Imagine with me for a minute, if you would… I want to invite you to place yourself in someone else’s shoes just for a moment. I want you to picture the night before Jesus our Savior was crucified. He was being shuffled from one trial to another, one beating to another, and one angry mob to another. People from all over Israel gathered around the courts, waiting to see the spectacle. Among them was the Apostle Peter. One of the Lord’s beloved disciples. He is recognized by the people around him; they call him out… “Aren’t you one of His disciples? I know I’ve seen you with Him.”
Peter vehemently denies Jesus again and again. This happens once, twice, and then three times; and something seemingly unmiraculous happens; but it means everything to the disciple who is denying his Lord. The rooster crows and Peter is instantly aware of the sin he has committed. This is exactly what Jesus said he would do. These denials are the last actions he takes for Jesus before this Man to whom he has sworn his life is beaten, scourged, torn apart, and crucified horribly. I want you to imagine the things that Peter felt at this moment of realization: the shame, the weight, the sadness, the fear!
Three days later, Jesus appears to His disciples. He has risen! Peter stands in the room with his brothers as they marvel at their risen Savior. This happens another time, but the meetings are brief. Peter still hasn’t had a chance to sit and talk with his Lord since his betrayal. What will he say to Him?! Is there a way to say sorry enough to take back what he said… what he refused to say? All he must want now is to be reconciled with Jesus, but he may feel as if he has sinned too greatly! How could he be a disciple now?!
In John chapter 21 we see Peter on the beach with a few of the other disciples. Peter makes a statement that I believe means more than what it looks like on the surface:
Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”John 21:2-3 ESV
When Peter says here that he’s going fishing, I don’t imagine that he really means just for that night. Admittedly, this is my interpretation of the events. I believe that Peter is saying, more to himself than to the other disciples, “Look, I grew up fishing. My father was a fisherman; his father was a fisherman before him. I know the sea and I know fish. I am a failure at this disciple thing, so I’m going back to what I know.”
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly why Peter went out fishing. I believe that he was broken and suffering with shame and despair. His betrayal was still fresh in his mind. He may have thought that fishing would help him feel better; maybe catching some fish would clear his mind. You’ll see that this doesn’t work out very well:
They [the other disciples] said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.John 21:4 ESV [brackets are my words added for clarity]
Peter sits in a boat with the other disciples all night and has no success, not even a single fish is caught! I can only imagine how Peter feels now. He has failed at his job as a disciple, and now he’s failed at what he thought he knew best. He had no where to run from his problems, and that’s when Jesus shows up:
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.John 21:4-8 ESV
I love how Jesus shows up here. He doesn’t announce His presence, He instead allows the disciples to find out for themselves who He is. Peter’s longing for his Lord is evident. He can’t even wait for the boat to get back to shore! He throws on his clothes and swims to the Savior! I wonder what Peter thought of as he swam. Maybe he thought of Jesus walking on the water to them in the night. Maybe he remembered how the water felt under his feet as he teetered his way to the Master. He may have had memories of his Lord’s hands reaching out to save him as he sank. I’m sure it didn’t take long before he swam to shore and found Jesus there, sitting next to a prepared fire.
I imagine that Peter sat by Jesus as the other disciples brought in their bountiful catch (153 fish!) and prepared a few for breakfast. I can imagine the disciples’ joy as they sat with Jesus again, just like they had done so many times before; eating and talking, possibly laughing and maybe reminiscing about their adventures together. As Peter sat by Jesus, however, I imagine that there were only two people there in his mind: him and his Savior. He longed to be with Jesus! I’m sure he longed to be reconciled to him, but he didn’t know how to start! Peter may have been sitting there quietly eating, his head hanging low, when Jesus spoke to him quietly:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”John 21:15 ESV
I can imagine Peter’s sorrow as Jesus asked him this seemingly simple question. It wasn’t simple for Peter though. Jesus must have known that this would cause Peter sorrow as he looked within himself to really answer the question. Jesus wasn’t doing this to torture Peter, however. Jesus is the Great Physician who came to the world to heal the sick: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The Great Physician was at work to fix His broken disciple and friend. Peter may have cringed when he heard his Savior ask him again:
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”John 21:16 ESV
What’s rather interesting here is how Jesus follows up Peter’s answer to His questions. He ends with a simple statement: “Feed my sheep”. I’ll talk more about that in a bit. Can you imagine how Peter must have felt when, once more, Jesus asked him this question?
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”John 21:17-19 ESV
Peter finally breaks. He admits that Jesus knows everything, including the sin that Peter had committed against him. Peter also takes comfort in remembering the fact that Jesus does know his heart, and that Jesus knows that he loves Him truly.
Jesus asks these questions, not to break Peter further, but to reconcile Peter to Himself. Jesus knows what Peter is feeling, and He wants to show Peter His forgiveness. I love that He tells Peter what to do next. He says, “Peter, feed my sheep. You have been restored from your sin. I know you’ve been broken, but I died for your brokenness. Now, my disciple, you’ve been specially equipped to help others who are broken like you. Feed my sheep.” I can imagine what this meant to Peter. Jesus didn’t make him feel worse. He didn’t condemn Peter for his sin. He closed the rift that Peter’s sin had caused, and told him to go out and to share His love with others. Then he tells Peter: “Follow me”. Peter was now ready to follow Christ to the death. One day he would take up his cross, literally, and follow Jesus to death, but for now he was ready to serve Him and feed His sheep.
This is absolutely one of my favorite passages of Scripture in the entire Word of God! I have been in Peter’s shoes. I have denied my Lord and have been ashamed of Him before others. I have been absolutely broken in my sin, feeling as if I couldn’t possibly be used by God again. I’ve heard Jesus whisper to me, “Matthew, do you love me?”
I can tell you, just as I’m sure Peter could tell you, that Jesus loves you! He is willing to forgive you! He wants to bring you to Himself! Your sin is what He died for! He suffered on that cross; He allowed your sin, and the sin of the world to be placed upon Him so that His righteousness could be placed upon you! I know you can feel as if you’ve sinned so greatly that there’s no hope. I’ve been there. But I can tell you with certainty, that not only can Jesus forgive you for all of your sin, He can still use you, friend! You can still be used greatly by God today and for the rest of your life! Jesus doesn’t want you to wallow in self-pity because of your brokenness. He will take you, restore you, and allow you to help others because you’ve seen what He can do in you! When we go through trials and temptations in life and see what Jesus does for us through them, He specially equips us to help others who are going through the same thing as we lead them to Him.
Friend, are you broken today? Bring your brokenness, your sinfulness, your shame, and your sorrow to Jesus! You may say, “I’ve never done this before, what do I do?” It’s simple. Pray, talk to Jesus, admit your sin, and ask for His forgiveness and healing. You can be forgiven, and you can be saved. I’m here to help if you have more questions.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ; it’s never too late! You can never mess up too badly. You can never disqualify yourself from God’s family! Take time to pray today. Thank Jesus for His forgiveness and His power to heal you in all ways. If you’re feeling distant, talk to Him, pick up His Word and allow His Spirit to speak to you. As I read His Word, I find passages like that speak to me so powerfully. Read His Word! Be people of His Word! Let Him speak to you today.