(Editor’s Note: William underwent surgery yesterday – a positive outcome – and thus this verse was delayed. We’re excited to have him back, hopefully soon.)
“Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped in the water and headed to shore.”John 21:7 (NLT)
John’s gospel is my favorite. He shows the most personality, and includes little Easter eggs throughout the gospel. One of these being a pseudo rivalry with Peter. The most notable of these is that when Jesus was announced to be risen, Peter and John race there John makes sure he mentions that he arrived first (John 20:8). We also get a lot of details surrounding events that are crucial to Peter’s future, and his development as a Christian and leader within the church. As I spoke about last time, when I covered John 21:22, those events happened after Peter’s reconciliation with Jesus. Tomorrow, I’ll be writing directly about that. But as usual, let’s set the stage.
Jesus has died, been raised from the dead, and visited with the disciples and Peter before. The disciples keep not recognizing Jesus (that’s a whole other story). Prior to Jesus’ murder, Peter had argued with Jesus about his devotion to him in Matthew 26:33-35 and even after Jesus told Peter that he would deny Jesus, Peter contradicts Jesus by saying, “No! Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” Matthew does point out that the other disciples agreed – John is the only one (that we’re aware of) that doesn’t avoid Jesus in some way.
As fiercely loyal and close to Jesus as Peter was, in Peter’s last few interactions with Jesus Peter failed Jesus repeatedly. When Jesus told them that “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38) and asked them to pray with him, Peter and the other disciples couldn’t stay awake, Jesus says to Peter, “Could you watch with me even one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). When Jesus was captured, Peter chopped off the ear of one of the guards and was chastised by Jesus, “Put away your sword…” (Matthew 26:52-54). After Jesus’s Capture Peter hangs in the back, and eventually denies Jesus three times, Matthew gives the most detailed description of what happens in Matthew 26:69-75 which involves Peter’s escalation in denying knowing Jesus, with just an denial, then denying him with an oath, and finally as the ESV puts it, Peter Invokes a curse on himself and swears, “I do not know the man” Luke tells us that after Peter did this, Jesus from inside the house, “turned and looked at Peter. and Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, “before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” All four accounts of Peter’s denial end with Peter weeping bitterly. Mark’s account (Mark 14:72) mentions that Peter “broke down and wept.” To make matters worse, based on the records we have Peter never gets to speak to or really interact with Jesus until after his death, and those times he doesn’t recognize Jesus at first.
Then comes our verse in John 21. After spending some time hiding behind locked doors, Peter decides to go fishing and the disciples follow him. After fishing all night, Jesus (though they don’t realize it’s him) appears at dawn standing on the shore. Jesus asks them if they’ve caught anything, they say no, and Jesus in a throwback to when he called them to be disciples tells them to cast to the right side, and just like in that time, they catch so many fish they can’t hold them all. It’s at this moment that John connects the dots at what is happening, and identifies the stranger on the shore as Jesus. As soon as Peter hears this he wraps himself in his cloak and swimps the hundred yards from the boat to shore, leaving behind everything else.
Without any hesitation. Without a second guess. Without thinking through how additional clothes could hinder his ability to swim. and perhaps most importantly, without judging himself based on his past and using that as something to hinder his pursuit of Jesus.
Peter puts on his tunic (as a form of respect to Jesus), and rushes to Jesus. He doesn’t shyly hide in the boat, or avoid the situation by focusing on the fish that were just caught. Peter doesn’t let his shame, bitterness, or fear prevent him from running (swimming) to Jesus. And the experience is transformative to Peter. He rushes towards Jesus with a greater zeal than Peter had demonstrated before his repeated betrayal of Jesus. Peter in this place, chooses to embrace a truth he may not have even realized in his rush to see Jesus that Paul articulated in Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
It can be argued that Peter knew that Jesus had forgiven him. It can be argued that Peter knew this or that… if you’re anything like me, even when you know that on paper everything is straightened out, I still don’t rush out to see someone I’ve had issues with more excitement and zeal than before my betrayal. How many times when we’ve wronged someone, especially with God, we’ll impose a sort of punishment on ourselves. We don’t pray (talk to them). We definitely won’t ask them for anything. Once we’ve done enough penance, we’ll finally ease ourselves back into relationship with them.
Peter, more so than any of the other disciples at that time, had a lot to be forgiven of, But Jesus, consistent and teaching lessons through his love and compassion, demonstrated to Peter the same grace he showed in Luke 7:47, that he who is forgiven much loves much.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Jesus uniquely chose to reconcile Peter.
So, May you realize that as a Christian, Jesus has already forgiven you. May you embrace the lack of condemnation you have within Christ and not let it hinder you. May you understand at your core that they that are forgiven much love much, and may we begin to have a zeal for God greater than we’ve had in the past, in spite of our screw ups.