Our College Bible Fellowship finished up our study on the life of Peter this past Sunday morning. The passage we have been looking at was from John 21:1-19. There are several things in this passage that speak deeply to me. In this post, I would like to share just a few things in particular.
Trying to go back to what I think I know
” 1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?”
After betraying Jesus, Peter goes back to what he thinks he knows – “fishing”, the job of his childhood, the family business that he worked in along with his brother Andrew, and his cousins, John and James. The last time we have a record of Peter fishing, he caught nothing. Jesus told Peter how to do what he already thought he knew how to do. Then Jesus made Peter a fisher of men. In John 21, we see Peter trying to go back, back to what he thought he knew, back to self-sufficiency, back to something he can do without having to depend on Jesus, back to his childhood, back to the boat, the net, the sun, and the sea air. Peter had bitterly failed Christ in every way possible.
On the eve of Jesus arrest, in Matthew 26:35, Peter had sworn to Jesus “even if I have to die, I will never disown you.” Yet, before that evening was over he had fallen asleep 3 times when Jesus asked him to pray, he had cut off Malchus’ ear only to rebuked by Christ, and he denied 3 times that he even Christ, the final denial coming with public, defiant curses. So, he did exactly what any man does when he has tried big things and failed. He went back to what he knew. For me, that’s eating cheetos, watching football, and playing video games – something that I can do well, something that I can do without having to ask Jesus to help me. This is what Peter did. He went back. Or at least he tried to.
Peter found a boat, a net, and a sail. He found a crew – some of the disciples went with him – namely his cousin John. How many times had he and his cousin been fishing together? Hundreds – maybe thousands of times. It was all so familiar. So Peter, going back to what he knew, going back to what he could do in his sleep, set out to sea, with wind in his sails, and his old crew at his side and caught…nothing. Nothing. Not a single fish. Not even a minnow.
This resonates so deeply with me. How often it is that I dream of going back to what I think I know. It seems that every year that I live, I somehow acquire more responsibility. I am often overwhelmed with it all. And how often it is that I feel like a failure. I deny Christ when I am supposed to be faithfully following him. I am full of pride and ‘impact idolatry’. I find myself tragically out of step with Jesus. Unloving toward my wife and children. Unthinking as a Pastor. Unprayerful. Untrusting. I have the heart of a traitor. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,” says the hymn. “Prone to leave the God I love.” And I feel it. Like Lot’s wife of old, I look back longingly over my shoulder with an idolatrous love that turns my heart to salty stone (Gen. 19:36). In Luke 17:32, Jesus warns his followers, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will save it.”
I do, Jesus. I do remember. I remember Lot’s wife, looking back…yearning to return to her idols. And I remember Peter, looking back…longing to return to a life without you. I remember. And I know that I am just like them. I long for comfort. I long for ease. I long for self-sufficiency. I long to go back to what I think I know. O Lord Jesus, rescue me. Deliver me from the love of what I think I want, and what I think I know.
As Peter looked down into his empty net. Lost. Alone. And Defeated. He heard a familiar voice calling out from the shore. “Children, do you have any fish?” This is the voice that rescued Peter that day. And it is also the voice that rescues me. “Don’t look back Tim. Don’t look back. Follow me.”