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Before we get to Peter’s third boat moment, once again, we have to talk about the backstory. We’re going to look at the account from Luke’s Gospel because it adds a fascinating piece of information which is not included in the other Gospels. This conversation took place after Jesus and His disciples shared the Last Supper meal together, before Jesus was arrested:
Luke 22:31-34, NIV
[Jesus speaking] 31“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
33But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
34Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Ok, wow. There are so many things in that beautiful exchange.
The double use of Peter’s name, “Simon, Simon,” indicated an emotional emphasis with an undertone of tenderness. Jesus lovingly warned Peter that Satan had asked to “sift” the disciples “as wheat.” Jesus told him that He had prayed for his faith not to fail, and that WHEN he turned back (insinuating that he was going to mess up) he was to strengthen his brothers.
One commentator explains the process of sifting as the grain being “agitated” so the “chaff and dust were thrown off.” What would remain would be the good, usable grain. He describes the situation this way: “Satan desired to try Peter; to place trials and temptations before him; ‘to agitate him’ to see whether anything of faith would remain” (Barnes Notes on the Bible).
You might recall another incident in the Bible in which Satan asked for permission to test the faith of a righteous man - Job. When I read this account of Satan once again asking to “sift” Peter and the disciples, something amazing struck me. We know that only through the sovereign approval of God can the devil test or try those who belong to Jesus Christ. So, when God sovereignly allows the devil to try our faith, a phenomenon occurs.
What the devil intends to destroy us, to see whether ANY faith will remain, God uses to “sift” us so that ONLY faith will remain - to make us usable!
This is God using for good what Satan intends for harm (Genesis 50:20)! We’ve talked about trials and tribulations into which God leads us, but there is another category of trials and tribulations which come as the result of the fact that we live in a fallen world in which sin and death reside until God makes it perfect again. BUT, even in these types of situations, in which we face tragedy or trauma, we have a promise we can hold onto that God WILL work ALL of it for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)!
When we love God, He WILL bring good and create purpose from ALL things in our lives.
Jesus, in his loving compassion, warns Peter of the sifting that was coming. Did you notice how, in the last verse, Jesus called Peter by the name “Peter” instead of “Simon?” Jesus had changed Peter’s name from Simon to Peter, which means “rock,” and He told Peter that “on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus wanted to remind Peter who HE said He was. It was as if Jesus was saying, “Peter, you’re going to mess up tonight, but don’t let it cause you to forget who I’ve said you are!”
Peter genuinely thought he would be willing to die with Jesus if necessary. Someday, this would be true of Peter, but not this day:
Luke 22:54-62, NIV
54Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
57But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
58A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
59About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
60Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62And he went outside and wept bitterly.
What I find interesting is that after Peter’s first denial, he didn’t realize what he had done. After Peter’s second denial, he didn’t realize what he had done. It wasn’t until after Peter’s third denial, the rooster crowing, and Jesus looking him in the eye, that he realized what he had done.
And he was filled with grief.
Not only did Peter simply deny Christ, he did it with passion and even profanity. The account in Mark says:
He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about."
Peter’s grief at his sin was the outward sign of his deep inward love for Christ. He was broken. He had obviously expected more out of himself and was therefore filled with grief at his disappointment in himself. I mean, he had stepped away from the safety net of his “normal” to follow Christ. He had displayed the faith to step out onto the waves when Jesus called. Shouldn’t he have had the resolve to pass this test?!
I once heard a well-known speaker explain that sometimes the thing which can shake us up us more than anything else is the realization that “we’re not as awesome as we thought we were.” The moment I needed to hear that message was the moment God put it in front of me. I love it because we may not even realize we think we’re awesome, but we sure expect more out of ourselves than our behavior exhibits at times.
One look from Jesus brought Peter a flood of realization and repentance. God doesn’t require us to be perfect people in order to use us, but He does require us to have a heart that, first and foremost, loves Him, a heart that is open to correction and repentance, and a heart that can be broken before Him when He chooses to reveal our sinfulness. And thus, a heart that is open to His healing and the growth that comes as a result.
Back to the Beginning
Now we’re going to fast forward. Jesus had been crucified, resurrected, and had appeared to his disciples a couple of times when we get to the scene of Peter’s third boat moment:
John 21:1-3, NIV
1Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3“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.
The disciples must have felt like they were in limbo during this time. Jesus hadn’t really given them “next steps” at this point, so they were sort of just waiting around, not knowing what they were supposed to do next.
Haven’t we all been there?!
So they did the only thing they knew to do - they went fishing. Peter said, “I’m going out to fish,” and the others said, “we’ll go with you.”
Sometimes when we don’t know what we’re supposed to do next, we just need to do the day.
There have many days of my life in which my prayer was simply, “Lord, I don’t know what to do next, so please help me just to do Your will this day.”
Okay, let’s see what happened next:
John 21:4-9, NIV
4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6He 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.
7Then 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. 8The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
And the disciples then proceeded to have breakfast with Jesus.
In a moment in which the disciples really needed Jesus to show up, He did. And he performed the very same miracle He had performed the first time He called them to discipleship. Once again, He spoke their language. They may not have recognized His voice in that moment, but they recognized His miracle.
Again, God knows how to reveal Himself to us! He knows when we need Him to show up. He knows what we need to hear and what we need to see in the moment of life we’re in. The fact that Jesus performed the same miracle, on the shores of the same sea, was undoubtedly purposeful. It was deeply personal, it took Peter back to the beginning, and it assured him he was still called.
Back in the Water
Did you notice how, once again, Peter was the only one in the water? Peter was a passionate person. He was the one who walked on water with Jesus. He was the one who told Jesus he would follow him even unto death. He was the one who cut off the soldier’s ear when Jesus was arrested. And, he was the one who denied Jesus - passionately.
If Peter had emphatically followed Jesus before his denial, he did so even more now. His love for Jesus had turned into an urgent desperation. He was desperate for Jesus’ presence, desperate to hear His voice, and desperate to be near Him.
When we have been broken before the Lord, when our mistake rocks us to our core, the result is an urgent desperation for His presence.
Peter couldn’t wait for the boat to get to Jesus - his emotion compelled him to jump in.
And this is the conversation that happened next:
John 21:15-17, NIV
15When 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.”
16Again 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.”
17The 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.
In this moment, as He had done so many times before, Jesus addressed Peter personally - because He knew they had unfinished business which needed to be taken care of.
There is so much we could pull out from this conversation between Jesus and Peter, but for sake of time in this lesson we are just going to concentrate on the overall point:
Peter’s three professions of love for Christ COVERED his three denials of Christ.
This opportunity Jesus gave Peter was a symbolic gesture to show Peter he was forgiven, covered, and reinstated. After each of Peter’s affirmations of love, Jesus responded with a reinstatement of Peter’s calling. And this time the calling wasn’t only to fish for people, it was to shepherd His people.
God can take the place of our greatest mistake, our greatest brokenness, and turn it into the place of our greatest purpose!
Peter was never the same person he was before that denial. It wrecked him. It humbled him. Then it set a determination within him. He was sifted and ended up stronger than before.
Not long after Peter’s third boat moment, Jesus ascended into Heaven and commanded the disciples to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who would empower them to do what God was calling them to do. Ten days later when God sent the Holy Spirit, there was one person who spoke to the thousands of people gathered for Pentecost.
Peter became the person God used to win the hearts of the first 3,000 converts to Christianity.
Sometimes when we have walked with God for a long time, when we have been used by God and have served Him, we begin to forget that God’s love for us isn’t dependent upon us. We can tend to forget that God doesn’t love us because of what we do for Him. Those things please God, but they don’t make Him love us more. So when we make mistakes after we’ve known God for a long time or been used by Him, it can leave us reeling. BUT, if we allow those times to “sift” us, God will use them to EXPOSE areas in our lives that maybe hadn’t been exposed before! God will use them to increase our desperation for Him and to increase our awareness that we are nothing without Him, and increase our determination. THEN, He may even use it to propel us into a deeper season of our calling!
So, what’s your boat?
Is God calling you to a deeper level of discipleship? Is He calling you to remember your mission is to fish for people?
Is there a place in your life in which God is calling you to step out in faith or to let go of something?
Is God calling you to restoration after a season of disappointment in yourself? You realize you’ll have to throw off your “outer garment” and jump all in just as you are, but know that Jesus will be there to meet you - to forgive, to cover, and to propel you into purpose!
Oh God, thank You!! Thank you for Your overwhelming loving-kindness. Thank You that through our “sifting,” You are working us into a place where ONLY our faith remains. Amen!