Breakfast on the Beach: Peter’s Failure and Redemption

Sermon transcript from 5/15/2022

There’s an old Hindu teaching that says, “treat success and failure, profit and loss, happy occurrences and unhappy ones just the same.” In Islam, they teach that failure is a springboard to success. Truman Capote said that failure is the condiment that adds flavor to success.

Pretty much universally, across cultures and faith traditions, it is taught that failure is a chance to make something of yourself. Failure is absolutely inevitable; but it is solely up to us to rise above it and overcome. But, though there is some good wisdom to be found in the quotes I shared, our hope in failure as Christians is quite different. Our hope is not our own ability to “rise from the ashes,” so to speak, but in Jesus’ ability to call us out of failure through grace.

Peter’s story is one of the more famous examples of failure and redemption in Scripture. Peter’s story is going to remind us that we, too, believe that there is goodness to be found in failure. But not because it is a chance to pick ourselves up and make our own success, but because we worship a God who meets us in our failure with grace and calls us toward something greater.

The first part of Peter’s story occurs right after Jesus is arrested and brought before the high priest to be prosecuted:

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest . . . asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it.

John 18:15-18, 25-27

Not wanting to be associated with Jesus for fear of suffering, Peter denied ever being a disciple in the first place.

We meet Peter again after Jesus is crucified and raised from the dead:

Peter is Recommissioned (John 21:1-17)

Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

John 21:1-17

I want to point out two takeaways from Peter’s story:

1. JESUS MET PETER IN FAILURE WITH FORGIVENESS

Did you notice that Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter in this story seems to be implied? As if the two mutually understood that reconciliation had occurred? You might have expected that Peter would fall at the feet of Jesus and beg him for forgiveness. Peter had turned his back on his friend and denied his own discipleship. But in this story, Peter, who, days prior, sinned against Jesus 3 times in a matter of hours; who was ready to go back to his old life as a fisherman and forsake his life as a disciple, jumped off the boat in absolute joy and swam to his friend. Jesus met him on the shore, not with condemnation or reproach or wrath; but with breakfast on the beach.

There was no punishment. There was no mourning. There was no holy wrath of God. Why? Because all of that had already been satisfied by Jesus himself on the cross. Peter’s debt was paid when Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished.” Like the father welcoming the prodigal son home, Jesus’ posture toward Peter was one of grace and eager forgiveness.

This story can inspire in you and I that same confidence: that Jesus’ posture toward you is eager forgiveness.

What does it mean to have a “posture of forgiveness?”

I think the best illustration I can think of is my relationship with my 2-year-old. I didn’t need to teach her to be defiant and strong-willed, and – to use the parenting term – “naughty”. My wife and I are trying to teach her how to apologize when she does something wrong. We want her to understand how to ask forgiveness of others. But our forgiveness is not predicated on her apologizing. We don’t withhold forgiveness if she refuses to say “I’m sorry mommy.” She’s 2; she doesn’t really know what it means to be sorry about anything. That understanding will come with time. The truth is that before she even knows how to express remorse, we have already forgiven her. We want her to say “I’m sorry” because we want so badly to say “It’s okay, we love you and we forgive you.” We aren’t perfect; we lose our patience with her too often. But our posture toward our daughter is one of forgiveness. We are eager to forgive her because we love her.  

Peter’s story is a reminder to all of us that in our failure we can approach our risen Lord with confidence because he has already paid the price for our failure on the cross. His posture toward us; his stance as looks upon us, is grace. He is eager to forgive you because he loves you.

I’m not saying that repentance is not necessary. Repentance is necessary. What’s not necessary is any fear whatsoever that when you repent, Jesus will not meet you with anything less than grace.

2. JESUS’ FORGIVENESS CALLED PETER TO A HIGHER DEGREE OF FAITH AND OBEDIENCE

From what I can tell, Peter was a guy who acted and spoke rashly. He had a zealous spirit about him that did not always manifest in the wisest behavior.

Case in point: before Jesus was crucified, men were arriving to arrest him:

“Then, Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear (the servant’s name was Malchus). So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 18:10-11

I find it remarkable that Peter was ready to go to war for Jesus. He had his sword at the ready. But when it became apparent that Christ came to die, not to fight, Peter was not nearly as enthusiastic about following him. When the rubber met the road, he was more than ready to dissociate from Jesus altogether. Peter’s loyalties changed when the stakes were raised.

On second thought, given human nature, maybe that’s not all that remarkable.

But just as Peter denied Jesus 3 times, he was also given 3 opportunities to reaffirm his love for Jesus, and 3 calls to renew his commitment – all the while sitting around a charcoal fire just like the one that warmed Peter as he denied Christ in the temple courts.

“Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”

In John 10, Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Herein lies the significance of Jesus’ command that Peter take care of his flock: Jesus, who called himself the Good Shepherd, entrusted his sheep – his redeemed people – to none other than Peter. Peter would soon become a key leader of the early Church movement after Jesus was taken up into heaven.

Then, Jesus tacks on this curious phrase: “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

I would argue that this is a fourth calling; a calling that Peter initially ran from, but Jesus obeyed: a call to die. “Stretching out” one’s hands was a euphemism: Jesus was talking about crucifixion. He was hinting that Peter would also take upon himself the role of the “good shepherd” and lay down his life for the church.

John, having probably written this gospel after Peter’s death, provides a helpful interpretive aside, just in case his readers might have missed what Jesus was saying: Jesus was telling Peter how his ministry was going to end. He would be stretched out on a cross, and wrapped in grave clothes.

Peter’s death is not recorded in the Bible, but according to church tradition, he was crucified in Rome around 64 A.D. under Nero. But before he helped the Jesus movement spread to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people throughout the ancient world.

Notice the pattern here:

Peter sins, Jesus forgives, Jesus calls, Peter obeys.

This pattern applies to us as well in our walk with Christ.

Jesus meets us in our failure, not only to eagerly forgive us, but to call us to an even higher standard. Forgiveness is not so that we have freedom to sin even more; it is so that we have the freedom to love Jesus and serve him in an even greater capacity. The forgiveness of Christ is a call to obedience.

Two takeaways from Peter’s failure and redemption story:

  1. Jesus’ posture toward you is one of forgiveness. Sin has already been paid for, and there is no condemnation in him. That means you can approach him as you would a friend who invites you to breakfast on the beach.
  2. The forgiveness of Jesus absolves you of your sin, but at the same time calls you to a higher standard of obedience. And though that isn’t always comfortable, Jesus doesn’t call you to anything that he himself did not experience – and that is comforting. Because Jesus overcame even death; and through faith in him, so will you.

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