After Jesus' death, Peter’s mind swirled in condemnation and shame.
“You Big Loser, you. How unworthy can you be?”
The voice mocked and taunted inside.
Sure, right—you would never betray Jesus, would you? Remember that rooster, Peter? You do recall, don’t you, Oh, "Mr. I-Would-Never-Betray-You, Jesus Man?" Let’s revisit that moment for a bit, okay Loser? Do you remember your boasting? “I would lay down my life for you, Jesus. They all may fall away, but I won’t, Jesus.” Oh, weren’t you the epitome of arrogance and pride? You thought you had it in you. Do you believe that now? And look where it got you. Nowhere. Now you’ve lost that self-importance, all right, but you also lost the person you loved. How’s that feel, Loser? And you can’t do one single thing about it. Ha. You thought you were such a loving person who would never hurt another. Now you see who you really are. It’s all been a force, a mistake, and a big mirage. You are bad. You. Are. A. Loser.
“I’m going fishing.”
Peter’s words caused a few worried glances among the other disciples.
Fishing? That was Simon Peter’s former identity, and Peter wasn’t that person any longer. Was he?
Things must be worse than they thought if Peter was giving up the ministry and going fishing again.
Thomas whispered to the one next to him.
“Hey, Andrew. Do you think…”
He couldn’t even get his thoughts out into the open.
“Do you think Peter will be okay in the boat? I mean, will he try to hurt himself or even worse—?”
He didn’t even dare finish the thought.
“Well, truth be known, I thought that, too.”
“Let’s go with him and keep him safe. He is not in a good mental space at all.”
And here in the boat of his former identity, it was undeniable that Peter was in a world of confusion and pain.
He stared into space. He hardly moved yet paced the ship. His eyes sunk into his face. His right hand shook uncontrollably.
His friends all tried to get him involved in the work and take his mind off of the past. A disciple motioned over toward him.
“Hey, Peter. Throw me that rope. I have to hoist up this sail.”
Silence. Peter didn’t even move. He hunched despondently, lost in a desperate private world.
He could hear the roosters still crowing in his mind.
The bitter weeping of that moment still occurred internally, although it didn’t happen in public anymore. Among others, he went through the motions just to get away from the condemning voices stirring inside. Anything was better than the constant torture of those impressions.
Stripped down to his working gear, Peter did anything other than work.
“Hey, Peter? The rope?”
His friend upped the volume. “Peter?”
He was still not responding.
The other disciple tried something else—a former something else that probably Peter could easily remember. It was a risk. A chance.
Peter’s ears perked and received at the name, and he looked up.
Simon—his old name.
His old name was his old identity and one he knew well. It was him before Christ. And it was what he could only hear from at the moment.
Just then, a voice called to them from the shore.
They could make out a man in the distance, but not much else.
“Children, you do not have any fish, do you?”
Who was this? What did he care?
“Ummm…no. We don’t,” they called out.
“Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch.”
Really? Okay. What would it hurt? What could they lose? After all, nothing plus nothing would equal nothing. And they weren’t even out here to catch fish really—just to keep one of the fishers-of-men from doing something unthinkable in his shame.
In trust, they did as he asked.
They could not believe the significant number of fish in the net when they did. They couldn’t even haul it in; the number was so large.
Yet still, Peter sat unresponsively.
And that was when John, the disciple who Jesus loved, said to Peter, “Hey.”
Smiling, he nudged Peter’s arm and pointed to the shore. “It is the Lord.”
At this, Peter’s whole demeanor changed.
He uncurled himself upright and snapped his head to the shore.
Could it be?
He was in the presence of a person he loved more than life itself. Finally!
He flung on his outer garment and hurled himself into the sea.
Before this moment, he had cast nets hoping for fish. Now he cast himself, hoping to find his identity once again.
The other disciples came in a small boat, dragging the brimming-full net behind. Their eyes opened wide at the scene of their friend swimming desperately for shore.
Walking onto the land, they were met by a large charcoal fire roasting fish. Chunks of bread lay beside. What a welcome sight—especially the man that spoke to them. Their eyes couldn’t leave his face.
“Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.”
Simon Peter rushed back to the boat to draw the net to land—153 fish in total—a wonderful catch.
As he handed an armful to the Lord, he couldn’t even look up. Would Jesus say something?
How can I face him after betraying him? I don’t even deserve to be with him, yet my heart can’t take being away. Will he forgive me? Do I even deserve it?
The whirlwind inside froze his feet to the ground as he held out the fish to the Lord.
Nothing happened except Jesus’ arms taking the fish from him coupled with an invitation for them all. “Come and have breakfast."
His heart fell.
Yep, it’s just as I thought.
Peter’s inner world cascaded down into another spiral of fear, worry, and shame.
He’s ignoring me, and I’m the pond scum of the earth. He’s better off without me. All I do is hurt people. Case in point.
Every time he thought about what Jesus must think of him, despair seized his heart and clamped a seal of misery inside.
None of the disciples dared to question, “Who are you?” to the fish-fryer in their midst. They knew it was the Lord. Yet there was a bit of unspoken uneasiness. It was almost as if they could feel the unresolved tension between Peter and Jesus. It would need to be addressed at some point but now was not the time. They would enjoy this breakfast with their Savior and friend.
Jesus walked around his friends seated at the campfire, handing each bread and some fish. John. Thomas. James. He had almost completed his way around.
Peter was next. He held his breath.
What would Jesus do when he came to him?
Will he look at me with those same eyes that fell upon my face as those roosters crowed? Oh, God. I couldn’t even bear that once more. Will he smile at me—an unworthy, betraying friend? I couldn’t handle that either, not when all of the others are here watching. I can’t fake it. I’m not okay. All I want to do is burst into tears and hang onto Him for dear life. That can’t happen now. What do I do? What do I do?
Oh, my goodness. Jesus is here now.
Peter’s eyes looked down toward the dirt at his feet as a pair of hands handed him some bread and fish and then returned to his seat. The talk around him was agonizing. The words swirled around him like cacophony inside a dream. He couldn’t pick out any actual conversation to join, so he simply picked at his fish. He wasn’t hungry anyway, having fasted since Jesus died. No one told him to. It just made sense—he wasn’t the least bit hungry. Food made him ill.
What did anything matter anyway?
At last, they finished the excruciating meal, and Simon walked away from the group, eager to be alone.
He had to get away and contend with the pain inside.
A voice behind him had called him his old name.
Yep, Jesus knew his mindset. But, here it was. Now or never.
He couldn’t remain in this place any longer—he had to face Him. Slowing turning, he saw Jesus’ eyes bore straight into his.
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
Ouch. Jesus called me Simon, too. No longer “The Rock” anymore, am I, Jesus? Even You know it. I used to be so much more to you. And “More than these?” Exactly to what are you referring?
He couldn’t even look at Christ, so Peter reasoned through the options in his mind.
First, he thought of the other disciples.
Okay, let’s see. Could Jesus mean, “Do you love me more than (these other disciples) do?”
Do I? Man, I thought I did. I used to think I did. I still think I do, but on what leg could I possibly stand? I betrayed you. I killed our relationship. How in the world could I say “Yes, Lord. I love you more than these?” That’s obviously not true, although my heart screams, “Yes, I do love you more than these guys love you.”
Next, he thought of the other disciples differently.
Did he mean, “Do you love me (more than) you love these (other disciples)?”
That’s a no-brainer. I left everything for you, Jesus. My wife and my kids. My home, and my friends. Because of you. No, it can’t mean that. Although, honestly, I still have idols in my heart, so maybe?
Next, he thought of his fishing vessel.
Let’s see; he motioned out toward the boat. Could he mean, “Do you love me more than (you love) these (things of your old life)?”
Yes, that must be it. This hits home.
Fishing. Condemnation. Unworthiness. Guilt. Pain. Futility. Hopelessness. These were things Peter used to know intimately in his old life, drawing him back into a sea of shame.
Do I love you, Jesus, more than the feeling inside telling me a different story? Are you asking if I trust you instead of what I am experiencing inside?
And now, Peter was forced to ask himself these questions.
Here they were. This was it—the moment of rejection or restoration.
Not only were they finally alone in one another’s intimate gaze, Jesus indicated that he saw the depth of pain in Peter’s soul. He saw that Peter had miserably gone back to his old life and old ways, and Jesus knew nothing mattered anymore to him.
Yet, Peter knew Jesus was asking if he loved the old ways better than the Word of God standing right in front of him.
Peter gulped as he answered Jesus’ first words to him since the betrayal.
“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
Simon Peter didn’t even look up—he couldn’t bear the pain in his Lord’s eyes.
“Tend My lambs.”
Peter mechanically nodded.
Right, sure. Spiritually nourish the young ones in Christ that come to know you. Yeah, okay. Like they should listen to a loser like me. Be for real. Don’t you see I’m a farce? I’m bad. I hurt people. I’m a betrayer. I don’t deserve relationship in general.
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Oh, boy. There’s that question again. I can’t bear this. Doesn’t he understand how this question feels like a knife turned around inside me, torturing me for my mistake?
Simon Peter still couldn’t look up. He pressed his lips together and swallowed.
You make me repeat it, Jesus? I knew it—you don’t believe me. Honestly, I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t believe a word out of my mouth, either.
His shoulders slumped, and his eyes darted to the left.
“Yes, Lord. You know that I love You.”
“Shepherd My sheep.”
Simon Peter drew a long breath through his nose at these “different-but-same” words.
So now, Jesus wants me to lead his followers? He wants the biggest disgrace on the planet to be a leader?
How in the world would he possibly do this with all of these feelings massacring him moment-by-moment inside?
He couldn’t even bring his eyes to his friends around the fire, let alone manage a following of Jesus Christ converts. Was Jesus crazy? No, he didn’t deserve one bit of it.
Simon Peter could feel all of the emotions inside rushing up toward his face. He reached his hands up to cover his face in shame. He coughed against the swell of feeling as Jesus’ words reached his ears for the third and final time.
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter could hear what Jesus was saying underneath.
Peter, do you trust me even amidst all of your pain and external circumstances? More than anything or anyone?
Here, grief, condemnation, shame, and sadness reached their zenith.
Peter rolled his head in agony and dared to look up into the pair of eyes smiling into his. Tears streamed down his face, and he could hardly get a word out in his anguish.
His voice was but a whisper.
“Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”
Oh, Jesus, please hear my heart. You know me. You recognize I can’t promise anything to you, Lord. Nothing. I am a human being. That's all.
Only YOU can promise and make good on it. I used to think I could make an oath and keep it. I haughtily spoke those vain things out loud in the presence of others. “Not me, Lord.” But it was. It was me. I betrayed you—the one I love so dearly. And now, I can’t live with myself. I can’t bear this any longer.
I can’t live like this.
And here is where I like to believe Jesus pulled him into an embrace, allowing him to cry out every bit of emotion bottled inside.
Peter’s heaving shoulders pounded against Jesus’ chest. Desperate sobs drew in raspy breaths of air. Weak arms clenched at the body pressed against him. He tasted the threads of Jesus’ shirt. He could feel Jesus lifting him as his own feet failed, and he collapsed against the arms he had longed to feel.
As his own snot and tears collected on Jesus’ neck, Jesus started to speak about what would happen when Peter was older—the kind of death he was to have.
The words spoke of future, of forgiveness, and of moving on.
Letting the forgiving words wash over him, Peter clung onto the shoulders of one he loved more than life itself and drew in the comfort and mercy of his Savior. The words from Jesus spread balm onto his very soul.
“My life for you is more than condemnation, shame, and regret. I came to give you life—and life abundantly."
"Do you believe me?"
"Let go of the past and live through me. Your sacrifice of sadness for sin is no longer necessary. Let it all go, Dear One. Entrust it all to Father. He and I are the only ones who can keep it. Don’t hurt you any longer. Trust us. Give that gift to yourself—and me."
There it was—his real name—spoken in love by his friend.
Peter. The Rock. The one Christ loved—just as John knew.
And now Peter knew.
The crying ceased. Peace returned.
Peter never wanted to let go.
And thankfully, he would never have to.
My dear friends, do you struggle with self-condemnation, guilt, and shame?
Take it to Father. He is the only one who can tend to your aching heart.
Your struggle is never what you think it is—it is about something Father is doing in YOU inside the circumstance.
It is not about the horizontal challenges—it is always a vertical one.
In difficult moments, keep remembering that what you are experiencing has nothing to do with another person or a difficult situation—it’s really all about you and Father.
There is a thief and one who has come to kill and destroy. He is the father of lies and a murderer from the very beginning.
And if you are beating yourself up, that’s the only voice you are listening to right now.
But Jesus also said, “My sheep know my voice, they follow Me.”
Everything that doesn’t agree with Jesus, you need to turn from. Don’t let that other voice even get its foot in the door.
Because if you do, you do not entirely believe that you are forgiven yet. Not really. And truly realizing it will be a gift.
No sin—past or present—remains uncovered by the blood of Christ.
Picture your greatest regret and lay that one down under the foot of the cross. Cast it to God, where it belongs.
And when you have truly cast to Father—do what Peter had to learn.
Do what I had to learn.
Do what we all need to learn.
What do you do when the rooster has crowed three times in your life?
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