This is the last post in an ongoing series on the Call of Christ.
The greatest mistake, the biggest mess-up of Peter’s life is well known. The story begins in Matthew 26.31, on the night of Jesus’ arrest when Jesus tells His disciples that they will all desert Him.
And Peter just can’t believe it. He says, “Lord, there’s no way that I’ll ever desert you—I’m ready to die for you.” Jesus tells him that before the rooster crows he will deny Him three times, but Peter still doesn’t believe it.
But then, just a short time later, Jesus is arrested. Peter tries to defend the Lord at first—he attacks the servant of the high priest and cuts off his ear with a sword—but Jesus rebukes him, and then as Jesus is led away Peter follows at a distance.
From a distance, Peter apparently witnesses the sham trial, the fear starts to build, and then as people start to ask him if he’s one of Jesus followers, he denies it, not once, not twice, but three times in rapid succession. Then a rooster crows, and Peter remembers what Jesus had said, and the Bible says “he went out and wept bitterly”.
Of course, then Jesus is crucified and resurrected, and we know from John 20 that Peter saw His empty tomb and that Jesus appeared twice to the disciples, but we don’t really have much of a focus on Peter again until John 21, which is a really interesting chapter:
“After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will also come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.” (John 21.1-3)
This all sounds normal enough, but there’s something interesting here in the Greek. In verse 3 when Peter says, “I am going fishing”, in the Greek, the word there for “go” is an unusual one. It literally means “I go away” or “I depart” and it’s used a lot in the NT when Jesus says something like “I’m going to the Father” (i.e. “I’m going somewhere and you’re not going to see me anymore”).
Because of this, many scholars have suggested that what Peter is saying here is not, “Hey, I’m going to go fishing for a couple of hours” but rather, “Hey, I’m going to go be a fisherman again because this whole Following Jesus Thing isn’t working out.”
And if this is the case, Peter isn’t leaving Jesus because he’s given up on Jesus (after all, he’s witnessed Jesus resurrected!)—Peter’s leaving Jesus because he’s given up on himself! “Why did Jesus pick me to follow Him in the first place? All I do is mess up…I’m no good to Jesus anymore…”
The story continues:
“But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you do not have any fish, do you?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.’ So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.” (John 21.4-6)
Does this sound familiar to anyone? All night fishing with no luck, then Someone comes along and tells them where to cast their nets and they have a great catch? It’s certainly familiar to the disciples, because as soon as they catch the fish, John says, “It’s the Lord” and Peter, when he hears it, puts on his cloak and dives into the sea and swims to Jesus.
And what we have here is basically a re-telling of the story of Jesus calling Peter. When Jesus first calls Peter, He does so following the miraculous catch of fish after a night fishing failure, and here, Jesus re-calls Peter after the same thing happens. Jesus and Peter go on to have a conversation in John 21 and three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Each time, Peter says, “Yes, I do”, and Jesus tells Him, “Take care of my sheep.”
As clearly as possibly, Jesus is telling Peter, “I still have work for you to do. I am still calling you to follow Me.”
And we, who know the rest of the story, know that that’s exactly what Peter does: a leader in the early church, he preaches the sermon on Pentecost that leads to the founding of the church, he baptizes Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, he becomes an elder in the NT church, and ultimately he is martyred after a long life of faithful service.
All of this should emphasize a very important lesson: Jesus is there to call us back when we turn away from Him.
We’ve already mentioned that in our Christian lives there are ups and downs, peaks and valleys—sometimes when we don’t live as we should. But for some of us (maybe not all of us, but many), there are times when those downs, those valleys, are so deep and so severe, that we think we can’t climb our way out of them at all.
There are times when we mess up so badly, when we feel like we have strayed so far off, that we deceive ourselves into thinking that there’s no way that we could be of any use to God, that He must not want us any more.
But that is a lie, crafted by the great deceiver himself. There is nothing that you’ve done that can make God not want to take you back. When you turn your back on God, disappointing yourself and everyone else, Jesus is still there, calling you to follow Him once again.
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