Grace For The Journey
Today we are looking at John 21:15-17. This passage gives us an opportunity to look closely at the meaning of the relationship we have with Christ and the power Jesus gives us to live for Him. This passage also shows us how Peter’s particular circumstances are so closely related to ours.
It is said that the young son of Bishop Berkeley once asked him the question, “Papa, what do the words, ‘Cherubim and Seraphim’ mean?” The bishop took time to tell the little questioner that “Cherubim” was a Hebrew word meaning “knowledge,” and the word “Seraphin” means “zeal” or “love.” The wise dad explained that it is commonly supposed the Cherubim are angels that excel in knowledge and the Seraphim are those who excel in love for God. The body replied, “Then I hope that when I die, I will be a Seraphim. I’d a lot rather love God than to know everything.
How much do you love God and Jesus? That is the question Jesus asked Peter shortly after Peter had denied the Lord when He was arrested. Peter’s answer and Jesus’ response provides one of the greatest examples of love in all history. Let us listen in on the beginning of their conversation as it is shared in John 11:15-17, “So 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, “tend My lambs.” He said to him again 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, “Shepherd 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 all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘tend My sheep.’”
Think about what was going on here. Here is the God of the universe serving breakfast to His apostles. It was kind of like a cookout with Jesus cooking on the grill. Jesus never considered any kind of service to others to be humiliating. In fact, He thoroughly enjoyed serving. Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ should also enjoy serving others. Some commentators maintain that after breakfast Jesus probably took Peter aside away from the others to talk privately with him, or perhaps took him for a talk along the beach. But I do not see that. I have checked a number of Bible translations and there is not a hint in any of them that Jesus took Peter away from the group to speak with him privately. We must take the Bible for what it says and never try to add anything to it. There are occasions, however, when we need to look at everything the Bible has to say about a specific subject or event, and then come to a conclusion based on all the evidence within the context in which it was presented.
You may recall that at the Last Supper Jesus and Peter had the following conversation that the Bible gives us in Luke 22:31-34, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. But he said to Him, ‘Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!’ And He said, ‘I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.’” It would certainly seem that Jesus knew that Satan was going to be allowed to tempt Peter into betraying Jesus, and that Peter would actually give into that temptation because Jesus had been praying for Peter that after such a cowardly failure, Peter would come back stronger than ever to strengthen his brothers, Jesus’ followers.
And this is exactly what is about to happen at this very moment. Jesus was simply about to prove to the other apostles that Peter was now well-qualified to lead them. What a marvelous story. Something only God is capable of coming up with. That is yet another reason we believe Jesus addressed Peter in the presence of the others, just as He had done at the Last Supper.
All of these men would benefit
To see the transformation of the man
Who would now lead them
When Jesus had returned to Heaven.
Peter very likely was still feeling some guilt about betraying the Lord when Jesus was arrested and tried. Add to that the fact that Christ must have been recognizably different and perhaps even somewhat intimidating to Peter because of Jesus’ resurrected appearance. How would you feel if Jesus came along and sat down with you and your friends and began questioning you about the worst sin you ever committed? I would be a wreck thinking having to go through that knowing that it I did something to displease Him; while also thinking about the boatload of sins I have committed that I know He knows about. Then there would be the shame I would feel in front of my friends thinking that perhaps Jesus would humiliate and punish me for my cowardice and betrayal of Him. However . . .
Remember that Peter and the others
Had not been given the Holy Spirit as yet,
And without the power of the Holy Spirit
At work in any believer,
We are defenseless against
A frontal assault by Satan.
Let’s notice several truths that are brought out in the verses we are looking at today . . .
1) A Question To Bring A Realization.
What, then, does Jesus do? Verses 31-34 tell us.
1) A Realization Of Peter’s Problem.
They were all sitting around the fire after breakfast, when Jesus said to Peter, “Simon.” (This was the name that Peter had before Jesus made him an apostle.) It seems that Jesus was reminding him in a not too subtle way that his behavior the night Jesus was arrested was very much like that of a person who is not a follower of Jesus. Jesus goes on to say, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” What does Jesus mean here by “these?” Is He referring to the boat, the net, and everything that is connected with Peter’s love for fishing? Is Jesus referring to whether Peter loves Him more than he loves the other apostles? Or could He mean, “Do you love me more than these other men love me?” I believe it is the latter, that Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Him more than the others do.
Jesus is setting the stage here for Peter’s forgiveness and for him to be entrusted with caring for the others after Jesus ascends to Heaven. Someone has said, “the old Peter who claimed not to know Christ the night Jesus was arrested was somewhat of a boastful controller who liked to write his own press releases. He often boasted of his faith and the things he would do if ever placed in various kinds of situations. He was what some might call a braggart.”
Jesus wanted to see if
Peter’s experience and failures
Had changed him
And I believe
He wanted the others
To see it as well.
Pride like Peter’s has often gotten in the way of what all Christ followers are expected to develop, and that is . . .
A sense of humility.
This humility was to include
A dependence and trust in Christ
In order to accomplish His purposes
Rather than their depending
On their own ability to
Do things on their own.
Do you remember what Peter said to Jesus just before Jesus’ arrest? He had affirmed that he would lay down his life for Christ (John 13:36-38).
At the Last Supper Peter volunteered that he loved Jesus so much that he would die for Him, but he had not been able to keep that promise when the chips were down. It was time for Peter to prove he was ready to be the kind of servant Christ wanted him to be. It was not that Peter needed to prove this to Jesus because Jesus knew what Peter would do. Jesus knew that Peter had to prove this to himself and to the other apostles.
When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, Peter answered Jesus’ question in John 21:15 by telling Him that he did love Him. Jesus responded by saying, “Feed My lambs.” However, there is something quite interesting and worth noting in John 21:15. There are two different Greek words used for “love” in this verse . . .
- One is the strongest word for love that we have in the Bible, “agapao.”
It is the word for a love that is absolutely unselfish and is used throughout the New Testament for God Himself (1 John 4:8). This word is used for the love God has for this world, and for the kind of love we should have to God and for other people. It is used even for the love which people sometimes put in the place of God, such as for money, and power. Unfortunately, you can give such things the love that should go to God.
- The other Greek word is “phileo.”
It means affection refers the love that exists between good friends. It is used for the love of one friend to another and for family affection. It suggests a lower quality of love than agapao. Let us look at the verse again, this time using the Greek for the words meaning love, “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” Jesus used the word for the strongest kind of love when He asked Peter if Peter loved Him. Peter responded with a word that meant a somewhat lesser kind of love.
Jesus then told Peter: “Feed My lambs.” Then Jesus asked Peter the same question a second time, using the same word for love that He had used the first time. Peter responded using the same word he had used for love the first time. Jesus then told Peter to shepherd His sheep.
This leads us to a second truth . . .
2) A Question That Reveals The Power Of Peter’s New Life.
Now, why has Peter responded to Jesus’ question about his love for Jesus by using a different word for love than Jesus was using? It seems that . . .
Peter had finally realized that
He had been incapable
Of the highest form of love
To which Jesus was referring.
He was now telling Jesus
That he definitely loved Him
But he was not about to make
The mistake of boasting about
Capabilities that he was
Not sure he could fulfill.
Then Jesus asked Peter a third time if he loved Him, but this time Jesus used the same word Peter had used the two previous times, and Peter answered by using the same word he had used the two previous times. He also confessed to Jesus “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
Peter was most likely disturbed that Jesus would ask him three times if he loved Him. But how many times had Peter denied Jesus after His arrest? And when Jesus made His point the third time, He used the word for love that recognized Peter’s honesty and humility. In effect . . .
Jesus was telling Peter that
He was pleased that Peter
Loved Him in the way he did,
And that Jesus was also pleased
That Peter knew he had limitations
If he did not rely on the help of Jesus.
It was Jesus’ way to show Peter that he was forgiven and restored to his former position.
The presence and power of Jesus
Is an absolute necessity
For serving Christ
In this sinful world.
And in His mercy Jesus is willing to award this great privilege to a person who has a very short résumé, listing only that he has a very humble kind of love to offer to his Lord.”
Peter admitted that Jesus knew everything about him including all of his failures and his denial. He could have been implying that he was not worthy of Jesus’ trust. Yet in spite of his failures, Jesus gave him the responsibility to look after the other apostles.
That leads us to . . .
3) A Question Of Responsibility.
The key qualification for this responsibility is . . .
A love for Jesus
That is characterized
Up until this present time, Peter had loved Jesus, but he was still full of himself and he kept placing himself at the head of the pack, often trying to control what the others did, and even what Jesus did. Peter thought of himself as being number one, or at least certainly wanting to be number one. Such pride in a leader would spell disaster for the community of believers, as had already been evident in Israel’s history right up to those who had just had Jesus crucified.
Sadly, the same thing has been just as evident in the history of the Church. But Peter himself learned his lesson, as is clear from his first letter. When he addresses the elders of the communities he does so as a “fellow elder” and encourages them to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers” . . . “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Here we see Peter exercising authority with a sense of humility, and He is further conscious of the supreme authority of the Chief Shepherd. Such are marks of a true shepherd in the service of Jesus Christ.
Rodney Whitacre asks, “Have you ever thought of it, that only the smaller birds sing? You never hear a note from the eagle in all your life, nor from the turkey, nor from the ostrich. But you have heard from the canary, the wren, and the lark. The sweetest music comes from those Christians who are small in their own estimation and small before the Lord.”
This is the attitude
Jesus was looking
For in Peter,
And it is the attitude
He is looking for in us.
Let us think about that amazing concept for a minute. In the world today, the “big birds” strut, crow, and draw attention to themselves: the rich, the famous, the movie stars, athletes, politicians, and financial gurus. Yet, who gives you comfort, encouragement, and inspiration? In our congregation it is the “little birds” who lift our spirits. How? Because . . .
- They are the ones who praise God, no matter what their circumstances.
- They are the ones we can count on to pray for you in difficult times.
- They are the ones with beautiful, inspiring songs which lift their hearts, and also ours, in worship to our great Lord God.
I daresay God’s ears are tuned to hear those songs rather than all the crowing of the so-called “big birds” in the world.
We will finish our study of verses 18-19 in tomorrow’s blog.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”