Follow-up on yesterday’s post… perhaps it’s a little tacky posting this before I’ve actually handed in the assignment, but there’s only about 45 minutes before class starts. I figure this little paper can’t get in too much trouble before then.
So… the paper was supposed to be 800 words. And this one is over 1,900. Forutnately I asked Rich yesterday, and he said he was fine with overshooting the word count. I wonder if he was planning on me blasting clean past it without a second look. Somehow I get the feeling I can find 5-7 minutes worth of stuff out of that to ramble about.
That makes this post a pretty long one, but I really enjoyed writing it and hope you will enjoy reading it.
“Do You Love Me?” – John 21
Simon Peter was a man of fiery determination before the Lord. Christ Himself dubbed him “Cephas” (John 1:42), a stone, someone who was solid and powerful before God. He was the first to recognize and openly confess Christ’s true identity (John 6:69), and was determined in his heart to be the last man on earth to ever deny Him (John 13:36-37). He had literally given up everything he had in order to cast his lot in with this Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 10:28) — he was a disciple deeply committed to His Lord.
Yet here, in John 21, the man we meet is anything but a rock-solid saint. Peter was floundering among his own ruined hopes, shell-shocked in his sense of loss. The Man he thought to be Israel’s deliverer had been crucified at the hands of the very oppressors He was supposed to overthrow. Devastating as that was in itself, Peter was also smarting from the shame of his own broken commitment. Despite all of his zeal and lofty promises, he had failed his Master in His greatest hour of need.
His resolve had crumbled before the accusations of a servant girl, and his faith had shattered as the object of his devotion was sealed in a tomb. He had given up everything to pursue this discipleship call, yet now, all of his hopes, ambitions, and beliefs had come crashing down around him. With no further prospects of being a fisher of men, he turned his attention back to the sea. The Messiah-fantasy was over; it was time to grab the other former fishermen and return to the mundane grind of life.
It had been a particularly futile night in the profession he never dreamed he would return to — long hours of waiting and laboring, with not a fish to show for it. When a stranger walked along the shore that morning, inquiring after their success, it must have felt like adding insult to injury. Yet somehow, at the suggestion to cast his net on the other side of the boat, something compelled him to obey — and consequently haul in the biggest catch of his life.
John was the first to vocalize what both men were thinking. “It is the Lord” (John 21:7)! This was anything but a coincidence. One of their first encounters with Jesus had involved identical instructions and yielded the same result (Luke 5:4-7). There was no way this could be anyone else but Him.
Peter’s heart immediately went out to his Lord. He cast off his outer garment and leapt into the water, furiously making for land. Yet as he swam nearer, his enthusiasm gave way to timidity. Wasn’t it only a few days ago he had denied this Man? Wasn’t it just today that he was going about life as usual, completely giving up on his call as a disciple? So much for his big talk of loyalty and dedication. What must Jesus think of Him now?
All gathered now upon the shore, an uncomfortable silence settled over the group, even as they ate the breakfast that Jesus had prepared for them. What was there to say after such a week? It was foolishness to try to confirm or deny the identity of the very much alive Messiah who sat in their midst. They had heard stories of His resurrection, but such stories seemed too outlandish to possibly be true. Now each man found himself embarrassed at his own resistance to believe. No one dared voice any further opinion of doubt.
After the meal Jesus pulled Peter aside. The disciple cringed inwardly, imagining what lecture and rebuke he most certainly had coming to him. He would not have imagined that Jesus saw anything in him but the glaring weaknesses that had haunted him for the past few days. The question he was presented with, however, completely disarmed him. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”
That was a tough one. Peter wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Did he love Christ more than everyone around him? A week ago, he would have answered with unshrinking boldness in the affirmative. Now, however, a number of serious failures made him examine his own heart. It especially stung him to think of the beloved John waiting at the foot of the cross while he himself had fled the scene under the burden of his own shame. Of course, he couldn’t answer “no,” so he managed weakly, “Yes Lord, You know that I love you.” He couldn’t bring himself to even say, “more than these.”
Jesus nodded. “Feed My lambs.”
Peter’s mind began racing. What? Impossible. Not me. Not now. His failure as a disciple was staring him in the face. Who was he to attempt to shepherd anybody? His thoughts and emotions were still raging within him when Jesus struck him again with a question. “Peter, do you love Me?”
The disciple again was floored, momentarily unable to respond. He had not yet finished reeling from Jesus’ last statement. Why must He ask again? Did Peter love Him? Of course I do! raged one part of his emotions. No, and my track record proves it, accused the other. Yet Peter could not answer negatively to His Lord’s face, and so he said again, his voice thick with emotion, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
“Tend my sheep,” Jesus responded.
Peter was a mass of conflicting desires and emotions. Common sense told him that it was all over. He had failed. He had nothing to offer his Master. But his heart still burned. Something within him still longed to be with Jesus and to do His works. The zeal and passion Peter had felt so strongly in the past three and a half years was beginning to resurface among the ashes of his devastation, and he wasn’t yet sure if he could trust the feeling. He was painfully aware of the shortcomings of his own will. Yet his heart was still so tied to the Man seated across from Him. Jesus was back, and as alive and well as ever, but Peter had fallen to such a degree that he held out no hopes for his own recovery. Nothing in him wanted to refuse his Lord, yet the thought of reentering ministry terrified him. What if he stumbled again? What if it was worse than the first time?
He could not complete his line of thought before Christ pressed the question again. He locked eyes with him and asked very pointedly, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
Peter broke, tears streaming down his face. His heart nearly burst with anguish and longing, and he blurted it out before he quite knew what he was saying: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you.” Yes, yes! his heart cried. I can’t walk away from Him. I can’t go back to what I once knew. I love Him… I love Him. The thick-skinned fisherman from Galilee could no longer sustain the emotional walls he had built up for himself. Failure or no failure, he had only one option before him. To whom else could he go? There was only one Man who had the words that could sustain his heart. That Man was sitting opposite him now, stripping his soul bare with a tender tenacity, driving home the simplest of questions until His broken disciple got the point.
Jesus waited for Peter to recover a moment, and His voice was tender even as He implored again, “Feed my sheep.” Peter wiped his face and nodded — first weakly, then emphatically. He had walked away from Jesus once. Never again could he refuse Him. He would feed His sheep if that’s what love required. He discovered it to be true in the depths of his soul — he loved Jesus passionately and would do whatever it took to live that love out.
The Lord spoke to him then about what death he would die. It was the death of a martyr, a man who spent his life for his faith. Peter was sobered and trembled inwardly, but the news did not deter him. If that’s what it took, so be it. But he was resolved anew to feed Christ’s flock at any cost. Love of the deepest kind was compelling him.
Peter, the man who was a rock, began to find his foundation again. Even amongst his grief and brokenness, something resembling hope was forming in his heart. The Lord had not rejected him. He hadn’t even demoted him. He still loved Peter as steadfastly as ever and was commissioning him again with no penalties or strings attached. The disciple could hardly comprehend this mercy.
Jesus leaned in, looking Peter directly in the face. Still tear-stained, he returned the gaze for the first time, not wavering or averting his eyes in shame. It was time for a new day and a clean slate, forgiven and restored fully into the Kingdom. The words of Christ would set this fisher of men on a renewed lifelong course… “Follow Me.”
Something in me can very much identify with Peter in this account. I find myself all too prone to sincere, but misguided zeal, determining in my heart to go all the way in my dedication, yet leaning too much upon my own strength to do so. My good intentions and willpower only carry me so far — a week, a month, or if my fortitude holds out, a year or two — before it will all cave under pressure that it was never designed to bear.
I also identify with Peter’s perfectionism. Once I have failed at something, my immediate temptation is to throw in the towel and be done with it. Although I have grown greatly in this area since being at IHOP, I have a history of taking my failures personally, viewing them as a reflection of my own unworthiness. Although I know I am only human, and as such, I am imperfect and susceptible to stumbling, somehow I have had great difficulty in the past recovering from my own shortcomings and moving on. While I rightly did not excuse my errors, I wrongly did not forgive them.
Time and time again, Jesus has faithfully met me, even in these times of failure. He has reached out to me at my lowest point and called me back to who I am as a lover of God. He is never surprised by my sin or weakness, and rather than abandoning me to wallow in my regret, He calls me higher than I was before. He helps me to regain proper focus—weak as I may be, my heart still loves Him, and this is the first and greatest thing He asks of me. As long as I keep saying yes to His invitation to follow Him, He can work with me and ultimately make me the kind of disciple my heart longs to be. His steadfast love never ceases and His mercies never come to an end over me. There is life and glory on the other side of my brokenness, because it doesn’t rest upon my little strength — it’s about a very able Savior who has never given up pursuing me.
I haven’t stopped faltering in my walk. Undoubtedly, I never will (not on this side of eternity, at least). But I have encountered a grace and mercy that restores me when I slip and strengthens me when I have no might. I know I am unconditionally loved by the Lord of lords, and I know that my own heart has been captured in love for Him — and I must follow Him to the end.