This is another of my favorite stories in the Bible. Here we have Peter. Brash Peter. Bold Peter. But because of his failure in denying Jesus three times, a lot of that has been stripped away, leaving a man not only humbled, but perhaps questioning himself.
I would have loved to see an account of that first appearance Jesus made to Peter. We have no record of it. Peter had seen the empty tomb, and was probably in great confusion. Had Jesus risen? Perhaps he thought to himself, “I almost wish he hadn’t. I don’t know how I could face him.”
And then, suddenly Jesus appears before him. How did Peter respond? Shock? Joy? Perhaps. But I can also imagine Peter falling before him, weeping, and saying “I’m sorry” again and again.
But Jesus probably told him, “It’s okay. That’s why I went to the cross. For people like you. I still love you Peter.”
Perhaps for a while, Peter was okay. But as time went on, perhaps a thought started to creep into his mind. “Has Jesus really forgiven me? Even if he has, there’s no way he could accept me as a disciple again, could he. I’ve just failed too badly.” And perhaps after days of not seeing him, Peter was feeling so discouraged that he thought, “It’s hopeless. Yes, Jesus said he’s forgiven me. But there’s no way he could ever truly accept me again. I might as well go back to my old life.”
And so he said to the other disciples who were with him, “I’m going fishing.” Having nothing better to do, they joined him.
They go out into the lake, and fish all night, but catch nothing. And perhaps, Peter was thinking to himself, “Am I good at anything anymore? I can’t even catch fish.”
Then they hear a man on shore asking, “Have you guys caught any fish? Throw your net on the other side, you’ll catch some.”
They do, and suddenly their nets are completely filled with fish. At which point, John says, “Hey! It’s the Lord!”
Peter, upon hearing this, immediately jumps into the ocean to swim toward Jesus. I can imagine Jesus laughing as he saw him coming up and saying, “Hey Peter, go help the guys bring in those fish you caught.”
And so he helps the other disciples bring the fish in, and when they arrive, Jesus already has some grilled fish ready for them.
I can imagine there was a lot of talking and laughter as they ate. But as the meal wound down, Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Hey Peter. Walk with me.”
And at that point, Peter probably was thinking, “Oh, oh. Here it comes. Jesus is going to tell me I can’t be his disciple anymore.” And perhaps with a feeling of dread, he starts walking down the beach with Jesus.
Perhaps they walked in silence for a bit, and Jesus said, “Peter, do you love me more than these?” It’s not clear what he meant by “these.” Many people think he was asking, “Do you love me more than the other disciples?” But considering his failure, I can’t see Peter telling Jesus, “Yes I do.”
I think that perhaps they were passing the boats, the fish, and, the nets, and Jesus was saying, “Do you love me more than all this? I go away for a short time, and you’re already back to your old life. Do you truly love me more than these things?”
And to this, Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
They walk a little further, and Jesus says, “Peter, do you really love me?” Again, Peter says that he does, and so Jesus says, “Take care of my sheep.”
They go further, and a third time, Jesus says, “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter was really hurt at this point and he said, “Jesus you know I love you.”
And Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
Then he said,
I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. (18)
Here Jesus was talking about Peter’s death. That the day would come when Peter would be crucified for Jesus sake. And that’s exactly what happened years later.
Why did Jesus tell him that? I think he was telling Peter, “I know you failed. But I still believe in you. And I’m telling you, the day will come when you will again be forced to make the choice to deny me or die for me. And you will choose to die for me.”
Then he said, “Follow me.”
All of us, like Peter, fail. And many of us like Peter, start to wonder, can God still use me? I’ve failed so badly. Can God still even accept me?
The answer is yes. Because God not only sees who you are now, he sees what you can become. And he believes in you.
So don’t rest in your own strength. Don’t rest in your own wisdom. But rest in the knowledge that God accepts you and he believes in you. Then go…and follow him.