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John 21:1-17 - After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 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.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?”They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. his was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Different writers have different explanations for what Jesus’ question means… so you can read and find other explanations than this. But in light of everything, I think Jesus was taking Peter back to the table at the Last Supper. Remember, Peter had said, “Even if everyone else deserts You, I never will.” In a way, Peter was saying, “I love you the most, Lord.” He seemed to believe that. I think Jesus is saying, “Hey Peter, “Do you really love Me, because if you do, I have a job for you. “Feed my lambs.”
Did Peter understand what Jesus was saying? I don’t know. Lambs are babies. They must be nurtured. Jesus has just fed His Disciples, and He has fed them for years. He looks into Peter’s tired face, makes eye-contact (I think), and says, “If you truly love me, Peter, do this for me. Feed my lambs.”
Three times Jesus asks and Peter responds. Is that significant? Absolutely. Peter can’t undo what happened out in the courtyard, when three times he answered the same question, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” with a lie: “Absolutely not.” But now, Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me, Peter?” And three times Peter responds.
Jesus and Peter had dealt with his sin privately already, but his sin was a public one. Therefore, Jesus takes this opportunity to publicly deal with it. And then Jesus gives Peter a three-fold commission to restore him to ministry: Feed my lambs; take care of my sheep; feed my sheep. Be their Shepherd, Peter. They need you. And just like that, Simon the Fallen has been restored to Simon the Rock.
I love how Jesus restores his fallen friend, and I love the change in Peter after this moment. Going forward, his leadership won’t be founded on his strength. It will be founded on his brokenness; on his weakness; on his absolute dependence on Christ. He had been forgiven much. Therefore he loved much. That’s how it works for all of us. May we follow Jesus today as those who have been set free, restored, and tasked as heralds of God’s Grace.