Over the years I have done a lot of sports writing, particularly on baseball and specifically about the Baltimore Orioles. Often I have been in the position of evaluating a new player, such as a pitcher. There will be certain positives to write about, with the subject perhaps being one who has a low batting average against – meaning that the other team does not hit for a high percentage against him. Yet at the same time, this pitcher may statistically have a poor “K/BB ratio” … meaning that he walks too many people relative to the number that he strikes out. So it is a mixed bag of historic results relative to how qualified the player is for a contract with high expectations and compensation.
The Apostle Peter was a guy with a mixed background of high spiritual moments of faith, yet mingled with tremendous failures.
Consider some of his faith successes …
– Peter left everything behind to follow Jesus – his business, home, family … everything.
– He had faith to step out of the boat and walk on the water.
– He made great confessional acknowledgements of exactly who Jesus was: the Christ, the Son of God … the only one who possessed the words of eternal life.
But consider also some of Peter’s failures of faith …
– He made bombastic claims: rebuking Christ for his prediction of death… also declaring his allegiance to Christ, even to the point of death.
– He fell asleep on Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
– When Jesus is arrested, Peter impetuously strikes out and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest with a small sword that was functionally akin to a pocket knife.
And then there was the greatest failure of all. It is one thing to drop the ball in center field in a playoff game or screw up a contract proposal for the company; but it is another thing completely to deny the Son of God in the midst of a trial … doing it three times! That is rather disqualifying, isn’t it?
But even in the midst of epic failure, Peter’s heart rang true at a core level. He loved the Lord, truly; but his failures were immense and obvious to all.
Yet there is great grace and restoration. And yet again, even as the sorrows of the death of Christ were turned to joy and relief for Peter in his observance of the empty tomb and appearances of Jesus alive with the disciples, Peter must have continued to believe that his horrific trifold denials had rendered him disqualified for whatever service may yet lie ahead.
Sometime soon after the resurrection in Jerusalem, Peter and the disciples were back home in Galilee, and Peter returns to that happy place of setting out in a boat, fishing. He must have thought that they had forgotten how to do this in the past three years of wandering around with Jesus; they were catching nothing. And a figure on the shore tells them to let down their nets on the other side of the boat, as if that would really make any difference … but it did … triggering also Peter’s remembrance of another such catch, thereby revealing that the figure on the shore is Jesus.
Swimming to the shore ahead of the boat, breakfast is already cooking. And there is Peter, just as he was in the recent past, looking into a fire … just as he had been when denying Christ three times. Here he is with Jesus, who speaks …
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Three denials, three restorations. You’re forgiven. You’re restored. Get back to work fishing for men.
The lesson is this: Don’t underestimate grace. Don’t believe your failures – whatever they are, be they huge or be they numerous – are beyond forgiveness and restoration in the life of the true believer who loves the Lord.
The feeling of being disqualified lingers at times with all of us, if we are honest and introspective about the condition of our soul and our expressions of faith and service over the years. Though there are setbacks in the world of mortals, with grace, there are no permanent disqualifications. That is, unless you choose to stay out of the game, which is a stupid choice!
Along the way of the Christian life, did you become un-rooted? Did you drift away from God and truth? Get back in the game. There is a uniform with your name on it.