The sun shone and the breeze blew and I stared hard at the shore before me. The Sea of Galilee. A piece of history unburied beneath churches or rebuilt roads. This was the actual spot, preserved and waiting to tell a story. And I was all ears.
Out of all the biblical moments that happened in this place on this sea, there was one scene in particular that faded into view. As I watched it unfold in my mind, I called my imagination into action, wanting to hear the crackling fire for myself. To smell the charcoal, the fish, the sea.
Only a chapter over from last week’s story of Mary Magdalene, I stepped into John 21 and found Peter climbing back onto a boat and shoving out to sea.
“Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you” so they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”
One of my annoying habits in life is projecting feelings onto others based on my own assumptions, so maybe I’m way off-base here, but allow me a little “sanctified imagination” as my dad likes to call it. When I read the verses above, I sense a littlefrustration from Peter. Do you hear it?
His declaration isn’t an invitation to an easy night of fishing with friends. It sounds more like an “I have to get out of here and clear my head” statement. Artists use paint brushes, writers use pens and computer keyboards, runners strap on their running shoes. We all have a place we go to unwind knotted up thoughts. For Peter, it was the place he knew best—the sea.
As I stood on that shore, I wondered what Peter must have been thinking out there on the boat. What did he need to clear from his troubled mind? What thoughts pressed in like closing walls around him? Did his vision give way to the shadows and flickering flames in his memory from his hour of shame in Caiaphas’ courtyard? Did the rooster’s cry still ring in his ears with crystal clear clarity? Like a movie montage, I imagine the memories that must have crowded Peter’s mind.
“‘But what about you?’ [Jesus] asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…’”
We don’t know exactly how long it had been since the night Peter denied knowing Jesus, but I am certain it had not been so long that he had forgotten the weight of what he’d done. In Jesus’ greatest hour of need, Peter had cowered before the consequences that would come from being associated with this man he had called Teacher. Hauling in an empty net in the dark hours of the morning, did the voices of shame sneak in for their attack on his vulnerable heart?
You are no rock. That might have been true once, but after your cowardice, nothing can be built here. You are just a worthless fisherman. And judging by this empty net, you are not even a very good one. Good job, Peter. You blew it.
I leaned down to touch the water lapping the stones on the shore and felt deeply connected to Peter. I thought of what those voices have said to me before. I thought of how my shoulders have often bent beneath the weight of fear and failure. The accusatory voice of shame, whispering lies about who I am, who I will never be. But a lump caught in my throat when I remembered what happened in this spot all those years ago. How Jesus answered those voices for Peter. How He answers them for me.
Dawn was coming over the hills around them. After a fruitless night of fishing, after sleepless hours of hauling in empty nets, Peter looks to the shore where I now stand and sees a man there calling out to him. Though it took the disciples a minute to realize who He was, the light bulb eventually clicked on and they knew Who was filling their boat with fish. While the other disciples rowed quickly to shore, Peter just couldn’t wait.
Scripture tells us that he vaulted himself into the water and began swimming toward shore.
His shame was heavy, but it could not hold him to the ship. It propelled him over the edge into the water, swimming toward his Savior. Maybe the burden of what he’d done, of what he’d seen and experienced still weighed him down as he swam, but he could not be stopped. The joy of seeing His risen Savior eclipsed all that old shame. He took it to the only One who could lift it. The only One who could set him free.
Psalm 34, verse 5 says, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” We cannot simultaneously be covered with shame while looking at the face of Jesus. Peter experienced that firsthand when he sloshed out of the waves, dripping with adrenaline, and looked at His Savior. His shame fell from his shoulders when he locked eyes with his Friend, Jesus, and saw the forgiveness waiting for him there.
“Grace exposes then forgives, confronts then comforts, commands then enables, never leaves you to yourself, but will deliver what is needed.”
-Paul David Tripp
In the verses following, Jesus restores Peter and tells him how he will be used in the kingdom going forward. Because he will be used. His sin and betrayal didn’t count him out; the blood of Jesus answered for him. There on the beach, Christ reminds Peter that there is still a place for him to serve. Still a commission to be fulfilled.Feed my sheep. Not because Peter is anything special, but because Jesus is the One who declared it so. “You are Peter,” He says. “This is Your name. This is who you are because of who I am. Because of what I have done for you.”
On that Galilean shore, I stood in overwhelming gratitude that the blood of Jesus speaks for me, too. He is not done with me after failure. He takes the broken pieces of my life and reshapes them into a frame that will display His glory. Nothing is wasted. His gaze on me removes all shame and makes my face radiant.
So maybe today is the day we need to jump out of our brooding boats, swim right past the voices of shame and fear, and emerge from the water right in front of our friend Jesus. We step onto the shore with our eyes locked on His and our ears tuned in to what He is saying about our identity and let every other voice fade away.
“With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.”
-Romans 8:1-6 (The Message)