Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Receiving God's Forgiveness

One of the most interesting and dynamic relationships that we see in the Bible is between Jesus and Simon Peter. There are some key places where we witness special interaction -- the first is when Peter is still a fisherman on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

When he had finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon, "Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets, and you will catch many fish." "Master," Simon replied, "we worked hard all last night and didn't catch a thing. But if you say so, we'll try again." And this time their nets were so full they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking."

So what does Simon do -- this crusty old fisherman with a lifetime full of maybe less-than-virtuous stories, and the language to boot?

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, "Oh, Lord, please leave me -- I'm too much of a sinner to be around you." For he was awestruck by the size of their catch… Jesus replied to Simon, "Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people!" (read the whole story in Luke 5:3-10).

The Bible tells us that as soon as they landed, Simon Peter left everything and followed Jesus. And so he was recruited into a three-year graduate school course on discipleship with the Lord.

Another significant interaction between the two happened during the last supper on the night before Jesus was crucified. When Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat, Peter declares, "Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you." Jesus responds, "Peter, let me tell you something. The rooster will not crow tomorrow morning until you have denied three times that you even know me" (Luke 22:31-34).

Early the next morning, standing around the fire in the courtyard of the high priest, Jesus' prophecy comes to pass. Peter's denial is so forceful that he curses and swears, "I do not know the man." At that point the cock crowed, just as Jesus had said, and Luke records an interesting detail in the story. He writes in chapter 22, verse 61, "And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord…"

If you're like me, you may have wondered, what was that look all about?

Communication professionals tell us that 70 to 90 percent of interaction between people is non-verbal -- through facial expressions, gestures, voice tone and volume. So Dr. Luke invites us into a moment of non-verbal communication between Jesus and Peter, but we are not told what Jesus' intentions were. All that the Gospel writer conveys is that after the look Peter went out and wept bitterly.

So what was the look? Was Jesus saying, "See I told you so. You messed up, Peter. You said you were going to follow me, but I'm out here by myself. Where are you, Peter? You're supposed to be the leader."

Or was it something else?

I believe we are given insight into this moment between Jesus and Peter in their final interaction on the earth. In John 21, beginning in verse three, we see Peter and the other disciples hanging out at the Sea of Galilee. Suddenly Peter declares, "I'm going fishing." The rest decided to go along.

My guess is that Peter was not just saying, "I'm going for a fishing trip today." I think what he really meant was, "I've blown it. Yeah, Jesus is wonderful, and He's the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But I messed up. I'm going back to the life of a fisherman because that's the only thing I know to do."

Now the Lord takes this opportunity to once again catch Peter's attention:

"So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night. At dawn the disciples saw Jesus standing on the beach, but they couldn't see who he was. He called out, "Friends, have you caught any fish?" "No," they replied. Then he said, "Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you'll get plenty of fish!" So they did, and they couldn't draw in the net because there were so many fish in it. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord!'"

Doesn't this sound familiar? Look at Peter's reaction.

"When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and swam ashore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only out about three hundred feet. When they got there, they saw that a charcoal fire was burning and fish were frying over it, and there was bread."

Isn't it interesting that someone else had to tell Peter that it was God speaking to him? He was so caught up in his remorse and self-pity that he didn't even grasp that the Lord was replaying the events of that dramatic day when Peter first met Him. But once he came out of the fog of his own guilt, Peter couldn't help himself -- he jumped overboard and swam to Jesus just as fast as he could.

When the disciples arrive on shore Jesus had breakfast waiting for them. Sitting there around the campfire Jesus turns to Peter in front of the rest and asks him the mother of all questions -- "Peter, do you love me?"

What do you do with a question like that? Each of us would have our answers. Mine might sound something like this; "I've been working in the ministry my entire adult life. Do you know how much I could be making if I worked for Disney, or Microsoft, or some other major corporation? Of course I love you. I've given my everything for you."

Of course, these responses would be complete foolishness.

Like Peter, I might also say, "But Jesus, in the midst of all the struggles, in the midst of the storm, I've blown it. I let you down. I messed up. I took my eyes off of you. I said I would follow you to the death, but when it got hard I started having those unclean thoughts. I gave in to that gossip. I gave in to those impure thoughts."

"I went back to the old ways of doing things. Back to what was familiar -- back to the fishing boats. I denied you, Jesus, even to the point where I cursed even knowing you."

How many of us have been there?

Like Peter, I've been broken before the Lord to the point where I didn't even recognize it when God was doing a miracle in front of my very eyes. Someone else had to say, "It's the Lord."

"Do you love me?" Jesus asks Peter three times -- once for every time he denied him. How would you answer?

Peter replies sheepishly, "Of course I love you."

Jesus lovingly responds to Peter, "Feed my sheep." He tells him three times, until Peter finally understands -- this is all about the grace and the love of Jesus.

I'm convinced that when Jesus looked at Peter in the house of the high priest, he wasn't communicating condemnation or contempt. Without words He said to Peter, "It's O.K. I love you anyway. I know the condition of man. I've lived with you for thirty-three years. I've seen my parents fight over petty things. I've seen you disciples argue over who is going to be the greatest. I've seen my cousin John murdered at the whim of a deranged king."

If you walk with the Lord for any length of time you will see the same thing -- people who call themselves Christians, but do not exhibit biblical character. Some would call them hypocrites. Others would condemn, or look down their noses at them with a holier-than-thou attitude.

But not Jesus.

Like Peter, we've all blown it at one time or another. But Jesus extends that look of love to us today. He's saying to you and me, "I love you no matter what."

He's also asking those who would call themselves disciples, "Do you love me?" And if you answer "yes," He commands, "Feed My sheep."

Jesus loves His Church -- but He also has great compassion for the people in the world who do not yet know Him. He's saying to the believer today, "You know me, they don't. The only way they may ever know me is if you tell them. So be restored, be forgiven and be healed. Now go, feed my sheep. Even if it costs you your life."

Peter received that restoration, and only a few days later he stood up in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and declared boldly the message of the Kingdom. A day after that he said to the lame man at the temple gate, "I don't have silver or gold, but what I have -- that love, that healing, that restoration, and that precious look from Jesus -- what I have I give to you. Rise up and walk."

Do you need to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus? Do you need to look into His face, and see that same look of compassion? Have you walked with God, and are now far from Him because at one time you failed Him? He is asking you today, "Do you love me?" If you answer "yes" to that question, He wants you healed so that you, too, can feed His sheep.

If you want that freedom in your life pray this simple prayer with me:

Heavenly Father, I come to you in Jesus' name. I know that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins and rose from the grave to give me life. I know You are the only way to God so now I want to quit disobeying You and start living for You. Please forgive me, change my life and show me how to know You. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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