It’s a new day, the start of a new week. How will you follow Jesus today? How will you feed His sheep?
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.
John 21:17 – NIV
Have you ever messed up? I know I have. Again and again, I have resolved to do the right thing, and next thing you know, I am off on the wrong foot. I resolve to be a better wife only to hear that shrill note in my voice as I issue some complaint. I can recall myself scolding my young son in annoyance right after I resolved to fuss less and love more. How often do I remind myself to be patient and then find my eyes rolling and foot tapping in frustration? I want to be a faithful friend, yet I let busyness keep me from calling. I don’t do what I ought to do, and I do what I ought not.
Does any of that confession sound familiar? It did to Peter. Simon Peter was a devoted disciple, a faithful follower of Jesus, and he messed up. In those last days of Jesus’ time on earth, Peter had declared that he would never abandon his Lord. Instead of smiling at this expression of Peter’s devotion, Jesus warns Peter that he too will betray him. “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Luke 22:34).
I wonder what Peter was thinking at that moment. Perhaps something like, “Oh no, not me. I would never do that!” Sound familiar? Have you ever declared “Oh no, not me!”?
Imagine the sorrow in Peter’s soul when he hears the rooster crow. He had done what he declared he wouldn’t. He had let his Lord down. He had failed to follow.
Think about the guilt that must have weighed on Peter’s heart in the ensuing days. His friend had been crucified, and he had done nothing to stop it. He had suffered the loss with a deep dive into the pit of despair. Then things had changed on that Sunday morning. He had seen the empty grave cloths, and later the resurrected Lord. His heart had no doubt leapt with joy, but his guilt was not gone.
In those days after the resurrection, Peter must have carried that guilt around like an anchor around his neck. While he worshipped the risen Lord, he must have still felt like a failure.
Then comes that morning on the beach (John 21). After a fruitless night of fishing with his friends, Peter suddenly recognizes Jesus standing on the shore. In a flash, Peter is out of the boat and headed straight for his Savior (John 21:7). Was his mind racing with hope that maybe, just maybe, he could make up with Jesus, that he could atone for his misdeeds?
Arriving on shore, Jesus invites Peter to breakfast (John 21:9-10). As his hands warmed by the fire, did his heart warm with hope, “Maybe he has forgiven me?”
Then Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?” His heart must have been racing, “Here is my chance. He is going to forgive me!” Eyes intent on Jesus, Peter affirms, “Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus replied, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15).
Not the words Peter was expecting. Not the words he had longed to hear. Confused and now even more ashamed, Peter hears Jesus ask the same question again, repeating the same command (John 21:16). Peter’s heart must have plummeted, “He didn’t accept my apology. He’s not letting this go.”
And then it gets worse. Jesus asks a third time and issues the same admonition, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17). Three times, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times, Peter affirms his devotion.
What happened then? Did Peter’s heart burn with sudden understanding? Did he feel the forgiveness? Did he finally see that Jesus had asked him three times to declare his love just as he had denied it three times?
Peter had messed up three times, and Jesus had allowed him three opportunities to atone for those mistakes. With each affirmation, Peter was wiping away each sinful denial.
But it wasn’t just words of forgiveness that Jesus offered. This opportunity for atonement offered the opportunity to serve. Jesus was declaring that loving Him meant serving Him. How? “Feed my sheep.”
I am no theologian, but I wonder. Was Jesus saying, “I know you will mess up. I love you anyway. Make it up to me. Feed my sheep. Serve others. Forget your flaws. I do. Forgive your failures. I do. Now be faithful. Follow me. Go and feed my sheep.”
We don’t know what Peter was thinking as he sat by the fire on the seashore, but we know what he did afterward. He found his faith. He became the rock upon which Jesus built His church. For the rest of his life, Simon Peter fed the sheep.
Kind of gives you hope, doesn’t it? Maybe we aren’t such a lost cause after all. Our faith can overcome our flaws. You and I can follow Him and feed His sheep.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23 – NIV
O Lord Jesus, how we fail You. Again and again, we mess up, and yet, You love us anyway. You forgive our failures. You can use our flaws and imperfections to accomplish Your good purposes. Fill us with the faith we need to overcome our flaws and feed Your sheep.