I love the story of Peter in the Bible. That guy could really be an idiot. Maybe that’s why I identify with him so. I can be an idiot too. I’m thankful God loves idiots.
Peter’s whole life was one big walking object lesson. Peter did some great things. Peter did some really not great things. Can you relate? I know I can. That’s why I love the last chapter of John’s Gospel that contains a breakfast conversation between Jesus and Peter. Over a campfire by the sea, Jesus shows Peter an ocean of grace.
If you feel like a failure, the Bible is for you. The gospel is for you. Jesus is for you. The story of the friendship between Jesus and Peter is for you.
I love how author Bob Goff describes this passage in John’s Gospel. He says, “When Jesus rose from the dead he didn’t make a speech to the world, he made breakfast for his friends.” That pretty well sums it up. After Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus made him breakfast on the beach and gave him three opportunities to say, “I love you.”
This is powerful grace. This is the kind of forgiveness that can transform a life. After this conversation we don’t find Peter fishing again. Before this point it seemed like every time Jesus turned around Peter had run off to fish. But after this conversation we just find Peter preaching.
Peter’s Lowest Moment
The breakfast conversation in John 21 follows the darkest chapter in Peter’s life. He had just denied he knew Jesus three times. Peter went from charging soldiers with a dagger to keep them from taking Jesus away to stuttering that he didn’t know Jesus to a young girl who simply opened the garden gate for him.
This reminds me of a scene in C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy where a character named Mark is being recruited by a sinister group of scientists. Mark’s desire to be a part of the inner ring, the cool group, the ones with the power, leads him to compromise. Lewis describes how Mark crossed over to the dark side without even noticing:
But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity . . . But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter . . .
(That Hideous Strength, page 158)
Sometimes we miss the significance of those moments that lead us away from Jesus too. Like Peter, we have failed Jesus in our past. And like Peter, we aren’t done failing yet. As one old hymn says, our hearts are prone to wander.
My friend Sam Allberry likes to say, “There is more forgiveness in Jesus than there is failure in us.” But that can be so hard to believe, can’t it? There can be a whole lot of failure in us, if we’re honest. But since God knows everything, he knew what he was getting into with us from the very beginning. That means we can’t surprise him.
That also means there will never be a moment in your Christian life when Jesus regrets forgiving you. There will never be a moment when you disgust him. That’s because he knows you, the real you. And he loves you, the real you. And his forgiveness is big enough for all of you, all of the real you.
Peter’s Redemption Is Our Redemption
We discover in the Gospels that we can’t hide: God knows us fully. We discover in Christ that we don’t need to hide: God loves us deeply. This is the greatest news in the whole world.
Jesus never turns away anyone who’s willing to admit they’ve messed up and need his help. The word in the Bible for this is repentance. It means agreeing with God that his way is best, saying we’re sorry to him and others for how we’ve blown it, and committing to do better in the future with his help.
Once you repent, the next step is to learn from your mistakes. While we won’t have perfect obedience here on earth, there’s certainly a lot we can learn from our failures. Think through the kinds of things that contributed to your failure with a close friend who can keep you accountable. Make an action plan for how you want things to go differently in the future.
Jesus Wants Our Smoldering Hearts
Maybe you feel like Peter, like you’ve blown it big time. Or instead of one massive mistake, maybe you feel buried beneath a million bad decisions made over a long, too long, period of your life. Some readers might feel distanced from Jesus, not due to guilt-ridden decisions or deep-rooted habits, but by a heart that’s grown cold in the midst of doing good things. Like Peter, we all need to run to Jesus.
Recently I went kayaking on a rather large lake in northern Michigan. The lake was filled with islands, inlets, and surrounded by a whole lot of pine trees. No matter which way you looked, the shoreline looked the same. I got lost. And when you’re lost on a kayak, there is no quick way to speed around the lake to find your way back. It’s a slow process that involves a bit of patience and a whole lot of rowing.
After an exhausting couple hours trying to find my way back, I came around an island and noticed a peninsula that looked familiar on the other side. It was a sight for sore eyes. I knew it was the youth camp I had passed early on in my expedition that locals call “Presbyterian Point.” It’s marked with a white cross hanging from the stone cliff jetting out above the water.
After a couple hours of being lost, once I saw the cross I knew I could find my way home. The same is true for all of us. Forgiveness lies in one direction. We’ll find it at the cross.
Don’t Go Home, Go Harder into Christ
Wherever you’re at in your walk with God, look to the cross. That’s where Jesus paid the ultimate price for our disobedience. The author of Hebrews tells us to throw off the sin that easily entangles us and to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12 v 1-2). By turning from our sin we find a fresh start in our walk with God. By fixing our eyes on Jesus we can begin to see the path forward in our fight to follow him.
A friend of mine used to say, “The victory is the struggle.” His point was that sometimes we might not experience complete freedom, but we should recognize the victory of the struggle itself. It’s God who gives us the desire to attempt to become more like Jesus.
As long as there is a believing heart beating within your chest, God’s love is big enough to take you back, his forgiveness strong enough to cover your faults, and his Spirit powerful enough to complete what God started in the first place. Don’t let failure keep you from serving God. Peter didn’t.
Jesus forgave Peter. He will forgive you too. Jesus used a failure like Peter. He can use you too.
In our pluralistic world, holding to the Christian faith often results in various sorts of clashes and collisions with our neighbors.