“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
We have been looking at how the life of Jesus Christ makes the Gospel both reasonable and desirable. We have seen how the Good News that Jesus declared and demonstrated during His earthly ministry speaks to both the head and the heart of the listener.
In June we saw Christ’s Searching Mercy displayed in His encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4; in July we examined His Scandalous Mercy bestowed on the unwanted, sinful woman in Luke 7; in August we marveled at His Shocking Mercy poured out on the “good thief” in Luke 23. This month our hearts will fill as we see His Sensitive Mercy displayed toward Peter, who had denied Jesus three times on the night He was betrayed.
An encounter with Jesus
“Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep’” (John 21:15-17).
Have you ever wondered why Jesus would ask Peter the same question three times? I certainly did as a young Christian. Did Jesus doubt Peter’s sincerity? What I learned from many good teachers over the years is that Jesus intentionally asked Peter if he loved Him three times in order to effectually cancel all three of Peter’s denials.
Peter had already had a private encounter with Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:5), and he certainly knew that Jesus had forgiven him and still intended to use him to expand the cause of His Kingdom. But the other disciples did not know this, and hearing it just from Peter – Peter, who had called down curses on himself during his craven denials of Christ (Matthew 26:74) – might not have been very convincing. So Jesus reinstated Peter to his position as a disciple, and this time He did it in front of six other disciples.
The miraculous catch
To strengthen the case for Peter being restored to his original call from Jesus, we also see the miraculous catch of fish that took place just before their encounter on the beach.
“Jesus called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” (John 21:5-6).
This catch was reminiscent of another miraculous catch of fish, which occurred when Peter was first called to follow Jesus, who assured him, “From now on you will catch men.” Peter and those with him had immediately left everything and followed Jesus (Luke 5:10-11). Do you see how Jesus was not only merciful in reinstating Peter to his original calling, but also in how He did it? Jesus was causing the disciples to remember the miracle He performed on the occasion of their call by repeating that miracle in the reinstatement of Peter. This would have served as a reminder to them all that the sensitive mercy of Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
This Gospel-saturated story is a comfort to all of us who recognize just how bad we truly are. We are all like Peter in the way our lives deny our Lord from time to time. Yet this incredible story of Jesus’ sensitive mercy makes it clear that He is not finished with any of us yet. The story of Peter’s denials underscores the truth that it is not our faithfulness to Jesus, but His ongoing faithfulness to us that keeps us in a right relationship with Him and ready for recommissioning every time we stumble. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
The Triumph of Mercy
These four stories we’ve seen during these past four months are snapshots of Jesus’ searching, scandalous, shocking, and sensitive mercy poured out on the lives of His people. The story line of the entire Bible is marked by the mercy of God. Not one person who was saved by God’s grace got what he or she deserved; God mercifully withheld His just judgment on all of them and instead poured out His forgiveness and love, giving them what they did not deserve: every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). The amazing grace of our God is summed up in these wonderful words, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
Where in your life have you been on the receiving end of God’s searching, scandalous, shocking or sensitive mercy? If you prayerfully consider your life for just a moment, is it not true that God’s mercy has triumphed over judgment in your life time and time again? I can assure you, that is the truth I am living. The more you meditate on and marinate in the mercy that God has poured out in your life, the better you will be able to live the life God is calling you to live for His glory and the good of others.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Dr. Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach (www.thecrosscc.org). He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com. For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.