(Editor’s Note: Christiaan here! William is doing well, still in the hospital but mostly out of danger. We prayerfully hope he’ll be able to return to writing devotions on Tuesday!)
“When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them – fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.”John 21:9 (NLT)
We’re back in John. For a bit more back story, I definitely recommend you check out my previous two devotions on John 21:22 where I reference Peter’s reaction after the events of today, and John 21:7 where John gives us an account of what happened when Peter realized Jesus was on the shore and I talk about why it’s significant that Peter rushed towards the shore. But, in case, let’s do a quick, long story short.
Peter, the former fisherman turned fisher of men, and arguable leader of the disciples, loved Jesus. So much so that he easily boasted during the last supper that even if everyone else abandoned Jesus, he, Peter, wouldn’t. When Jesus was being arrested, Peter charged forward swinging his sword, missed the head, and hit the guard’s ear cutting if off. Jesus healed the ear, and Peter kept quiet and stayed behind after that. During the arrest and sham trial of Jesus, Peter and John, because of John’s family connections to the high priest, are allowed into the courtyard. It’s a cold night, and John is allowed to go into the house where he witnesses what happened to Jesus. Peter on the other hand is warming himself by the charcoal fire, and is asked about Jesus three times all of which he denies with increasing severity. Jesus is murdered on a cross, rises from the dead, and the account in John 21 is the third time that Jesus met with his disciples.
But, it wasn’t the third time Jesus had seen Peter. In Luke 24, Jesus appears to two unnamed people, who after speaking with him realize it’s Jesus and, as a pair, to tell the disciples that they saw Jesus, but their wording is interesting. “There they found the eleven disciples [therefore Peter was with the disciples] and the others who had gathered with them, who said, ‘The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.'” So, in the timeline, it looks like Jesus waited in the graveyard for Mary Magdalene, then went to see Peter. There is no account at what happened during this meeting!
In John 21 there’s a public meeting. Jesus is on the shore and he has breakfast waiting for them. Peter and Jesus had a conversation alone, and whatever was said had a profound effect on Peter. (One I’ll share why on Monday!) There’s something specific about this fire though, it’s a charcoal fire (greek word Anthrakia) and only the second time one is specified in a narrative as charcoal fires were not commonly made. However, John makes sure to point out that Jesus had made one, why?
Because this is the beginning of a beautiful series of moments of reconciliation, restoration, and ordination for Peter. Jesus recreated the setting of Peter’s denial of Jesus down to the same type of fire. Jesus then served all of the disciples, and after they eat John tells us that Jesus turns to Peter and asks three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon replies yes each time, and Jesus tells Peter to, ‘feed his lambs, take card of his sheep, and then to feed his sheep.’ A lot has been made of the different verbs used for Love and have argued that Peter just wasn’t replying the way Jesus wanted him to. But the recreation of Peter’s denial situation leads me to believe the simpler explanation, that even though not all the disciples weren’t there to see Peter deny Jesus, all of them got to see him AFFIRM his love for Jesus, and Jesus’s restoration of Peter.
Perhaps most importantly, we can look at Jesus’s actions as a point to question our own. If you were Jesus, who would you have entrusted to build your church and look after the following? The headstrong guy you had to keep correcting, who abandoned you in your darkest hour, and who lied, swore, and cursed himself to prove he didn’t know you… or someone like John, who was with you all the time, never rejected you, and you entrusted the care of your widowed mother to? My bet is on John. But Jesus chose Peter, because to Jesus, it wasn’t about what Peter had done in the past. Then, as if to finalize the reconciliation, Jesus tells Peter, to “Follow me” as he did back when they first met.
There’s so much significance, beauty, and intricacies, to be found in this passage, Jesus knows the future, he knows our hearts, he knows our minds. The Old Testament is riddled with instances of God giving commands to his people not for his sake, but for ours. He knows psychologically how we would respond, and he knew in Peter’s case that simply telling people he was forgiven, wouldn’t be enough, in Peter’s heart, to make up for what had happened. I believe that Jesus knew exactly what Peter would need to be able to be free of all doubts and guilt. This freed Peter to lead the first century church without questioning his role. Jesus gave Peter a second chance to be questioned not just about knowing Jesus but about loving Jesus and Peter was able to declare that he did in fact love Jesus. And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus ends that interaction by calling for Peter to follow him, reaffirming, that not only did Jesus forgive Peter, reconcile peter, but he was ordained and restored.
There are no lengths that Jesus won’t go to to reconcile and make all things new with those whom love him, so may you realize it. May you see that Jesus sees all the little things, all the often overlooked things, and whatever it is holding you back and is willing to overcome those things to meet you where you’re at so you can finally embrace him and who God has called you to be – even if it’s appearing on a shore before dawn to feed you and your friends fish and bread so you can make right your biggest and most embarrassing mistake without judgement or condemnation.