In the book of Matthew chapter 4, we see Jesus call out to Peter "Come, Follow me." In the religious culture of the day, a young man had two paths he could generally follow. He could follow in the footsteps of his father and learn his father's trade or, for the chosen few, there was a different path... the path of the Rabbi. Peter, we are told in Scripture was a fisherman - like his father. Peter had no doubt studied the Torah and listened to the Rabbis in the village synagogue. There may have been a few young candidates who had the intellectual prowess or the discipline needed to become talmidim (or disciples) of their local Rabbi. But alas, Peter was not amongst the chosen few. For the few selected students, the Rabbi would come to them and simply say "follow me." It was a call to not only learn from the Rabbi, but to become just like him. But Peter had missed this opportunity... until the day Jesus came to town. And so we see Peter throw down his nets and what does he do? He follows Jesus. And for three years, he spends every possible moment with Jesus. Indeed, he becomes not only one of the chosen twelve, but he is one of the three - the inner circle, closest to the Rabbi. As the time of his crucifixion draws near, Jesus tells the disciples that they will all abandon him. Peter, full of indignation, says "Lord, even if these others abandon you, I won't." And Jesus tells him that before the rooster crows, Peter will have denied him three times. Note: The number three here is important, because in ancient Judaism, there is custom of saying a thing three times to establish it as final and absolute. And sure enough, as we read the account, Peter who fears for his life, denies even knowing Jesus once... then twice... and finally, the third time, he denies him with a curse. As if the moment is frozen in time, Scripture tells us that Peter and Jesus made eye contact at that very moment. Finally, Jesus is tortured and dies and agonizing death on the cross, the disciples are scattered, and Peter is despondent. All seems lost. Then, three days later, we read that Jesus - as he said he would - rose from the dead. The stone is rolled away, the graveclothes are folded neatly in and empty tomb, and Jesus is alive! His followers are confused, and excited, and wondering what will happen next. But Peter... oh, dear Peter... what is his reaction to this glorious news? "I'm going fishing" he says. He knows he has blown it. He has denied the Lord. He has failed him and has no option but to go back to what he knew before... fishing. So he, John, and James go out on the lake and fish through the night. But even this becomes a failure. They catch zero fish. The one thing Peter knows how to do is catch fish, right? And then a man in the distance... on the shoreline calls out to them. He tells them to place their nets on the other side of the boat. They have received this fishing tip from someone before... but could it be? No, surely not. Nervously they cast their nets on the other side of the boat... and bam! the net is instantly so full they can't haul it in. At that point John leans over to Peter... "It's him Peter - It's Jesus!" Peter, longing only to be near his beloved Rabbi one more time, jumps out of the boat and scrambles to the shore as fast as he can. He knows he is no longer worthy to be his disciple. But oh, just to be near him again! How he loves Jesus! Soon after, John and James (left to do the heavy work) join them on the shore. Jesus has made a fire and cooks them breakfast. The King of kings and the Lord of lords - the Savior of the world - the Son of God... once again humbly serves his disciples. Then Jesus looks at Peter with those same eyes that looked at him while Peter had denied him... and dives right into the heart of the matter. "Peter" he asks "Do you love me more than these?" Ouch! The words pierced his heart. I can just picture Jesus pointing to John and James as they looked at Peter nervously. Peter had pridefully said that even if they had denied him, he would not. “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” “Take care of my lambs" Jesus says. Again Jesus asks him "Peter, do you love me?" - this time leaving off any mention of the "others." “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you" whispers Peter. “Take care of my sheep” Jesus says. And a third time (remember the significance of repeating something three times) Jesus asks him "Do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” I can just hear Peter sob with tears streaming down his face... And Jesus said again “Feed my sheep."
This is usually where the Sunday school teacher will end the story. But they will have missed the great left-hook. They will have left out the punchline of the whole account. First, we see the mercy of God in the fact that Jesus asks Peter "do you love me" three times - the exact number of times he had denied him. And then... when Peter is at the end of himself. He has failed. He has been exposed. And he is completely at the mercy of Jesus. Oh, my dear friends, no two words were ever so sweet. Scripture tells us... Then he said to him, “Follow me!” You, Peter, who have failed the test... You, Peter, who have offended your friends... You, Peter, who have denied you even know me and who can't even catch fish anymore... You are PETER! And on this rock I will build my church! You are forgiven. My dear friends, have you failed the Lord? Have you let some word slip from your lips that you shouldn't have? Have you fallen back into some sin? Jump out of the boat! Scramble to the shore. Fall at his feet. He is waiting to restore you. He is waiting to welcome you. And he is ready to EMPOWER you. And then, not many days later, in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, Peter and the others are filled with the Holy Spirit. And this same Peter who denied even knowing Jesus proclaimed boldly... "this same Jesus whom you crucified"... leading thousands to the Lord. This same Peter would walk through the streets and his very shadow would heal the sick. Not by his own power - he had shown what he was capable of. But the love of Jesus, the forgiveness of the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit... these are the legacy of St. Peter. And the same Holy Spirit is available to you. When the people were convicted of their sin, they asked Peter "what must we do to be saved?" And his response carries throughout the ages... "REPENT, BE BAPTIZED, AND BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT." Jesus is calling to you "follow me." Will you head the call? Will you lay down your nets and follow him? I promise you he is worth it. He requires that we lay down our life and pick up our cross to follow him. He promises that people will hate you because of him. But in him is found peace that passes understanding, joy unspeakable, and eternal life. For he is the way, the truth, and the life.
If you would like to know more about what it means to be been born again or if you have questions about what it means to be a follower of Christ, contact me at email@example.com.