That Disqualified Feeling (John 21)

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.

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It’s Like Déjà vu All Over Again! (part 2) – John 21:15-25

In this 21st and final chapter of John’s gospel, we see how the Apostle Peter had two déjà vu experiences that would serve as faith builders for the rest of his life and ministry. Yesterday it was the second incredible catch of fish he had experienced with Jesus nearby, and today it will be a challenge while staring into a fire.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “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!”

Recall the exact scene where Peter denied Christ three times – he was recognized and identified while warming himself with others around a fire. And now, in this scene of being with Jesus who had a fire going for the fish to be cooked, Jesus asks Peter three questions. There could be no doubt in Peter’s mind that he was being challenged in regard to his moment of great failure. Certainly any possibility of doubt is removed when the question is asked a third time – the text saying that he was greatly saddened by this repetition.

Much has been made of the two different Greek words for “love” that are used – “phileo” on the first two occasions, whereas “agapao” is used in the last question. The former speaks of a brotherly affection, whereas the latter of a deep and pure love. This device is to emphasize that on the final occasion the question was likely asked of Peter, “Do you LOVE me?”

There was no hiding truth from the Son of God. Peter knew that Jesus knew he truly loved him, but likely he was unsure of his fitness to carry out the commission of feeding Christ’s flock. Yet Jesus went through this to restore Peter to service which would prove extraordinary.

It would involve death however – in the end, crucifixion … as prophesied here by Jesus. The promise of God for those who follow is not that they will be spared even the worst experiences of life, but that God will enable them to endure through anything. It really is a “take up your cross” experience to live for the Lord.”

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”)21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Peter sees John right there at that moment and asks about what is to become of him. Jesus rebukes this lack of focus and concern beyond Peter himself. Christ essentially says, “If he lives so long that he remains even until the time I return, what business it that for you?”  Jesus was not indicating that John would live through to the actual return – the way the story was related and errantly repeated over time.

24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

There is a lot of information written in the Gospels about Jesus Christ. Yet John is saying that if everything that was said and done were to have been written and talked about, it would be beyond the books of the world to hold these truths. Indeed, even as it is, the Scriptures and the work of God are bottomless to know – beyond ever fully grasping.

But what can be known and taken from this passage today is that though we, like Peter, are prone to repeated failures, we may find forgiveness and restoration in Christ as we are repentant. This is because Jesus was God Up Close. He came to pay the penalty for sin; he shows us what God is like – the true bridegroom, temple, well, healer, bread, light, shepherd, vine, lamb, and above all – the true Life!

This brings us to the end of our 45-day adventure through John’s gospel. Chris Wiles and I trust that it has been an enriching experience for you. Our next series begins on January 12th and will talk about the idea of “exile” – of living in perilous times. We will look a good bit into some of the Old Testament prophets with some great biblical themes and timeless applications for our lives.

May you have a blessed Christmas season!

It’s Like Déjà Vu All Over Again! (part 1) – John 21:1-14

It is the popular old Yankees baseball player who was famous for his one-liners that stated an obvious truth in a unique way, and his quotes have become legendary … such as “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”  And again, talking about frequent back-to-back homers hit by Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, “It’s like déjà vu all over again!”

In this 21st and final chapter of John’s gospel, and in today’s and tomorrow’s last two devotional readings, we are going to see how the Apostle Peter had two déjà vu experiences that would serve as faith builders for the rest of his life and ministry.

The scene today has the disciples now back in Galilee, sometime soon after their incredible experiences in Jerusalem of witnessing the death, burial, and resurrected person of Jesus Christ. Peter is not sure what is coming next in life, and so he reverts to doing the thing he knew how to do best before his life was rearranged by meeting the Messiah – “Let’s go fishing!” … So six of the other disciples (including John) join with him.

21:1  Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way:  Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as 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.

So, their fishing experience on this evening was like almost every experience I’ve ever had with fishing in my life – nothing caught! My son Ben could catch a fish in a rain puddle in the middle of town, but not me! The disciples were more like Ben – not used to getting shut out.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

The figure on the shore was not discernible apparently because of the distance and low light, but his voice carried out to them across the water. Calling them “friends” is a translation of a word that might be an endearing way of saying “boys” or “lads.”

Now really, in a large lake, what difference does it make whether you fish from the right side of the boat or the left side (I know there are some boat words for that, but I’m a land-lubber and can’t remember them.).  But, what is there to lose when you are batting .000?

And sure enough, there are so many fish that they cannot pull in the nets. This is incredible! This is beyond anything they’ve ever seen! Or is it? NO! There was one other time when Peter, James and John (fishing business partners) had an experience like this, just three years before. Luke tells that story in Luke 5:4-11…

4 When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

This was like déjà vu all over again. Peter must have looked up and thought, “This is just like that day when Jesus called me to be his disciple and follow him!”  (Back to John 21…)

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Peter’s impulsive personality is again on display … forget the fish, he was going to swim to shore to see Jesus. What an amazing experience! And Christ has breakfast already cooking for them.

And though amazing, it must have been a bit awkward as well. Most of us have not hung out with someone who was previously dead. I haven’t, have you? And there is the issue also of Peter having denied Christ just recently … that is still certainly a bit “in the air.”

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

The story of the fish is an illustration for the disciples of their task, as well as their empowerment for success in the task. The commission they had was to go and be fishers of men. But they must remember that their empowerment was by Christ’s divine enablement through the authority of the Holy Spirit in them.

We today sometimes today use the phrase “So, how’d that work out for ya?” to ask about something someone tried. So, how does serving God work out when you do it in the flesh? How does anything work out when we attempt to do it in our own power? Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing.”  Nothing – Let me put that in Yogi Berra terms:  “Nothing means when you add all the somethings together you still don’t got anything!”

But we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. That’s the truth of the resurrection life of Christ in us.

So, does this maybe help you with some thoughts about why something may not be working out just right in your life?

Come back tomorrow for another déjà vu all over again.