I know that on Sundays we walk into our churches, we smile, we shake hands, and we make nice. We pastor people and we preach from God’s Word. We are very respectable.
But I know myself and I’ve worked with pastors way too long to believe that life is that neat and tidy. Just beneath the veneer, some of us are really struggling… our life isn’t all together. We are not as “together” on the inside as we project on the outside.
It could be a marriage that has gone south… it could be an ongoing struggle with depression… it could be that we feel like a failure in our ministry… it could be something in our past that we keep guarded and locked in the closet…it could be that life we preach about on Sundays isn’t the life we’re experiencing. But, whatever it is, it haunts us and we can’t get past it and even right now it has popped into your mind.
The last encounter that Jesus and Peter have together in the gospels (John 21) has come to be a great encouragement to me when I am dealing with failure… in myself or in others.
The key to this story is understanding what was going on inside of Peter at the time of this story. He had recently denied Christ 3 times. Forever burned in Peter’s mind was that crushing moment when he denied Christ for the 3rd time. He hears the rooster crow and then his eyes locked eyes with Jesus. The Bible says Peter went out and wept bitterly… but no amount of tears could wash away the image of that moment.
The sense of failure was all-consuming. Peter, the rock… was now crushed and crumbled. He would always carry around this black mark on his name.
Peter and John and some of the other disciples had traveled 80 miles north to Galilee to take some time to fish and process and reflect and sort through all of the recent events.
So, Peter and some of his disciple buddies have been fishing all night and haven’t caught a thing. As they are just about to give up, they have a strange encounter with a guy standing on the shore. Finally, John says “It’s the Lord.”
You’ve got to love Peter. He is spontaneous, emotional, impetuous, irrational, reactionary. Peter jumps in the water and starts swimming to shore.
And, now after his frantic swim to the shore, Peter is dripping wet and standing before Jesus on the beach. But, Peter was not all better. He had failed miserably. I’m sure the denials were ringing in his ears and he had to wonder if his relationship with Jesus could ever be repaired.
They sit with Jesus and enjoy a sunrise breakfast on the beach.
Finally, breakfast was over. No more small talk. Jesus turns and addresses Peter. The Bible doesn’t tell us what is going on inside of Peter… but I suspect his heart was racing, his stomach was churning, and he has a lump in his throat.
In this story are 3 simple truths that help me when I feel like a failure.
He pursues me
I want you to notice in this passage that Jesus comes and finds Peter and the gang. I think there is a great spiritual truth here. He pursues us. No matter what I’ve done or what’s in my past… the great God of the universe pursues you.
This thread runs all the way through Scripture.
o There in the garden looking for Adam and Eve
o After 40 years in the desert, God takes the initiative to meet Moses in a burning bush.
o Jonah, who ran from God’s call to go to Nineveh, had God run after him.
o Now Peter, after he had denied Christ had gone back to his old career of fishing. Jesus comes and finds him in spite of his failure.
He doesn’t drag up my past
Jesus eats with Peter. There is no word of rebuke. Jesus certainly could have taken him back to another fire where Peter had denied Christ.
I want to remind you of something you preach to others but often don’t apply to yourself. Jesus is in the grace business, not the guilt business. He is in the healing business, not the humiliation business. He is in the restoration business, not the condemnation business.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (NLT)
He gives me a place of service
Jesus says to Peter 3 times “feed my lambs…take care of my sheep”
Jesus knew he was about to ascend back into heaven. And, the most precious thing to Jesus was people. They are created in his image and they are eternal and they are the reason he came to this planet. And, now, Jesus turns to Peter and says “I want you to take care of these people that matter to me.” He places his most valued possession into the care of Peter.
The issue in this moment was not forgiveness but restoration. Peter moves from resigned to re-instated. Peter is on the sidelines and Jesus taps him on the shoulder and says “I want you to get back in the game. I’m not through with you.”
It is interesting to me that the assignment he repeated to Peter 3 times was “take care of my sheep”. It wasn’t to build a great church or launch a world-wide ministry. It was to care for people.
This was a life-changing encounter for Peter. If you fast forward to Act 2, Peter stands and boldly preaches and the church is launched with 3000 new converts. I wonder how often Peter’s mind went back to that breakfast on the beach. God was not through with Peter and he is not through with you.