I have been drawn to Simon Peter since the first time I read the Gospels back when I was a teenager. The reason I like him so much is because 1) he is presented to us as Jesus’ friend, 2) he regularly fails at being a good friend, and 3) Jesus’ love for him never falters. That Jesus would love a walking contradiction like Simon Peter bodes well for you and me.
The story of Peter jumping out of the boat comes on the heels of a pretty spectacular failure. Peter has returned to his home and his former trade—fishing. Only days earlier, in Jesus’ greatest hour of need, Peter denied knowing Him. Perhaps the most painful part was that he did it just as Jesus predicted—before the rooster crowed. When that rooster crowed, something undeniably true came from the deepest recesses of this man. Peter realized he was tested and had failed. This collapse called into question the past three years he had invested as Jesus’ disciple. Of course it did.
After Peter made his denial, Jesus went on to die. This forced Peter to question what the rest of his life was going to look like. When we discover that the durability of our faith is not what we thought it was, we come face to face with the truth that we are all walking contradictions.
But when Peter recognized Jesus standing on the shore, he threw himself into the water so he could swim, fully clothed, to shore and collapse at the feet of his best friend, whom he had betrayed. If we come to Jesus at all, we come in this way: desperate at the feet of the One we deny.
What did Jesus do for the sad and sopping disciple? John tells us He made him breakfast. What wondrous love is this? Since the dawn of time, one man making breakfast over a campfire for another has been a universal way to say, “You and I are friends.”
As Peter stood before his Lord, Jesus asked the most revealing and volatile question He could: “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter swallowed hard and said, “Yes Lord. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
Three times Jesus asked this. He never questioned Peter’s response, as if He doubted him. But each time Peter confessed his love, Jesus told him, “Take care of my flock.”
What is Jesus doing here? Why did He ask this so many times? One reason was so that Peter would have to hear himself confess the unvarnished truth: “Lord, you know that I love you. I love you and I’ve failed you. But I love you.” Here is the paradox for every disciple who has ever walked the face of the earth. We love Jesus, and we fail Jesus. Yet we love Jesus. Really, we do.
It is so important that we come to see ourselves like this. In effect, Jesus is saying to His disciple, and by extension all who follow Him, “Peter, I don’t need your righteousness. You need mine. And I have given it to you—even now.”
If a disciple as close to Jesus as Peter can fail as epically as he did and still find himself firmly in the grip of the love of Christ, then you and I—when we doubt or when we struggle or when we fear or even when we fail—will not be separated from His love either.
Written By Russ Ramsey