The presence of Christ is something we should look and be ready for. Jesus meets and restores us where we, even places where we least expect to find Him.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. (John 21:7)
The sheer humanness and unpretentious character of Peter always makes me smile. He seems so very ‘us’ with his spontaneous and sometimes thoughtless responses. He’s the man who leaps before he looks, who lives in a world uncluttered by the confines and dictates of society. Peter simply is. What you see is what you get, and he embodies the very human and sometimes quirky nature of one who lives rather than plans. Of course, like all of us, it did get him into trouble. But it also makes him someone we can identify with. Peter’s first ‘water experience’ was a step of faith and a lesson in the difference between faith in Jesus and faith in his own natural ability. This second picture is beautifully exuberant. We a see a man who responds to the presence of Jesus with unrestrained delight.
Living without the presence of Christ.
There is a lot we can learn from Peter, not the least of which is that endearing passion with which He responded to Christ. It is this which made his denial of Jesus so much more painful and poignant. We look at Peter and see a disciple with a simple faith that is ‘all in’ without restraint. Of all the disciples, he was the only one who dared to step out of the boat towards Jesus. I have no doubt that the others thought him as nutty as the proverbial fruitcake. For Peter, when his eyes are fixed on Jesus, anything is possible. His only desire is to reach him. Today’s verse tells us that he ‘plunged’ into the water. He saw His risen Saviour and simply could not wait to be in the presence of Christ. What a powerful challenge to every believer.
What stands out is that all Peter needed was to hear that it was the Lord. Remember, at this point, Peter is the disciple who publicly denied Christ. We can only imagine the guilt and condemnation carried like a weight in his broken heart. Add to this the terrible memory of the cross and the fact that Jesus was, to all intents and purposes, separated from them. Poor Peter, who undoubtedly loved his Lord, would have found some comfort in knowing of the resurrection. But his nature was practical. His was a here-and-now simple kind of faith. To have been parted from Jesus without hope of forgiveness must have been a terrible burden. This is part of our lesson today. To be separated from the presence of Christ, whatever the reason, should cut to the very heart. It should bring a spiritual grief that only He can assuage.
Humility brings us into the presence of Christ
That it did for Peter is clearly evidenced by His response to the presence of Christ. There is no hesitation. He hears only that the Lord is there and plunges into the water. His only thought is to be reunited with Jesus as quickly as possible. Once again, Peter is the first man overboard. His first water experience was a step of faith. This one was a response in faith. He heard and believed, and responded in absolute faith. Christ was his Lord, his world, the one person who could fill the empty, gaping hole within him. Peter repented of his denials. But he also carried the condemnation – the realisation that despite his love and pledges to follow Christ even to death, he failed in his own fear and frail humanity. This humility is what enables us to seek the presence of Christ without hesitation or reservation.
But it’s not an abject, grovelling kind of humility. Rather, it’s the kind that rejoices in faith and in the sure and certain knowledge that Jesus can and will restore. It’s a powerful lesson for us. When we sin, as we all still do, that is never a reason to absence ourselves from the presence of Christ. Rather, we should fling ourselves overboard and plunge into the cleansing and restoration that only He can give. Our failures, weaknesses, and sins can never be the reason to turn away from Jesus in guilt and condemnation. They are the reason He went to the cross. He is as willing now as He was then to give Himself completely. A broken and a contrite heart must and will always bring us into His presence. We only have to take the plunge without worrying about what others may think or expect.
We must be prepared for the presence of Christ.
Today’s verse contains a tiny detail that is almost an aside. I simply have to smile when I imagine Peter teetering on the edge of the boat in his unmentionables and scrambling to shove into his outer robe. It’s a really funny picture – possibly because it reminds us so vividly of ourselves. At the same time, though, there’s a bit of an ‘ouch’ in there. Peter was caught short. He was totally unprepared for the presence of Jesus. All too often, we measure our relationship with Christ by worldly expectations. We somehow imagine that He would never show up at work, on the road, in a bus or train – and especially not when we’re lurking in our PJs. Our expectation is rather that He has a time and a place, a desire for a structured and well-behaved encounter of which society at large and the Church in particular would approve.
The beautiful truth, however, is that Jesus is willing to meet with us anywhere, anyhow, anytime. This doesn’t contradict the reality that He is holy and perfect and should be worshipped with awe and reverence. That truth always remains. But we also need to see the enthusiastic, exuberant side of Jesus – the side that is more than willing to simply pop up when we need Him, no matter the circumstances. We can find the presence of Christ in our mistakes, in our failures, and in our sins. He’ll meet us in the gutter, the house of prostitution, or even the jail. Wherever we are and no matter what we may have done, Jesus will show up if our heart cries out for Him. Our part is to be ready. We must look for Jesus where we and rush to meet Him when He comes.
The presence of Christ brings restoration.
We know this chapter closes with the poignant and beautiful restoration of a broken-hearted Peter. I believe this gracious gift from Jesus was His response to Peter’s ready and willing attitude. He could have sulked in the boat, then skulked among the disciples, unable to face his Saviour. His no-matter-what response tore down the barriers of separation. It thrust self aside and forged ahead in passion and humility. Peter didn’t wait around. He plunged overboard, desperate to be in the presence of Jesus simply because it was Jesus. There was the centre of his world, and he would do anything to get there. Restoration inevitably comes to a heart, however weak and human, which hungers after Christ. When we fling ourselves overboard in pursuit of Jesus, He will always restore what we have lost through human frailty and weakness. That was, after all, the purpose for which He came.
Sweet Saviour, thank You that You have not changed. Thank You that You still, today, come to restore what we have lost through our own foolishness and sinfulness. Help us to be ready and to look for You even in places we would not expect to find You. Thank You that You seek us where we are. Release in us Your joy so that we can plunge into Your presence, holding nothing back.