When you really meet Jesus for the first time, your life will never be the same again.
I trained for the ministry in undergrad. I earned my degree in Bible and at twenty-two I launched out into the world with too many fears and too little faith. I then proceeded for several years to run away from the call to ministry. I worked in restaurant management and then in the insurance industry. Mainly I worked at getting a paycheck and distracting myself from the fear and inadequacy I felt about he prospect of working for a church. Then, I could fight it no more. At the insistence of my good wife, we moved off to Memphis for graduate school and I have been in educational ministry ever since.
I enjoyed the insurance job a great deal (the restaurant job, not so much) and could have stayed in that job for many years and many promotions, but I had a nagging sense that all I was doing was making a rich company richer. My life was missing purpose. I was made for something different. I am not being dramatic when I say that there is rarely a day in my ministry career now when I would say there is no purpose to what I do; I see the point of my work by the hour practically (though not the results, often). Still, there are days when I am tired from the pace and never-ending nature of teaching (not the kids, they are great!) that I joke with my wife that I ought to quit and go back to insurance. Of course I never would, by choice. Never. I don’t think I could ever do that job again with any degree of satisfaction.
Peter had left fishing behind three years before. Had it been a lucrative job? Maybe, maybe not. But it had been a job and it put supper on the table, or breakfast as this story would have it. Then he matched off after this rabbi and his life had never been the same since. But he blew it. He didn’t just deny Jesus once, but three times. How could he keep following Jesus? How could Jesus accept him? So he went back to fishing:
Simon Peter spoke up. “I’m going fishing,” he said. (21:3a)
Maybe we read this and think Peter was going off to wet a line like some retired man passing some time. But fishing was not a pass-time with Peter, it was a job. Peter was saying, I am going back to what I did before. I am a failure as a disciple, so back to the boat and nets. What happens next is so interesting:
So they went off and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. (21:3b)
Peter can’t do what he did before. It doesn’t work. There is no going back. He has met Jesus and his life will never be the same. His ability to catch fish is frustrated, because he has a new purpose in life: to be a fisher of men.
Only when Jesus comes along and guides Peter’s hands again does he find success. A night without a single fish turns into the catch of the year, only because Jesus blessed their work. Do you really think that there was a miraculous number of fish just on the other side of the boat and they never tried that? The point, though, is not about fish. Peter will only find success when he is working for Jesus again.
Then three times Jesus reinstates Peter to his new ministry:
“Well, then,” he said, “feed my lambs.” (21:15)
“Well, then,” he said, “look after my sheep.” (21:16)
“Well, then,” said Jesus, feed my sheep.” (21:17)
Peter can’t go back to catching fish; he has a job to do feeding the sheep of Christ’s church. And the rest is history. Peter’s life was never the same.
John has taken us from the beginning of Jesus’ life — actually before his birth, to the point when he created the world — to the death and resurrection of our Savior and now to Jesus as he prepares to leave the world in the hands of people like Peter. What will they do now? History tells us that all of them went on to live radically altered lives of service and sacrifice. Eleven of the twelve apostles will die a martyr’s death and our author John will die in exile. John leaves the reader with the same question Peter had to answer: what do I do now? Now that you see who Jesus really is, what will you do now? There is no turning back. You will never be the same again.