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What To Do When You’ve Blown It

John 21:1-25

This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for September 5, 2021. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.

Peter is the undisputed chief of the Disciples/Apostles. It is he who answers Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” with the famous profession, “You are the Christ the Son of God!” (Mat 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-21). It seems nearly every time Jesus chose a smaller group of Disciples to watch Him more closely, He chose Peter, James & John. It does appear Peter even saw himself as the unofficial spokesman of the group.

He was perhaps the oldest of the disciples, a successful fisherman who had a partnership with Zebedee, father of James and John. [The fact that on two occasions the scriptures record that he fished “all night and caught nothing” was not an indicator of his fishing skills, merely an object lesson that “without me (Christ) you can do nothing” (John 15:5).] He had many of the qualities of a brazen, out front, take charge, visionary leader. He would have my vote for “chief disciple,” if I was one of the Twelve.

Nevertheless, like all of us, his best qualities could also be his worst enemy. He often spoke too soon. Made rash statements. “Got his foot stock in his mouth” as we say in English. Such was the case in the upper room. When Jesus predicted being forsaken by His followers, and arrest very soon, Peter proclaimed that “Even if all fall away, I will not (Mk 14:29). I am ready to go to prison or death [with you] (Lk 22:33).” But as you know, a few hours later Peter confessed “I do not know the man!” (Mt 26:72). All four Gospels record both his promise (Mt 26:31-35, Mk 14:27-31, Lk 22:31-38, Jn 13:37-38) and his denials (Mt 26, 58, 69-75; Mk 54, 66-72; Lk 22:54-62; Jn 18:15-18, 25-27). Peter, the great leader of leaders, had blown it and done so big time!

By the time we arrive at John 21, Christ has been crucified, buried and raised. The confusion about the reports of Resurrection and the actual appearances are now past. Jesus has indeed risen. Jesus has told His disciples to meet Him in Galilee. This is where our story for today begins. Here sits Peter, waiting for Jesus. A man who promised to go to death with Him, but now sits as a “denier of the faith.” Jesus had said, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mat 10:33). Peter contemplates what lies ahead as he awaits Christ’s return to Galilee. How will Jesus react to his lack of faith? Has all his years of sacrifice and following been for naught? Has he proven himself unworthy to follow Christ? Where does he go from here?

As he waits with a number of the disciples, probably in his own home on the sea of Galilee, he says, “I am going fishing.” His fellow disciples say, “yes, we will go with you.” The original Greek New Testament uses a grammar that strongly implies, “I am going back to fishing.” He is not saying, “let’s go on a fishing trip and relax today,” or “let’s pick up some trout for dinner.” He is saying, “I am going back to what I was doing before Jesus came along. I have proved I cannot be the leader He needs to start His movement. I need to retreat to the life I knew before and carry on as best I can.” Of interest is that the rest of Christ’s disciple follow suit, all saying, “we are done, we quit.”

That night is quite reminiscent of Jesus’ calling Peter to follow Him in Luke 5:3-11. They toiled, caught nothing, then Jesus appeared and did a miracle and they caught a heap of fish.

Early in the morning, Jesus appeared on the shore and called out to see if they had any fish to sell. There is nothing unusual in this. Before shortwave radio, “fish mongers” or merchants specializing in buying and re-selling fish, would call out to the boats to see if they had the “goods” they wanted to resell in the market.

Jesus followed His call by telling them where to cast their nets. Then the disciples drew in a large catch. A second miracle was the nets did not break. Yes, this was Jesus! John was the first to figure this out. And Peter, in his usual “act now, think later,” style, jumped into the sea and swam to Jesus.

Of interest here, Jesus is seeking His disciples, even as they are thinking of “jumping ship” (no pun intended) and leaving Him. Just like God to Adam, or David, or Elisha, or us, when we have blown it, and we want to give it all up, and even to hide from Him, Christ comes and seeks us out and, in this case, even provides a good nutritious breakfast.

After breakfast, Jesus gets down to business with Peter. “Peter, do you love me more than these?” (21:15) The “these” in Peter’s case refers to all his “hard earned” fishing business, his house, his friends (fellow disciples) and his way of life. Jesus is asking, in our vernacular, “what were your priorities?” Are My desires more important than your goals, your ambitions, your interests and loves, your desires? Jesus stands asking every “disciple” of His that same question. Are you more interested in My call on your life, than you own goals, or desires?

Peter’s answer is as poignant as the probing question of Jesus. Two weeks ago, he opened his mouth and promised to follow Jesus to death, only to fall flat on his face a matter of a few hours. Now he is forced to pledge his allegiance again. He does so, but changes the word translated “love” in the English text. Christ uses the term agape, a love that is self-sacrificing by nature. Peter replies, he loves Christ using the term phileo, a term implying a brotherly or “give and take” kind of love, as opposed to a self-sacrificing love. No doubt he is thinking, “I spoke out of turn before, I

certainly do not want to do that again!”

Jesus replies, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus is giving him directions on how to move on and do God’s will, not his own. Yes, you blew it, but now you need to move on. Just like Elijah on Mt Sinai, “you have work to do, get on with it.” Christ wants us to learn from our past mistakes, then get back in the game and do what He wants with our lives.

Jesus’ question is then repeated in 21:16. The reply of Peter is the same. The only difference is Christ tells Peter to “shepherd my sheep” rather than “feed my lambs.” This shepherd motif is meant as a call to Peter into being a leader or “pastor” of Christ’s flock. Our personal call may differ, but we are all failures, and we all have a calling to do what Christ/God wants in our lives on earth. Not all are called to be “preachers.”

When Jesus asks His question a third time in 21:17, He changes His word love from agape to phileo. The text tells us that Peter was “hurt” or “grieved” (depending on your translation) that Jesus was asking again. Watch his response, “Lord, you know all things, you know I love (phileo) you.” Peter has learned his lesson. He spoke up two weeks before in his pride and self-will. But as Christ says, “the flesh is weak” (Mat 26:41 & Mk 14:38). Peter has learned he must follow in God’s power, not in his own strength and self-determination.

Jesus goes on to explain what following Him would mean to Peter personally. Eventually he was going to be killed for his faith in Jesus.

That may not be God’s call on our lives. Nevertheless, we all have a call of God on our lives, a reason to be on earth. We need to find that reason in Christ’s priorities, not our own. Then we need to follow and trust Him to give us the power to do His will, not our own.

For Peter, that meant preaching the first Christian sermon on the day of Pentecost, serving as a Pastor, and writing a couple of the Books of the New Testament before being martyred. For us it will probably be quite different.

Many of us are at the point that we have far less days before us than behind us. It is easy to look about and say, “have I accomplished anything?” Or to say, “What am I doing here now? Why does God not just call me home.” Good old Peter, in 21:20, even asks, “What about John, what will happen to him?” (my paraphrase of 21:21). Jesus’ reply is “don’t worry about Him, just follow me” (my paraphrase again).

May God give us the grace to know what Christ wants for us and to follow.

CH Jim Odell


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