The Last Five Percent
(Part 2: Peter)
May 12, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
What does it take to finish the last five percent of a project?
I know that there are several people in our church who run. They have run 5K and 10K races, half marathons and full marathons. I have officially run in exactly two 5K’s and one, half marathon. But once you have set such a thing as a goal, barring any accidents or injuries, there are two huge obstacles to be overcome. The first is just the daily and weekly grind of getting out several days each week and putting in the miles that it takes to get in shape. I was able to get through that a couple years ago because I had set a big goal, a half marathon. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew that for me to stay motivated, I needed a big goal in front of me. But once you’ve found a way to stay motivated, and you put in the miles, and you are really starting to know your body and get in shape, towards the end of your training cycle, as you approach the date that you set for your big race, your practice distances start to get harder. For weeks, even months, each week wasn’t much different from the last, but as you approach the big day, your training starts to get harder. While your early training regimen is designed to increase your speed and build up your heart and lungs, the latter part of your training ramps up to build endurance. On paper, or in casual discussion, it seems obvious. You can’t run a long distance if you haven’t prepared to do it. And so, in the weeks approaching the race, your training runs start to get longer. Each week’s long run becomes five to ten percent longer than the week before. Where your Saturday run used to take a half an hour to an hour, suddenly you discover that you are now investing two hours for your run, it’s hard, and you begin to wonder just how committed you really are to accomplishing this goal.
But by this point, you’ve already come 95 percent of the way. You’ve already pounded out hundreds of miles on the road or on the trail.
You need to find a way to stay motivated.
How could you possibly quit now, just because it’s hard?
And that is at the heart of the question Jesus asks Peter after the resurrection in John 21:1-19. Peter was totally devastated by Jesus’ death, but perhaps even more by his own failure of faith and his denial of Jesus. Despite Jesus’ resurrection, Peter is plagued by doubt and he repeatedly returns to his fishing boat as if he is giving up and returning to the sea for good.
21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So, they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
It is not an accident that this story is almost exactly like the story that we heard in Luke chapter five when Jesus was first calling his disciples to follow him. In Luke’s story, Jesus tells the fishermen to go back out to the deep water and lower their nets. Despite having worked all night and caught nothing, they do as Jesus asked and caught so many fish that they needed to call a second boat to help them bring all the fish ashore. In this story, Jesus calls out from the shore and tells them to throw their nets over the other side of the boat from where they had probably been doing it. And the result is much the same as in Luke’s story. John is the first one to put two and two together, to remember what Jesus had done three years earlier, and realizing that the author of this miraculous catch of fish must be the same Jesus.
Peter, despite his grief and doubt, is so eager to meet Jesus that he jumps into the water and swims ashore to be with him. But after sharing a meal together, Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Do you love me more than these? From context and sentence structure we are led to believe that Jesus is asking if Peter loved Jesus more than the other disciples, but there is also the possibility that Jesus is also asking Peter about his doubts and whether he would really give up Jesus to return to his fishing boats. While George Beasley-Murray, the author of the Word Biblical Commentary on the Gospel of John (Second edition, 1999), believes that this was definitely about the other disciples, I wonder if Jesus didn’t intend, and Peter understood, for this to be a double entendre, a deliberate double meaning about both fish and mission. In either case, Peter cannot help but remember the words that Jesus spoke the first time he performed this miracle, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
In the midst of the disciples’ confusion, grief, pain, doubt, and conflicted feelings, Jesus calls them to ministry a second time.
But that isn’t enough for Peter.
Peter is still doubting himself and beating himself up because he knows that when the chips were down, he denied that he even knew Jesus. He has fallen so far, how can he possibly climb back up that mountain? How can he ever be a missionary, or preach, and call people to follow Jesus when he has already failed so spectacularly himself?
And so, two more times, Jesus boils it down as far as he possibly can and asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter denied Jesus three times, and three times Jesus makes him declare his love for Jesus out loud. Certainly, it isn’t that Jesus requires three declarations of love for forgiveness, and certainly Jesus doesn’t need to hear it three times, but Peter needs it.
I also noticed that the third time, Peter changes the way that he answers the question. The first two times he says, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” But the third time Peter doesn’t say “yes.” Peter’s answer no longer has anything to do with Peter, and everything to do with Jesus: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
And I think that, right there, is Peter’s last five percent.
Peter was always headstrong and willful. He always knew what was right, even when he was wrong. Peter was always getting into trouble because his ideas of what Jesus should do didn’t always line up with what Jesus was doing. Remember that it was Peter who swore that even if everyone else failed to follow Jesus, he would stay. It was Peter that decided that the best way to defend Jesus was with a sword. It was Peter that rebuked Jesus and told him that he wasn’t allowed to die. It was Peter who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. And it was Peter who gives up on ministry and goes back to fishing.
Peter loved Jesus, but as much as Peter wanted to what Jesus wanted, Peter was always hanging on to a lot of what Peter wanted.
But at this moment, Peter surrenders his ego. He abandons the last 5 percent of himself that he’d been hanging on to, and says, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
It wasn’t about Peter anymore.
It was all about Jesus.
It was 100 percent about Jesus.
Last week we talked about how Saul’s last five percent was all about understanding and believing that Jesus was the messiah that he had been looking for all along. Saul was missing information, understanding, and although he already had faith, he had to steer his faith in a new direction.
Some of us are like that, but far more of us are like Peter. We know about Jesus, we have faith in Jesus, we claim to follow Jesus, but we’re holding on to that last five percent. We want Jesus to do the things that we think Jesus ought to do instead of the things that Jesus wants to do. We think that the church ought to look like what we think it should look like instead of what Jesus wants it to look like.
That’s just where Peter was.
And that’s where a lot of us are. I need to ask myself, as much as I love Jesus, how often do I want what I want, more than what Jesus wants?
Just like Peter, we need to let go of that last 5 percent. We need to let go of our ego and let Jesus be Jesus. We need to let Jesus be who Jesus is, do the things that Jesus intends to do, follow him even when he goes places that we didn’t really want to go. And when he does things differently than we think he should.
We need to ask ourselves, “Am I ready to give up my last five percent and let Jesus… be Jesus.
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