Losing the Shackles of Guilt

John 21


Good Morning. Open your Bible to John, chapter 21. As you know, last week, we covered the story of Thomas. The title of my lesson now is Losing the Shackles of Guilt.

To open this lesson, I would like for all of you to think for a, few seconds, about liquid paper. Isn’t liquid paper a wonderful thing? I remember when it came out in Belgium. I was about 9 years old. We were scored in our schools, partly, on how neat we kept our notebooks. So when we made mistakes, we had to tear off the page and start over or take a bad grade for big ink scratches on the white paper. Man, it took forever to do our work!

But then liquid paper was invented. It was called Typex. It was a wonderful thing. It had a little paint brush and it covered, neatly, all our mistakes. Now I don’t think I could ever live without it. When a smudge appears in my notes, I paint over it and the problem disappears.

But you see life is a whole lot like writing. We all like it neat and nice and clean; but we all mess up at times. And the sad truth is many of us live with some ugly old black smudges on our conscience or on our records. It affects the way we live; the choices we make; and the relationships we have! And I don’t know a man on the face of this world who would not love to have liquid paper for his soul if he ever found such a thing! Well, I am here to tell you today, “There is good news!” There is good news for all of those who have failed and need a new beginning. Look at our story in John 21: 1-3. “….”

Now stop here a second. What is Peter doing fishing? “He is a fisherman,” you say. Yeah, but look in John, chapter 20. He has obviously been called to another occupation. In v. 19 to 23, we read this. “….” Folks, that is the equivalent of the great commission of Matt 28 and Mark 16. Jesus, here, is saying to the twelve, “I have a task for you! I know you are afraid, but I need you to go out. People need forgiveness. You have a message for them and I am giving you my Spirit to help!” But then, you turn to John 21 and Peter is leading everybody fishing. He is going back to his old job.

Could it be because of guilt? Could it be feelings of unworthiness? It could. I have known many men, who, in the church, do not teach, do not lead prayer, and do not get involved in any way because of the guilt of an old sin. I have seen men unable to discipline their kids today, because of the memories they have of the time they were unbalanced, immature and abusive. I have seen women unable to have meaningful, significant relationships with others, like Christ had and wants us to have, because of the guilt associated with past faults. So, yes, it could be guilt that is paralyzing Peter here. Could it be something else? Maybe, but the rest of the story, shows without a doubt, a Peter who is struggling, a guilty Peter, a Peter that Jesus needs to confront! Look what happens next in v. 4-8. “….” Now notice, carefully, the setting of the scene. First of all, it already reminds you of the miraculous catch in Luke 5, when Peter had received his call to follow Jesus. At that time, he had forsaken everything to be part of Jesus’ disciples. But then you read this in v. 9. “….” When is the only other time in the gospel scriptures that a coal fire is mentioned? It is in the denial in John 18:18. (The NIV does not translate the coal fire, but the NRS does.) Now it’s almost as if Jesus has deliberately chosen to reproduce significant events of Peter’s life. “Why?” you ask. What could possibly motivate that? What could be important enough to talk about when the Son of God is preparing breakfast? Let’s keep on reading in verses 10-15a. “….” And here comes the significant question. “Peter, do you love me more than these?” Literally, “Do you agape me more than the disciples?” Think of Peter’s personality – always first, always bolder, and always stronger. Do you remember what he said before Jesus was arrested and nailed to the cross? See Matt. 26:31-35. So far in his life, he has always thought he was better than the others, hasn’t he? So he should answer, “Yes, of course!” to be consistent. But yet, it’s not what he says. It doesn’t transpire in English, but it does in the Greek. Oh, Jesus’ question stings! It reminds him of something he would prefer to forget. It is right at the heart of the ugly, dark, big smudge. And Peter, half-heartedly, says, “Yes.” It’s almost as if he doesn’t believe in it, but he doesn’t want to reopen the old wound. I know that because, in the Greek, he answers, “Yes, Jesus, I phileo you, you know!” He doesn’t use the same term as Jesus. Jesus has used AGAPE. Peter uses PHILEO. AGAPE is the supreme love. Love manifested by actions. It is the love that God has for us that we are told to have for our wives, our kids and our brethren in 1 Cor. 13. Peter uses phileo, which means friendship love – a half love. “Jesus, you asked me if I love you with all my being, all my actions – more than others.” Yes, of course, isn’t it obvious in my life! I don’t think so! But I don’t want to talk about it. I am ashamed, so ashamed. “Lord, I phileo you.” You know I can’t say more! And three times the thing goes on. Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Of course, I phileo you!” By the way, how many times did Peter deny Jesus around the fire that night of the arrest? Three times, wasn’t it? And now, three times he is asked, “Do you love me?” Do you see the parallel? Jesus is opening an old wound here. He is forcing, to the forefront, an issue Peter would prefer to leave buried! Three times Jesus has appeared and Peter has never brought the painful memories up. Stop here for a second! Does all of this pull at your heart? Can you identify with what Peter is feeling right here? It’s strange how we try to hide our sin and deny our guilt! Mankind has always done that. Yet, it does no good. Rather than escaping the sin, we end up giving it more power. By pretending it doesn’t exist, it stays in and eats at our soul.

I think there is no better illustration of it than in The Lion King or The Scarlet Letter. Have you seen The Lion King? In the story, Simba, the cub, witnesses his father being killed by charging buffaloes. That’s good for Scar, the coward, Simba’s uncle, provided young Simba disappears. Because what it means, for Scar, is that he will finally be king. And so, Scar, knowing the power of hidden sin, implies his nephew is responsible for his father’s death. He asks him, “What have you done?” “What will your mother think?” And Simba asked, “What shall I do?” You know the answer of Scar, don’t you? He says “Run, run as far as you can and never come back!” And for years, Simba runs. Until, finally tired of his guilt, he finds the courage to return home and face his past. The rest is history. He rescues his family and restores justice. But you see, as long as Scar was able to keep him running from his guilt, he had control over the young Simba. Only the truth could set him free.

And then there is the story of The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. It’s the story of a woman named Hester who became pregnant in her husband’s absence. That doesn’t fly to well in Puritan New England. She is tried, publicly, and disgraced. Her punishment is to either reveal the father of the child or wear, on her clothes, a scarlet letter each day, every time she goes out. The letter is “A”. It stands for adultery – a constant reminder of her sin. It’s a terrible sentence. It exposes her to scoffing and insults. But she goes on and she becomes strong.

On the other hand, there is Roger, the preacher. He is loved and respected by all; but he has fathered the child and no one knows. He feels so guilty inside his guts. He seeks, constantly, to erase his pain through prayers and studies. He even whips himself to atone for the sin. But it does no good. His health slowly fails. While Hester, a broken woman, grows stronger, he begins as a loved and respected man; but he slowly grows weaker and weaker. It’s like a cancer is destroying his soul. He’s made worse by the husband, who comes back and figures out his guilt. In fact, instead of exposing him, the husband decided to destroy him by subtly encouraging him to keep the secret sin hidden.

Finally, in the end, Roger preaches his most powerful sermon ever. Then he walks out and as everyone is coming out, he summons all his courage and all the strength of his failing body. He calls in Hester and publicly confesses his sin.

Do you remember the end? Hester’s husband, a servant of the devil, goes to him and he says, “If you had traveled the entire world, preacher, the only place you could have escaped my grasp was on the scaffolding of confession and repentance.

Exposure of sin was what Roger Drummendale feared the most and, ironically, it’s finally the way he found freedom. You see it’s exactly the same for you and me. The only way to escape our guilt is to confess our fault. John 8:32 says, “The truth sets you free!” It always does.

That’s why Jesus came to Peter – to give all of us an example in him. Had he not confronted the problem, Peter’s guilt would have killed Peter’s soul. The great Peter might have spent the rest of his life bitter and broken – just another Galilean fisherman. But Jesus loved him too much for that. And I tell you today, He loves you too much for you to equally waste your life.

Along with this, I love the end of the story. One thing you do not see in the last question is the change of words Jesus uses. He stops saying “Peter do you agape me?” Rather, He now says, “Peter, do you phileo me?” “Yes, then tend my sheep.” He comes down a notch almost to show to Peter, I can meet you where you are! I accept your less than perfect love. And even though you only phileo me, I still want you to tend my sheep. You still have a place in my kingdom. And then he ends by saying, in fact, Peter, your little love is going to grow. It is going to one day be strong enough to die for me on a cross. The day came, indeed, when it happened. Rome decided to get rid of the great apostle. After he preached a great sermon for Christ, he was led to a cross and crucified. Only this time, Peter didn’t fight. He didn’t turn and run. The only thing he asked was for the soldiers to nail him head down. Why? Peter feared being compared to the Lord in his great death. He felt unworthy to die as Jesus had died. In his death, he fulfilled the last wishes of his Lord in v. 19 of chapter 21. “Follow me.”


Today the same directing command applies to you. “Follow Me!” Or “Follow Him!” But beware. Satan doesn’t want you to follow Him. He’ll bring these doubts in your mind. “Why should I? How can I? How will I? But understand the only thing that matters is the question, “Do you love Him?” Jesus comes to you; yes you, in your guilt. He is willing to white-out all the mistakes you have made. But, it is up to you. He asks, “Do you love me?” Even half a love! Then give it to me and I’ll take care of the rest.