After trauma of the crucifixion, and the drama of the resurrection, the disciples finally found themselves back at home – back among the familiar. Jesus had told them to meet him in Galilee. I bet their hearts leaped with joy. Finally an assignment from Jesus that was easy. They hit the road and headed home. “Home;” simply saying this word stirs the emotions and can trigger a flood to memories. For some it might be playing a game on the front yard, for others a smell of something special cooking in the kitchen, or maybe it was a smile of affirmation you would find there that would fill your heart with joy. I can imagine that this is the kind of feeling Peter had when they found themselves back home, back among their boats, back among the fishing nets, back in their old stomping ground.
The verses just ahead of our focal passage tell the story of the guys back in their boats fishing. Peter led the way. I have to wonder if after all the pain and agony and all the drama he longed to be back on what water with his nets again. Their return to the boats proved unproductive. We find them having another one of those moments where a long night at sea had produced no fish. The voice of Jesus rings out; “how’s the fishing?” The story is reminiscent of what had happened to them early in their walk with Jesus. You may remember the story from the Gospel of Luke where after a similarly failed night of fishing Jesus tells them throw their net on the other side of the boat and a bounty of fish emerged. I wonder if John recognized Jesus’ voice or in the midst of the moment realizes they are playing out an earlier experience where Jesus changed the story. But, it seems in something triggered John’s heart and he declares with joy “It is the Lord.” Peter dives in and the others soon follow to share a seaside breakfast with Jesus.
Can you imagine how the disciples must have relished in this moment? There were no crowds, no Pharisees, no Sadducees, no Roman guards, no more agony. For the first time in what must have seemed like a long time they were alone with Jesus, sharing a meal and sharing life together again. I bet the fish never tasted better. I can only imagine how much joy they had in this moment sharing a seaside breakfast with Jesus. Shane Stanford, a Methodist author and minister offers a powerful picture of this moment. He says; “Jesus must have enjoyed the setting as well. By re-creating the scene from their first days in ministry together, he knew the significance of the moment would not be lost on the disciples. Before, they were called to leave everything and follow him; now they were being called to lay down not only their vocations and worldly pursuits but eventually their lives. The meal they shared was not just breakfast, it was sacrament.” [i]The breakfast alone would have been remarkable, but Jesus was not through. He brought another agenda to the breakfast table. He had a bit of unfinished business he need to attend to with Peter. Jesus had an act of redemption up his sleeve.
Earlier we listened as Brad Moore spoke this morning’s focal Scripture into our worship together. The passage tells us that when the breakfast was over Jesus turned to Peter. I wonder if Peter’s heart leaped with Jesus singled him out. I can hardly begin to imagine what Peter must have been feeling. His journey with Jesus has included the high water marks of stepping out of the boat and on to the water with Jesus and his grand pronouncement that Jesus was the Christ to the low of his courtyard denials that he was one that walked with Jesus. I have to believe Peter could not imagine a way back to a right relationship with Jesus. The pain of his denials must have weighed heavy on his heart.
Jesus speaks and asked Peter three difficult questions. The first ….do you love me more than these – is he referring to the fish and the symbols of Peter’s life before he followed Jesus? Is he referring to the other disciples – Peter’s friends and colleagues? Or maybe Jesus is pointing at the boats and Peter’s old way of life? In the end it could have been either or both because what he wanted to hear from Peter was that he love him more than anything or anyone else. With the second question and Peter’s affirmation – he changes his language. This change in language reminds us of Jesus’ earlier commission for Peter to be the foundation on which he was to build the church. But Jesus was about do to something that would have stilled the air. He looks at Peter – and for a third time asks the question. The third question must have pieced Peter’s heart. Then he said it a third time: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was upset that he asked for the third time. Redemption is not easy. It makes us face ourselves and God honestly and deal with the issue that fractured our relationship with God and others. Why was Peter upset when he asked the third time? I think it was because he was deeply embarrassed. It surely reminded him of his denials in the courtyard. Peter’s heart must have cried out, “He knew! Jesus Knew!!!!!” But instead of judgment Jesus brings restoration. The threefold denial in the courtyard is replaced by a threefold affirmation and commission on the seaside. Jesus reaches into his brokenness and brings healing.
Jesus response to each one of Peter’s affirmation was a reminder of the task to which he had been called; feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. The Good Shepherd was entrusting the leadership of his flock to Peter and the disciples. Ultimately Jesus’ call for Peter was the same as that which launched their journey together “Follow me.” This time Peter understands the price. He stood silently before Jesus. Soon enough it would be time to act, but now was the time to be still in the presence and redemption of God.Max Lucado offers; “For one of the few times in his life, Peter is silent. What words would suffice? The moment was too holy for words. God is offering breakfast to the friend who betrayed him. And Peter is once again finding grace in Galilee. Now it’s just you and God. You and God both know what you did. And neither of you are proud of it. What did you do? You might consider doing what Peter did. Stand in God’s presence. Stand in his sight and wait. Sometimes that’s all a soul can do. Too repentant to speak, but too hopeful to leave – we just stand. Stand amazed. He has come back. He invites you to try again. This time with him.”[ii]
I think the reason I love this story so much is that I relate better to the stumbling and bumbling Peter than I do the self confident Paul. I like Peter, I am deeply thankful for a Jesus that redeems when I fail and who restores me when I stumble. I am deeply thankful for the Jesus that stands on the water’s edge when I have lost my way to redirect me, to reassure me, to remind me of the first moment he called out to me. I am deeply thankful for the Jesus that stands on the water’s edge ready to redeem me and make me whole again. I am deeply thankful for the Jesus who does not wait for me to come and find him, but is there, waiting with arms open all the time.
Revelation 3:20 in The New Living Translation reads; “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Where Peter’s moment was at the water’s edge water, Jesus is just ready to claim a meal of redemption with us. Jesus invites us to open our hearts and our lives to him and allow him to come in and redeem and restore us. There is nothing that you have done or said that Jesus cannot redeem. If Jesus can restore Peter’s sin of denial – then surely he can give you a second chance – an opportunity for redemption!
The story also brings a word to other moments in our lives. For some in this room the word is that you do not have to be satisfied with a stale or passionless spiritual life – if you have found yourself on the fishing boat with Peter while Jesus is on the shore and seems distant from you. Know that this is not what God intends. Jesus can and will restore your soul! For some in this room the word is that it may be time to dive out of the boat and rush to shore to be in closer communion with Jesus; to sit close and enjoy Jesus’ company like the disciples did on the seashore. If Jesus was waiting on the shore for them with the fire readied for breakfast then know that Jesus is also waiting for time with you.
If you want to know the Jesus of Scripture; if you want to come so close you see the sweat on his brow and feel his breath on your flesh then join Jesus for a seaside breakfast. Come and claim an intimate moment with Jesus where you can find restoration and redemption. Look, it’s the Lord. Let’s run to his side. Redemption awaits us.