Meditations on “God of Transformation: 22: Will you go again?
Jn 21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
The upheavals of life, indeed sometimes of the Christian life, means that there are times that we look back on with regret and sometimes, confusion. Life is not always clear cut and when it goes wrong or goes in ways we neither expected nor understood, we are often left hurt, confused and wondering. If these things have never happened to you, congratulations that you have created a cocoon of your life that is utterly sheltered from the rest of the world, but for most of us, when we dare be real, there are parts of our history that we prefer to forget.
If you are not comfortable with this line of thinking, may I gently suggest you are exhibiting signs of insecurity, an inability to be real with yourself and with this world. Have you ever thought that if the Christian world was, in God’s plans, always to be totally secure, comfortable and easy, then there would be someone at least in the Bible who showed that? There isn’t! The truth is, as we say so often, we are living in a Fallen World where sin dominates so many, life goes wrong, things break down, accidents happen and people are often nasty. That’s not the whole picture by any means but it is true.
If you wanted a Biblical example of all this, then you couldn’t ask for a better one than the apostle Peter. He starts out being called by Jesus, but then very soon realises that he and Jesus, although in the same boat literally, are in reality in very different boats (see Luke 5:1-9). But boats feature big for ‘the Big Fisherman’ and it is out of a boat that he steps and walks on water, as we saw recently. It would have been a boat that helped him out of a mix up where he had opened his mouth too much (see Mt 17:24-27). In fact Peter’s experiences with Jesus could almost be summed up as so often opening his mouth and putting his foot in it, as we say.
Yes, without doubt he was a leader and stepped out where others feared to tread, but he still kept on tripping over his own tongue. It comes to a peak at the Last Supper where first of all Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet (Jn 13:6-8), but then goes for it wholeheartedly (v.9), and shortly afterwards declares he will lay down his life for Jesus (Jn 13:37). He then went even further, if everyone else deserted Jesus, he never would (Mt 26:33,35). Shortly after this he couldn’t even stay awake to pray with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:40). Within hours Peter is denying Jesus three times before he flees the precincts of the Palace of the Chief Priest in tears.
When he looks back Peter has got some great tales to tell of his ‘Christian life’ but also there are things where he goes strangely silent. Oh yes, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses, but perhaps it has for such a bed is prickly and that’s how it has been for Peter sometimes. So Jesus meets him after his resurrection and tells them all to go to Galilee where he will meet them. They trek off up north again and wait. Peter is still not good at waiting: “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” (Jn 21:3). There is a distinct air of déjà vu about this because, “they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” And then Jesus appears on the beach. I wonder if Peter thought, “Oh no, not again.” Anyway he dives into the lake and swims ashore ahead of the others to meet Jesus, who already has his own fish and is cooking them on a fire. But there was also bread there (v.9). Loaves and fishes? The echo of yet another occasion when the disciples had not lived up to Jesus; expectations.
But then, after the meal comes that interrogation between Jesus and Peter. I once got in a mix up with Jesus and someone came to ‘help’ and started out, “Well, that’s a fine mess you’ve got into isn’t it.” That didn’t do anything to help me out of the mire. But Jesus does it differently: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (v.15) Hold on, what happened there? It’s not clear whether Jesus refers to the other disciples or to the fish (and his past life) but Peter won’t rise to the bait and refuses to measure himself against either others or his past career and so answers with a neutral, “You know I love you.” That’s all I can say. Don’t ask me to compare myself or check myself against others or against my past. Yes, I do love you. Good enough, here’s a small job for you, look after my young followers. You still want to use me? Yes.
OK, says Jesus, let’s check it out a bit more: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (v.16) Again Peter refuses to get into a discussion about the depth or reality of his love. He is no longer the brash responder, no longer so sure of himself. I can’t get into ‘how much’ I love you, I just know I love you. Good enough. I’ve got a slightly bigger job for you. Jut take care of my followers. OK? You still want to use me like that? Yes, but let’s check it one more time, very simply, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (v.17). That’s painful because it is so basic and so fundamental: “Do you love me?” It goes directly to the heart saying, come on now, be ruthlessly honest with yourself. What do you really and truly feel for me? “He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” What? Pardon? You heard. I like that confession, you know who I am, you know that I know the absolute truth about you, and yes, I know you love me. OK, I have a slightly bigger job for you: feed my followers.
You see this is the wonder of the Son of God who is our Lord: he has died for all your failures and mine and as long as we’re willing to face them with him and give them over to him, his grace just wants to pick you up and carry you on to bigger and better things. Transformation from failure and guilt means standing in front of the one who knows all things and being transparently honest and open with him, recognising that he is not only Lord but also 100% our Saviour. We will be what we will be only when we let him be our Saviour – Saviour of every failure, every heart ache, every feeling of guilt and shame. I can’t cleanse me of all of that but he can. And then incredibly, he has something more for me to do. I would have written me off years ago, but he forgives us, cleanses us and picks us up and sets us going again.
Don’t be under any illusion this will not make you perfect – you’re only that as you allow him to lead you moment by moment – for there will be times when you show glimmers of your past still, but that wont disqualify you. If you don’t believe me, check it out in respect of Peter when he gets sent to Cornelius. First of all he argues with God in a vision because he doesn’t understand (Acts 10:14), then he needs the Lord’s encouraging to go with three Gentiles (v.20), then he’s not totally truthful it seems about how he had felt about it (v.29) and then sounds somewhat disparaging (v34,35) but the Lord uses him and fills the Gentiles with His Spirit. Honesty, openness, availability, willingness. Be transformed!