Restored to Serve, Part 3
John 21:15c [Jesus] said to [Peter}, “Feed my lambs.”
Peter is likely still reeling from not getting what he felt he deserved after denying the Lord, and now being face-to-face with Jesus. No rebuke, no judgment, no condemnation. In fact, there is something of a renewal of the call: “Feed my lambs.”
When he heard “lambs,” perhaps Peter thought Jesus might have been referring to the young and tender disciples, or the immature believers. Perhaps he thought for a moment that Jesus thought he could only handle these little ones, but still—hey, it’s something! I still have something to do in the Kingdom.
On this question, the wonderful commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown says this: Shall we say (with many) that Peter was here reinstated in office? Not exactly, since he was not actually excluded from it. But after such conduct as his, the deep wound which the honor of Christ had received, the stain brought on his office, the damage done to his high standing among his brethren, and even his own comfort, in prospect of the great work before him, required some such renewal of his call and re-establishment of his position as well.
But then Jesus threw him a major curve with asking another question: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me.” The “more than these” part of the question is dropped; perhaps Peter’s refusal to “go there” when answering the first question was enough on that issue. Jesus was opening a wound here, but doing so tenderly. Now Peter was standing alone before the Lord, with no comparisons at work—just his broken heart.
Peter’s answer was similar to his first: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.” Jesus’ response was similar, but significantly different: “Tend my sheep.” This word means to keep, as a vocation rather than a one-time event, which is the role of a shepherd. So the call is more than to the young ones. Perhaps Jesus was going to entrust him with greater responsibility than he initially thought.
Then came perhaps the biggest surprise of all, and the most difficult to handle. A third question: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” This opened the deepest wound yet. Scripture says “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” Three questions echoed the three denials, and Peter knew it. All the shame, all the guilt, all the regret must have rushed to the surface. Peter might even have felt set up, with Jesus artfully but pointedly referring to Peter’s great sin.
Again, Peter might have responded wrongly: “You got me.” “Why did You have to go there?” Or, “You’re right—I’m not worthy after all.” But Peter stayed humble, even through this most difficult question, and answered, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you.” Peter stayed in the low place, clearly surrendering any attempt to wrangle with the Lord or try to even understand what was happening.
Then Jesus shocked him yet again: “Feed my sheep.” Having opened the wound as big as it needed to be, Jesus poured in the oil and the wine. Jesus opened the whole messy incident, but only to heal him and let him know that he’d been fully forgiven. And not just forgiven, but affirmed in his calling.
The Lord loves us enough to sometimes go to the deepest, most painful place with us. Yet it’s never to condemn, but only to heal. Jesus was subtle and indirect with Peter in recalling his three denials, but it must have cut Peter to the quick nonetheless. The Lord may choose to open a wound more than we want, but let us see from this example His incredible tenderness in the process, and His desire to heal what is behind it all.
Prayer: Thank you for loving me enough to want to heal me completely. Lord, help me to be as humble as Peter, and just accept your dealings with me, knowing that You are redemptive and Your intentions are to restore completely. Please go as deep as You want. Thank you that Your grace, love and healing go deeper than my sin.