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It is incredibly difficult for me to label a certain piece of scripture as my “favorite”. I enjoy so many passages that I can never make up my mind on which one I like better, but there is one story in the gospel of John that has always held a special place in my heart as one of my all-time favorites. This particular story comes from John 21:1-17. It is the story of Jesus having a heart to heart with Peter to remind him of the fact that Peter still belongs in the family of God, even after all that he did. Before we begin though, we should probably do a little backstory investigation of Peter up to this point.
Peter’s story begins while he just finished a long and unsuccessful night of fishing in Luke 5:1-10. Here we find Peter on the seashore, and he is cleaning his nets. I’m sure he is tired, and weary, and maybe not in the best of moods since he had a poor night of fishing. Now Jesus comes onto the scene where he is teaching a crowd of people that are with him, and He asks Peter to set out a little to teach from the boat. Peter obliges, and as soon as Jesus finishes teaching, He turns to Peter and tells him to set out for a catch. Peter gives Jesus a discourse as to his fishing misfortunes, but complies anyway. To Peter’s surprise, he lets down his net, and ends up with a net breaking catch. After Peter is done telling Jesus to leave the presence of his sinful self, Jesus simply tells Peter, and those who were with Peter through all of this not to fear, but rather follow Him, and be fishers of men.
We pick up a much later in Peter’s story now in John 13:36- 14:6. Jesus had just washed the disciple’s feet at the last supper before His betrayal, and now He tells them that where He is about to go, they cannot follow. Peter boldly says that he would follow Jesus anywhere, even if it meant dying. Jesus turns to Peter, and asks him if he really would lay down his life for Him, and Jesus then tells Peter that the rooster will not crow until Peter had denied Him three times. What is amazing in this gospel story is that there is no break in dialogue between chapters 13 and 14, which means that even though Peter is troubled by this news, and is vehemently denying that he would deny Jesus, Jesus keeps speaking, and in John 14:1-3, Jesus addresses them all, but specifically directed towards Peter He says,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also…”
We all know what happens next, Jesus is arrested in the garden, Peter attacks poor Malchus and severs his ear, Jesus rebukes Peter for his violence and is taken away, and then Peter ends up denying Christ three times just like Jesus said. Peter was so sorrowful and guilty that he went bitterly weeping for his treachery (John 18:1-11; 25-27; Matthew 26:47-56; 69-75).
After Jesus had been crucified and had risen from the dead, we find Peter and some other apostles who decided to go fishing in our main story from John 21:1-17. Peter, I’m sure, wanted to go fishing because that was a source of comfort for him which he was likely seeking since he was still feeling bad about denying Jesus. He had known fishing his whole life. That was his career before Jesus had called him back in Luke 5:1-10, and so it stands to reason that he should go back to what he knew. So they go fishing all night, and they catch nothing.
Jesus comes back onto the scene, standing on the seashore, and calls out to them in John 21:4-5. They can’t tell who it is yet, so they don’t have any idea who He was. Now Jesus calls out to them. He didn’t call out in a mocking voice. He didn’t call out in a scornful voice. He could have easily just blasted Peter right then for denying Him, but instead he calls out to them tenderly, and calls them “Children”. He calls out with the most endearing title, and asks them knowingly, “You don’t have any fish, do you?”
They answered, “No”.
Of course they wouldn’t have any fish right? It’s no surprise that they didn’t catch any fish because Peter, Andrew, James, and John were already called out of that life in Luke 5:1-10, Jesus had already broken Peter’s nets, and started to sink his boat with His good blessing. He not only broke Peter’s nets, but He broke Peter by breaking down the old and less fulfilling lifestyle that Peter had been living, and called him to something better, and now Peter is going back to that less fulfilling lifestyle that provides nothing but disappointment, and Jesus knew this when He asked them if they caught anything. Of course he wouldn’t find any success or satisfaction in returning to the same life that Jesus called him out of.
Jesus then told them to try casting their nets on the other side of the boat, and I’m sure they’re all probably thinking to themselves, “Oh, that sounds familiar.” Flashback to what happened in Luke 5:1-10. This is almost identical to what He had already done back in Luke. They knew this after they had let down their nets and actually caught some fish, and John said to Peter, “It’s the Lord.” Peter, having recognized this, got dressed since he was not wearing his nicer outer garment from laboring all night, and he couldn’t contain himself, so he dove into the water and swam to shore, because inasmuch as he felt sorry for himself and what he had done, he still couldn’t wait to see Jesus.
After the rest of the apostles came to shore with the catch of fish, they saw that Jesus already had a fire going, and was already cooking fish for breakfast. He invites them to come, and eat breakfast together, and they all gather around Him to eat, and it’s nothing but awkward silence because nobody asks if it is Jesus, for they all already knew who it was. Then Jesus feeds them. He gives them nourishment, and satisfies their hunger. He is doing a little bit more here though. He is also taking care of some spiritual nourishment as well.
After they finish eating, Jesus addresses Peter three times, asking him if he love Him. After the third time, Peter knew what Jesus was doing, and he was feeling that guilt again. He became a little frustrated and said, “You know everything, Lord; You know that I love You.” Jesus had made his point abundantly clear after each time that He asked whether Peter loved Him too, because He followed up with the statements, “Tend My lambs”, “Shepherd My sheep”, and “Tend My sheep”. He was communicating to Peter, after nourishing him physically and tending to him spiritually, that it was time for Peter to step up and nourish, feed, and tend to Jesus’ flock. He is reminding Peter that he was called to be bigger, and better than this life that he had returned to. He is reminding Peter of the fact that he has forgiveness as a member of God’s family if he would simply seek it with repentance, and that he shouldn’t let his heart be troubled as He already told him in John 14:1-3. Peter finally understands, and is finally free from his guilt to be with Jesus again.
I love this story because it reminds me of the love of Christ, and His willingness to forgive those who are willing to repent. Jesus calls us out of the world to follow and obey Him, and He calls us to a life that is more fulfilling than we can provide for ourselves. How often we fall, and feel as if there is no hope for us when Jesus is saying,
“Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Maybe we need to have some breakfast with Jesus, and learn to take on His yoke like Peter did. Thank you for reading, and know that Jesus loves you, and so do I.