John 21:2–15 (NIV)
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter looks up from the remains of his meal. Fish cooked over a fire set among stones on a quiet Galilean beach. Being a fisherman by trade and tradition Peter had eaten a thousand fish in his lifetime but none better than the simple meal he had just been served. These fish had been prepared by not just a fellow fisherman but the greatest of all, the Fisher of Men.
The flaky flesh with its savory hot grease and the rich earthiness of the broken bread settled into his body and where moments before he had perhaps joined his fellow disciples laughing with sweet relief and feelings of joy that Jesus—Rabboni!—was once again among them this one question brought a dark cloud over Peter’s heart.
“Simon son of John.” Not “Peter,” not “the Rock.” Not the nickname the Master had given him so long ago—a name that bound him to the Christ and laid Peter’s path before him. “Simon son of John, do you love me?” And as wisps of smoke from the last embers of the breakfast fire drifted into the brightening lakeside morning, Peter was transported to a night not long before when smoke from a different fire drifted between him and his Savior.
On a night when he had pledged to be faithful, Peter was indeed following as close as he could while Jesus was on trial in the house of the high priest. As Peter settled by a fire in the courtyard an onlooker recognized his accent, his voice and manner of a Galilean, a man of the northern country, a man with a rough fisherman’s edge to his words.
“This man was with him.”
But he denied it — Luke 22:56b–57a (NIV)
There are times in our lives when events bring us to a crossroads, when we reach a moment when a word or action can define us or destroy us. Peter’s moment arrived that night when after boasting to Jesus that he loved him even more than the other disciples he was suddenly, unexpectedly faced with the opportunity to stand and claim that title, and he failed miserably.
The fear of man is a fountain of mischief and misery, but the fear of God is a fountain of life. — John Flavel, Triumphing over Sinful Fear
Peter drank that night from the fountain of mischief and misery when he denied the One whom he had pledged to love not once, but three times. When the rooster crowed the brown eyes of his teacher turned and locked on his and Peter knew.
And he went outside and wept bitterly. — Luke 22:62 (NIV)
But now on the shore of the Sea of Galilee Peter’s eyes met those of Jesus again and his smile faded as the question Jesus asked him brought back the bitterness of what he had done. The guilt of betrayal hung over him and now it was time to receive his due. Would Jesus mock him? Would he tell Peter that he must leave his presence, the inner circle of disciples? Would Jesus expose Peter’s denial to the others and encourage their rejection of him too?
Instead of all of this, we know that Jesus had no such thing in mind and with a few simple words laid both Peter’s guilt and his path to healing bare before him.
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
In Peter’s betrayal and gentle restoration, we see an example of guilt in one of the primary characters of the Gospels. Peter had betrayed his Lord and was deserving of nothing but the same in return, at least according to the ways of the world. But in Jesus we see instead a path to healing, the only path where we, like Peter, can find our way out of the twisting maze of our own guilt. We know that we are all guilty in one sense as Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but we often carry burdens of guilt that can weigh us down over a lifetime.
Like Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress” we encounter the sturdy rogue known as Guilt, falling victim to his club. In this space in coming weeks we will explore the nature of guilt and how we as believers carry its burden through life. We will journey with Peter and other men and women of the Gospels and early church as they too found themselves broken on the rocks of past deeds, their sinful nature or moments of failure.
With them we will see how the sinless Lamb who bore our guilt unto death became the bridge to restoration.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.