Photo notes: This is a picture from about three years ago. Much as I would like to have a picture of the shores of the Sea of Galilee, this is the next best thing, the north shore of Great Island! The funny cartoonish effect (especially noticeable in the clouds and the trees) is HDR, the effect you get from combing three different exposures of the same scene into one. This was achieved using a trial version of Photomatix.
Have you ever let Jesus down? If you have you will know how crushing the disappointment can be. But Jesus is not like anyone else – He doesn’t go off in a huff, He wants us back and living with Him and for Him once again.
You may remember from last week that the Lord Jesus had appeared to the disciples previously, when they were all huddled together in a locked room. You may remember ‘doubting Thomas’ seeing the risen Lord for himself, seeing the scars in Jesus’ hands left by the nails and the scar in his side left by the spear and how he exclaimed “My Lord and my God”. Well if last week it was about Thomas’ encounter with Jesus then this week it is about Peter’s encounter.
Peter had a very heavy heart. He had denied his Lord and master three times. He felt very bad about it, he was crushingly disappointed with himself. Seeing Jesus again in that locked room brought him joy but it also brought him pain. Just when his Friend needed him most, he three times denied to complete strangers that He even knew Jesus.
Peter is hanging out with Thomas, Nathanael, the brothers James and John and two other disciples. Peter wants to go fishing. Perhaps returning to what he did before he met Jesus will help him in some way. His friends say that they will go with him so, as the day is coming to a close they set out in a boat onto the sea of Galilee.
It is a fruitless night, they catch nothing. The fish are having none of it! Early in the morning, as the darkness is lifting a little and the sun is thinking about poking its head over the horizon, Peter and the others see a man standing on the shore. There is not enough light yet to see who it might be. The man calls out to them saying
“Children, you have no fish, have you?”
They still don’t recognise the man or His voice.
“No”, they answer.
The man says:
“Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some”
Maybe at this point they are getting an inkling as to who this man might be. A few years before something similar happened when Peter received his call from Jesus. On that day he put his net into the water and was overwhelmed by the number of fish, but even more overwhelmed by this carpenter from Nazareth, to whom he had said “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus replied to him on that day “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch people” (Luke 5:10). That day, Peter had left his boat and hits nets and everything to follow Jesus.
Now here we were again. Déjà vu. They put the net over the right side of the boat just as the man said and what do you know, yes, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish!
John looked at Peter and said “It is the Lord!” Peter doesn’t hesitate, he loves Jesus, He loves Jesus with all his heart, he is so sorry for ever letting Him down, he so wants to see Him again, to talk to Him so that Jesus knows he is sorry. Peter quickly puts on his clothes and jumps into the water. Peter swims the hundred yards or so to the shore with the others coming behind him in the boat. By the time the others arrive towing the bulging net of fish behind them, Peter is ashore with Jesus and a fire has been lit. Jesus already has some fish cooking and some bread and He calls out to them to bring some of the fish that they have just caught. Peter jumps aboard and helps pull the overflowing net ashore. John tells us that there were 153 large fish and is surprised that the net is not even torn. Jesus calls them to come and have breakfast. They all know that it is the Lord but they are afraid to ask. Having breakfast on the beach with someone who has risen from the dead is not an everyday experience.
Once they finish breakfast Jesus speaks to Peter and says:
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter has desperately wanted this moment, this chance to try and restore his relationship with Jesus, but he is understandably also a little afraid. He replies
“Yes Lord; you know that I love you.”
Now the word ‘love’ in the Greek has subtle differences. The word Jesus uses for love is agape which means a complete love that is even prepared to sacrifice oneself on behalf of the person you love, (for example Jesus’ love for us by sacrificing himself on a cross, or a parents love for their child). Jesus asks Peter do you love me sacrificially, are you prepared to give up everything even your life to follow me?
Peter replies “Yes Lord you know that I love you”. Peter knows that he has made great claims before about following Jesus. He had said to Him “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14:31). Now he says it from the heart and as best as he can “Yes Lord you know that I love you”. But Peter does not say that he loves Jesus with agape sacrificial love, the word that he uses is phileo. This is still love, but it is more an affectionate brotherly love.
Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs”. Peter is to look after Jesus’ followers and to take care of them when He has gone. Then Jesus says to Peter more directly;
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Again Jesus uses the word agape for love. Does Peter love Jesus fully and sacrificially. Perhaps he does but he is not yet ready to openly admit it, perhaps for fear of letting Jesus down again. He replies:
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Again Peter uses the affectionate Phileo word for love. Again Jesus says to him “Tend my sheep”.
Three times Peter denied Jesus, now to help restore their relationship Jesus asks Peter for the third time:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus no longer uses the agape word for love, He uses Phileo. In effect He is saying: “Peter, Peter are you even my friend?” Perhaps Peter is not quite ready to trust himself again after letting his Master and friend down so heavily before. Peter is hurt and upset and perhaps doesn’t yet understand why Jesus is talking to him like this. Peter can still only reply using the Phileo, brotherly love word as he replies for the third time saying:
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
What a change has taken place in Peter. This was a man who was full of life and energy and ultra-enthusiastic. The sort of person who charged into everything, often without thinking first. There was no keener follower of Jesus and yet when it came to the crunch, when he was asked publicly whether or not he was a follower of Jesus he had sworn that he was not (Matt. 26:72). Peter was completely devastated by his behaviour. He had wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75) it was perhaps the saddest moment of his life. And now here Jesus had asked him three times whether he loved Him or not, once for each of the time that he had denied Jesus. Peter is able to reply that yes he does love Jesus, but not as strongly as Jesus would like. Peter is now perhaps being over cautious.
But Jesus knows Peter’s heart. For the third time He says to him: “Feed my sheep”. Jesus knows that Peter does love Him, He knows that Peter will be a key leader in the Church. He knows that Peter and the others will be given all the courage and strength that they need when the Spirit would come in power upon them on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus knows the future. He knows that Peter will love Him so much that, in the end he would give his life willingly and unquestioningly for Jesus. (Legend tells us that Peter was crucified upside-down because he refused to killed in the same way that his master had. Even at Peter’s death he was thinking about his Master’s glory.)
And what about us? Perhaps we can think of a time or times that we have let Jesus down, perhaps we have been ashamed or embarrassed to admit that we know Him as our Lord and Saviour. Perhaps we worry that people will think we are a bit odd for doing so. Yes if we deny Jesus we should be devastated for doing so – but that is not the end, like Peter, we can be restored and reconciled with Jesus, we only have to be willing to give Him our love and He will do the rest.
To Peter Jesus said “Follow me”. He says the same today to you and to me: Come, Follow me… Amen.