This week, Pastor Matt closes out our journey through the Gospel of John and brings some much needed encouragement to our exhausted souls with the profoundly Big Idea: Jesus Restores Backsliders.
1. Jesus seeks backsliders
2. Jesus humbles backsliders
3. Jesus commissions backsliders

Citylight Manayunk | August 28, 2022 from Citylight Church on Vimeo.


ESV Study Bible

Expository Thoughts on John by J.C. Ryle

The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, by D.A. Carson

The Tony Evans Study Bible by Tony Evans

Sermon Transcript

I want to tell you a story about a man named Simon. He was a strong and confident man – a leader. One day, a rabbi approached him and invited Simon to follow him and learn from him. Simon was drawn to the rabbi. Because he was brave and strong and proud, Simon quickly became the leader of the group that followed the rabbi. The rabbi even changed Simon’s name to Peter, “Rock!” Simon Peter loved the rabbi so much that he vowed that even if everyone else deserted the rabbi, he would follow him to death. When the rabbi was arrested, Peter drew his word and went into battle mode for his rabbi. But after the rabbi was arrested, Peter’s entire identity fell apart. Yes, he followed the rabbi, but only at a distance. And when Peter was recognized as one of the rabbi’s followers and was questioned about it, in his moment to shine, he denied even knowing the rabbi – three times. His life fell apart. What hope is there for such a man? By the way the rabbi’s name was Jesus – truly human and also truly God. 


I want to tell you about a woman named Jane. She too became a follower of the rabbi, though about two thousand years after Peter followed him. She started following Jesus in college. His gospel changed her life. Jane followed Christ and loved his people the church, all the way through grad school and the early years of marriage. But then she had her first baby. It was a thrill, but Jane was exhausted. Jane’s world slowly began to shrink. Between the baby and her husband and her job, the rabbi slowly became just another thing to fit in. Over time, Jane prayed to the rabbi less and became less interested in getting together with his people for worship. Jane’s baby is now five. Life hasn’t slowed down like she thought it would. The rabbi is becoming a distant memory. Jane misses him, as does her husband John who has walked a similarly slow path away from the rabbi. What hope is there for such a mom & dad? 


I want to tell you about a young man – his name is Jack. He can’t remember a time that he didn’t believe in the rabbi. He had good parents, went to good schools, grew up in a solid church, and his career is taking off. But he has a secret. He’s addicted to pornography and he feels so badly about it that he drinks a little too much to numb the guilt. He wants to come clean, he wants to get unstuck, he wants to feel the thrill of closeness to Christ again, but he just won’t move toward the rabbi. What hope is there for such a man?


Finally, I want to tell you about myself. Call me Matt. I’ve been following Jesus since I was about sixteen. I love him so much. But I struggle with what you might call religious scrupulosity – a kind of moral obsessiveness. I have the tendency to introspect my past and present sins and to rehearse my thoughts, conversations or sermons, inspecting them for exaggerations or really anything potentially inappropriate. As I do, I don’t just find sin and confess it, rather I can become obsessively afraid that I’m a religious hypocrite, unworthy to be a pastor, and still under God’s judgment. Now, by God’s grace I’ve grown a lot in the past year, but what hope is there for someone who, after all these years, still sometimes wakes up doubting the Rabbi’s great love and grace? 


What hope is there for backsliders – people who began well in following Christ, but have either sinned spectacularly or are slowly drifting away from the rabbi? The answer is the big idea of our passage: Jesus restores backsliders. As we explore the way Jesus restores Peter, we see that Jesus restores backsliders in three ways: 1. Jesus seeks backsliders 2. Jesus humbles backsliders 3. Jesus commissions backsliders




John 21 begins with Peter and the other disciples back home in Galilee from the big city, Jerusalem. Upon returning home, Peter decides to go fishing and several of the other disciples join him. Some scholars believe that by going fishing rather than immediately going into all the world and making disciples, Peter and the other apostles are being disobedient to Jesus. I think that may be reading a little too much into the passage. Fishing isn’t a sin and they still had to eat. Nevertheless, you can tell that Peter isn’t yet experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, isn’t yet grasping the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, isn’t yet eager to fulfill Jesus’ mission, and most importantly isn’t yet restored to Jesus from his backsliding. So, they go fishing. Isn’t that amazing. Fishing is what Peter was first doing when Jesus called him. Peter’s backsliding has led him all the way back to the very place where Jesus first called Peter out to be his disciple. And Jesus shows up. Peter is still sliding and Jesus patiently and lovingly goes to seek him. Peter isn’t seeking Jesus for restoration. Jesus is seeking Peter. And yet Jesus doesn’t seem annoyed in the least. There is no hint that Jesus is frustrated or impatient to be seeking Peter. Jesus is not like us sinful parents and spouses who get frustrated with our children or spouse because they just don’t get it. He patiently seeks Peter when Peter isn’t seeking him. Pastor Tom pointed out to me this week that this concept is difficult for many of us to grasp because we may have never experienced an example of someone who pursues us despite our constant failings and backsliding. Jesus does. Jesus seeks Peter. Jesus seeks backsliders. 


I want you to notice the way that Peter responds to Jesus seeking him. Peter and the disciples are out fishing and they catch nothing. Jesus shows up on the shore and tells them to cast the nets on the other side of the boat – they don’t know it’s Jesus. Peter and the other disciples begrudgingly comply. What could it hurt? They’ve had no luck up to this point. They cast their nets on the starboard side and haul in so many fish that they just had to count them up. 153 large fish in total. The disciple whom Jesus loved, John, is the first to recognize that the man on the shore is Jesus, and John tells Peter that is Jesus. And do you see how Peter reacted? Peter threw himself into the sea and swam straight for Jesus. Peter did not try to clean himself up first, he did not make excuses, and he did not delay or hesitate at the potential cost of returning to Jesus. No, he quite literally threw himself at Jesus. I believe that the reason why Peter quite literally dove into repentance is because he knew what to expect from Jesus. He heard Jesus say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 


Let’s begin to take this personally. Have you sinned spectacularly and made a real mess of your life or are you slowly sliding away from Jesus in your heart? I have wonderful news for you. Jesus is seeking you. That’s why you’re here. He is gentle, patient, and merciful. He loves backsliders and he welcomes you to come back to him and find rest from your backsliding. Take the first step toward him today. The first step is simple, though not easy: pray to him on the basis of his gentleness. Whatever your backsliding looks like, open it up to him in prayer because you know what to expect. He is full of steadfast love and has a gentle heart toward backsliders who turn to him. You can pray to him because he restores backsliders, first, by seeking backsliders. Now, this isn’t the end of the way that Jesus restores backsliders…




After breakfast is over, with the other disciples listening in, the Lord Jesus turns his attention to Peter – the man who three times denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus asks Peter three questions, corresponding to three times that Peter denied the Lord Jesus. Jesus is restoring Peter by humbling him. Let’s read this famous interaction between Peter and the Lord Jesus. John 21:15 – 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.” What exactly is Jesus asking Peter? Some think that Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Jesus more than these fish – his other profession. Others think that Jesus is asking if Peter loves Jesus more than he loves the other disciples. Of course, these questions are important, but I agree with the three scholars I read on this passage that Jesus was asking Peter, “Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?” Remember, Peter is the one who told Jesus that even if all the other disciples fall away, he will be the one who follows Jesus to the end. Jesus is humbling Peter. Jesus is humbling the backslider to the point that he has nothing to boast in, no excuses, and no self-confidence. Peter has nothing but his simple love for Jesus in his heart and confidence that Jesus knows. 


But it’s not just the question that Jesus asks that humbles Peter. It’s the number of them. Three times Peter denied the Lord Jesus. Jesus humbling Peter so that he can honestly own up to his sin and experience restoration. 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. The repetition isn’t lost on Peter. Jesus humbles Peter to the point that he is genuinely grieved over his sin. Jesus is helping Peter honestly own up to his sin. Jesus humbles Peter so that Peter can’t minimize his sin and doesn’t simply try to avoid the consequences. Jesus humbles Peter so that Peter can genuinely grieve his sin. Friends, that’s how gentle and kind Jesus restores backsliders. He always humbles us. Let’s begin to take this personally. Jesus restores backsliders first by seeking us, so our first step is to turn to him, to pray to him on the basis of his mercy and gentleness toward backsliders. But Jesus, secondly, restores backsliders by humbling us. So our second step is to own up to our backsliding. We do this by saying the same thing about our backsliding that he does. We confess it to him, we ask for his forgiveness, and we ask him to create a clean heart in us. 


Now, in humbling us, Jesus is preparing us for something bigger. He doesn’t just bring us low to throw our sin in our face. No, he humbles us to keep us near and to empower us toward the work he really wants for us. And that brings us to the final way that Jesus restores backsliders… 


JESUS COMMISSIONS BACKSLIDERSThree times the Lord Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter affirms it. But each time when Peter affirms his love for Jesus, notice that Jesus responds to Peter’s affirmation with a commission: “Feed my sheep.” Jesus was not done with Peter the denier. Peter’s past sins did not disqualify him from a present commissioning or future fruitfulness. Jesus doesn’t merely restore and set aside backsliders. Jesus doesn’t even bring backsliders back to a sort of baseline. No, Jesus restores backsliders by seeking us, so we can open our hearts to him. Jesus restores backsliders by humbling us, so we can own up to our sins and seek him for a clean heart. But Jesus also restores backsliders by humbling us so that he can commission us to more fruitfully serve his church, be his witnesses, and show off his power to restore backsliders. Your past sins do not disqualify you from a present commissioning or future fruitfulness. Jesus is not done with you. No, he commissions you! Now, I think it’s only responsible for me to emphasize that Jesus commissions us. We don’t commission ourselves. And Jesus commissions us through our church. So, if you’ve been in a somewhat long or spectacular season of backsliding, rely on other members of this church to help you experience Jesus humbling and commissioning. We don’t commission ourselves and we don’t need to rush. But hear me: Your past sins do not disqualify you from future fruitfulness. In his kindness, the Lord Jesus uses our backsliding to prepare us for future fruitfulness in his service. 

Now, after Jesus commissions Peter, Jesus commissions Peter not only to glorify Jesus with his life, but also in his death. Peter is commissioned to glorify God with his death on Christ’s behalf. The newly commissioned backslider cannot help but feel like our Lord has given him a comparatively difficult calling. Some of you may feel that way. It seems to you like every other disciple has an easier path than you. They have an easier marriage – or at least they get to be married, they have an easier job, an easier time with money, an easier time with their sexuality, an easier time with holiness, an easier time sharing the gospel, an easier time with health, and an easier time with temptation. That’s how Peter felt and he was honest with Jesus. John 21:20-22 – Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” Peter’s restored commissioning isn’t easy and neither is yours. After all, Jesus said that anyone who comes after him must take up their cross and die to themselves daily. Yes, your new commissioning may be comparatively difficult, but Jesus says, “you, follow me.” And this is palatable because of who is saying it. This is Jesus and he’s not saying, “suck it up and deal.’ He’s saying, “Trust me. I sought you. I humbled you. I restored you. And I’ve got you into the future. My path may be difficult, but there are joys unspeakable and I’ll never leave you.” And Jesus can say that to you because he already went to the cross to pay your eternal backsliding sin-debt and he said, “it is finished.”