Strengthen Your Brothers
3rd Sun. of Easter
31"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you[a] as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
Among all the other events that took place in the Upper Room on the night Jesus was betrayed, He had special words for Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” We’re familiar with how Peter, thinking he would never fall away, then proceeded to do exactly as Jesus prophesied concerning him.
Peter repented of his failure and was turned again, though. He did eventually come to strengthen and encourage others. And we need to learn from his restoration and example and also build others up.
PETER’S RESTORATION BY JESUS (John 21:15-17)
After His resurrection, Jesus came and breakfasted with Peter and six of the other disciples at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As if to remind “Peter the Rock” of his human roots and weakness, Jesus spoke personally with him. Rather than using the pet name “Peter,” Jesus addressed him, “Simon, son of John”: “Do you love Me more than these?” “Do you love Me?” “DO you love Me?” Peter confessed each time: “Yes Lord; You know that I love You (but meaning -as a ‘brother’... like a ‘family member’).” The third time Peter was grieved, though, and added: “You know all things...”
We understand that Peter was mindful of the three times he had turned away and denied Jesus. A moment came in the High Priest’s courtyard in which Peter saw Jesus, and Jesus looked intently at him in a way that Peter understood Jesus knew that he had denied Him. Here at the beach Peter was apparently confessing that he had fallen and had not ‘loved the Lord with all his heart and mind and strength’ as he had boasted he would. He wanted the chance now to show that he at least cherished Jesus like a brother.
Jesus then graciously reinstated Peter’s Apostleship, again commanding him in effect to ‘strengthen his brothers,’ saying: “Feed My lambs.” “Lead My sheep.” “Feed My sheep.” Peter was now fully forgiven through the act of Christ’s sin atoning sacrifice. In other words Jesus was saying, “I hereby renew your status, and you may show your love for Me by strengthening your brothers.”
PETER'S EXAMPLE OF STRENGTHENING OTHERS
The word “strengthen” in the Text literally means to firmly establish, fix or set fast. In its context, it’s referred directly to the faith of Peter’s “brothers.”
Acts Chapter 2 presents the event of Pentecost and Peter preaching to the crowd that gathered. Having been restored by Jesus and now additionally emboldened by God’s Holy Spirit, he addressed those people as “Men of Israel” and then as his “Brothers.”
Peter had no doubt already spent some time “strengthening” the other disciples, but soon went beyond that scope. And how is it that he strengthened the people? By truthfully proclaiming both Law and Gospel to them! He applied the Law quite forthrightly, speaking of Jesus: “YOU ... put Him to death (that is transgressing the Law of God) by nailing Him to the Cross!” “This Jesus ...YOU crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” And for many Peter’s proclamation had its desired effect: “They were cut to the heart.” To strengthen them, Peter also gave the Gospel, though: “God has RAISED this Jesus to LIFE, and we are all witnesses of the fact!” He called on Scripture as the additional witness saying: “..David says concerning Him, ...'Thou wilt not abandon My Soul to Hades, nor let Thy Holy One see corruption.’ BROTHERS, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a Prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that He would set One of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was NOT abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh SEE corruption. This Jesus God raised UP...”
In other words: People meant to put Jesus away forever, but God raised Him from the dead; People nailed Him to a Cross, but God loosed Him from the agony of death; People thought they had inflicted death blows, but God turned them into birth pangs for New Life; What human beings did, God reversed, and what human beings could NOT do, God achieved! “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified,” Peter concluded. Although the Law had ‘cut them to the heart,’ Peter poured ON the Gospel’s resurrection theme to “strengthen his brothers”!
Another place in Acts presents to us how Peter witnessed to a Gentile named Cornelius and his household. Peter came to realize that God intended for all people to share in the Christian brotherhood and therefore gave the encouragement that Gentiles are to be included in receiving the Gospel.
To Those Being Persecuted
Some years later as Christianity had begun to spread and Christians came to be severely persecuted, Peter was concerned to “strengthen” these scattered and persecuted “brothers” everywhere. In writing to them he acknowledged the kinds of earthly grief and suffering that are common to us all, but he encouraged them and us with these words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a Living Hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for you...” Peter’s strengthening and encouragement is the reminder that Jesus Christ is the HOPE that is ALIVE, and that we have this IMPERISHABLE INHERITANCE!
OUR STRENGTHENING OF OTHERS
If, like Peter, we have been turned and ever known the “strength” God gives, then we, too, are to strengthen others. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” To the Corinthians he said: “..Since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the Church.” And again: “Let all things be done for edification.”
Edification, strengthening, building up - isn’t done by tearing others apart or tearing them down, as when married couples speak disparagingly of each other in public and such. Neither is it accomplished by keeping our own gifts or strengths to ourselves! True humility doesn’t mean burying our talents, which are given for the purpose of edification. The point Jesus originally made to Peter centered especially on his faith, though. When his own was restored, he was to assist others in regard to theirs. He followed the Lord’s bidding by proclaiming God’s Law and Gospel; directing people to confront their own sin and empty lives, and then offering forgiveness and the grand and Living Hope that has come by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. What Peter preached and taught and wrote is for OUR strengthening and encouragement as much as it was for the people of his own day. More than that, though, his is an example for us to also FOLLOW!
Peter was turned himself after his failure, and he went on to strengthen his brothers! We receive the very type of strength he gave each time we’re at worship or in any setting where we’re learning God’s Word. Let us therefore also take to heart the Lord’s directive to Peter and join the work of “strengthening” our earthly brothers and sisters! AMEN.