advent lettering

O Come All Ye Faithful


Today's Reading

John 21:1-25

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:3)

Peter is one of those disciples everyone can identify with in some way or another. Because of that, I love the fact his life is on full display in the New Testament, warts and all.

By the time we get to this scene in Peter’s life, he is a broken man.

Just days before, he stood with Jesus, claiming to never leave his side and even willing to fight Roman soldiers. Yet less than 24 hours later, he was cowering from accusations of a little girl.

It wasn’t the first time Peter had that type of mood swing. He was the disciple who dared to jump out of the boat only to sink moments later when he took his eyes off Jesus. He experienced the glory of the transfiguration and then tried to suggest that the group never leave. He was even the first to proclaim Jesus as the Son of the Living God, but within just days rebuked Jesus for talking about the coming suffering.

Peter could be all over the map. And there, on the boat in Galilee, no doubt all of those failures ran through his mind.

If you are like me, you have been there too. You have allowed your mind to go spiraling downward in despair, thinking about how many times you stumbled or fell. You rack your brain thinking about what could have been done differently. You put yourself in a straitjacket of emotions and self pity. And I think that is where Peter is at this moment.

We know that Peter had seen the empty tomb just days before.  He even saw his risen Lord twice! But in this moment, he appears unchanged.

I may be reading too much into the text, but at least in John’s Gospel, there is no exchange between Peter and Jesus during the first appearance, and the second time Jesus appeared, Thomas took center stage, not Peter.

When we get to John 21, there is Peter, still with the disciples but really having no idea what to do with his life. So he gets back on the boat to fish, but like so much of his life, he is met with failure.

That is until Jesus called to him from the shore. “Have you caught anything?” a shadowy figure asks from a distance.

“Nope,” call back the disciples.

“Why not try the other side of the boat?” the stranger responds.

Now at this moment, the request probably triggered a memory in Peter’s life. In Luke 5, the Gospel writer talks about the first time that Peter met Jesus, and it was the same request. Peter and his crew had a bad night of fishing, and Jesus recommended trying again.  Of course, it is a ridiculous request. If the fish aren’t there, they aren’t there.  Or at least that was Peter’s thought. But he did as he was asked, and the catch was amazing.

Years later, the resurrected Christ stood on the shore making the same request, only this time Peter didn’t hesitate, and when they obeyed, the catch once again was amazing.

The disciples then recognize Jesus, and Peter, once again, jumps out of the boat so he could get to Jesus as quickly as possible. Jesus stays with the disciples and even shared a meal with them. Can you imagine this moment?

And can you imagine what must have been going through the mind of Peter? This broken man is sitting alongside the one he betrayed. Does he apologize? Does he even want to bring it up? Should he even stay there?

Jesus dispels all those worries. “Peter,” Jesus asks, “do you truly love me?”

Throughout the years, the exchange that followed between Peter and Jesus has been the subject of countless sermons, commentaries, and devotionals (this one included!). People have tried to break down the nuances of the questions of Jesus and explain Peter’s answers. They dig into the Greek language and the cultural understandings ad nauseum.

While these sermons and commentaries and devotions can provide great insight, let me just suggest something simple that happens here. Peter denied Christ three times. Jesus allows Peter to claim Him again three times.

This isn’t meant to diminish the weight of the words, but in order not to lose sight of the forest because of the trees, I think that we can say that the broken Peter in this moment saw those spiraling failures go away as Jesus let Peter restate his love and devotion the exact three times that he previously denied it. 

And then Jesus does the unthinkable. He not only restores Peter, but he also commissions Peter. “Follow me!” the command comes from Christ.

You see in this moment, the cross of Christ changed everything. Peter was a man who tried time and again to impress through his own power. He allowed his boldness to be a calling card of commitment, and when that boldness ran away, he had nowhere to turn.

Yet Jesus steps in, restores Peter, and establishes a broken man to lead His Church.

Of course, Peter isn’t perfect. He even had a bit of a stumble in the following verses, and we see him stumble later in the New Testament. But it wasn’t perfection that Peter needed. It was a Savior. And to that Savior he ran.

Are you running to the Savior today? Or are you staying on the boat of your failures, drifting offshore from Jesus and just allowing your sin to cascade over you?

Because of the cross…because of the resurrected and living Christ…you can find not only the restoration you so desperately want, but also the commissioning that you so desperately need.

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