Explore: Follow with Renewed Purpose

• The Explore the Bible lesson for Feb. 23 focuses on John 21:3-7, 15-17, 20-23.

John 21 immediately calls to mind Christ’s restoration of Peter’s relationship and his ministry. However, if we look at this chapter from a different perspective, we also can see Peter as a model of how true repentance should take place. Peter went through four steps in his restoration process.

Go to God

At the beginning of this section of Scripture, we see Jesus on the shore calling out to the disciples. As usual, Peter reacts impulsively. It is not a bad reaction, however—he jumped out of the boat and moved toward Christ as fast as he could. At this point, Peter already had seen Jesus a couple of times since his resurrection, but there was no closure in his heart over his denial of Jesus.

As soon as the disciples realized it was Jesus on shore, Peter did not hesitate. Because we know his heart still was broken over his own failure, we know he certainly could have chosen to stay in the boat and avoid Jesus. Peter’s jumping out of the boat and racing toward Christ reminds us of how he used to react to seeing Jesus. When we have sinned and failed in our relationship with God, do we feel like running to God or avoiding him?

Compare Peter’s reaction to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Even though Peter felt like a failure, he still wanted to be near Christ. When Adam and Eve failed, they chose to hide from God because they were afraid. When we are struggling with guilt, running to God may be the furthest thing from our minds, but it clearly is the best thing for us.


Something else happens that seldom is talked about. Jesus told the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat; they did and had great difficulty bringing in all the fish they caught. Once they realized Jesus was on shore, they all started moving in that direction. As Peter approached Jesus, Christ called out to the disciples to bring some fish to him, so he could make breakfast. Peter turned around and helped bring the fish in to the shore. That may not seem like a big deal, but it showed Peter now was willing to listen to Jesus and obey his words.

Paul was giving a summary of his ministry in Acts 26, and he included this part of his message in verse 20: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” In the same way, we cannot just say we are sorry and will turn from our sin. True repentance has to be demonstrated. Peter could have come on to the shore and began talking to Jesus. He could have said the other disciples should handle the fish because he needed to meet with Christ. Instead, Peter listened to Jesus’ command and in simple obedience, did exactly what he said.

If you and I find we are off track in our relationship with God, “proving our repentance” through good works is an important step.

Conversation with Christ

If we are going to truly repent, at some point a genuine conversation with Christ is going to be necessary. We can run to God and even begin to demonstrate true repentance by our actions, but eventually the difficult task of confessing our sins to our Savior is going to have to happen. Interestingly, in this week’s lesson, Peter never actually confesses his sin, but both he and Jesus knew what this conversation was about.

Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and three times Peter answered in the affirmative. Peter was upset Jesus kept asking him the same question. It was not that Jesus did not believe Peter; there was just something about going through the process of saying it out loud as many times as Peter had denied Christ.

The same is true for us when we confess our sins to Christ. Christ knows—even better than us—what we have done and why we chose the wrong path. But again, there is something about going through the process of agreeing with God about our sin and then fully accepting his forgiveness and restoration of our relationship. As 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Accepting God’s will

The fourth and final part of what Peter modeled for us is the willingness to accept God’s future for our lives. While the Bible is full of drama, it certainly does not always come with a “Hollywood ending.” If it did, then this story would end with Jesus restoring Peter’s relationship and ministry. But that is not the end of the story. Instead, Jesus tells Peter about the way he is going to die. At first glance, this does not seem very encouraging, but think about what Jesus is saying.

Jesus tells Peter he will be put to death for following Christ. While we focus on the death part of that statement, I believe Jesus was trying to tell Peter how strong a follower of Christ he would become. While Peter had denied Christ during his trials, Peter would not deny him again. Instead, Peter would become a leader in the early church and stand before thousands and proclaim the good news about Christ. Aided by the Holy Spirit, Peter would finally become the “rock” Jesus wanted him to be. Jesus wanted Peter to come to the place where he could accept God’s will for his future.

Peter heard this message, looked at John, and asked Jesus what was going to happen to that disciple. Jesus reminded Peter not to worry about what other people’s destiny. God has a personalized plan for each of our lives. One of the great marks of true repentance is the ability to accept God’s future for our lives. Repentance means we are ready to give up our desires and grab hold of the will of God. This was a part of the lesson Jesus was teaching Peter on the shore that day, and it is an important lesson for us as well.

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