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Struggling Faith. Sustaining Grace.

Matt Densky - 1/1/2023


Oftentimes we read the Scriptures with a focused view on a particular passage or chapter. But when we zoom out and get a big-picture view, it can be helpful towards understanding life-changing truths from God’s word. For this very special New Year’s message, we will do a character study and look at the journey of faith from a very familiar disciple of Jesus: Peter. We will learn that Peter‘s journey was not what we sometimes assume. Peter did not commit to Jesus right away, and in fact, his journey of faith is marked by a seesawing of going back and forth between the life Jesus is calling him into and the life he is leaving behind. We will be able to relate to his experience and begin to identify our own journey by studying his. Are we confused by Jesus? Are we curious about Jesus? Are we committed to Jesus? What we see every step of the way is that even in the midst of Peter’s struggling faith, God’s grace sustains and restores him and will do the same for us.

SCRIPTURE: John 21:15-19


The gospels are written complementary to one another, but not always chronologically with one another. To understand the journey of Peter, we actually need to jump around to various gospels to put it on a chronological timeline.

John 1:35-42

  • Simon (Peter) meets Jesus
  • Jesus renames him from Simon to Peter (meaning rock)

This interaction is so bizarre. Place yourself in Peter’s shoes. You’ve grown up your entire life hearing prophecies about Messiah and studying sacred texts that teach about him. Your brother comes to you and says that he has met the Messiah and invites you to meet him as well. Perhaps a bit skeptical (the Jewish people have not heard God speak through a prophet for 400 years by this point), you follow along. You meet the man your brother is convinced is the promised chosen one to deliver God’s people, but instead of explaining himself to you or proving he is indeed the one, he simply gives you a new name, and that’s it. It’s laughable in some ways of how confusing this must have been for Peter.  

After this interaction, I think Peter's faith moved into a chapter I will just call: Confused.  

Matthew 4:18-22

  • Jesus calls Peter to follow him

This is the next chapter in the life of Peter’s faith. He is fishing which is his vocation, and Jesus is on a walk by the Sea of Galilee. He sees Peter casting his nets and invites him to follow. Amazingly, Peter drops his nets and follows Jesus. This is the scene we kind of all imagine when we think about Peter: immediately dropping everything and is fully in from here on out. But not so fast. I think Peter is more curious at this point than committed. He still only knows about Jesus from what he’s heard, and perhaps his following is fueled more by a sense of curiosity than anything else. 

This is why I'm calling this chapter of his faith: Curious.

Luke 5:1-11

  • Jesus meets Peter on the Sea of Galilee again
  • Peter is fishing
  • Catching of the fish miracle
  • Peter follows Jesus

Upon first reading, this seems like the same interaction as Matthew 4 with a few additional details, but some scholars point out that this is a different meeting. In Matthew 4, they are casting their nets, here they are cleaning them. In Matthew 4, Jesus invites Peter with a formal “follow me”, here there is no such invitation. In Luke’s account, Peter seems to already have a good idea of who Jesus is, notice he calls Him “master” and “Lord.” Also, notice that Peter is referred to in Luke’s account as Simon. One of the subtle details of the journey of Peter is that whenever he goes back to the life of fishing, he is called Simon, but when he’s following Jesus, he’s called Peter. It seems as though he curiously followed Jesus, but for whatever reason, was not satisfied or convinced He really was Messiah and so has gone back to what he knows best. But in Luke’s account, this miracle by Jesus was enough to convince Peter that he really is the one and is worth following, and Peter certainly does so afterward. 

His chapter of faith now transitions into: Committed.

The Denials

From this point, the story of Peter is one that you may be familiar with. He becomes a leader among the disciples, outspoken in his zeal for Jesus, musters the faith to walk on water, and tells Jesus that he is willing to die for his commitment.

But Peter still seems to have an idea tucked in his mind of who Messiah was supposed to be. Peter and the other disciples seemed to believe that, at some point, Jesus would launch a military revolution, overthrowing Rome in the process. They were waiting for the conquering King but did not have a category for suffering servant. Jesus is arrested in John 18, and Peter, seeing the revolution slipping away, draws a sword and chooses violence. 

Over the course of this night, Peter would end up denying Jesus three separate times (John 18:15-18, 25-27) Luke's account of this is even more forceful and says that upon the third denial, Jesus and Peter lock eyes with each other (Luke 22:61). In shame, Peter runs away into the night to weep bitterly. And…Peter eventually returns to fishing.

The Restoration

John 21:1-19

Jesus recreates two different memories here for Peter. Firstly Jesus has been resurrected and begins to reveal himself to his disciples. On this occasion, he finds some of them fishing (go figure) and calls to them from shore, asking if they've caught anything, which they haven't. Pay attention to the language Jesus is using and the context of their lack of fish. This is a mirror image of Luke 5:1-11. It’s like Jesus is revealing himself by also bringing Peter back to a crucial moment in his own journey. Remember the last time Peter walked away from Jesus and was brought back to his original calling? So here, too, Jesus is graciously and patiently bringing Peter back to his calling.

The second scene I believe Jesus is inviting Peter into is the night of the denials. Interestingly Jesus has built a charcoal fire on the shore (21:9). The night that Peter denied Jesus, he was warming himself standing beside a (yep, you guessed it) charcoal fire (John 18:18). Fires have a very distinct smell and charcoal fires even more so. Of all of our five senses, the scent is most strongly linked to memory. I think Jesus is recreating some elements of the denial night for Peter, inviting him back into that shameful moment so that He can lavish Peter with grace. Three times Peter denied Jesus, and three times in this passage, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him (one confession of love per denial). Also, notice what Jesus calls Peter here. He’s calling him by his fisherman name, not his fisher of men name. Jesus is very carefully revisiting his failures to show him that he is still loved, wanted, and called into the Kingdom of God. This is confirmed by Jesus’ last words in this passage, “Follow me.” Peter’s conflicting faith didn’t disqualify him from following Jesus. Peter’s back and forth was readily met with patience. Peter’s denials were met with compassion and grace. Peter’s calling was never lost. 

I believe we can all identify somewhere in the journey of Peter’s faith, and I would remind you of the same conclusions we’ve learned:

  • Are you wavering? God is patient.
  • Are you going back and forth? God is persistent in His pursuit.
  • Are you struggling to believe? God has compassion.
  • Do you feel shame? God has grace.
  • Do you feel far from God? He restores the sinner.
  • Do you feel like you’ve missed your calling? God still has an invitation for you to follow.

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.