The Boundlessness of God
As a kid, I was horrified to realize that by 25, my life would already be more than a quarter over. Even worse, I calculated that one-third of that time was spent snoozing in bed. With such limited time, how could I possibly do the big, brilliant, beautiful things I dreamed of doing? I can be ambitious, and it freaks me out that my inherent human limitations undermine those ambitions. I want more time, more power, and less weaknesses hindering me.
It amazes me that Jesus understands our human limitations. He got tired, hungry, and even discouraged. Philippians says that, “though he was in the form of God,” he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” and humbling himself to death on a cross (Phil 2: 5-8).
But in the book of John, a fascinating truth is revealed. When Jesus humbled himself by becoming human and submitting to God in death, it was also the ultimate expression of Christ’s unique authority to overcome death (John 10:17-18, Acts 2:23-24). While in limited human form, Jesus did amazing work by the unlimited authority, sovereignty, and divinity of God working within and through him (John 13:3). At the resurrection, Jesus triumphed over sin, weakness, and death, first for himself, then for those who believe (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
In the last chapter of John, the boundless power of the resurrected Christ contrasts with the disciples’ human limitations, particularly through Peter’s perspective. This chapter reassures us that our own limitations—our ignorance, our sins, our lack of autonomy and time—don’t stop the amazing work of God from being done. In fact, three brief directives from Jesus show that our weaknesses don’t even disqualify us from sharing in this incredible work.
“Throw Your Net”
As the chapter opens, Jesus had already been resurrected and appeared to the disciples before, but they were still figuring out life in this new normal (John 21:1-14). Leaning on their previous experience, Peter and a handful of disciples went fishing, but with no luck. Following the advice of a stranger from shore to “Throw the net on the right side of the boat,” they soon had more fish than they could handle. They hadn’t yet recognized the stranger, but that didn’t stop the plentiful catch. Struggling to haul the overwhelming abundance of fish in their net, they knew immediately: that stranger was Jesus. Peter leapt into the water and swam to him.
This scene echoes a similar interaction when the disciples first met Jesus. That time, when the miraculous catch made Peter realize the chasm between himself and Jesus, he wanted to flee, saying, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Apparently, much changed after years of closeness with Jesus. At the latter miraculous catch, Peter, still every bit a flawed, sinful person, now seemed focused on who Jesus is rather than on who he was. Knowing well his own limitations, Peter knew Jesus would more than make up for them. Seeing again Christ’s power and their powerlessness, Peter swam to him.
“Feed My Sheep”
Reaching the shore, the disciples shared a meal with Jesus before he pulled Peter aside for a heart-to-heart (John 15:17). Three times Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Those three times would have hurt, reminding Peter of his recent failure.
See, Peter was a guy who had some delusions about his own limitations at times. He once thought he was Jesus’ main man! He’d be the most loyal, the most committed, the most unswerving (Mark 14:29-30). He thought he’d die for Jesus! (John 13:37, John 18:10-11). He didn’t understand that it was he who needed Jesus to die for him! Oh, how often I have thought similar things.
But when Jesus was arrested, Peter turned his back on him three times despite his braggadocious earlier claims (John 18:15-27). Yet now here was Jesus forgiving his sins and reinstating him, telling him three times to “Feed my sheep.” Peter may not have rescued Jesus, but he was now commissioned to join in Jesus’ rescue of so many others.
Jesus became flesh, died, and was resurrected so that he could overcome, heal, and fix the brokenness that defined us (Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:17). Unlike unreliably trusting in ourselves, no one who trusts in Christ will ever be put to shame. Because we are flesh and blood, “he had to be made like his brothers [that’s us] in every respect,” so that he could mediate on our behalf to God and break death’s grip on us (Hebrews 2:14-18). What we couldn’t do for ourselves, he accomplished for us: boundless forgiveness. This was the message of hope Peter was entrusted with for others.
Next, Jesus gave Peter a cryptic description of the future, an unsettling prophecy about Peter’s future life and death. “And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:18-19). It’s hard to imagine how Peter felt hearing this. Turning and seeing John nearby, he wonders, “What about him?? Does he have to go through the same? Am I the only one dealing with this?” Jesus’s reply is direct: “What is that to you? Follow me.”
I feel for Peter. Realizing our lack of autonomy is uncomfortable. We don’t have the control we think we do. We can’t even decide how we’ll die, much less every detail of how we’ll live.
But we sure try to. We orchestrate “balance” and strive for our dreams, reaching for something big, brilliant, and beautiful in our lives. We look at others and jealously ask if they must make the same sacrifices as us. We envy what they’ve got going on over there, because it looks so cool and exciting and meaningful. Yet Jesus responds, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”
Jesus is gently, but thoroughly, teaching Peter this hard truth: “You once expressed great trust in your commitment and ability, but after denying me, you know that won’t work. You’re much weaker than you’d like to think, but my power through your weakness gives me glory. Don’t trust in yourself. Trust in me.”
Big, Brilliant, Beautiful Jesus
Like Peter, I often don’t understand or even recognize the work of God in my life. But his power is always abundantly sufficient when I “throw my net” where he directs. I regularly make dumb choices that betray my loving Savior, yet he responds to my repentant heart and equips me to “feed his sheep,” giving me noble work in my home, church, and community. And when my gaze destructively turns inward on my flaws, Jesus directs my focus back to him, saying, “Follow me.”
Fully God and fully man, Jesus is doing big, brilliant, and beautiful things in the world. By his God-given power and authority, he is justifying sins and offering new, eternal life to those who trust in him (John 17: 1-2, Romans 5:10-11). Amazingly, his chosen mode of doing so is through us, imperfect though we are, enlisting us to throw our nets, feed his sheep, and follow him!