(Get Out of the Boat, Part 3)
(Note: Today is a very special day for me. It was 40 years ago today that the Lord made it clear to a young high school sophomore’s heart that He had a call and gifts for vocational service for me. All I had asked for is clarity, and on this night He did that in no uncertain terms. There are many things I wish I could have done differently in the last 40 years. But if I had one thing I could say – one lesson learned that surpasses all others during this time – what follows is a pretty good expression of it. Hope you enjoy…)
How long are you going to wear that?
How long are you going to treat that uniform as if it’s a tattoo?
How long are you going to assume that past results are a guarantee of future disappointment?
How long are you going to treat failure as if it is a person – namely you – and not an event?
How long will you believe that people who love Jesus never blow it? And people who blow it could never love Jesus again?
How long – how long – will you assume that forgiveness couldn’t possibly mean restoration?
Maybe you’re the one who needs to get out of the boat.
Jesus is Alive! Now What?
Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.
Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night (John 21:1-3).
Get this scene: The disciples have experienced the trauma of the crucifixion of Jesus and the wonder and glory of His resurrection. What now? What’s the next step?
Peter did what most every other believer does the day after Easter – he went back to work. What else was he supposed to do? Sure, he had been following Jesus for a few years. Sure he had exhibited leadership among The Twelve. Of course, he had healed the sick and cast out demons in Jesus’ name. And yes, he had even met the Risen Christ.
Forgiveness was not an issue, and Peter knew it.
But what to do now?
Go back to the boat, of course. After all, that’s what Peter was doing before He met Jesus. And even though he was clearly forgiven, wasn’t it obvious that leading out in Jesus’ plan would now be somebody else’s job? Somebody who had never publicly denied Him? Somebody who wasn’t a colossal disappointment? Someone who had never used curse words to distance himself from Jesus?
It’s really OK. Boats and fishing are honorable ways to provide for a family. It may not have been “Plan A,” but Peter could still love Jesus from the boat. Anyway, some of his disciple friends were willing to join him, so it wasn’t all a loss.
At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.
Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.
Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.
“Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.
“Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead (John 17:4-14).
Okay, this is creepy-familiar. A futile night. A friendly daytime voice making suggestions from the shore. A suggestion that the men toss their nets off the other side of the boat.
Really? Gee, we’d never thought of that.
But to their credit, they had learned not to ignore suggestions from the shore when nothing else was working. As my brother-in-law Mark recently pointed out to me, “The distance from failure to success was 7.5 feet – the width of the boat… The story also reminds me that many times we all stop striving just when we are about to succeed!”
Forgiven, but Presumed Lost
Just as he did the first time he left the boat, Peter experiences another miraculous haul of fish. And he realizes it’s Jesus… the same Jesus he has denied three times, now risen from the dead.
He has already met the risen Christ, so he knows forgiveness is not an issue. He boldly leaves his friends to haul in the fish (I’m sure they loved him for that) and approaches Jesus – just as anybody who has tasted grace would.
Calling? Fishing for men? That’s another issue.
Following the catered breakfast, our fisher-friend is introduced to one of the most famous job interviews in history. The Phillips translation captures the essence of the conversation from Greek.
When they had finished breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others?” “Yes, Lord,” he replied, “you know that I am your friend.”
“Then feed my lambs,” returned Jesus. Then he said for the second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” returned Peter. “You know that I am your friend.”
“Then care for my sheep,” replied Jesus. Then for the third time, Jesus spoke to him and said, “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” Peter was deeply hurt because Jesus’ third question to him was “Are you my friend?”, and he said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I am your friend!”
“Then feed my sheep,” Jesus said to him (John 21:15-18, Phillips).
It’s vital to understand the magnitude of this. Jesus gives Peter two chances to declare his God-level love, and with all the integrity Peter can muster, he says, “Lord, I’m your bro’.” And it broke his heart when Jesus dropped to his level the third time.
But I don’t see Jesus breaking a sweat or batting an eye. Three times He repeats the call: “Peter, I’m trusting you to be My under-shepherd.”
No probation. No told-you-so. No thanks-for-trying-let’s-give-somebody-else-a-chance-now. If the best thing that the resurrection of Christ could do was leave His unquestioned leader as a second-rate citizen of the kingdom, that doesn’t say much about the power or grace of God.
What it Means to Get Out of the Boat
The issue Peter faced is the one we all face sooner or later. Will you keep moving toward Jesus when you have to crawl over your own failures to get there?
What Peter found waiting for him after this epic failure – fish for breakfast and a renewed commission – is the same kind of thing that awaits any believer who doesn’t accept failure as the final word.
What does it mean to get out of the boat? It means even in the wake of your colossal screw-ups, you can run to Jesus, not away from Him.
It means that you can still see your grace gifts as truly grace gifts – not something you can earn or lose through performance.
It means that for as long as you run backwards from your calling, you have some unfinished business with the mercy of God.
It means you can trust Jesus in the places where you are most ashamed – even to the point that you accept a call to service and leadership.
Looking back on his experience with Jesus and the boat, it’s plain to see…
Peter the expert would have stayed in the boat.
Peter the terrified would have stayed in the boat.
Peter the failure would have stayed in the boat.
But Peter was courageous enough to get out of the boat – but only for one reason – to move toward Jesus. And in moving toward Jesus, he was moving away from his own pride, his comfort, and his shame.
You can do the same. Whatever the boat looks like to you, don’t you think it’s time for a different direction?
Get out of the boat!
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