Knock Three Times: Peter’s Call
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Peter could definitely be slow on the uptake. At other times he could soar. It seemed to depend on the day but when he finally got it right, he was a champion. It worked that way for his calling to full-time service.
Mark tells about the first time Jesus called. Peter and his brother Andrew were casting their nets when Jesus said, “Come follow Me and I will send you out to fish for people” (1:17). Peter’s response? He left the nets then and there and followed Jesus. Great start. But it didn’t last.
We don’t know what happened. Some scholars think he got mad at the other disciples while others believed he became discouraged. Maybe he failed to count the cost. Whatever it was, he left Jesus and went back to his profession of fishing. But Jesus tracked him down.
This is clearly a different occasion from Mark 1 because in Luke 5 it says that Peter was not casting but washing his nets and that Jesus was followed by a large crowd of people. This time Jesus got into the boat with Peter, probably the last thing that Peter wanted. He had followed Jesus and left Him. Now, he was trapped in his boat as Jesus preached to the people onshore.
When the crowd was dismissed, Jesus turned to Peter and told him to go out into the deep to fish. What did Peter think? Who knew more about fishing? He, who had fished all his life or this Jesus who was a carpenter, a landlubber? He reluctantly agreed, perhaps to get Jesus to leave him alone. The haul of fish was so great that the boat almost sank. It was like Jesus was saying, “Peter, I called you to fish for people but if you want to substitute that for these smelly fish, I’ll give you more fish than you can imagine. Does that make you feel fulfilled? Does this compare with the mission I called you to do?”
Peter was convicted. He cried out, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Peter realized that he had sacrificed the first best purpose of his life for something of far less value, that he had traded away the will of God in his tantrum for his own way. And it looked pathetic. Jesus repeated the call: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (Luke 5:10).
For three years he followed Jesus, enjoying the heights of victory in service as well as some humiliating moments of defeat. But he stayed near Jesus – until after the Resurrection.
Jesus had told Peter to wait in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49). Instead, Peter decided to go back to fishing, not a casual day spent in relaxation but to pick up his old vocation and get on with life. This following Jesus had been great but it was over. Time to move on. He thought.
Echoing an earlier time, he had experienced a fruitless night of fishing. It was like the fish were avoiding the nets. Although at first he didn’t know it was Jesus, from the shore Jesus repeated a command from a long time ago. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (John 21:6). Once again, the nets nearly broke with the haul.
Peter didn’t wait to count the fish. He jumped into the cold water and swam to shore to meet Jesus. After they ate breakfast, Jesus took Peter aside and reminded him of his call but instead of using fisherman’s terms, He used shepherd’s language. “Feed My lambs,” “Take care of My sheep,” “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).
It was enough. Although Peter had tried to go a different way, God’s will for him had not changed. Fishing was fine except when it got in the way of God’s purpose for Peter. Anything that gets in the way of God’s calling, regardless of how noble it may sound, is to go on a path that God does not intend. Fortunately, we serve a God of grace who can help us find the way back to the place we ought to be. Just like He did Peter.
Tradition tells us that Peter never picked up the fishing nets again. He followed Christ and in doing so, helped establish the church. And in the end, when called upon to die for his Lord, he asked to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to be executed in the same manner as his Lord.
Following means leaving even when the past keeps beckoning us back. It took three times for Peter to realize God’s calling for him had not changed. What will it take for you?