John 21: 4-9; 15-17; 19
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’
‘No,’ they answered.
He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred metres. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread…
… When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
....Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’
Yesterday we started thinking about failure in our lives and the sense of guilt, shame and regret which often accompanies it. Peter had failed Jesus when he denied Him three times, so he’s now gone back to fishing, his old way of life before he was called to be a disciple. However, even after a full night of working on the boat he hasn’t caught a single fish.
Jesus is on the shore but they don’t recognise him. He tells them to throw their net on the other side. Amazingly, they listen to the stranger and have a bumper catch. This triggers something in John’s memory. He’s seen this happen before. When Jesus first called the disciples, exactly the same thing happened. John tells Peter, “It’s the Lord, it’s Jesus.” Peter immediately jumps in the water and swims back to shore. When they get to shore Jesus has a barbeque going with some fish on it.
A few observations.
What have they been out trying to catch all night? Fish.
What does Jesus already have on the shore? Fish.
Sometimes we work so hard and pour all our energy into trying to get something that Jesus already has for us. We’re trying to earn something, do it ourselves, make it happen – and he has it waiting for us readily available. If we’d only go to Him, if we’d only ask Him, we’d save ourselves a lot of effort.
They get to shore, and here begins Peter’s process of restoration. Look at verse 9:
“When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.”
There’s one interesting detail John includes. That particular word in the Greek for the ‘fire of burning coals’ is only used in one other place in the Gospel. It was in John 18:18 when Peter denied Jesus:
“It was cold, and the servants and officials stood round a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.”
The smell of the charcoal burning, the sound of the flames crackling, would all bring Peter back to that moment of his greatest failure. To deal with failure properly isn’t pretending it didn’t happen. Sometimes we need to search our hearts and ask some hard questions.
When Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, I think He and Peter were probably alone at this point. The first time Jesus asks Peter the question, Jesus uses the word agape. In other words, “Are you totally devoted to me.”
Imagine this was just a few weeks before. What would Peter have replied?: “Jesus, no one loves you more or is more committed to you than I am.” However that was before he had failed and denied Jesus. Now Peter replies using the word phileo. In other words, “Jesus, I love you but it’s brotherly affection, not unconditional devotion.”
The exact same thing happens a second time. The third time Jesus asks him the question something happens which we don’t see in the English translation. Jesus changes his question and uses the word phileo instead of agape. He accommodates Himself to Peter’s level of love towards Him.
Peter has realised that he’s not the super-spiritual giant he had thought he was. He’s just Peter, imperfect, flawed, broken. He no longer has misconceptions about himself, no false sense of superiority. Yet, even with less than total devotion, Jesus doesn’t write him off or tell him that he’s disqualified from being a disciple. Look at what Jesus says to him each time:
Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.
In other words, “Lead my people, teach my word, do all the things that I originally called you to do.”
Then in verse 19: “Then Jesus said to him, "Follow me!"
The very first words Jesus had spoken to Peter three years before when he was a fisherman and Jesus first called him to be a disciple. After everything that has happened, Jesus called him again. With all his failings and flaws, the denials, cursing and impulsiveness.
The goal is always to love Jesus more and more, to be completely devoted and committed, but until then we don’t lock ourselves away thinking that Jesus can’t use us until we are perfect. Give Him whatever you have and let Him use it.
If you’re feeling like you’re not as good a Christian as you should be or you’d like to be, give Jesus what you have, failures and all, and keep moving forward.
If you’ve messed up like Peter, done something you deeply regret, committed some sin which you think disqualifies you - you might have given up on yourself, but Jesus hasn’t forgotten you. You might not be able to forgive yourself – but Jesus can forgive you.
You see, between Peter’s failure and this encounter with Jesus, we have the cross and resurrection. And because Jesus died and rose from the grave – that changes everything.
Within weeks, following Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter becomes the rock. He preaches boldly and 3000 people are saved. He becomes all Jesus said he could be - not through his own effort, gifting, charisma or self-will – but simply and solely through God’s grace and power.
Grace makes us what we can never be on our own.
We look forward to seeing you this Sunday at 9.30 am, 11.30 am and 7.00 pm.