Day 25, Chapter 25: The Look
One of the things I like about the Bible is that God allows its heroes of faith to be real, choosing not to hide their humanness from the rest of us all-too-human earthlings. Pedestals are great for non-human displays, but they are far too unstable to support the average human. There are no worries concerning this when it comes to the scriptures. The Bible puts the average reality TV show to shame. Affairs, murders, betrayals, failures - all the zits are there.
Simon Peter is one of those real-life characters. I love his realness. A down-to-earth fisherman, grinding out a living in the small town of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, Peter was probably a tough, callous, hard-nosed individual. This outspoken disciple sometimes wore his emotions on his sleeve - he once rebuked Jesus (Matthew 16:22) and later at the Lord's arrest, cut off the ear of the high priest's servant (John 18:10). And, like many good fishermen, Peter was known to string out a few expletives, when necessary (Matthew 26:74).
Like any good carpenter with a raw piece of wood, Jesus could see past the knots and blemishes in Peter, to the potential within. I like this guy, He must have thought. A little rough around the edges, but great potential. He may have even mused, somewhat pensively as His prophetic gift kicked in, He is so loyal, in fact, that one day he'll be willing to die for me (see John 13:36; 21:18). "Follow me!" He shouted to Peter and his brother Andrew one fateful day. The rest, as they say, is history.
One of Peter's all-too-human moments came at the Last Supper, the night before Christ's crucifixion. Like many of us, he was a bit overconfident concerning his commitment to the Master. When Jesus spoke of his arrest and the disciples' scattering, Peter spoke up and bragged, "I'll never run. I'm ready to go to prison and die for you" (Luke 22:33, paraphrased).
I'm sure Peter believed his level of commitment was this great. Christ, however, knew otherwise and gave Peter the now famous "before the cock crows, you'll deny me three times" prophecy (v. 34). Evidently the Lord wasn't the only one seeing the potential in Peter. Satan wanted him out of the picture. "Simon, Simon," Jesus told Peter. “Behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (vv. 31-32).
Rather than being offended or "put out" with Peter due to his impending betrayal, Christ was compassionate toward him. "I have prayed for you," the Lord said, "and because of that you'll make it through this ordeal."
The Lord knows that in the course of life all of us will fail Him. If He demanded perfection, where would any of us be? Jesus was aware of Peter's weaknesses, but He also knew that deep in him was a faithful heart, and He was determined to mine the gold. He is committed to your development and success, as well. He won't give up on you.
The Lord's prediction concerning Peter came true later that night. He did, indeed, deny Christ three times. I've always believed Peter's denial was born more of confusion than fear. Confusion disorients and leads to fear, which in turn produces loss of courage and paralysis. Peter was experiencing all of the above. Initially, he was ready to fight for Jesus; a few hours earlier when the Lord was arrested, he had drawn a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's slave. He was not a coward. But Jesus had chosen not to resist arrest and now things were spiraling out of control.
Having followed Christ to His trial, he was watching the proceedings from a distance when three times he was accused of being one of His disciples. By the time the third accusation came, things were in chaos - Christ was being slapped around, beaten, and spat upon, and a dangerous mob-like atmosphere was forming.
In what must have been a confused state of panic, Peter buckled under the pressure. "I don't know Him!" He shouted, peppering his denial with bad language. Scripture says, "He began to curse and swear" (Matthew 26:74). Obviously it was more than one expletive.
I find what happened next very moving. Jesus was close enough to hear him, and upon doing so, "turned and looked at Peter" (Luke 22:61). We're left to guess what kind of look He gave Peter, but it certainly wasn't one of shock or surprise; after all, He predicted the denial. Another possibility would be an angry, condemning, I-can't-believe-you-just-did-that look. Knowing Christ as I do, I can't believe this was the look He gave Peter, either.
Though obviously it cannot be proven, I'm reasonably confident the look Jesus gave his troubled, confused and dedicated fishermen - who had left everything to follow Him - was one of deep compassion and reassurance: "Don't worry, Peter, I understand. And I still believe in you. Remember, I saw this coming and prayed for you. Everything is going to be all right."
If I'm correct, to think that Christ had the presence of mind at this point to be concerned about someone else's well-being is amazing. One would think His response, if not surprise or anger, would have at least been something like, "I'm a little busy right now redeeming the world, Peter, and things are getting a little intense. Sorry, but you are on your own." But Jesus was no ordinary man. Even while on the cross, one moment He was comforting a thief, the next making sure His mother was going to be taken care of. In keeping with His character and the nature of His earlier comments, I believe Christ gave Peter a loving and reassuring look. I also believe that with one glance He saved Peter's destiny.
Seeing Christ's look, Peter was undone. One can only imagine the flood of emotion he was experiencing. In Gethsemane, he had just seen Christ literally bleed through the pores of His skin, a condition called hematidrosis. Then came the arrest and beatings - Christ's face and clothing must have been covered in blood and spittle. And now this. Overcome with emotion, Peter fled the trial and "wept bitterly" (Luke 22:62).
The emotional roller coaster continued with the cross, three days of mourning, followed by the resurrection. As thrilled as the disciples were to see Jesus alive, however, things were still not the same. He kept vanishing and reappearing, only to leave again. He was gone most of the time. Finally, Peter had had enough. All of this was way above his pay grade. We are not sure of his exact train of thought, but I'm guessing it was similar to this: I'm no Rabbi or theologian; and I'm not a prophet, with the ability to understand mysteries and see into the future. I don't understand all of this theology, and certainly not the events of the last few days. Nothing has worked out the way I expected; I have no idea where Jesus is. I'm going back to the only thing I really understand right now. I'm returning to my previous job. "I am going fishing," he said to several of the other disciples (John 21:3).
Also confused and unable to connect the dots, they simply said, "We're going with you."
I suppose it's possible these guys were just needing some rest and rehabilitation, but I don't think so. I believe they were finished. Having gone home to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, it doesn't take much imagination to think they were likely sitting around asking one another, "What do we do now? How do we make a living, pay the bills?" Finally, one of them stated the obvious, "Well, we still have the boat."
"Yep," answered Peter, "and I'm goin' fishin'."
I imagine the Lord was sympathetic to their plight. He caused it, after all, and He loved them. He knew if they could just hang on until Pentecost they would make it. So He told Dad, Holy Spirit, and Gabriel He was going to make another earthly appearance. "The guys could use another encouraging word, especially Peter. I'm going to go cook them breakfast, visit with them awhile, and help them pay some bills." And that's exactly what He did.
After they had finished a fruitless night of fishing, Jesus was waiting on the beach at daybreak. When they were about a hundred yards from shore, He shouted, "Did you catch any fish?" The Lord knew they hadn't caught any; He probably caused their fruitless night so He could get their attention with what He was about to do!
"No," they responded, still unable to recognize Him. "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch" (John 21:6).
Bells must have started ringing, reminding them of an earlier encounter with Him, when he helped them reap a great catch and subsequently invited them to follow Him (Luke 5:1-11). With the similarities, they must have wondered, but... No way. It couldn't be Him.
They decided to give His plan a try and, sure enough, caught more fish than they could drag into the boat. John, now certain, said, "It is the Lord" (v. 7). And Peter - you just have to love this guy - was so excited he decided to jump in and swim ashore. Why not wait until the boat could be rowed the hundred yards to shore? Not Peter! Surely you can see his great love for Jesus. He was so flustered that rather than take some of his clothing off to make the swim easier, he put his coat on and dove into the water. Impetuous? Perhaps. But also passionate.
Jesus might have smiled. He already had a fire going and food cooking. "Come and have breakfast," He invited them. It must have brought back great memories to all of them. We don't know everything they talked about, but the pleasure of His company must have been wonderfully reassuring.
Eventually, knowing Peter was probably still grieving over his earlier denial of Him, Jesus began addressing the situation. Three times He asked Peter if he loved Him, and each time Peter responded affirmatively. Some theologians believe Jesus asked the question three times in order to offset Peter's three denials. Perhaps, but the first time He asked Peter the question, Jesus added the question, "Do you love Me MORE THAN THESE" (v. 15, emphasis mine). Was He referring to the other disciples, or was He referencing the fish? I believe Jesus was referring to the fish, which represented Peter's formal livelihood and career. Could this be why He chose to meet them at the same location where their original calling had occurred, and why He worked the exact same miracle? If that wasn't enough, He then gave Peter the same command - twice - as He had on that first occasion. "Follow me!" He said to him (v. 19).
When Peter tried to deflect the attention from himself to John, Jesus would have none of it. "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (v. 22). Notice the exclamation points. These are, indeed, commands in the Greek tense they were written in. Jesus was saying to this uncertain fisherman: "Your calling hasn't changed, Peter. I still need you, and it will be to catch men, not fish. Your failure didn't disqualify you; and the fact that I'm not around at the present time hasn't changed the plan. Hang in there - everything will make sense in a few more days."
And it did.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter was born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Christ who used to walk beside him now lived in him. Peter preached that day, and three thousand people were born again! A few days later he healed a lame man known by the entire city of Jerusalem, and five thousand more people were saved! He had made it.
The crusty, foul mouth, impetuous, confused denier had survived his trauma and made it through the most confusing and consequential season in world history. He came into the new era of redeemed humankind with strength and purpose. You'll make it, too. If and when you fail Him - and most of us will - look for the look. It'll be there. Understand the temporariness of setbacks. When you're grieving and confused, He wants to take you to breakfast, not expel you from the family.
Pray with me:
Father, we are so grateful You look past our external deficiencies and search deep within, mining for the gold that's within our hearts. You were fully aware of Peter's weaknesses. Yet, You focused on the faithfulness Your love and compassion were able to see in him.
Thank You, Lord, for Your commitment to our development and success. You never give up on us! Even when we are full of confusion, fear, and failure-induced shame, You lovingly whisper, "Look up, child," and with one glance of Your eyes, comfort, confidence, and new strength arise within us.
Today we choose to sit face-to-face and stare back into Your intense gaze. Identity, destiny, and everything we need is found in those fiery eyes burning with passion for us. We will follow You, Jesus, and look for the look that is everything. Amen.
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
Dutch Sheets, The Pleasure of His Company (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), pp 207-216.
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