“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8, NIV).
One of the very first things Peter says to Jesus captures a huge issue for many of us. After a night of fishing and catching nothing, Jesus blesses Peter, James, and John with more fish than they can handle—and all Peter can see is how short he’s fallen of God’s perfection.
Which, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. It’s not unusual for us, either, to react this way when we first encounter Jesus; and we always need to remember the truth in Peter’s words. But Jesus didn’t come just so he could “go away.” Instead, he calls us to lay down a life that’s often consumed by shame at who we are or what we’ve done.
The things we’ve done—and the evils done to us—are done. We can’t undo what happened, but we can undo the hold of those things upon us. We can own our sin without it owning us. Jesus’ response to Peter, James and John confirms this: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:10). Jesus calls each of us to lay down our shame, and follow him forward instead.
If we continue to base our identity in our past instead of allowing it to die, we will never approach God—or more to the point, we’ll never let him in; God is already approaching us. Instead, we’ll do just about anything to fill the hole that the Spirit should be occupying. We believe we need to be successful, popular, powerful, constantly entertained, or occupied, because what we are and what we have isn’t good enough. That’s where the power of temptation lies: in the idea that who God created us to be, and what he’s created us for, isn’t good enough. That God got it—and us—wrong.
This brings us full-circle to where we began this series. Letting go of this old, false self and embracing who we were truly meant to be in Jesus is what this laying-down process is all about. We’re called to acknowledge our guilt and move on, not to take up permanent residence in our shame and hurt.
In a (hopefully not blasphemous) sense, Jesus has carried and shared in our guilt all the way back to the Garden of Eden. The Fall could have been prevented—but it wasn’t. Like the first Adam, Jesus chose to look on instead of stopping those events from occurring. But let’s not forget another incident, in another garden several thousand years later, which Jesus also could have stopped from happening—but he didn’t. Jesus stopped in Gethsemane, and saw through at Calvary, what began in Eden.
The cross removes our guilt. All of it. However, it leaves responsibility. Jesus says to us, just as he did the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). And, to “take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21, KJV).
It’s not all work and struggle, though. Let’s circle back to Peter, because God uses him to give us a great “before and after” picture. Three years later, mere days after Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to the disciples—and for that matter, Peter’s repeated denial of Jesus—we see almost the exact same scene as the one in Luke 5, this time in John 21. Peter, James, and John go fishing again; this time they’ve got Thomas, Nathanael and two other disciples with them (and after all the bickering throughout the gospels, it’s nice to see them finally starting to work together). Again, they have another bad night of fishing.
This time Jesus shows up on the shore—close enough to yell, but far enough that they can’t yet tell it’s him. He tells them to cast out their nets, and again, the nets can’t hold all the fish they catch. Peter’s been here before; he realizes it’s Jesus.
But what’s Peter’s reaction this time? He throws himself into the sea and swims as fast as he can toward the shore. He doesn’t wait for the boat to dock—or freak because the guy he’d betrayed only days earlier is maybe a hundred yards away, back from the dead, and knows how to walk on water. This time, Peter’s going as fast as he can to Jesus. Clearly Peter’s still an impetuous kind of guy, and “a sinful man!”, but equally clearly he’s learned something about his relationship to Jesus. Peter, quite literally, is shame-less.
Now it’s our turn. Whatever has happened in our past is an opportunity for Jesus to transform it, and us, if we’ll let him. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). You are in fact already blessed because you don’t deserve grace, and no matter who you are or where you stand with Jesus at this moment, his grace is offered to you anyway, right now. Therefore, the challenge now becomes to receive and rejoice in that grace. The past is gone; let it stay gone. We’ll look more into that next month.
Lay It Down Today
What issues from your past came to mind as you read today? Get a piece of paper and write them down. Then bury your past—literally.
First, take some time to pray, giving over to God whatever you’ve written down, and asking the Spirit’s help to empower you to keep letting those things go. Then, take your paper and bury it (or tear it up). Thank God for your past—because it’s made you who are today, and in brand-new ways you’re now willing to let him reveal—but let whatever shame that remains in your past die, so your future can live.