Helping Others to Greatness

by Rev. Randy Brown

I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Simon Peter. He’s my favorite follower of Christ. He’s not always the most loyal, but I think he was always the most human. We have a lot to talk about with him. I think first of all he was a Southerner. Only Southerners have double names like Billy Bob and John Boy, so with Simon Peter, I think he was a Southerner. He wasn’t the smartest of all the disciples, but he was the most human. Mike read out of John 21. There’s a parallel story out of Luke 5 that tells a parallel story, but really I think there are 2 different stories. This is not a retelling of the same story, and you’ll see why in a few moments.

It was a day that the boat ramps were full of people. There was standing room only getting to the dock. The piers and the harbors were full of people, kind of like you going to the farmers market early on Saturday morning. You want to get there first to get the pick of all the produce. Well, they wanted to get there first to get the pick of all the fresh fish that have been caught overnight, but the sea had been stingy the night before, and at least for Peter and his crew, they caught nothing. It’s early in the morning and Jesus happens to go walking by. He’s got a sermon in his pocket and soon a crowd gathers. Peter’s coming in from a long night and all he’s got to show for his efforts was a sore back, empty nets, a net that needed cleaning, and he hunches over these nets and he begins to pull the seaweed off of the nets, out of the rope.

Peter had followed Him all around the Sea of Galilee. He had heard most of the sermons and he soaked up every word that Jesus was going to speak like a sponge. Jesus was speaking to the crowd, so for Peter to listen to him was kind of a mindless activity. He could listen and pull seaweed from the net at the same time, and as he’s listening, the crowd gathers. Some places along the shoreline near Capernaum, there’s not much room for people to stand, and so Jesus got into the boat and they moved Him out just a little from the shore, they dropped an anchor so He wouldn’t drift off, and He begins to preach His sermon, and the crowd’s gathering. They run out of room. Jesus is in the boat and Peter is listening and cleaning nets. When he gets through, Peter climbs in the boat, he’s tired, he wants to rest just for a moment.

Soon the sermon is over. Jesus was finished with the sermon, he’s finished with the crowd, he’s finished with the boat, but he’s not finished with Peter. Jesus now becomes the captain of the ship. He tells Peter, “Move the boat out a little ways from the shore, and when you get out there, I’m going to tell you where to stop,” and he says, “A little bit more, a little bit more, over to the right. Drop your anchor, cast your nets.” Now, remember, Peter had been up all night. He was tired. It was past closing time. He was ready to go home. Those of you who’ve worked in grocery stores and clothing stores and drug stores, you know what it’s like. You’ve been there a full day and somebody comes in right at the last minute to get the biggest order of the day. Can I get a witness? Okay, I thought so.

He’s disgusted with Jesus. He says, “I could be home eating breakfast by now. It’s time for my nap so I can get ready to go again tonight, to fish.” Jesus did not only detain him with a sermon, but now he detained him because he told him to throw the nets again. Aggravated, but his manners prevailed. I can just imagine him thinking or saying to Jesus, “Now, no offense, Jesus, but leave the fishing to me. I’ll leave the preaching to you, you leave the fishing to me. Let’s go home,” and Jesus said, “Throw your nets over there,” so he rolled out in the deep. Peter feeling foolish, but he followed what Jesus told him to do, and if his coworkers complained, he probably just said, “Let’s just let the preacher get it out of his system and we’ll be okay. I’ll pay you the overtime.”

Not much conversation. Peter doesn’t look at Jesus. He gazes into the sea and they throw the net and Peter said, “I didn’t think it’d be any different,” but all of a sudden, he’s got his hands on the net and he begins to feel the jerking and the pulling of fish as they fill up the net and he sees them slapping in the water and in the sunshine and he sees a crane and other birds flying over the water as they swoop down and catch their breakfast from his catch, and the hands begin to jump and the ropes begin to strain and stretch and Peter breaks his silence.

He says, “James, John, come here quick, we’ve got a big catch this time. Y’all help us get it into the boat,” and so they got the net just ready to pull up in the boat. He said, “All right, we’re going to lift on 3. 1, 2, 3.” Over, into the boat. Peter is kind of winded and he realizes this is no mere man. This is the Messiah. His dominion reaches even into the depths of the sea. John had long ago told us that John wasn’t worthy to carry the sandals of Jesus and Peter tells us now he’s not worthy even to be in the same boat with him, and he said to him, “Depart from me, Jesus, for I am a sinful man.”

Every ear is listening. Jesus could’ve easily said, “I know you’re a sinful man and you don’t deserve to be in the boat with me. Just go on your way,” but that’s not what he said. He said, “Peter, your career as a fisherman is over, done, through, finished, kaput. I want you to fish for people. I’m going to give you a new business,” and he hides and he leaves his business. He lives his steady income, he leaves the assets, he leaves the future that’s promising, and he leaves the biggest catch ever in the sea of Galilee. He gives up his boat, his nets, his fish, but he gains Jesus. He had a good thing going, but God had something better for him. He called him away from the shallows and the shores where there was no risk and no reward, and he called him to a deeper commitment. “Follow me and I will teach you how to fish for men.”

We know what happens in that next 3 and a half years. We know that Jesus goes and heals Peter’s mother in law. We know that sometimes Peter gets it wrong because he drew the sword and he whacked off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus had to clean up that mess. We know all those things, all those human things that he did. We know that many times his humanness came out. We know that many times he missed his opportunities and his failures, but haven’t we? What do you do with your failures? I want you to know that whatever else you think about failure, failure is not a person. Hear me? It may be an event, but it’s not a person.

How do you handle it when you fail? Do you cry ‘til you’re numb? Do you run yourself down and call yourself all kinds of names ‘til you can’t think of anything else to call yourself? Peter experienced failure and then the moment it was over, he experienced a resurgence. The revolution was over, Peter had denied Jesus. Peter said, “I’ll never leave you, I’ll never forsake you. I’m more loyal than anybody here. I’m loyal more than all the rest of these,” and then a little girl said, “Weren’t you with him?” “No, no, no, no, that wasn’t me,” and the rooster crowed, and he knew.

When things get tough and you need to get away, and you deal with failure. You deal with disappointment. What do you do? Peter went fishing. Mike read it, so, men, when it gets tough and you need an outlet, according to the Bible, you can go fishing, okay? It’s in the book. He went fishing, and they went with him. It was a mindless activity but it was something he knew very well, but I’m not sure how much he fished, because every time he threw out a net he probably brought in a memory. Every time he threw out the net, he thought about the time that the storm came up, or about the time he opened his mouth when he shouldn’t have and he walked on water. Every time. Every time there was a casting, there was a memory, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

Suddenly he’s there, and he remembers all that has happened, and about a hundred yards off from where they were, on the shore, was somebody fixing an early breakfast. He didn’t know it, but it was Jesus, and Jesus said, “Hey, you got any fish?” “No.” He’d been through that before. “Throw it out on the right side,” and Peter’s thinking, “I’ve read this story before,” so he threw it out on the right side. Peter began to suspect something, wondered if he was dreaming. “Is this really happening?” Jesus knew that this was a precious place to Peter, and so he staged it 3 and a half years later, much like it was before. From empty nets to full nets.

You see, Peter wasn’t there to get a reprieve, Jesus went there to restore him. How do you handle failure? What do you want when it’s been a tough time? You want a friend. You want a friend who understands, and Peter didn’t know it but his friend was there. He gets out of the boat, we’re told about a hundred yards away, and the saltiness of the tears and the saltiness of the water begin to mix for Peter. They all gathered around the fire and the next scene doesn’t tell us much about Peter but it tells us a whole lot about Jesus, because after they had eaten, Jesus went to Peter and said, “Peter, come here, we need to talk. Let’s go over here where we can have a private conversation.”

I don’t know what you would’ve told Peter. I’m not sure what I would have said to him. We’d probably said, “Some friend you are. You disappointed me again, Peter. You’re all talk. You let me down, you coward. I was wrong about you. Some rock you turned out to be.” None of that. He said, “Peter, I’ve got a question for you. Do you love me?” It’s all he wanted to know. “Do you love me?” He gave him an opportunity to confess, and Peter gets it and it burns in his inner being. Jesus was not there to inflict pain, He was there to relieve pain. Jesus had seen the bitterness in Peter’s tears on the night that the rooster crowed and he had seen repentance, and now forgiveness was flowing from his eyes.

“Do you love me more than these?” You say it’s wrong to put love on a competitive basis but Jesus had to do that because if he was going to be the captain of the church militant, he had to love Him more. He had to love Him more than anybody else there, and more than anything else there, he had to love Him. Jesus said, “Do you love me more than these,” because it wasn’t going to be long before he preached before the establishment, and he’d called them into accountability, and 3,000 were saved and added to the church. He had to love Him more.

Notice He didn’t say, “Do you love sheep?” Because that would have been sentimental. Notice He didn’t say, “Do you love to feed the sheep?” Because that would have been professional. He said, “Do you love me?” And that’s spiritual. You see, He goes back to where it all started, and He goes back to relive that call that God had called him to 3 and a half years earlier. Jesus brought back the past not to rebuke him but to restore him. He didn’t want this hanging around his neck for the rest of his life. What about you? How do you deal with failure? I would suggest to you that, not in a literal sense, but you can do that if you want to, but in a spiritual sense, we need to go fishing.

We need to go back to when we felt closest to God and we need to relive that experience, and we need hear Him say to us again, “Follow me,” because when He said “follow me,” even after all that Peter had done, what He’s saying to Peter was, “You’re still my man. I still believe in you. I still want you. I can still use you.” That’s what it means. Wherever it is that is your quiet place, is your special place, is your holy place, if you’ve seen the movie, it may be your war room. Go back there and start over. There’s nothing wrong with starting over. We need to do it every day, because every day is a new and fresh opportunity.

He took his failure and turned it into his future, and that’s what he wants to do for all of us. He’ll take our failure and turn it into a future, because He says, “Follow me,” from failure to future.

That’s what the book says, and the book never lies.

Would you pray with me? Dear God, thank you that grace tells us it’s not 1 strike and we’re out, but grace tells us we can get up and dust our self off and you’ll give us another chance. Wow. No matter how many times we’ve started before, we can start again. Thank you, Lord. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.