************ Sermon on John 18:17 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on April 14, 2013

John 18:1-9; 18:10-11,15-18; 21:15-19
"Peter's Identity Crisis"
(read the listed Scripture before each point)

A couple of months ago I was in the waiting room while Ruth was having surgery on her wrist. As I was reading, a piece of paper suddenly hit me. I looked up. The man who threw it was standing there with a big smile on his face. "Hello Adrian. How are you? I haven't seen you in 7 years. Why are you here?"

Now, I remember names and faces from years ago. I remember the man who interviewed me in 1977 in Vancouver as I was immigrating to the States. I recognized the same man in 1988 in Toronto as he interviewed me again for immigration to the States. But the man standing in front of me with the big smile on his face I did not recognize. "Who is this man?" "Who are you?" It took me two days but I finally remembered.

The Gospel of John is all about Jesus' identity. Over and over again, the question is asked, "Who is this man?" "Who are you?" This was the burning question, asked directly by the Jews, debated among the people, demanded by Pilate. Jesus answered plainly, over and over again.

I Who Is Jesus? - John 18:1-11
A Who is Jesus? Ask this question as you read John 1 sometime. Who is Jesus? I was surprised to see twelve answers in just the first chapter of this gospel. Who is Jesus?
-He is the Word Who was with God in the beginning (Jn 1:1-2).
-He is the One through Whom all things were made (Jn 1:3).
-He is the light that shines in the darkness (Jn 1:4-5; cf 1:7-9).
-He became flesh and made His dwelling among us (Jn 1:14).
-He is the glory of the One and Only (Jn 1:14).
-He is full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14).
-He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29; cf 1:36).
-He is the Son of God (Jn 1:34; cf 1:49).
-He is the Messiah, the Christ (Jn 1:41).
-He is the One Whom Moses and the prophets wrote about (Jn 1:45).
-He is the King of Israel (Jn 1:49).
-He is the Son of Man (Jn 1:51).

B Who is Jesus? We have just heard twelve answers from the pen of the Apostle John. But now let us hear seven answers from the lips of Jesus. Who is Jesus?
-"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (Jn 6:35; cf Jn 6:48,51)
-"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (Jn 8:12; cf Jn 9:5)
-"I am the gate for the sheep." (Jn 10:7; cf Jn 10:9)
-"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (Jn 10:11; cf Jn 10:14)
-"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." (Jn 11:25)
-"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (Jn 14:6)
-"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." (Jn 15:1; cf Jn 15:5)

"I am." "I am." "I am." "I am." In another place Jesus says, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (Jn 8:58). At this, the Jews picked up stones to stone Him. But Jesus hid Himself (cf Jn 8:59).

"I am." This is the name that God revealed to Moses out of the burning bush (Ex 3:14). This is the name that identifies God as the source of life and being and existence, the great and mighty Creator, the God in Whom we live and move and have our being, the God Who provides whatever I need for body and soul, the God Who turns to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world, the God Who rules all things so nothing comes to us by chance.

"I am." No wonder the Jews tried to stone Jesus. He was claiming deity for Himself. He was claiming to be God's equal. He was claiming to be part of the eternal Godhead.

C Against this background I want you to consider what happens in our first Scripture reading. Jesus, and His disciples, went into an olive grove. Judas knew the place, the olive grove, where Jesus often met with His disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied.

Hear the answer: "I am he." He could have said, "That's me." He could have said, "You just found Him." He could have said, "He is over there ..." and pointed in another direction. Instead, He answered, "I am he."

By saying these three words, do you realize what Jesus was doing? Jesus was confirming His identity. "I am he." "I am the One you are looking for." "I am Jesus of Nazareth." "I am he."

By these three words Jesus was, again, confirming His identity as the great "I am" – though in the Greek it comes in a slightly different form than the other "I am" statements. And, to confirm that the use of "I am" is deliberate, I want you to notice what happens: When Jesus said, "I am he," the crowd drew back and fell to the ground (cf Jn 18:6).

"I am he." And a mob of soldiers and temple officers, led by a traitor and bristling with weapons and bright torches, behave like meowing kittens.

Do you see and hear the message? Jesus is in control. He goes out to them instead of them coming in to Him. He asks the questions and they can barely answer. He speaks and they fall down when He identifies Himself. "I am he." "I am the Mighty One." "I am." The soldiers cannot take Him by force. "I am" has to allow them to tie Him up and lead Him away.

"I am he." And with these three words Jesus delivered Himself over to the judgment of God and of men.

II Who is Peter? - John 18:10-11,15-18
A We have just answered the question, "Who is Jesus?"

Let's now answer another question: "Who is Peter?"

In answering this question we need to remember what Peter said earlier: "Lord, I will lay down my life for you" (Jn 13:37).

So, we are not surprised that Peter watches and listens to the interchange between Jesus and the soldiers and then springs into action. He drew his sword and struck the high priests' servant, cutting off his right ear (Jn 18:10).

"Who is Peter?" He is Jesus' brave, decisive right-hand man. He is the one who, if necessary, will follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. He is Jesus' disciple. He is destined for glory in Jesus' Messianic kingdom.

B This Peter follows as Jesus allows Himself to be taken captive. And, while Jesus stands before a kangaroo court, Peter faces his own little trial in the high priest's courtyard. Peter is asked, "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" (Jn 18:17; cf Jn 18:25).

He replied, "I am not" (Jn 18:17). "I am not" (Jn 18:25). In fact, three times Peter refused to identify himself as a follower of Christ.

Think about this. When asked, Jesus answered, "I am he." When asked, Simon Peter answered, "I am not." Jesus declares His identity, knowing this means suffering and death. Peter denies his identity to prevent suffering and death. Just like that, Peter loses the courage of his convictions. Just like that, Peter loses his illusions about himself and his faith and his place in the kingdom.

"I am not." "I am not" this man's disciple. "I am not" the brave, decisive, right-hand man I thought I was. "I am not" destined for the glory I thought I deserved. "I am not."

"I am." "I am not." While the "I am" was gaining a Kingdom by way of the cross and the grave the "I am not" was losing his place in the exact same Kingdom.

Who is Peter? A wretched man, shivering by a fire of sticks. Who is Peter? A broken man. Who is Peter? A sinner who found out he could not rely on himself and his own strength.

C Congregation, how do you see yourself? Do you flatter yourself for your spirituality? Do you have illusions about yourself and your faith? Do you, like Peter, feed those illusions?

My brothers and sisters, put yourself in the place of Peter some 2000 years ago, standing by the door or warming yourself around the fire. "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" Or, put yourself in the place of Christians in Pakistan or China or North Korea or Myanmar or Egypt or a dozen other countries today. "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" How do you answer? How do you plead? Do you admit to your identity or do you deny your identity?

You face a sin, a temptation, a wrong desire – sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires. You have an opportunity to commit adultery, to view pornography, to steal, to lie, to run down, to take advantage of a situation. "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" No one will know. You may never get caught. Or, maybe – as with Peter – you will be caught and all the world will know. Do you deny or do you live out your identity as one of His disciples?

I want every person here to see themselves in Peter. I want every person here to realize the truth about themselves. I want every person here to shatter all illusions they may have about themselves. I want all our pretensions to vaporize in the presence of the "I am." I want you, like Peter, to realize your brokenness and your shame and your inability.

Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the "I am." You and I, we are the "I am not."

III Who is Peter? - John 21:15-19
A After reading our third Bible passage let me ask the question I asked earlier: "Who is Peter?" Or, maybe I should ask, "Who is Peter after Jesus deals with him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee?"

Jesus asked him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" (Jn 21:15). Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you" (Jn 21:15).

Are you sure Peter? Are you sure you love me? After denying me, how can you say you love me?

So three times Peter was asked, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" (Jn 21:15,16,17). Three times: once for each time Peter denied the Lord. And, each time Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you" (Jn 21:15,16,17).

By the last time, Peter was hurt (cf Jn 21:17). He was cut to the heart. He was reduced to tears and trembling. His voice was no longer so loud and confident.

"Do you love me?" Do you hear the Lord asking this question of you and me? He knows our sins. He knows our temptations. He know our acts of denial. He knows our brokenness, our shame, our inability. "Do you love me?"

B It is at this point that Jesus, in an act of grace, restores Peter. "Follow me!" "Follow me!" Yes, you denied me. Yes, you were ashamed to confess my name. Yes, you took the easy way out. But now I say, "Follow me!" Jesus takes a humbled, broken man and calls him to be His disciple.

We have a word for this, or a phrase. Peter was born-again. A very painful process in which the old man is put to death and the new man brought to life. A very painful process in which we are made to see the truth about ourselves. A very painful process in which we are humbled and humiliated and cast upon the mercy of God alone.

Do you see what we are being told about Jesus' followers? They aren't bold. They aren't brave. They aren't great. They aren't better than all other men. They are broken and humbled and contrite and fallen. Jesus has no use for those who think they can stand on their own. Jesus' followers know they are not worthy to serve the great "I am." Out of grace and mercy God makes them new and shapes them and calls them.

C So, who is Peter after being restored? Who is Peter after being made born-again? Let me read the opening verse of Peter's second letter. Who is he? "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:1).

Who is this Peter? Jesus, of course, knows everything. He knows what is in Peter's future. He knows there will come a day when Peter will die for confessing the Lord. He knows that in death Peter would glorify God (Jn 21:18-19). He knows that the Peter who was not willing to die for Him on Good Friday will die for Him in the future.

My brothers and sisters, I say to you again: see yourself in Peter. See yourself in the broken Peter. See yourself, because of grace, in the restored Peter. See yourself, like Peter, serving and loving the great "I am."
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