Broken by Failure

John’s gospel tells the story of a man who failed his best friend, who denied his master; who thought his failure put him beyond the reach of God’s grace, and who turned out to be blessedly, wonderfully wrong. It is a story for anyone who has ever been broken by failure. It is the story of the raggedness of man and the greatness of God. This is a story about a man who threw away the chance of a lifetime. And this is a story about the Lord of the second chance. It is 6:00 A.M. Peter and his friends have been fishing all night.

They’ve caught nothing. A figure calls to them from shore. The Voice says, Catch anything? No, they say. What’s your point, Voice? The story starts with an admission of failure, and that’s all he’s waiting to hear. The Voice says, Try again. Put your net down on the right side of the boat. Don’t quit yet. Give it another try. They do. And soon the net is so full they can’t lift it back up into the boat. Suddenly they realize whom the voice belongs to. Peter is filled with emotion.

Now, after the crucifixion and the resurrection, after another fishing miracle, Peter realizes whom the voice belongs to. In typical Petrine fashion he kicks off his blue jeans and the lucky fishing shirt he never washes and jumps into the water and swims ashore. Peter got to the shore and found Jesus fixing breakfast. He had started a fire. John includes a detail: it was a charcoal fire. There was a reason for this. In John 18, when Peter was asked three times if he knew Jesus, if he was a disciple, he was warming himself in front of a fire. We’re told it was a charcoal fire. And that was where he denied his Lord. Now Peter sees the fire, a charcoal fire, and he remembers. If he’s going to be with Jesus, he’ll have to face the truth about who he is and what he’s done. If you’re going to receive help from the Lord of the second chance, you too will have to acknowledge the truth about your condition. Face up to reality. Take off the mask.

Alone together perhaps for the first time since the denial, crucifixion, and resurrection. Peter is so vulnerable; he waits for Jesus’ words like a prisoner waiting to hear the verdict of court. Then he hears the question that would wound him to the heart; the question that would heal him and bring him back to life, the question he would carry to his grave. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Now Jesus is the vulnerable one. Now Jesus is the Lover waiting to hear the response of the one he loves. “Yes Lord,” “Then feed my sheep,” Jesus says. Love and teach and guard and guide and serve the little flock that means all the world to me. Get back in the game.

Three times this is repeated, until Peter is hurt. Why does Jesus keep asking? Three times. Peter does not know what we do, that he is being healed by the Lord of the second chance. Not once but three times he stood by the fire and denied his Lord; not once but three times he stands by the fire and professes his love. Jesus says to Peter, Jesus says to everyone who’s ever stood by the fire and failed God, Jesus says still to you and me whatever we’ve done, Get back in the game. Nurture the gifts I gave you and cherish the calling I gave you and devote yourself to the church. Feed my sheep. They need you. 

The Bible is full of pictures of God’s longing to give second chances. His love has no limits, his grace has no measure, his power has no boundaries known unto men. He redeems and redeems and redeems and is present right now as you read these words, and he longs to do for you what he has done for countless before you. He is the God of the do-over; the Lord of the second chance.


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