We want to live with the reality of our shortcomings and we also want to live beyond them, believing we are more than our mistakes. God offers steadfast love and reception so that we may be restored and sent into the world to serve others with the good news of knowing God. John 21:1-19 can be read here.

John 21:1-19 at a glance

· the disciples go and fish

· they fish all night and catch nothing

· Jesus is on the beach and tells them to fish on the other side

· they catch an astonishing amount of fish

· they make it to the shore and see it is Jesus

· Jesus serves them a meal

· Jesus talks with Peter and tells him he will die one day

Why the story sticks

The Gospel of John 21:1-19 tells us about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to seven disciples, including Peter, who is restored by Jesus.

This story pulls on important strings within our hearts. We want to believe we are more than our mistakes and that there is such a thing called redemption. This passage provides an excellent opportunity to teach our congregants that God extends mercy beyond our worst mistakes.

Peter would only live a few decades after this because in 64 AD he would die in Rome via crucifixion by the will of Nero. He lived and preached faithfully and kept his promise to follow in the way of Jesus.

Peter’s mistakes and sins did not prevent God from using him.

Peter’s Predicament

Peter’s predicament begins before Christ was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane by Judas. Jesus explained to them he, the Son of Man, must go to Jerusalem. In Luke 22, Peter professes his loyalty to Jesus, “’ Lord,’ said Peter, ‘I am ready to go with you even to prison and to death.” And Jesus responded, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know me.”

True to his words, Peter was ready for a fight, for, after Judas’ betrayal and a scrum to arrest Jesus, Peter and the disciples scatter. However, Peter follows at a distance and then sits outside the place where Jesus is put through a hastily constructed trial. Some people gathered outside in a courtyard and lit a fire to provide light and warmth. Peter sat among them!

While they converse, they notice Peter’s Galilean accent and they say, “Surely you are with this man.” Twice they suggest and twice Peter denies knowing Jesus. The third time he is accused of knowing Jesus, Peter responds, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And while speaking, the rooster crowed and the Lord turned and made eye contact with him. Like a train wreck, the events leading up to his denials happened slowly and then all at once. Peter had failed, “And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:61)

Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday come to pass. The disciples leave Jerusalem and go north to Galilee. Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” Off they go and fish all night, yet they catch nothing.

Jesus’ Response and Restoring

Notice, in our passage John says, “Jesus showed himself.” This is not random; it is purposeful. Jesus knows Peter needs to confront the truth and swim in radical grace which calls us to move forward with our mission. God is not done with Peter’s life!

The disciples catch a large haul of fish, Jesus invites them to eat with him on the beach, and they know they are being fed, once again, by Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus then speaks to Peter.

It’s just not persuasive to see Jesus’ use of agape and Peter’s use of philia three times in a row as somehow a progression from lesser to greater love. These words were used synonymously. It is more persuasive to see Jesus reflecting Peter’s three denials with three opportunities to confess his true love.

This does not lessen the call to Peter! Peter, you denied me three times so let me ask you three times, do you love me? Yes, you know all things and you know that I hold you as my dearly beloved, Jesus. Okay, Peter, then you need to feed, tend, and care for my sheep. One day you will be led where you don’t want to go, but don’t fear! I’ve walked that road ahead of you and I’ve left my footprints to guide you. The phrase “follow me” literally means, “be on the same path together.”

Jesus is reversing the situation. Peter makes a promise he cannot keep, denies Jesus three times, and doesn’t follow Christ. In our passage, there is a confession three times, Jesus tells him “you will die for me” and Jesus gives the command to follow. John tells us Peter was faithful to the end.

Redemption

In our lives and in our congregations, ministers see the longing for redemption. Many of our congregants live with religious guilt and shame that has weighed them down for years, preventing them from living in and sharing the joy of knowing God.

If the resurrection of Jesus tells us anything, it is that our sin, failures, mishaps, and even death itself do not have the last word. Mistakes don’t stop the mission. God does not withdraw from us, but comes closer to restore us. This idea undergirds our idea of weekly confessional prayer in the worship service. We can face the truth, no matter how ugly, because Christ is there with us to restore us.

This is once again an opportunity to live into the reality of grace. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” Christ’s truth sets us free from the bondage and baggage of guilt and shame. We are free to live in the new life and forgiveness he gives us.

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