John 21: 1-3
Afterwards Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Most of us have made decisions at some stage that we deeply regret. We have done things which, if we had to do them again, we would make different choices. Perhaps words we have said that have hurt others deeply. What follows is often a feeling of guilt, shame, remorse and failure.
That’s exactly where we find Peter here in John 21. Peter has always been one of my favourite characters in the Bible because he’s so passionate, brash and impulsive. Before Jesus was arrested, He predicted that all the disciples will soon desert him. Peter basically looked at the rest of them and said with great machismo, “Jesus, all these others might desert you, but not me. I’m the rock don’t forget. I’m made of tougher stuff than this lot.” Jesus looked him in the eye and predicted, “Peter, before the rooster crows you will disown me three times.”
We know what happened as Jesus was being led out to be crucified. Three times Peter is asked, “Aren’t you one of his friends, I’ve seen you with that Jesus.” And with curses and oaths, Peter swears he doesn’t even know Jesus. Then the rooster crowed and Jesus looked at Peter. At that moment Peter suddenly remembered what Jesus had said to him and we read: “…he broke down and wept bitterly.” (Mk 14: 72)
At the time when he was needed most by Jesus, Peter had totally failed Him. For all his tough talk, when it came to the crunch he had crumbled. He had failed many times before, but they were nothing in comparison to this failure. Peter had done that which he never imagined he could or would do.
Have you ever been there? I’m not talking about the normal mistakes and failures we all make - saying the wrong thing, being late for an important meeting, not passing a test. I’m talking about a failure which has had massive consequences. A failure which may define you for the rest of your life. A failure which if you could do anything, you would change it.
In John 21 it’s about a week after the resurrection and the disciples have returned from Jerusalem to Galilee. Peter says, “I’m going out to fish.” Fishing for Peter isn’t just a hobby, a way to pass a lazy afternoon. It was his former career that he gave up just over 3 years ago. In other words, he’s going back to doing that which he was doing before Jesus called him. He’s going backwards.
As far as he is concerned, he’s finished as a follower of Jesus. After such a spectacular failure, what would Jesus ever want with him? He’d tried fishing for men, and that hadn’t worked out, so he may as well go back to fishing for fish. He’s a broken man. In his mind his failure had disqualified him from following Jesus. At least he knew he could fish, he was good at that. Plus he couldn’t do too much damage in the boat. However look at the end of verse 3:
“So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”
All night working and they hadn’t caught a single fish. There’s nothing worse than failing at something that you’re meant to be good at.
Why did he catch nothing? Were the fish hiding? I don’t think so. When you are trying to live outside of what God has called you to do, there’s no favour upon it. When you are trying to live life your own way, doing what you want and not what God wants, you will not get very far. You’ll be miserable.
It made perfect sense to Peter to go back to fishing. But that was his old life. That was his past. Jesus had called him, and there’s nowhere I read that Jesus had told him that he could resign and go back to his old career.
When you become a follower of Jesus, you might try to go back to the old life you had before Christ, the life which seemed so much fun back then – but you’ll find no joy there anymore. You’ll do the same things but they won’t satisfy. You’ll just find frustration and more misery.
As we’ll see tomorrow, Jesus was far from finished with Peter. And He is far from finished with you.
No matter what your past has been, He can forgive you and transform you. Even if your failure is so great that you struggle to forgive yourself. God loves to take the broken and shine His glory through them. Jesus’ grace is greater than your failure, His blood washes away ALL your shame and guilt.