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Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 3: Has Jesus Changed His Mind?

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. John 21:6-7 (NIV)

To continue the conversation, Jesus had gone to the cross and Peter had gone into a death spiral. He had disowned Jesus just as he had been told he would. Jesus had spotted him doing this. The opportunity to undo what he had done was past.

So what was the first item on Jesus’ ‘to do’ list after his unexpected resurrection? …To restore Peter. Jesus told the women who saw him post-resurrection to go tell Peter … and the others. He appeared to Peter first of the Twelve, according to Paul’s report in 1 Corinthians 15:5—possibly the earliest record of this event.

How did Peter take being singled out by Jesus? Astonishingly, he returned to his fishing business. In fact, he evidently recruited the bulk of the disciples to join him. John 21 tells the story, but to capture its message, you have to remember that Jesus was a rabbi. He was called this by his disciples and even by those who opposed him.

The rabbinical culture of that day expected the recognized rabbi to raise up more rabbis who would share his view of the law and teach it in the synagogues. Becoming a rabbi required an invitation by a rabbi into apprenticeship with a “Come, follow me.” Jesus invited numerous individuals to follow him, but he chose the Twelve specifically for special training.

What many may not understand about rabbinical culture is that if the apprentice washed out, failed to meet the expected standards, then the Rabbi told him to go home, do the family business and pray that God would give him sons who would grow up to be rabbis.

What is Peter doing? He has gone back to the family business. Why? Peter, in the aftermath of his failure, must have reasoned that Jesus had no future use for him as any kind of a spiritual leader. What he had done was leadership failure on a grand scale. Going back into the fishing business was his only option. He was, after all by his own admission, a wicked man.

I love this story because what happens next is a repeat of Luke 5. The intrepid fishermen had caught no fish. The guy on the shore suggests they cast the nets out on the other side. A second catch of a lifetime threatens to break their net. Jesus is finally recognized.

What does Jesus mean by repeating this scenario? If you draw the lines between his first exchange with Peter and this one, the conclusion you come to is that Jesus has not changed his mind about what he intended to do with Peter. He is still going to make him a fisher of men. Peter must have realized this as the fish filled the nets. Peter immediately swims to shore to be with Jesus. Could anything that Jesus did have more meaning to him that this repeated miracle?

Do not minimize the mess Peter has gotten himself into. Do not allow yourself to rationalize his sin away by the idea that Peter was somehow more important to Jesus than others who have blown it at this level. Or that Jesus gets to forgive what we cannot. If this story reveals anything to us, it shows why restoration matters to Jesus. And what happens when the person who deserves no mercy is given it instead.

Peter, like so many who have made up the church since Jesus went to sit down at the Father’s right hand, was a bruised reed. Bruised by his own hand. In this respect, he reminds me of myself—and of others on my list, like Perry Noble.

Perry is someone who has ‘fallen from the heights.’ Pastor of a multi-campus church, beautiful family, loved and listened to by the tens of thousands, hipster and spiritual entrepreneur whose church was the second fastest growing in the U.S. Yet he found that alcohol and anger can rob you of all you have. Fired by leaders he raised up. Divorced by a wife who had tried to stand by him in his worst days.

And then several years later he’s seeking to come back. Certain friends have encouraged him, but largely it is said of him that he is unfit to preach and doesn’t meet the biblical qualifications to be a pastor. He is a wicked man.

Recently he has been in the news because he filed the paperwork and even held an Easter celebration for a new start-up called Second Chance Church. He has been building a core group by preaching online.

Should he? Is he qualified? Is he ready? Is he safe? These are all good questions. But one question with which we need to wrestle is: Has Jesus changed his mind? If not, what do we do with our modern day Peters?


-Steve Smith