By Jaime Sherman
With the words Jesus is going before you to Galilee nudging them home, Peter and the other disciples walked from Jerusalem through the ribbon developments back to Capernaum at the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. At nearly every bend in the road, the men reminded each other of awe-filled memories from their three years spent with Jesus. As they spotted the lake, which stretched 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, they discussed the time Jesus had stilled a terrorizing storm that swept down from the high hills and turned the waves milky white.
Peter and his fishermen friends replayed the time early in Jesus’ ministry when Jesus stepped into their boat as a crowd on shore pushed hard around Him. The men had spent a long night fishing with nothing to show for it, and they planned to go home after they finished washing their nets in the stream that flowed from the lake. But before they could depart, Jesus asked Peter to push the boat away from shore. As Peter kept the boat steady at the shoreline, Jesus spoke beautiful and yet hard-to-hear words about what it meant to truly love God and to love one’s neighbor.
The moment of great spiritual instruction turned to fishing, and Jesus instructed Peter to put out into the deep and let down the nets, to which Peter replied, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
By faith, and most likely a lot of skepticism, Peter put down the net, which was designed for night fishing and could be seen by the fish in the light of day. In a supernatural moment that all fishermen wish belonged to them, so many fish were trapped between the layers of netting that two boats weren’t enough to haul in the catch. Humbled, Peter fell down, and he heard Jesus speak a calling over him. This fisherman would now leave his nets for a new catch of a lifetime, to fish for the souls of men.
The memory strengthened Peter’s resolve to truly follow Jesus, to look forward, to never again deny his relationship with the Son of God. But now, what was he supposed to do? He was home at the sea, but this felt like a hurry-up-and-wait moment. Peter was never one to sit idly by, so he decided to break out the fishing gear and go back to what he knew best. With six of his buddies joining him, the night was spent on the water, but they wondered if they had lost the touch.
As the sun started to peak from the eastern shore, a man called to them from shore, “Children, do you have any fish?” When they replied “no,” the man said, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”
They didn’t have anything to lose, so they followed the man’s directions. In a déjà-vu moment, the net filled, so they couldn’t lift it into the boat. John said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
Peter grabbed his outer garment and threw himself into the sea. He wasn’t rushing the 100 yards to shore to somehow make things right with Jesus, for in his private encounter with the Lord back in Jerusalem, Peter knew that he was already accepted and loved just as he was. He had experienced what he would later describe as a turning back to Christ, of having one’s sins blotted out, and of being refreshed from being in the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:20).
No, Peter was rushing to shore because the only thing that mattered in that moment was his relationship with Jesus. He wasn’t going to miss a moment in the presence of his Lord.
By the time the other fishermen had pulled the boat to shore, Peter was sitting with Jesus around a charcoal fire, much like the one in the courtyard of the high priest, but this moment was comfortingly different as a simple meal of fish and bread sizzled over the fire.
“Bring some of the fish that you have just caught,” Jesus instructed, and Peter climbed aboard the boat to help free the net. Taking it ashore, the men counted 153 large fish in the net, which had not one tear in it.
“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus said as he handed them bread and fish, just as he had on the hillsides for the many thousands who had once flocked to hear him teach. But this time Jesus’ words were for Peter alone.
Face to face with Jesus, Peter faced three agonizing questions vaguely reminiscent of the three questions around the earlier charcoal fire. Do you love me?
The first question came with the words “more than these.” Do you love me more than the fishing, the boats, your financial security, your family, your friends?
In the language of the day, Peter’s response was pained but brutally honest as he essentially said, Yes, Lord, I like you. The response was one that Peter’s own wife would have been heartbroken to receive, pausing to question the depth of their marriage covenant. But in that moment, Jesus must have appreciated Peter’s honesty. Peter knew his love was imperfect, for he had failed the Lord in so many ways, while the Lord’s love remained unconditional and steadfast.
Jesus asked the question Do you love me? a second time, and then a third time, grieving Peter’s heart. Each time as Peter said “Yes, You know I do,” Jesus instructed him to lead His sheep.
In these imperatives, Jesus affirmed Peter’s calling to lead the Church, knowing he would now be bold in the face of questioning, ministry challenges, and persecution. Across the fire from Jesus was a new Peter, one who had encountered the risen Lord, one who had been accepted just as he was, and one who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, would lead the people of the Way, Jesus’ people, with clarity and conviction because he had been with Jesus.
The past two weeks we have spent time dwelling in the Psalms of Ascents, reminding ourselves of the character of the God we serve — trustworthy, restorer, provider, redeemer, our hope. Just like Peter, as we spend time in the presence of the risen Lord, He will change us and make us new. He becomes not only useful, but ultimately beautiful to us as we rejoice in the God who loves us.
Jaime Sherman crafted the narratives in this Easter weekend series from her study of the Gospel accounts of the week leading up to Jesus’ death, from research of the history and geography of Israel, and from personal observations surrounding the eyewitness accounts, which are provided for today’s story in Matthew 4:18-22, 8:23-27, Mark 1:16-20, 4:35-41, Luke 5:1-11, 8:22-25, John 1:35-42, John 21.