We’re familiar with what happened at Easter. We’re less familiar with what happened a few weeks later. There was a rescue operation… for people like me.
At the end of John’s gospel, one commentator notes “something very serious” happens. After Easter, seven of Jesus’ remaining eleven disciples go to the beach. Peter announces he’s going fishing. The grammar indicates Peter is calling it quits. No more fishing for men. He’s returning to the familiar, fishing for fish. The other six disciples join him. They quit.
This is catastrophic. But not surprising. It’s what often happens when people lose hope. You lose a job. Or you fail. Proverbs 13:12 reads: “Unrelenting disappointment makes you heartsick.” Peter suffered disappointments because he had misplaced hopes.
One misplaced hope was greatness. Peter once asked Jesus how often he should forgive someone who sins against him. Seven times? Seemed like a great answer. But Jesus warned Peter that keeping count of offenses kills you. You end up in a tormentor’s hell.
Peter sought recognition for being loyal to Jesus. He swore he’d never deny Jesus. Then he denied Jesus three times… to a lowly peasant woman. Humiliating.
Peter sought to be The Smartest Guy In The Room. He was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. But then he rebuked Jesus when the Lord revealed how the Messiah would die. Never! Jesus told Peter to get out of his way. Satan was messing him up. Peter had no idea how God works. Peter was crushed to learn he wasn’t so smart after all.
These disappointments came to a head after Easter. Peter didn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead. Then the disciples hid for fear of the Jewish leaders. Jesus appeared, gave them the Holy Spirit and recommissioned them to be fishers of men. Good to go.
Not quite. Seven of the eleven disciples instead return to fishing—for fish. It’s familiar work. They’re good at it. It’s safe. No more failures. No more disappointments.
That’s when Operation Rescue gets underway. The disciples get in the very boat Peter used when the Lord called him to be a fisher of men three years ago. In that incident, Peter’s crew had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus told them to try again. They caught more fish than they could haul in. Three years later, the disciples fish all night and catch nothing. A spotter onshore directs them to where they should cast their nets. They catch more fish than they can haul in. Déjà vu. Peter recognizes Jesus.
Onshore, Jesus serves breakfast. And he serves up three questions for Peter. The first two are identical. Peter, do you love me (Greek agape for sacrificial love) more than these? These what? Friends? Fish? The familiar? Doesn’t matter. Peter can only reply, “Lord, you know I love you (phileo, brotherly love). He doesn’t sacrificially love Jesus. He loves some things more than Jesus. His hopes and loves are disordered.
Then Jesus asks the third question, except this time he switches from agape to phileo. Peter, do you even have a brotherly affection for me? Ouch. Peter has failed on sacrificial love. Yes, Lord, you know all things. You know I feel a brotherly affection for you. Jesus rescues Peter. He commissions him again. Feed my sheep.
Then Jesus begins reordering Peter’s hopes. He tells Peter how we will die. Peter still has a ways to go, for he wheels around and points to John: How’s he going to die? Jesus says that’s none of your business. You follow me.
In the Christian tradition, we don’t pick when we will die. We only pick how we will die. There are only two ways to die. The first is to close ourselves off to whatever hurts or disappoints us. The loss of a baby, a job, or loss of face (in Peter’s case). We protect ourselves, what we feel “safe” with, what we feel will not hurt us. It kills us, however.
The second option is to die to ourselves. “Everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities (our hopes and dreams and possessions and finances and fears of what-people-think-of-me) is killed off for good—crucified” (Galatians 5:24, The Message). This death yields real life, real hope.
Peter took the second option. He became bold (Acts 5). He learned how, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn.12:24). Peter learned that “love hopes all things” (I Cor.13:7). “Hope does not disappoint” (Rom.5:5). By the end of his life, Peter wrote of having a living hope (I Pet.1:3-5). Church tradition holds that Peter died by crucifixion, head down.
I am Peter—too often wanting to be great or The Smartest Guy In The Room. The last few years I’ve had some disappointments. Details are unimportant. The problem wasn’t what happened. It was my misplaced hopes. I considered quitting. But God had other plans. He sent a few friends. They were part of his rescue operation. They helped put me back on track toward becoming a man of living hope. It feels great to have joy return.
God still does rescue operations. If you feel like your hopes are faltering, shoot me an email. Maybe I can help. I’ve been on the receiving end of a wonderful rescue operation.
 Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. III (Eerdmans, 1973), 115-117.