By Collin Ross
Sin is like debt. It is both a burden and limitation. Sin holds us in bondage to guilt and shame. The freedom to live as God intends for us––to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves––can only come through forgiveness. Without it, our debts will always hold us back from following the Lord wholeheartedly.
And yet, forgiveness alone does not grant the freedom that we desire. In this final passage of John’s gospel, we find a disciple of Jesus who has languished under the burden of his debts. He had failed Jesus, and what Peter needed was to be forgiven. But more than that, he needed to be restored.
Peter had betrayed Jesus. He had three times denied knowing Jesus in the lead up to His crucifixion. Even after the joyful news reached his ears that Jesus has risen from the dead, surely Peter could not shake a feeling of shame. That is what our sin does: it holds us in a prison of guilt and prevents us from knowing the joyful life in Christ.
So, Jesus brought Peter back to where it all began. Years before this, Jesus met Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where he invited Peter to follow Him. Now, Jesus brought Peter back to that place to invite him to follow once more, showcasing a beautiful reality of the kingdom of God.
However, to be forgiven and restored, Jesus confronted Peter’s failure. He proceeded to ask Peter three times if Peter loved Him. Three questions about the nature of his relationship with Jesus, just like the three questions posed to Peter in the temple courts, when he denied knowing Him. By the third question, Peter saw the connection, and was grieved. But this is all intentional on the part of Jesus.
We will never be freed to follow Jesus unless we confront our failure in His presence. There is no freedom in avoiding it, because the memory and the burden will continue to hold us in bondage to shame and guilt. The only way to be forgiven and restored is to bring our sins into the presence of Jesus.
This is Christ’s final invitation. Having forgiven and restored Peter, He tells him, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Jesus restores Peter by calling him back to the mission. Peter’s failure should disqualify him, but Christ does not forgive and throw away; he forgives and restores. We can think of many reasons why we should not be allowed to follow Jesus, but every reason is undone by His willingness to forgive and restore. Christ has paid our debts once for all upon the cross, and He invites those who have failed Him in every way, to follow Him as members of His redeemed people and to be a part of His mission of restoration in the world.