What do you do when your guilt is too heavy to bear, your soul is so miserable you can find no relief, you are embarrassed to face your friends and family, and you believe there is no forgiveness or solution to be found? Many today commit suicide. Surprisingly, young people in the prime of their life lead the growing numbers of suicide perpetrators. What is the antidote to suicide?
Of the disciples who survived, none betrayed the Lord worse than Peter. And he knew it. At the moment of Peter’s third denial, Jesus looked at him, their eyes met, and the cock crowed. He who had vehemently protested the Lord’s prediction that he of all people would deny Him not once, but three times before that tell-tale sign announcing the dawn, was pierced to the heart of his soul, and went out into a sudden, dark loneliness to weep bitterly.
All the disciples were living in fear, confusion, apprehension, and were like sheep without a shepherd ever since the crucifixion. Twice the risen Lord suddenly appeared to them as they hid behind locked doors in Jerusalem. But in this text of John 21 they had left Jerusalem, probably surreptitiously, for Galilee where Jesus had already told the women the disciples would see him. The setting could not be more vastly different than the city of “peace, Jerusalem, which had become for them the very opposite in the space of a few horrendous days.
Here the peace and tranquility beside the Sea of Galilee, with the water as smooth as glass as it often will be at the breaking of dawn and the Galilean hills as a backdrop to the beauty, could not be more of a contrast to the turmoil these seven disciples were feeling inside. And add to that the irritation of catching nothing in a whole night of fishing, though fishing was but an abstraction for them then as they dealt with all the unknowns of the previous days. Perhaps it was the aroma of fish cooking on a charcoal fire that first got their attention. In any case they saw a figure on the beach by the fire, who in the early light of dawn called out to them to put down their nets on the other side of the boat. Doing so they immediately pulled in a huge catch of fish; so large, they counted each one to see just how large a catch it really was: 153 John purposefully and precisely tells us.
As they share breakfast with Jesus around a fire on the beach, the same type of charcoal fire with which Peter warmed himself at the time of his last two denials, Jesus asks Peter three times a similar question, “Peter, do you love me more than these. In Luke Jesus had once taught, “the one who is forgiven little, loves little. Here, he is telling Peter a corollary to this truth, “the one who is forgiven much, loves much! The depth of our affection for Christ is inseparably related to the depth of our understanding of that which we have been forgiven. Peter could not have missed the Savior’s point. Having transgressed so deeply with an understanding of his felt “bottomless pit, he now experienced and understood the depth of grace that drew him out. It was far more than mere words that responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. There is no pit so deep that it warrants suicide, when there is a Savior capable of drawing us out, and placing our feet on solid ground. Christ in you is the hope of glory, not suicide, nor despair.
And no response or assurance of your forgiveness can be more richly healing and fulfilling going forward than the Lord’s spoken mission for every forgiven sinner: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. Every once miserable soul, forgiven and covered with the blood of Christ, has lambs and sheep to feed; at home, at work, by the way, over the back fence, wherever you live, work and converse. Get your mind off yourself and your own ills. Get your mind and heart on Christ, and begin feeding His lambs and His sheep. The antidote to suicide can only be one thing, one person…Jesus.
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