Starting Over (by Scott Strissel)
He sat there on the beach waiting in silence. After leaping out of the fishing boat into the cold waters of morning, he was cold. The warm fire on the sand felt inviting, but his heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t from physical exhaustion of jumping early morning surf to get to shore, but rather a spiritual exhaustion. Just days earlier he had sat by a similar fire warming himself when he had been verbally accosted by three individuals. Instead of being a Disciple, he acted almost as poorly as Judas. Peter had sat there by that fire and had been asked if he was a follower of Jesus, he had bailed on courage and instead leaned on self-preservation and fear. As he responded to three different people of his identity, the words that came out were complete and total lies; “I don’t know Jesus, I’m not one of his followers, you must have me mistaken for somebody else.”
Now, sitting on this beach by a fire made by the very person he had denied knowing, his heart is in his throat and he so desperately wants to rid his heart and mind of this deep river of guilt flowing through him. Peter feels like he has lost everything, he’s messed up so badly that he is certain he can no longer be called a disciple of Jesus. He can’t even look Jesus in the eyes anymore for he is afraid of what kind of emotion he will see staring back at him. Will it be sadness? Or anger? Perhaps disgust? So this awkward silence hovers over the fire but for the occasional hiss and pop as the flame consumes this burnt offering of wood. Afraid he won’t be able to articulate how sorry he is, Peter just sits there, a slave to his thoughts of chastisement and sorrow. ”I’m as bad if not worse than Judas, I deserve banishment from his presence, If only I can just say goodbye and let him how much I love Him…” His thoughts, however, are not permitted to continue in this derailment and self pity because Jesus after all knows what He is thinking and He begins to address Peter.
“Peter, do you love me?” The words come out of Jesus’ mouth and Peter thinks for a moment, “here it comes, I’m about to be dismissed from my brothers and from Jesus”. In response to Jesus’ question, Peter looks for the first time at Jesus and he doesn’t see the anger he had seen when Jesus over turned the tables in the temple. He is almost taken a back by this, surely He’s upset with me. For a moment words fail Peter, but looking into Jesus’ eyes he’s not sure if its the fire or a warmth of compassion but his heart skips a beat and for the first time in days an emotion slowly seeps into his mind that he thought was long gone – Hope. Peter isn’t sure if it’s this newly found emotion or the look in Jesus’ eyes (maybe was both) but his tongue is finally loosed like broken chains on a prisoner and with tears welling in his eyes he responds to Jesus “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Again he peers into the flame and back at Jesus as his heart pounds in his chest. But Jesus isn’t finished, he response to his declaration of love; ”Feed my lambs.”
Peters thinks about this for a moment, as hope gives way to another thought lost emotion joy. He wasn’t lost, he could be saved.
Again Jesus looks at Peter over the fire and says, “Simon, son of John do you love me?” Peter looks at Him and there’s a sparkle in his eyes as the other disciples look on…”Lord you know that I love you.” Peter responds, this time with a little more confidence in his voice, and though still unsure of himself, the hope and joy IS returning. ”Then take care of my sheep” Jesus says. While pondering what Jesus means by this, Peter reflects on some of the miracles he has seen the Son of God perform, he also thinks of His teachings surely Messiah doesn’t need my help. But again interrupted from his thoughts, Jesus asks Peter a third time, “Simon, son of John do you love me?” This time, the walls of Peter’s heart come crashing down. The tears that had been brimming in the corners of his eyes have broken the dam walls and are freely flowing down his cheeks. He is hurt by the fact that his Master has asked him a third time if he loved him, but at the same time the light goes on his mind and he can’t help but draw a correlation between his denial and this early morning love confession.
Peter slowly draws in his breath and looks through tear blurred eyes at the most important person in his life and says, “Lord you know everything, you know that I love you.” Peter makes a bold declaration with these words, perhaps some of the disciples miss it, but he looks Jesus in the eyes and with his heart and mind he opens himself completely to his Savior. What he says with his third declaration is more than love and affection, but he says to Jesus ‘look into my very soul and see for yourself how much you mean to me.’ Such vulnerability would never have taken place when Simon Peter had first met the Master, how far he has come. This walk to become like his Master has just reached a new level of intensity and Peter knows he will never be the same. He has given himself completely and utterly to walk in his Rabbi’s footsteps.
What started out that morning as a sinner’s confession and thoughts of condemnation has turned to reinvigorated passion and a deeper love of God. A once hardened, blue collar working man has fully surrendered to his Savior. What more does this very same God of Peter require of us today? He desires for us to declare our love and total surrender to Him despite our failures and faults, despite if we think we are worthy enough. This world is already full of condemnation, judgement and ill-formed perceptions of how we should live and be, but Jesus looks at us and still asks us, “Do you love me?” When He asks you, what will your response be? Maybe you might think that you are not good enough or worthy to be loved by God, but He loves you more than you could ever dream.
Maybe it’s time for us to start over.
Scott Strissel is a writer and pastor who grew up as a missionary kid in apartheid South Africa. His perspectives on life, love, spiritual relationship with Christ are unique and deeply rooted in the Word of God. He writes a blog (http://pastorstrissel.livejournal.com) and has written two books through his pen name (Eli Scott) which are available on ebooks – Bits and Pieces and From Alabaster Jars of Clay.