Restored to Serve, Part 2: Three Little Questions
John 21:1-3 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
Imagine how Peter might have felt after the death of Jesus. We know he “wept bitterly,” likely with a myriad of conflicting emotions—repentance, regret, anger at himself, frustration, etc. All he knew was that after all his privileged times with Jesus and his declaration of Matthew 26:33 (“Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”), he had failed miserably. Perhaps there are fewer sadder scriptures than John 21:1-3, where we see the result of despair. Instead of meeting with his Christian brothers and sisters, instead of ministering to and encouraging others, this first person to receive the revelation of who Jesus really was (Matthew 16:16) has assumed that his ministry is over. He has gone back to his former occupation of fishing.
In v. 7, Peter has heard that Jesus has arrived on the shore. In what looks like a counter-intuitive move, Peter puts on an article of clothing before jumping into the water. He is eager to see Jesus, but wants to be properly attired. Was he feeling ashamed and wanted to cover up as much as possible? Was it simply a sign of respect? We can’t know.
What we can know is the markedly different attitude that Peter displayed in these next few verses. Previously impetuous and full of himself, he is now humble, careful and measured in his responses to Jesus’ questions.
Let’s look at the first one today (John 21:15b): …Jesus said to Simon Peter,”Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” The addition of “son of Jonah” must have hit him hard, as it recalled the day he got the divine insight into who Jesus really was, and was encouraged by the Lord (Matthew 16:17-18a): “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.’”
Jesus hadn’t forgotten that Peter was the first to know who Jesus really was spiritually. He hadn’t forgotten that He said He’d build his church on Peter as the first of so many to have this revelation.
Peter’s simple, humble response: “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” No bragging, no comparing. Peter even refrains from saying “more than these,” refusing to answer the question Jesus actually asked him. A work has been done here. Peter might have gotten defensive or upset at Jesus for “throwing his sin in his face.” He might have expected a rebuke, believing he deserved it. Perhaps his highest hopes would be to be relegated to the least of the apostles. So when asked this question, he humbly responds, “You know,” letting Jesus know that Peter sees that He knows everything—all his foolishness, his self-deception, his pride.
Then come three of the most profound and significant words Peter would ever hear: “Feed my lambs.” As we know, this was only the first question of three. But what stunning words of healing and redemption! No rebuke, no “you’re forgiven, but…”, no casting away. He still has a call! It’s not over!
Have you ever felt that you lost your call because of a grievous sin? Then you can relate to Peter. We’re not done looking at this passage, but for now, imagine the relief that Peter felt that he was still included in God’s design, and that his disobedience—even denying his Lord directly—didn’t cancel his calling. Here is the heart of God on display.
Prayer: Father, You are forgiving, and you love to restore. Thank you for restoring me—all the many times you have. May I always remember that as I humble myself and come to You as Peter did, that I don’t have to be afraid of what You would say to me. And help me to hold out that same hope to others who despair over what they’ve done.