04 August, 2019

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Scripture reading: John 21:1-19

If there are certainties in this life, amongst them is the certainty that you and I will fail and make mistakes…because we’re human. The Bible’s account of Peter’s failures and subsequent restoration gives us great hope, because failure does not have to disqualify us from being used by God.

Like us, the apostle Peter was human and the gospel accounts of his life give us ample insight into his humanity and failings. Peter was at once passionate and loyal, headstrong and impulsive. He was one of Jesus’ inner circle of three disciples (with James and John) and the kind of guy to leap out of a boat fully-clothed (John 21:7) or cut off an ear (John 18:10) at the drop of a hat.

Peter’s most searing, painful, gut-wrenching failure came in denying Jesus three times, just as Jesus had foretold:

38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. — John 13:38 (ESV)

26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it [a third time], and at once a rooster crowed. — John 18:15-27 (ESV)


But this is not where Peter’s story ends…..he doesn't disappear in obscurity never to be seen or heard of again. Incredibly his failure did not disqualify him. Peter became an apostle and a father of the early church.

This is good news for us.

Our failure does not have to disqualify us. As we will see in Peter’s story, we serve a God of mercy and grace who willingly meets us in the middle of our mess and failure to bring restoration.


John 21, in my view, records one of the most beautiful pictures of restoration after failure. This story reflects the very nature and heart of God as a restorer. Restoration is at the heart of the gospel message.

There is a distinct feeling of deja vu in the account of John 21, since in Luke 5 we read a very similar, earlier story — men in a boat, fishing all night but catching nothing. A man unknown to them suggests they try casting the net on the other side of the boat. Their catch is so huge it takes two boats to bring it in but the nets are unbroken. In this instance, Peter is completely undone, he falls on his knees before Jesus and gives his life to follow Him.

And in John 21, here we are again…, a boat, no fish, a man seemingly unknown to them on the beach giving instructions to cast their net to the other side, a massive catch too big to haul in but the nets don’t break.

This is Peter’s moment.

It takes his friend John to give him a bit of a nudge: “Pete mate, it’s the Lord!” (my paraphrase — for some reason I imagine this with Aussie accents).

I do want to pause to make an observation: In the midst of his failure there are a number of things Peter does right…


Living with regret and the pain of failure can make us isolate ourselves.

We withdraw, we take ourselves out of the game, because shame makes us feel disqualified and we hide. This is where many people, good Christian people, get stuck.

We don’t know if Peter’s friends pursued him but we do know that he allowed them to come on his fishing trip with him.

This is pure conjecture but I also wonder if he’d been talking to John about how he felt in his failure, because as John realised for himself it was Jesus on the beach it was only Peter he addressed his comments to.

I have had a number of times in my life, where in the pain of my failure I’ve needed the help of good friends to recognise and point me to Jesus. We really are meant to do life in community.


Remember this is not the first time Peter has seen Jesus since His resurrection, but this time he seems desperate to get to Him and so without hesitation, in the midst of this prophetic re-run of his initial calling to follow Christ, he throws on his clothes and jumps in the water to swim 90 meters, rushing towards Jesus, the only one who can restore Him.

I do wonder how this story would have ended if Peter didn't get out of the boat and move towards Jesus. God’s heart is always willing to restore but we do need to turn and move towards Him.


As Peter reaches the shore, all water logged, Jesus greets him not with stern words and a lecture about “I told you so”, but with a cooked breakfast. (In our household full, cooked breakfasts are reserved for special occasions like birthdays and Father’s Day. I think this was a very special occasion!).

Jesus was expecting Peter and knew exactly what he needed to heal the pain of his failure and to be fully restored.

He always knows exactly what we need too.

Gathered around a charcoal fire (remember Peter’s failure took place around a fire), Jesus asks him three times if he loves him, one for each time Peter denied Him. These confessions were not for Jesus’ sake, nor were they repetitive to shame Peter — this was what Peter needed.

There is something powerful about our “out-loud” confessions, about the link between our mouth, our heart and our mind. As Peter confessed with his mouth, “Yes Lord, You know that I love You” he hears his own confession, replacing three denials that have been ringing in his ears and replaying in his mind with truth and restoration.

There is one final piece of information John includes that on face value could seem almost cruel. Jesus tells Peter how he will be martyred. Remember Peter before the denial confidently telling Jesus “I will lay my life down for you, I will go with you to death….” (John 13:37). Jesus in this moment actually affirms Peter — Peter you will indeed lay your life down for me, you are that man.

Peter is restored in relationship, in his mind, in his emotions and in his calling. The restoration Jesus offers, even after a failure of our own doing, is absolutely complete and lacking nothing.

Failure was not the end of Peter’s story and it does not have to be the end of ours. We can get out of the boat and move towards Jesus. His arms are open wide. He knows what you need to be healed from the pain of failure and to be fully and completely restored. He’s expecting you.

— Kathryn

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