Christians don’t just read the Bible. We enter into a life-long relationship with it. We read it over the course of a lifetime, knowing we will never exhaust all there is to know or glean from God’s Word. Often, when we return to passages we’ve read before, we come to them having changed since the last time we spent time with those verses. We go through things that shift how we see the world—vocational upheaval, marriage, divorce, parenthood, miscarriage, life-altering diagnoses, unexpected windfalls of good-fortune, and the like.
As we experience more of the joys and heartaches associated with living in this world, we look at Scripture through different eyes. Sometimes a theological idea we thought we had wrapped up in a tidy bow suddenly becomes shot through with questions we never thought to ask when we were younger and had not suffered much.
This is one of the reasons I am so drawn to the story of Peter’s reinstatement in John 21:1–19. Here we find Simon Peter, who was one of Jesus’s closest friends, sitting with the fact that he had denied Jesus in His greatest hour of need. He had done so exactly as Jesus predicted he would, even though he swore this sort of failure wasn’t something he was capable of (Mark 14:31).
I love the story because it’s about someone who appeared to have as good of a relationship with Jesus as anyone could have, and yet he himself was weak. When Jesus appeared on the shore cooking breakfast for His friends, and caused their empty nets to be filled with more fish than they could handle, Peter recognized Jesus, because this is the same way Jesus first called Peter—with a miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1–11).
When Peter jumped out of the boat and cast his drenched and dripping self at the feet of Jesus, he had no relational ground to stand on. He’d betrayed his best friend, his Lord. And yet, Jesus asked Peter the most simple and searching question imaginable: “Do you love me?” And Peter, paradox that he is, answered truthfully. He did love Jesus. He did. When Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” He was hearkening back to when He first called Peter and told him He would make him a fisher of men. Peter’s failure did not disqualify him from Jesus’s love, or from Jesus’s call on his life.
I love this passage because it offers so much hope to people who go through seasons of struggle and failure and wonder if they have lost the love of God. Peter could do nothing but receive from Jesus. On that shore, he had nothing to offer. And yet, he longed to be near his Lord and friend. We know this because earlier, before Jesus was crucified, He taught that people would ultimately need to be nourished by His flesh and blood. It was a teaching many found too difficult to embrace, and they left. But when Jesus asked His disciples if they, too, would leave, it was Peter who said, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Peter’s story reminds us that the thing we must cling to most, and fear above all else, is the Word of Christ (Psalm 119:161). Though our circumstances change, and even we change, He does not (Hebrews 13:8). Where else can we go?
Written by Russ Ramsey