgiveness.
Restoration. Reconciliation. It’s what we all want. It may not be historically ethnic nemeses drinking banana beer from the same cup. But we desire reconciliation. We desire restoration.


SCARS. This is our forgiving challenge acrostic. S-C-A-R-S.

What is forgiveness? What is restoration?

We are on the letter “R” today. Restoration. Last week we talked about forgiveness.
Forgiveness cancels a debt.
Forgiveness is freedom from sin.
Restoration is freedom to live on mission.
Restoration is freedom to live in relationship.
Here’s a question: what does God think of you when you or me when we are an absolute failure?
God wants relationship with us. It’s why he forgives. One of the most tragic stories in the Bible happens in the garden. God has created his creatures. He has perfect relationship with them. He walks with them. He talks with Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve sin. The relationship is broken. God kicks them out of the garden. But before he does, he covers them with animal skins. Those animal skins are the death of an animal provided by God so that relationship can be restored. The entire Bible is about God restoring his relationship with you and me. When they were absolute failures. God had them covered.

The Conversation

Peter finds himself on the bad side of a broken relationship. And today, we’re again going to follow Peter and find out just what happens in his forgiveness. Today we’re going to take a closer look at one of the most remarkable conversations in all of the Bible. There’s nothing like this conversation. Pages and pages and pages have been written about this conversation. This conversation has been dissected and discussed for the past two-thousand years. If the topic is forgiveness, at some point you’re going to find yourself on the shoreline listening in to this conversation between Peter and Jesus.
Again, the background for the story is all that had taken place in the space of two or three weeks. One of Jesus’ best friends, John is writing to a community much like ours. They want to know if Jesus is the real deal. John spends an entire letter giving them details and stories of Jesus’ life and death. And he finally says, yes, I’ve been writing all of this so that you would continue to believe and be encouraged in your belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Promised One of the Old Testament, the Son of God himself, and by believing, have life in his name.

Peter and His Claims

And one of the running storylines in the stuff John is writing down is the story of Peter. Peter, who makes the claim that he will not desert Jesus, does just that on the night that Jesus went on trial. Peter promises to remain faithful to Jesus even when death is on the line, but there’s Peter, next to a charcoal fire, totally failing Jesus. Not once. Not twice. Three times he completely folded, denying he knew the man who was inside the house on trial for his life.

Peter and His Failure

Peter totally blows it. Jesus dies. Jesus rises from the dead. Peter sees the empty tomb. Peter has hope. Peter sees Jesus alive with the others. And then Peter goes fishing. That’s where John 21 begins. Peter and the others are back to their original vocation. They are fishing. And again, Jesus shows up. Jesus is waiting for them on the beach with a charcoal fire and on that charcoal fire are fish and bread. It’s a meal of forgiveness. For Peter.

Peter’s Restoration

As we look at Peter’s restoration, we need to keep this in mind. The freedom that Jesus is giving isn’t just freedom from sin, but freedom to live life on mission. Forgiveness restores relationship. Forgiveness is moving toward mission.
John 21:15 “When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to him, “you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs,” he told him.”
Peter and Jesus can still feel and smell that charcoal fire. We have no idea where the other disciples are at this point. Perhaps Jesus and Peter begin to walk on the beach. Whatever happens in this conversation, John, as he is telling the story, zeroes in on Peter and Jesus. It’s as if the other disciples have disappeared. The rest of the canvas is dark and the camera is only on Jesus and Peter. And Jesus starts the whole thing with “Simon, son of John”. Three times, Jesus uses this phrase “Simon, son of John”. The only other place in John where Jesus uses the name Simon is at the very beginning when he first meets Peter. He calls him Simon. Already the conversation is taking on a life of its own. Jesus uses Simon because he is starting over with Peter. The slate is clean. The sin is erased. Whatever Peter has done, it’s not just in the past, but the debt has been canceled. “Simon” never sounded better on Peter than in that moment. It’s fresh start.

A Flurry of Three’s

“Simon, son of John” because the first of four sets of 3 that are here… 3 because Peter denied Jesus 3 times, but 3 because 3 is also the Jewish number of emphatic completion. If you want to emphasize something in English, we use the exclamation point. In the Jewish culture, if you wanted to emphasize something, you did it or said it 3 times.
“Simon, son of John”
“Do you love me more than these?” (2x)
“You know I love you”.
“Feed/Shepherd my sheep”.
These are all repeated three times. To the point of Peter’s grief and exasperation. There at least three things that stand out in this remarkable conversation. The first is that Jesus brings Peter to the end of himself.
Jesus brings Peter to the end of himself.
Jesus is not shaming Peter. Jesus is restoring Peter.
Jesus places Peter on mission.
Jesus isn’t shaming Peter. But he does go right to the heart of Peter’s entire life of being self-sufficient. Peter is the one who will be the champion of Jesus. Jesus, you’re the Messiah. That was Peter’s great confession. But Peter also said things like, I will never deny you. And even if everybody else abandons you, I won’t. Just 3 days before Jesus dies, Jesus says, “love one another as I have loved you.” And Peter says “I will lay down my life for you.” Now, Jesus is back at it again.
“Do you love me more than these?”
Do you love me more than all these friends, and all this fishing? How great is your love, Peter? Do you love me more than anybody else loves me?
Jesus is after Peter’s heart. This is the perfect opportunity to revisit exactly what Peter has done and Jesus doesn’t do it. The charcoal fire is enough. The loaf and fish are enough. Peter is forgiven. Now Jesus wants Peter to know he’s not only forgiven but that he still has a relationship with Jesus. Jesus wants Peter to hear his own confession.
And this time, there’s no braggadocio. There’s no self-sufficiency. There’s no self-reliance and power language. Peter has nothing to offer. In the face of failure, and with the smell and the taste of forgiveness still dominating the scene, there will be no grand statement from Peter about how much he is going to do for Jesus. Peter knows he cannot go there. He’s at the end of himself.
And so he says,
you know I love you.
That is the sum of Peter’s response. The amazing thing about Peter’s statement is how short it is. How many of us would attempt to come forward with Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and Exhibit C? Jesus, you know I love you… remember the time I proclaimed that you are the Messiah? Remember the time I came walking on the water to you? Even though you had to bail me out before I drowned? Remember the time? Of course, I love you. Those denials? Just a bad day. There is none of this from Peter. This is a different Peter. This is a Peter who has failed and has been forgiven. And in the moment where forgiveness is being received, Peter can only muster and can only say the only thing he can say: You know I love you. It’s not up to Peter to prove a thing. It’s not up to Peter to prove that his repentance is genuine. He is throwing himself at what Jesus knows. Because only the son of God knows the heart. And what Jesus knows is that Peter does love Jesus. He’s not even going to run with “I love you more than these.” He’s done with the comparison game. You. Know. I. Love. You.
Three times, Jesus asks, and three times, Peter says “you know I love you.” And three times Jesus simply responds with feed my sheep. Remember 3 is the number of completion.
Jesus is restoring Peter.
Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter is aimed at Peter’s restoration. The relationship with Jesus was never in question. But this is a picture of what Jesus is doing with Peter and with all of us when are sin is forgiven. We might think for a moment that Jesus is going to abandon us. Peter must have thought this. Maybe there will only be 10 disciples from here on out. Maybe Jesus wants me out of the equation. But forgiveness always presumes restoration. Both happen at the same time.
Jesus is reminding Peter that he wants to be in a relationship with Peter and Jesus will do whatever it takes to make that happen, including going to the cross and dying for Peter and his selfishness and his denial and his abandonment. Paid for. Done. Forgiven. Peter, you are still in relationship with me.
Feed my sheep.
You are restored. And if you missed it the first time, we’re going to do this Q&A three times so that you understand and you hear that you are forgiven and restored.
And that brings us to this. Jesus doesn’t simply restore Peter to some good past where Jesus and Peter had a good relationship. Jesus is pushing the entire relationship forward. Things are better than they where. Forgiveness and restoration don’t simply make every thing good. They make everything better. And here Jesus is making sure that Peter understands that forgiveness has a mission. In Peter’s restoration,
Jesus places Peter on mission.
Shepherd my sheep.
At the heart of the entire restoration conversation, Jesus is putting Peter on mission with the Shepherding of his sheep. You love me more than these? Yes, I love you. Then make sure that you are shepherding these and any others who are part of the sheep. They’re not your sheep. They are my sheep. Go find the lost sheep. Tend and care for the sheep that come into the fold. Be a shepherd, Peter. Do all the things that a shepherd does.
Peter has heard this before. In John 10, Jesus tells Peter that
John 10:11 “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Now we know Jesus is the Good Shepherd. But the Good Shepherd is a pattern for all the undershepherds. All the pastors. All the church leaders. All of the disciples with Jesus on the beach that day. And Jesus is telling Peter, you be a shepherd. You’re on mission with this forgiveness. Take this forgiveness and spread it to others. Shepherd my sheep, Peter.

Forgiveness on mission

That’s what forgiveness looks like. That’s restoration. Restoration is forgiveness on mission. This is who Jesus is for you. Jesus will not shame you, condemn you, or embarrass you. He’s not angry with you. He’s loving. He’s kind. He’s generous. He’s welcoming. You are forgiven. Receive his forgiveness and know that he has restored you to a life of being on mission with his forgiveness for others.
There are a lot of us in here that have received the banging of the gavel and the words spoken over you “You’re innocent.” But what many still struggle with is around the idea of what we’re talking about today, restoration, because that hits at identity. And if there’s a singular struggle that I think the church of today needs to hear most it’s helping people properly understand who they are in Jesus and that His forgiveness that He offers always restores your identity.
Never forget that your identity is that you are forgiven. And that means Jesus wants to be in relationship with you. Always. It’s an unbelievable idea. Jesus wants your heart. He wants your relationship. It’s not dependent on you. It’s everything he has already done for you. You might struggle with that. I heard it again last week, “I just can’t forgive myself.” I get that. I understand. I’ve been there.
But please hear this: Jesus has forgiven you. Completely. There’s really nothing left to forgive yourself for. What you are expressing, though, is the hard reality that we find it tough and difficult to actually believe that Jesus has forgiven us. I don’t know what you’ve done. I don’t know what it is to be you in your shoes. But in those moments when you feel you can’t forgive yourself, I want you to walk with me back to this charcoal fire and smell the smoke, see loaf and fish, and hear this conversation with Peter. Jesus has forgiven you. He forgave Peter. He’s forgiven you. You are his and he will never ever let you go. There’s never a moment that you aren’t forgiven. That’s your identity.
So rest in Christ. Speak the words that Peter confesses… you know I love you Jesus. It’s all Jesus wants to hear from those who’ve already been forgiven.
Let’s Pray.
We have our charcoal fire here. This is love right here. This meal is love for you and me. This is forgiveness. It’s here that we find restoration and healing again and again and again. This is where Jesus declares to us… I want to have a relationship with you. Eat, drink, for the forgiveness of sins.
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