Peter’s Rocky Road to Restoration

May 11, 2021

My daughter is in a relationship with her first somewhat serious boyfriend. She often wonders aloud whether I approve, whether I want her to break up with him, whether I support the relationship.

One day on the phone, the topic came up again.

“Mom, do you want me to break up with him?” she asked.

“Of course not. Why do you ask me that?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Sweet pea, here’s what I see when I look at you guys. You are two broken people … two people who are working through hard things … together. You cheer each other on … you accept each other. It’s like your relationship is fueled by grace. There’s something beautiful in that.”

There was a long moment of silence. And then …

“That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me,” she said.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

She hung up and we haven’t spoken of it since, except she gets a little tense when I ask whether her boyfriend has decided what he’s going to do with his life.

“He’s not there yet, Mom.”

“It’s waiting for him … his life, that is. It’s waiting for him,” I usually say.

“I know, Mom.”

My daughter has been through a lot in her short life. Much of her anxiety stems from the issues common to adopted kids, particularly those adopted at birth as she was. Her younger sister, also adopted at birth, went through a densely intense period of life-threatening medical emergencies requiring countless hospitalizations and surgeries, both major and minor, leaving my oldest daughter feeling traumatized and forgotten; all of the parental attention going to the urgency of her sister’s needs for far too long. She has still not recovered.

I don’t know very much about her boyfriend except that there were issues in high school and he was sent to a continuation program where he came face to face with what a person becomes when they start hanging out with a pre-felony crowd. He didn’t want that.

I also know that at one point he was engaged and there were children involved; minor aged relatives of his fiancé who were facing placements in foster care. He and his fiancé planned to save them from that particular fate by taking them as their own, and then she called off the wedding. And the kids went into foster care.

He has still not recovered. And he’s stuck. 22 years old, paying a hefty rent to continue living with his parents, no car, no college plans, no vision other than becoming a day trader, and … no real hope.

I love them both. They’re my heartache.

Her boyfriend is well-mannered and kind on the rare occasions he comes to the house. Quiet and likable, he’s a handsome young man; the doppelgänger of Timothée Hal Chalamet who co-starred in Lady Bird. Yet, there’s an edge, a chip on his shoulder, an anger just under the surface that leaks out when he feels condescended toward or challenged in some way. It doesn’t take much for him to misinterpret something I say in the worst possible way. I called him out the last time he was at the house. He cracked a barely-smile and nodded. He knows I see him.

And I haven’t seen him since.

I heard that he sometimes cries at work. Which means he’s crying at home.

I’ve asked my daughter if he talks to her. No, he doesn’t. I’m still waiting for yes. In fact, I’ve started praying for an opportunity to tell him that shame is a liar and a cheat, and it will steal your life if you let it. And to tell him that when I was his age, I struggled in similar ways.

For whatever reason, maybe to tell this story, Peter’s denial of Christ has been coming at me, an onslaught really, from multiple directions. A comment in a Ricochet thread, a reading from a devotional, a happenstance conversation with my husband, a Tim Keller podcast … it continues. This is synchronicity in action. God lets me know He sees me … every moment, every thought, every breath. You too.

Peter is an example, among many examples, of an imperfect person trying to perform their way into perfect righteousness. There’s more to see in his journey than might be covered here, but I’m going to walk through some key turning points of his track record, offering GLW comments along the way, all of which you may ignore in trade for doing your own study of Peter’s journey. And, of course, even that is up to you. My aim here is to look more deeply into Peter’s story, not to attempt a rigorous lesson in theology.

Peter was a fisherman, a tough guy, a can-do kind of person. As a disciple, he fancied himself as a courageous and righteous dude, willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to prove his devotion to Christ and his worthiness for promotion. All four of the New Testament Gospels cover a significant amount of common ground, but there are exceptions where only one of the Gospels tells of a particular incident, or adds important details the others do not. It’s important to remember that each book was inspired by the Spirit, while also written from each author’s perspective and recollection. Certain moments have resonated in my heart. Some of what you’re about to read, should you choose to accept this reading challenge, is actual scripture. And some is paraphrased and abbreviated to focus on the salient aspects of the story. Basically, to keep things moving along a certain thread.

I’ll tell you upfront, this is a very long post. You will be required to read well, and think, and keep track of what’s going on. So … budget some time if you decide to take this on.

If you decide not to read past this point, PLEASE DO NOT COMMENT. Your comment will only prove to those who read the entire post that there is a 100% probability that you completely missed the point. Just looking out for you.

Here we go…

 

Simon Peter’s First Scene (Peter comes face to face with the perfect)

From Luke 5:5-11

Near the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, an occasion arose where people were pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God near the lake of Gennesaret. Jesus noticed two boats out on the lake, but the fishermen were washing their nets. Simon Peter was on one of the boats.  Jesus boarded it and asked Simon to put the boat out away from the land so that He could better teach the people on the shore.

When Jesus was finished speaking to the people, he asked Simon to put the boat out into the deep and let down the nets. Simon responded, and I imagine with a slight tone of annoyance, telling Jesus that they had already had their nets down all night, and had caught nothing. But he agreed to do as the Master requested, and when they had done it, they caught so many fish that the nets were breaking.

When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell down at Jesus’s knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought the boats in, they left everything and followed Him.

 

GLW Comments:

Given Simon Peter’s reputation as prideful and compulsive, this must have been a stunning blow to his confidence. He was probably one of the best, if not the best fisherman around. He’d just put all of his energies into a long and toilsome night, yet had gained nothing. Now Jesus comes along and suddenly the nets are breaking with an unexpected bounty of fish. The experience shook him, and he couldn’t stand to be in Jesus’s presence.

Remember this scene.

 

Peter Walks on the Water (Peter falters)

From Matthew 14:25-32

Later in Jesus’s journey, immediately after He had fed the five thousand, He made the disciples get into the boat, dismissed the crowds, and left to go pray on the mountain. By evening, the boat was a long way from the land because of the beating waves and the winds. In the fourth watch of the night (about 3 am) as their boat was being tossed about, Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When they saw Him, they were terrified. Jesus called out to them, saying “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid!”

Peter answered, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out and walked on the water to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid. Beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus reached out and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

When Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind ceased (in the Greek this word cease is “grew weary; sank away like one who is weary”). Those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

 

GLW Comments:

I’m guessing Peter was the kind of person who thought that there wasn’t any problem he couldn’t solve. That he could do anything if he put his mind to it. But when he saw the wind (which pulled his attention away from Jesus), he was afraid, even though he was a fisherman and a good swimmer.

Jesus had just told them not to be afraid!

A little story: After my mother died, I went to a counselor for help. There was this moment; I don’t remember what I was saying, but he stopped me mid-sentence and said, “I don’t think you’ve ever believed.”

I was stunned, and a little insulted. After all, I’d been a Christian for twenty-five years, had served in many different capacities in the church, had witnessed many miracles, had given generously to the church, missionaries, and various ministries, and … well, you get my point. My belief was based upon a bargain I’d made with God: I perform for Him, and He takes care of me.

I still fall into this kind of thinking every so often, but thank God, the engine within that drives me to achieve seems to be stuck in neutral. And I’m learning an important truth.

As long as we view our own gifts and talents as the only fuel to be used toward realizing our life’s potential, we will never know of the great and infinite possibilities of living life beyond through the life of Christ within us. Everything changes with Him.

And we also don’t always know how far we might fall when fighting in our own strength against a pressing and relentless temptation.

 

Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ (Peter sees the truth)

From Matthew 16:13-20

As Jesus and the disciples approached the District of Philippi, Jesus asked them “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” After a few of the other disciples gave an answer, Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus answered …

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

 

GLW Comments:

In the Greek, there is an emphatic and definite force of the article in Peter’s confession. What Peter said is best heard (in your mind as you read) like this: You art the anointed, the Son of the God, the Living God.

And Jesus responds in kind, “Thou art Peter,” giving attention to the meaning of the name Peter, which in classical Greek, means piece of rock. Why is this a big deal? It’s a big deal for two reasons.

First, because Peter was directly enlightened by the Father; his confession of Jesus as the Christ did not originate from within himself. Coming off the frightening experience on the water, Peter probably wasn’t prepared for something so extraordinary as being chosen to receive a revelation of the truth.

Second, this is the first time the word “church” is used in the New Testament, and Jesus told Peter that he would be given the keys to the church or kingdom. This means that Peter would be the steward. He had been the first to utter the confession of the church, and so he would be the first to open its previously closed gates to the Gentiles.

 

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection (And the pendulum swings … immediately)

From Matthew 16:21-23

From that time on (from Peter’s confession of Jesus as Christ), Jesus began to foretell His approaching death and resurrection. (Notice we are just one verse away from Jesus’s proclamation of Peter as the recipient of the keys to the church).

22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “[1]Far be it from you, Lord! [2]This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

 

GLW Comments:

Talk about going from one extreme to the other! I think Peter might have let Jesus’s proclamation go to his head. But let’s take a deeper look.

The rendering of the Greek word for “took” means that Peter had taken Jesus to himself “[3]as if by a right of his own. Peter acted with greater familiarity after the token of acknowledgement (regarding the stewardship of the church) had been given. Jesus, however, reduces him to his level.”

Peter’s emphatic tone is bold. The phrase “Far be it from you, Lord” is rendered in the Greek as “May God be gracious to thee,” as if Peter knew better than Jesus. And then the next sentence, “This shall never happen to you,” is rendered “Shall in no case be.” Impulsive Peter overstepped his boundaries.

And Jesus, when He turns, He turns away from Peter.

Peter mistook a blessing and a promise as an anointing, stepping too quickly into a role that he hadn’t yet been brought into, been made ready for, or been called to do.

I’ve been there. It’s not fun to be taken down a level or two, but it’s sometimes necessary for our good.

 

The Transfiguration (Peter still doesn’t get it)

From Matthew 17:4-8, Mark 9:1-8, Luke 9:28-36

Several days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John to a high mountain by themselves. “And He was transfigured before them, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light ([4]as no one on earth could bleach them). And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him ([5]about His departure, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him). And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah ([6] not knowing what he said).” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, ([7]my Chosen One) with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

 

GLW Comments:

The word “transfigured” in the Greek denotes the form regarded as the distinctive nature and character of the object, and is distinguished from the word used to convey something changeable; outward fashion. In a man, for instance, fashion denotes his gestures, clothes, words, acts. The word used here partakes of the essence of a thing; the outward is something that might change, leaving the form unaffected. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 describes this outward semblance; false apostles appeared in the outward fashion of apostles of Christ; Satan takes on the outward appearance of an angel. All these changes are accidents of the life, and do not touch its inner, essential quality.

The study source I used describes the moment in detail, and I have paraphrased it here:

There was an outward change in Jesus’s appearance, but it was not one of fashion, as an accident of life. In this case, the visible change in Christ’s appearance gets its real character and meaning from that which is essential in our Lord – His divine nature.

The transfiguration was a foreshadowing of His true form, a form identified with the divine quality of His being, in the glory which he had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). From Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament:

[8]In truth, there is a deep and pregnant hint in the use of this word, which easily escapes observation, and which defies accurate definition. The profound and overwhelming impression upon the three disciples was due to something besides the shining of Christ’s face and garments, and the presence of Moses and Elijah; and was deeper and subtler than the effect of all these combined. There was a fact and a power in that vision which mere radiance and the appearance of the dead patriarchs could not wholly convey: a revelation of the Deity breaking through in that glorified face and form, which appealed to something deeper than sense, and confirmed the words from heaven: ‘This is my beloved Son.’”

Jesus appeared as He truly is.

What was Peter’s response? As rendered in the Greek, Peter states, “I will make” three tabernacles for the three to retire to after their interview. He would erect the booths himself.

Was the power of the transfiguration really lost on Peter? No, I don’t think so. I think he was flustered, and, as the impulsive one, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. It reminds me of a little boy anxious to impress his father.

 

How Many Times Must We Forgive? (Is Peter looking to set another goal?)

From Luke 17:1-6, Matthew 18:21-22

In Luke 14, Jesus was invited to dine at the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and they were watching Jesus. In chapters 14 through 16, Jesus teaches in parables, many prompted by something Jesus observed or heard from the various dinner guests through the course of the evening.

Luke 17 starts with a discussion with His disciples. It is not clear if He and His disciples had left the home of the Pharisee, or this was occurring as a side discussion during the evening. Jesus tells them something that I think may have planted a question in Peter’s mind that would come up later.

17 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves!  If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Then later in Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus and His disciples are in Capernaum, and Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother …

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

 

GLW Comments:

At this time in Biblical history, it was the settled rule of Rabbinism that forgiveness should not be extended more than three times. Peter probably knew this, yet he’d been present when Jesus taught that if your brother sins against you seven times in a day, and he comes to you and repents seven times, that you are to forgive him seven times in that day. Peter’s question was legitimate; he wanted to understand if there was a rule, and if so, what it was.

The answer in Matthew 18:22 (ESV), is that we are to forgive seventy-seven times. But the rendering of the word in the Greek is actually seventy times seven, or 490 times. That’s a huge number, but don’t take this literally, for it is too little.[9] “Christ is not specifying a number of times greater than the limit of seven. He means that there is to be no limit. ‘Forgiveness is qualitative, not quantitative.’”

This has been a tough one for me. In my daily life and relationships, I confess I’ve usually considered reasonable and practical limits when it comes to dealing with people who have hurt me, intentionally or not. It’s a part of how I think, always evaluating risk, assessing worst case scenarios, and exercising protective caution. When it comes down to it, it’s a control thing for me. Jesus considers none of this. And His aim is to transform us into His image, to be as He is.

I’ve always struggled with the idea of forgiveness. The abuse I suffered throughout my childhood and beyond into my adulthood has, in my mind, justified the setting of boundaries to protect myself from those who hurt me, especially those who had a malevolent intent in doing so. I have said to myself that I forgave them, but what that really meant was that I had put them out of my mind. And don’t confuse that with the flawed notion of “forgive and forget.” It means that I had, in my heart, made them disappear from my life. Like the person who commits murder in their heart, I had in spirit killed them off as if they had never existed.

About two years ago, I completed an authoring exercise that required me to write about my past. Once I finished, I felt that something was missing. Then one morning I woke up with a flood of memories running through my mind; a stream of offenses I’ve committed, moments where I responded with contempt for another, hurts I’ve inflicted on people who didn’t deserve to be treated the way I had treated them, and the sins and transgressions I’ve knowingly and sometimes intentionally committed. Strangely, in those moments I felt great joy. A weight lifted, and the feeling continues to this day. I had always known that I was saved, but that morning it became very very real. I was saved. Jesus had paid for all that I had done. Here’s what’s even more interesting: Because I finally believed in what Jesus had done on the cross for me, the spirit of unforgiveness within me simply went away.

God brings us through life from strength to strength, affecting incremental changes in our characters, readying us to do the work He has waiting for us to do in His power.

 

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial (Peter swears he will never abandon Jesus)

From Matthew 26:30-35, Mark 14:26-31, Luke 22:31-34

After the last supper …

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” ([10]31“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”) 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” ([11]33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.”) 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” ([12]34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”) And all the disciples said the same.

 

GLW Comment:

The phrase “Satan demanded to have you” is rendered in the Greek as something more like “Satan has asked to obtain you.” For what purpose? To sift Peter like wheat. The implications of this are enormous. Wheat is sifted using a sieve, a utensil of wire mesh or closely perforated metal. It is used to press the wheat through a screen, leaving the impurities behind. Satan had asked to have Peter so that he could sift him through a sieve and expose his impurities. I don’t think Satan’s intent was to remove Peter’s impurities, but Jesus knew that in order for Peter’s character to be transformed, the impurities in the wheat first had to be exposed before they could be removed.

Until the yuck that lies in wait within me is surfaced and brought up into my own awareness, and I repent, it cannot be swiped off the top like dross rising from the refiners fire.

 

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane (Peter falls asleep)

From Matthew 26:36-46

37 And taking with him (to Gethsemane) Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

 

GLW Comments:

The first time Jesus discovered them sleeping, His tone was something like, “are ye thus unable,” or “so utterly unable to watch?” Did Jesus express his disappointment in this way because he was exasperated? Or was it necessary to convey, once again, the gravity of the moment, underscoring the fact that not everyone was invited to be with Him during His final moments with the Father before the arrest. Another call to them to wake up … literally and spiritually.

How often do we miss what’s happening around us, in us, and for us because we diminish the significance of a moment? I’m betting Peter really took this to heart as yet another failure to meet the moment. I imagine him pondering all of his missteps and falters since the day he had first met Jesus, wondering if he had what it would take to hold the keys to the church.

 

Peter Cuts Off the Servant’s Ear

From Matthew 26:47-54, Luke 22:47-51

Judas, Jesus’s betrayer, brought with him a crowd armed with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Judas kissed Jesus as a means of identifying him to those who’d come to arrest Him. As they seized Jesus, Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. ([13]51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him). 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

 

GLW Comments:

The sifting is well underway.

 

Peter Denies Jesus (Peter’s darkest moment)

From Matthew 26: 69-75, Luke 22:54-62

([14]54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them.) 69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean. 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” ([15]60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.) 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

GLW Comments:

Peter, the one who swore he would even die for Jesus if needed, started to feel the heat and began distancing himself from Jesus. After the first girl questioned him, he left the courtyard for the entrance, where another girl approached and said, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth,” to which Peter swore that he did not know “this man,” as if he did not know Jesus’s name.

The third time he was approached, he used profanity, calling down a curse on his own head if what he was telling them wasn’t true, a desperate attempt to sell his lie. The first two times he denied Jesus, he had only sworn, but on the third time, he not only lied, he took a false oath and compromised his integrity, seeking only to protect himself at the expense of others. He risks his entire future, a future Jesus had painted in vivid colors … just to save his own skin. Peter hit rock bottom.

And then, when the rooster crows, Jesus turns and looks at him.

That look … His eyes … the overwhelming silence in the midst of a deafening chaos. In that moment, Peter must have felt the full weight of his betrayal, the depth of darkness in his own character, and the weight of his humiliating sin, the stain of which might never be erased.

The closer you are to Jesus, the greater the pain of separation from Him, especially when it’s by your own hand.

 

Jesus Appears at the Sea of Tiberias (Peter “Runs” to Jesus)

From John 21:9-14

In fact, this moment on the beach of the Sea of Galilee is the 7th appearance of the resurrected Christ, the third appearance to His disciples. Jesus appeared a total of eleven times before His final ascension.

The first two appearances were to women; [16]first to Mary Magdalene (Jesus tells her not to touch Him–He is ascending!). The second appearance was to Mary the mother of James, and Salome.

The third appearance was to two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus.

Jesus’s fourth appearance was to Peter alone, just after he had left his fellow apostles (except for Thomas) to take a walk. And almost immediately after Peter returned and told the others of the encounter, Jesus appeared to them as well, the fifth appearance (the first appearance to the disciples).

Eight days pass with no sign of Jesus, and then he appears a second time to the disciples, this time with [17]Thomas present (Jesus tells Thomas to touch Him, and do not disbelieve, but believe). This is the sixth appearance.

This brings us to His appearance to the disciples by the Sea of [18]Tiberias.

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 [19]did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So, they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved (John) therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came (to the shore) in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

 

GLW Comments:

You might think this has been a pretty “dense” post so far. Congratulations for making it this far.

I almost hate to tell you this, but it’s going to get a lot deeper right about now.

Let’s take a look at the fourth word of the first sentence.

The Greek renders this word “revealed” as “shewed,” and it is the word “[20]most frequently used of God and Christ, or of men in their relation to these. It is not merely an appeal to sense; it is addressed to spiritual perception, and contemplates a moral and spiritual effect. It is setting forth of the law or the will or character of God; of the person or work of Christ; of the character or deeds of men, with a view to the disclosure of their quality and to the producing of moral impression.” Think of the word “manifested.” This means that Jesus’s appearance conveyed much more than an image through the eye to the interpretative capacities of the brain. His appearance manifested a qualitative presence of divinity. We are repeatedly reminded that Jesus is different than He was before His death. He now exudes a power, a glory, and a divine presence that is not only seen, but, more powerfully felt within, awakening the spirit to His proximity.

Simon Peter tells the others he’s going to go fishing, so they all tag along, possibly simply to be together. Yet, “that night” they caught nothing. The word “that” is an emphatic pronoun in the Greek, indicating that their lack of success was unusual. Personally, I think it was a divine plan … a setup!

Jesus called to them from the shore (they did not yet know who He was), asking them if they had any fish, and they answered, “No,” at which point, just like in Luke 5:1-11, Jesus tells them to cast their net again, this time to the other side of the boat. They caught so many fish, they were unable to haul the net into the boat. It seems that at that precise moment, the lightbulb went on in John’s mind, he recognized that it was the Lord, and he tells Peter, “It is the Lord!”.

Peter can not wait to get to Jesus, putting on his Fisher’s coat and throwing himself into the sea, one hundred yards away from shore. That’s a long way to swim, especially wearing a coat. [21]Recall Peter’s first meeting with Jesus when after a long night of fishing with no results, Jesus tells Peter to go out deep and cast his nets, resulting in a catch so large it nearly broke the nets. Then, Peter was so humiliated, he begged Jesus to depart from him. Now he can’t wait to be close to Him!

Something amazing happened to Peter; it’s as if he received some kind of super power. First he swims one hundred yards wearing a coat, and then, when Jesus tells him to bring some of the fish they had just caught, Peter goes aboard the boat and hauls the net ashore; a net filled with 153 fish. Did he really do this by himself after the disciples together weren’t strong enough to haul the net onto the boat while out at sea?

After Jesus took bread and gave it to them with the fish, the stage is set.

 

 

Jesus and Peter

From John 21:15-19

This is a moment between Jesus and Peter that, given a history like Peter’s, few of us would have the courage to step into.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

 

GLW Comments:

The first time Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, the word He uses for love is the Greek word “Agape.” He is asking Peter, “Do you love me unconditionally and with a perfect and noble love (God’s love) more than the other disciples love me unconditionally and with a perfect and noble love?”

Peter responded, “Yes,” but instead of using the Greek word “[22]Agape,” he used a different Greek word, “[23]Phileo.” Simply defined, phileo is a kind of brotherly love. Peter no doubt felt the sting of Jesus’s gentle rebuke for his previous extravagant professions, yet responds with a simple statement of his affection that excludes any reference to how his love for Jesus compared to the love of the other disciples.

Jesus said to Peter, “[24]Feed my lambs.” He’s commissioning Peter to feed his “just now born” church with the spiritual milk they will need to grow up. It’s not so obvious, but Jesus is stepping toward Peter, metaphorically speaking.

The second time Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, He again uses the Greek word agape, but drops the comparison to the other disciples. Jesus takes another step toward Peter, affirming that He heard Peter’s first response as emerging from his heart rather from a competitive spirit.

Peter responded a second time, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” again using the Greek word phileo. Peter stands in his humility, resigned to facing the repercussions of his previous failures, no longer proclaiming a devotion to Christ that is greater than he now knows he is capable of offering by his own efforts.

Jesus said to Peter, “Tend My sheep.” He is commissioning Peter to guard, guide, and fold the flock by His direction, a tremendous responsibility; that Peter’s calling is of great consequence and that He will, by his powerful grace, close the gaps between Peter’s weaknesses and His will for meeting the needs of the church.

The third time Jesus asked Peter if he loves Him, Jesus changed the Greek word for love from agape to phileo. Jesus now meets Peter where he stands, the gaps closed by His infinite grace; and not at all by Peter’s efforts.

Peter is grieved that Jesus has asked him the same question a third time. This time it seems that Jesus is doubting Peter’s own humble form of love which he had professed without boastful comparison to others, and without rash promises about the future.

But I will take Peter’s grief further. The three questions have, each time asked, brought Peter ever deeper into the pain caused by his own act of betrayal. His understanding of Who he had betrayed now held him captive, and the worth of his faith in Christ was tantamount to his own life going forward. He had squandered something divinely precious, and for those acts Peter felt great remorse and shame.

Yet, there is hope. For each time Peter heard Jesus ask the question, he may have felt a weight lifting within, as if each question was somehow incrementally redeeming each of his three denials of Christ. The third and final time Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, the restoration was near finished.  Jesus had taken the initiative. It was now up to Peter to respond. He was absolutely overwhelmed, grieved that he had betrayed the One who loved him most, yet even more overwhelmed by the power of Christ’s redeeming love and grace toward him.

He responded, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Peter acknowledged Christ’s omniscience.

And Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus commissioned Peter to spiritually nourish the church by continually feeding people the Word of God, to promote in every way the spiritual welfare of the members of the church.

Restored, Peter is commissioned by Jesus to build the church. And not in the way Peter might be inclined to build it, but to build the new born church as if raising a child from infancy; with gentleness, patience, love and care. Peter wasn’t known for these traits, and it’s good that he wasn’t. Otherwise, we would all be sitting here thinking that Peter was a good fit for the job.

He wasn’t.

But that didn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter for us either.

 

We’re almost there. Just one more story.

In 1988, I was asked to preach in place of a vacationing pastor (I was 12 – just kidding). The passage had already been chosen; Peter’s Denial of Jesus. At the time, I was newly married (and soon to be divorced) to a much older man who had three teenage children, the middle child having been recently incarcerated at the age of 13 for setting one of the local river-side parks on fire a week before the wedding. He was diagnosed as borderline sociopath. He was smart, with a sinister ability to get under people’s skin. Not surprisingly, he’d been attacked several times while in the facility, but he didn’t change his ways … until a switch flipped about six months in … and he began following all of the rules.

About one year later, the boy had been released after serving what amounted to twice the original sentence. Around the time I was preparing the message on Peter’s denial, I was compelled to install a lock on the bedroom door to keep him from stealing from me.

During the entire first year of marriage, my focus was on saving this boy. I took on the regular visits, dealt with an incompetent psychologist who was a sucker for my stepson’s manipulations, and paid monthly restitution payments. My husband was mostly gone playing golf or officiating another soccer game. When I did see him, he was usually asking for more money. My complexion was in a chronic state of breakout for months at a time. And I had started a new job with a big consulting firm.

I prayed a lot. Studied a lot. Listened to Christian speakers on the radio a lot.

I believed I had much to give, many talents to offer, an indubitable spirit of determination, and there was no way I would fail in my mission to save him (read “to prove myself”).

Well, the Sunday message was well-received. And I felt like I’d done a good job.

Yup. I didn’t get it. Even though my exegetical methods impressed even the youngest members of the congregation, I really didn’t understand what I’d just shared. However, I have an excuse … a defense. I’d been effectively abandoned by my family, my father in particular, a critical and angry man. He felt betrayed by me, a little kid, when I intervened to protect my mother from his abuse. Go figure. A kid doesn’t deserve what he dished out, but I was no angel. I feared him, but something rose up in me whenever I sensed that he was about to unleash another tirade of abuse. I fought back. Obviously, it was a mistake, but I couldn’t control my anger at him for being such a jerk.

Now, this may not seem true for everyone, but I think a daughter needs her father. A father that loves her, protects her, advises her, and supports her. A father who is proud of her. I didn’t have any of that. And this lack set me off on a lifelong path of proving my worth. It continues even today.

My point is that I understand why Peter struggled. And I understand why he continued to struggle even later after the church was established. There are things we experience in life that go deep, wounding our souls and implanting needs that manifest in self-centered behaviors that can’t be eradicated by an act of our own will. Only by Christ in us can we be restored, re-integrated into wholeness, and set free from the bondage of trying to be good enough. That’s it … that’s all I wanted to share. A full disclosure kind of thing.

As I sat on the backyard patio this morning wondering why a noisy crow circled above, quieting all the other birds by his intrusion, the Lord put these words in my thoughts:

“You are free from the bondage of proving yourself. You are free. Now go. Serve Me with courage and joy.”

 

 

[1] “May God be gracious to thee.” Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, Vol 1 Synoptic Gospels, pg. 98

[2] “Shall in no case be.” Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, Vol 1 Synoptic Gospels, pg. 98

[3] Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, Vol 1 Synoptic Gospels, pg. 97

[4] Mark 9:3

[5] Luke 9:31-32

[6] Luke 9:33

[7] Luke 9:35

[8] Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, Vol 1 Synoptic Gospels, pg. 100

[9] Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, Vol 1 Synoptic Gospels, pg. 105

[10] Luke 22:31-32

[11] Luke 22:33

[12] Luke 22:34

[13] Luke 22:51

[14] Luke 22: 54-55

[15] Luke 22:60-61

[16] John 20:11-17Mary grabbed Jesus tightly when she realized it was Him. “And He said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Contrast this with the fifth or sixth appearance when He told Thomas to His inviting Thomas to touch Him during the fifth (or sixth) appearance. Could it be that He ascended to the Father and returned in His now glorified body?

[17] John 20:26-29 Now, eight days later, Jesus appears to the apostles and tells Thomas to touch him – “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

[18] The Synoptic Gospels say, Sea of Galilee or Lake of Gennesaret.

[19] The lack of recognition might have been due to low early morning light.

[20] Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament Vol. II, The Writings of John

[21] Luke 5:1-11

[22] Agape: Affection, good-will, love, benevolence. Of the love of men toward God and the love of God toward men. Ephesians 1:15 – Love going forth from the soul and taking up its abode as it were in ours, equivalent to your love to us. 2 Corinthians 8:7 – is present with (embraces) you. Love centered in moral preference, refers to divine love

[23] Phileo: To show warm affection in intimate friendship, characterized by tender, heartfelt consideration and kinship, with a love founded in and springing from faith, to delight in, long for.

[24] In 1 Peter 2:1, Peter instructs the church to put away all malice and such things and instead, like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

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