This past weekend in my message, “The Good News of New Beginnings,” I didn’t make my way into all the detail I had planned in the new beginning of Peter from his failure. Here are my sermon notes from that section, exploring Jesus’ restoration of Peter from the failure of his denials. I hope this encourages you in the midst of your own failures.
Now turn with me to one final story of new beginning, found in the next chapter of John’s Gospel. Here, we find the disciples have returned to their home area in Galilee to fish, but haven’t caught anything. Are they trying to de-stress after all that happened to them in Jerusalem? Are they forsaking all they learned from Jesus and just returning to their old lives?
We don’t know for sure, but something dramatic happens when Jesus Himself appears on the lakeshore to give them fishing advice. Jesus’ advice to throw their nets over the other side leads to a miraculously huge haul of fish, which makes them realize they are dealing with Jesus.
Peter, in His excitement, jumps into the water and swims all the way to shore ahead of the others. Jesus makes them breakfast, and they all know it is Him. In the midst of that breakfast, Jesus has a direct conversation with Peter in four parts.
Part 1 – Peter’s failed boldness (John 21:15)
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (21:15)
This first question brings us back to Peter’s failure, when He denied Jesus three times.
Earlier in John’s Gospel before Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus had warned His disciples about the challenges about to come.
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
Which is exactly what Peter did. Jesus is resurrecting Peter’s failure so that He can directly deal with it. Suppressing our failures does not bring life; instead it eats away at us from the inside out.
Part 2 – Peter’s failed love (John 21:16)
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter’s painful response: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
But earlier in the upper room, Jesus had addressed all the disciples, showing them what real love looks like, when he said: “If you love me, keep my commands” (14:15).
Peter had a failure of nerve, but also a failure of love. Jesus draws this out into the light so that Peter might not be trapped within his failure but move into a new beginning.
Part 3 – Peter’s pain revealed (John 21:17)
But Jesus is not done yet.
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (21:17)
Just notice this phrase: “the third time.” Jesus is intentionally paralleling Peter’s three denials with three questions.
Peter’s pained response is “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Again, Jesus is calling all of the failure out into the light so that it might not be hidden or suppressed, but release, healed, and turned into a new beginning. What is that new beginning?
Part 4 – Peter’s calling (John 21:18-22)
After the three-fold “Feed my sheep” (21:17) Jesus speaks the ultimate: “Follow me!” (21:19). This echoes Jesus’ first invitation for Peter to follow Him. He is returned to a new beginning of discipleship that will lead him into a new beginning of ministry.
Jesus does not leave Peter to linger in failure, whether hiding it or brooding over it. Instead, Jesus addresses Peter’s failure by bringing it into the light, then healing it, and finally restoring him to a meaningful calling.
For us, too, failure can box us in. We hold it in the back room of our lives, afraid for anyone to know about it. We brood over it when no one is around, like it is something we cannot stand but something we cannot live without. This is not life, but less than living. Jesus comes to us, in the power of the resurrection, to say that what seems like the end in our failure does not have to be the end.
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, our failures can be the doorways to a new beginning of restoration in Him.