One of my all-time favorite chapters in the Bible is John 21. I’ve always loved Simon Peter. Have you ever noticed the stark contrast between John and Peter? John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, how many times is this phrase used to describe him? And who uses this phrase? John. John knows that he is loved by Jesus. He is secure in this relationship; he has such faith. Then there is Peter… good ole Peter. Peter is fiercely passionate, and yet, with all that love for our God, He still denies Him. He failed, quite miserably. He had felt needed by Jesus; the love that he felt from God seemed to be deeply rooted in the idea that he could give something to Jesus. He was so consumed with being called of God that He forgot Who did the calling. He was always on his best behavior, trying to never let Jesus down. The feeling that Jesus couldn’t love him if He knew His dark, inner struggles, constantly nipping at his feet. Then his failure brings on that terrible realization that he never will be good enough. How hurt was Peter? Have you ever been there? Can you imagine, finally finding your calling, realizing the depth of that calling, and then coming to the understanding, that, despite that calling, the One you serve will never need you? The understanding that the One you love the most is not impressed with you can come as a low blow. Am I the only one that has ever gone through this? Don’t get me wrong, this One that Peter loved, our God, loves us, wants us, but He will never need us. He isn’t impressed with your efforts and that is not really the point of it all.
When I look at John 21, I see Peter right where I seem to find myself regularly. He had just failed, and thought there was no way he could receive the love God was so richly giving to him. He goes back to what he knows works for him. He goes back to the place where he is not noticed. Nothing he does in fishing is a big deal, and even if it was, it wouldn’t matter because he’s good at this. This was his life profession before Jesus came along. He didn’t need anyone else. He could hide from the shame and guilt. I’m sure he knew, like the rest of us, that he desperately needed Jesus. Jesus was the only One who could fix the inner struggles Peter was dealing with. Yet, Peter couldn’t bring himself to go looking for Jesus, he was too ashamed. Surely their relationship couldn’t be the same after all Peter had done.
But then Jesus shows up… (I always love this part of the story.) Jesus came looking for Peter, He knew that was exactly what he needed.
Jesus shows up and the first thing He does is prove to Peter that his life can never be the same. Even fishing, his old pastime, could no longer be done without Jesus. Peter cannot catch a thing until Jesus gives it. Then after feeding Peter’s hungry soul, Jesus and Peter went for a walk, and Jesus confronted those dark inner struggles with love. Now remember, Peter had denied Jesus three times. And now, three times, Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” Some of you may know, if you look at the Greek language, the word for love is different in the questions and responses:
John 21:15-17 KJV
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.”
For the sake of understanding, I’m going to rewrite this in Ali’s version:
“So when they were done eating, Jesus asked Peter, Peter do you love me, truly love me, even more than the blessings I have given you? Peter replied Yes Lord, you know I like you, and you’re my dear friend. Jesus said feed my lambs. He asked Peter a second time, Peter do you love me, truly love me? Peter replied Yes Lord, you know I like you, and you’re my dear friend. Jesus said, Feed my sheep. He asked Peter a third time, Peter do you like me? Peter, obviously upset said, Lord you know everything, and you know I like you. Jesus said to him, Feed my sheep.”
I can feel Peter’s frustration here. All the hurt… and to add to the whole situation, the disciple whom Jesus loved was right there. I can just see Peter’s thoughts: Come on Lord, don’t you know what I’ve done? I obviously don’t love you. I can’t. I’m not even capable of that. I failed you. Don’t you know that? Why me? Why now, don’t you know I’m sorry? So Sorry.Why don’t you talk to John like this? Everyone knows he loves you. I can never love you like he does. Peter cannot even bring himself to say that he loves the Lord, not in the agape sense that Jesus is asking. He knows he isn’t worthy. I mean, how hypocritical would it feel to tell someone you love them enough to sacrifice everything for them when not so long before you couldn’t even claim their friendship because of your pride, your fear?
Peter is so busy drowning in his guilt and shame that he doesn’t notice what Jesus is doing. Did you notice how Jesus meets Peter where he is? Jesus meets Peter exactly where he is, to the point of changing the words He used. When Peter can’t bring himself to go looking for help, Jesus goes looking for him.
How many times does Jesus do this for you and for me? How many times does He try to walk beside you, to draw you closer? In those times, do you get frustrated? Are you so deep in your shame and guilt that you cannot feel the love and forgiveness that He is trying to give you? Your sins are not too big for God. Don’t run away from Him.