What to Do When You Let God Down
“Later, Jesus showed himself to his followers again—this time at Lake Galilee. This is how he showed himself: Some of the followers were together: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the two sons of Zebedee, and two other followers. Simon Peter said, “I am going out to fish.”
The others said, “We will go with you. “So they went out and got into the boat. They fished that night but caught nothing.
Early the next morning Jesus stood on the shore, but the followers did not know it was Jesus. Then he said to them, “Friends, did you catch any fish?”
They answered, “No.”
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some. “So they did, and they caught so many fish they could not pull the net back into the boat.
The follower whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Peter heard him say this, he wrapped his coat around himself (Peter had taken his clothes off) Then he jumped into the water. The other followers went to shore in the boat, dragging the net fill of fish. They were not very far from shore, only about a hundred yards. When the followers stepped out of the boat and onto the shore, they saw afire of hot coals. There were fish on the fire, and there was bread.
Then Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
Simon Peter went into the boat and pulled the net to the shore. It was full of big fish, one hundred fifty-three in all, but even though there were so many, the net did not tear.
The sun was in the water before Peter noticed it—a wavy circle of gold on the surface of the sea. A fisherman is usually the first to spot the sun rising over the crest of the hills. It means his night of labor is finally over.
But not for this fisherman. Though the light reflected on the lake, the darkness lingered in Peter’s heart. The wind chilled, but he didn’t feel it. His friends slept soundly, but he didn’t care. The nets at his feet were empty, the sea had been a miser, but Peter wasn’t thinking about that.
His thoughts were far from the Sea of Galilee. His mind was in Jerusalem, reliving an anguished night. As the boat rocked, his memories raced:
the clanking of the Roman guard
the flash of a sword and the duck of a head
a touch for Malchus
a rebuke for Peter
soldiers leading Jesus away
“What was I thinking?” Peter mumbled to himself as he stared at the bottom of the boat. Why did I run?
Peter had run; he had turned his back on his dearest friend and run. We don’t know where. Peter may not have known where. He found a hole, a hut, an abandoned shed—he found a place to hide and he hid.
He had bragged, “Everyone else may stumble . . . but I will not” (Man. 26:33). Yet he did. Peter did what he swore he wouldn’t do. He had tumbled face first into the pit of his own fears. And there he sat. All he could hear was his hollow promise. Everyone else may stumble but I will not. Everyone else . . . I will not. I will not. I will not. A war raged within the fisherman.
At that moment the instinct to survive collided with his allegiance to Christ, and for just a moment allegiance won. Peter stood and stepped out of hiding and followed the noise till he saw the torch-lit jury in the courtyard of Caiaphas.
He stopped near a fire and warmed his hands. The fire sparked with irony. The night had been cold. The fire was hot. But Peter was neither. He was lukewarm.
“Peter followed at a distance” Luke described (22:54 NIV).
He was loyal . . . from a distance. That night he went close enough to see, but not close enough to be seen. The problem was, Peter was seen. Other people near the fire recognized him. “You were with him,” they had challenged. “You were with the Nazarene.” Three times people said it, and each time Peter denied it. And each time Jesus heard it.
Please understand that the main character in this drama of denial is not Peter, but Jesus. Jesus, who knows the hearts of all people, knew the denial of his friend. Three times the salt of Peter’s betrayal stung the wounds of the Messiah.
How do I know Jesus knew? Because of what he did. “Then the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:6 1 NW). ‘When the rooster crowed, Jesus turned. His eyes searched for Peter and they found him. At that moment there were no soldiers, no accusers, no priests. At that predawn moment in Jerusalem there were only two people—Jesus and Peter.
Peter would never forget that look. Though Jesus’ face was already bloody and bruised, his eyes were firm and focused. They were a scalpel, laying bare Peter’s heart. Though the look had lasted only a moment, it lasted forever.
And now, days later on the Sea of Galilee, the look still seared. It wasn’t the resurrection that occupied his thoughts. It wasn’t the empty tomb. It wasn’t the defeat of death. It was the eyes of Jesus seeing his failure. Peter knew them well. He’d seen them before. In fact he’d seen them on this very lake.
This wasn’t the first night that Peter had spent on the Sea of Galilee. After all, he was a fisherman. He, like the others, worked at night. He knew the fish would feed near the surface during the cool of the night and return to the deep during the day. No, this wasn’t the first night Peter had spent on the Sea of Galilee. Nor was it the first night he had caught nothing.
There was that time years before . .
Most mornings Peter and his partners would sell their fish, repair their nets, and head home to rest with a bag of money and a feeling of satisfaction. This particular morning there was no money. There was no satisfaction. They had worked all through the night but had nothing to show for it except weary backs and worn nets.
And, what’s worse, everyone knew it. Every morning the shore would become a market as the villagers came to buy their fish, but that day there were no fish.
Jesus was there that morning, teaching. As the people pressed there was little room for him to stand, so he asked Peter if his boat could be a platform. Peter agreed, maybe thinking the boat might as well be put to some good use.
Peter listens as Jesus teaches. It’s good to hear something other than the slapping of waves. When Jesus finishes with the crowd, he turns to Peter. He has another request. He wants to go fishing. “Take the boat into deep water, and put your nets in the water to catch some fish” (Luke 5:4).
Peter groans. The last thing he wants to do is fish. The boat is clean. The nets are ready to dry. The sun is up and he is tired. It’s time to go home. Besides, everyone is watching. They’ve already seen him come back empty-handed once. And, what’s more, what does Jesus know about fishing? So Peter speaks, “Master, we worked hard all night trying to catch fish” (v. 5).
Mark the weariness in the words.
“We worked hard.” Scraping the hull. Carrying the nets. Pulling the oars. Throwing the nets high into the moonlit sky. Listening as they slap on the surface of the water.
“All night.” The sky had gone from burnt orange to midnight black to morning gold. The hours had passed as slowly as the fleets of clouds before the moon. The fishermen’s conversation had stilled and their shoulders ached.
‘While the village slept, the men worked. All . . . night . . . long.
“Trying to catch fish.” The night’s events had been rhythmic: net swung and tossed high till it spread itself against the sky. Then wait. Let it sink. Pull it in. Do it again. Throw. Pull. Throw. Pull. Throw. Pull. Every toss had been a prayer. But every drag of the empty net had come back unanswered. Even the net sighed as the men pulled it out and prepared to throw it again.
For twelve hours they’d fished. And now . . . now Jesus is wanting to fish some more? And not just off the shore, but in the deep?
Peter sees his friends shrug their shoulders. He looks at the people on the beach watching him. He doesn’t know what to do. Jesus may know a lot about a lot, but Peter knows about fishing. Peter knows when to work and when to quit. He knows there is a time to go on and a time to get out.
Common sense said it was time to get out. Logic said cut your losses and go home. Experience said pack it up and get some rest. But Jesus said, “We can try again if you want.”
The most difficult journey is back to the place where you failed.
Jesus knows that. That’s why he volunteers to go along. “The first outing was solo; this time I’ll be with you. Try it again, this time with me on board.”
And Peter reluctantly agrees to try again. “But you say to put the nets in the water, so I will” (Luke 5:5). It didn’t make any sense, but he’d been around this Nazarene enough to know that his presence made a difference. That wedding in Cana? That sick child of the royal ruler? It’s as if Jesus carried his own deck to the table.
So the oars dip again and the boat goes out. The anchor is set and the nets fly once more.
Peter watches as the net sinks, and he waits. He waits until the net spreads as far as his rope allows. The fishermen are quiet. Peter is quiet. Jesus is quiet. Suddenly the rope yanks. The net, heavy with fish, almost pulls Peter overboard.
“John, James!” he yells. “Come quick!”
Soon the boats are so full of fish that the port side rim dips close to the surface. Peter, ankle deep in flopping silver, turns to look at Jesus, only to find that Jesus is looking at him.
That’s when he realizes who Jesus is.
What an odd place to meet God—on a fishing boat on a small sea in a remote country! But such is the practice of the God who comes into our world. Such is the encounter experienced by those who are willing to try again . . .
Peter’s life was never again the same after that catch.
He had turned his back on the sea to follow the Messiah. He had left the boats thinking he’d never return. But now he’s back. Full circle. Same sea. Same boat. Maybe even the same spot.
But this isn’t the same Peter. Three years of living with the Messiah have changed him. He’s seen too much. Too many walking crippled, vacated graves, too many hours hearing his words. He’s not the same Peter. It’s the same Galilee, but a different fisherman.
Why did he return? What brought him back to Galilee after the crucifixion? Despair? Some think so—I don’t. Hope dies hard for a man who has known Jesus. I think that’s what Peter has. That’s what brought him back. Hope. A bizarre hope that on the sea where he knew him first, he would know him again.
So Peter is in the boat, on the lake. Once again he’s fished all night. Once again the sea has surrendered nothing.
His thoughts are interrupted by a shout from the shore. “Catch any fish?” Peter and John look up. Probably a villager. “No!” they yell. “Try the other side!” the voice yells back. John looks at Peter. ‘What harm? So out sails the net. Peter wraps the rope around his wrist to wait.
But there is no wait. The rope pulls taut and the net catches. Peter sets his weight against the side of the boat and begins to bring in the net; reaching down, pulling up, reaching down, pulling up. He’s so intense with the task, he misses the message.
John doesn’t. The moment is déjà vu. This has happened before. The long night. The empty net. The call to cast again. Fish flapping on the floor of the boat. Wait a minute. He lifts his eyes to the man on the shore. “It’s him,” he whispers.
Then louder, “It’s Jesus.”
Then shouting, “It’s the Lord, Peter. It’s the Lord!”
Peter turns and looks. Jesus has come. Not just Jesus the teacher, but Jesus the death-defeater, Jesus the king . . .Jesus the victor over darkness. Jesus the God of heaven and earth is on the shore . . . and he’s building a fire.
Peter plunges into the water, swims to the shore, and stumbles out wet and shivering and stands in front of the friend he betrayed. Jesus has prepared a bed of coals. Both are aware of the last time Peter had stood near a fire. Peter had failed God, but God had come to him.
For one of the few times in his life, Peter is silent. What words would suffice? The moment is too holy for words. God is offering breakfast to the friend who betrayed him. And Peter is once again finding grace at Galilee.
What do you say at a moment like this?
What do you say at a moment such as this?
It’s just you and God. You and God both know what you did. And neither one of you is proud of it. What do you do?
You might consider doing what Peter did. Stand in God’s presence. Stand in his sight. Stand still and wait. Sometimes that’s all a soul can do. Too repentant to speak, but too hopeful to leave—we just stand.
He has come back.
He invites you to try again. This time, with him.
Full title: Galilean Grace: When You Let God Down.
www.maxlucado.com. Used by permission.