14 Minute Read

TODAY’S BIBLE READING:

2 Samuel 19:11–20:13
John 21:1-25
Psalm 120:1-7
Proverbs 16:16-17

TODAY’S BIBLE VERSE(S):

John 21:17 (CSB): “He asked him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ ‘Feed my sheep,’ Jesus said.”

REFLECTIONS ON TODAY’S BIBLE VERSE(S):

In our Bible reading today, we see Jesus doing what Jesus does best! He absolutely loves chasing after sinners and bringing them back to the fold. We read of how he went after Peter and gently brought him back. (More on that in a moment.)

First, listen to this parable that Jesus told on another occasion. Jesus made it abundantly clear that He loves bringing sinners back into His favor.

Luke 15:3-7 (CSB): “So he told them this parable: ‘What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!” I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.'”

We are told in Luke 15:3-7 that Heaven gets happy and celebrates when someone repents of their sins and is brought back into a right relationship with God. God is the Prodigal Son’s father who sees His son coming back and runs to him and embraces him (Luke 15:20). God hates our sin but loves to restore us after we sin!

Now, let’s look at some details of one such happy occasion when Jesus gently brought Peter back into His care.

Sin and Grief

Jesus had clearly predicted that Peter was going to deny Him three times (John 13:36-38). Even though Peter didn’t believe that he would do such a thing, history tells us differently.

Matthew 26:73-75 (CSB): “After a little while those standing there approached and said to Peter, ‘You really are one of them, since even your accent gives you away.’ Then he started to curse and to swear with an oath, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed, and Peter remembered the words Jesus had spoken, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

While Peter insisted that he would never deny Jesus, we know that he did.

And when Peter denied Jesus, he hated himself for it and he wept bitter tears over his actions. Peter’s cowardice ripped his heart out.

Debilitating Guilt

Peter was so ashamed of himself that he took himself out of the race. He was living with intense guilt. He probably lowered his eyes in shame every time Jesus looked at him after His resurrection.

I think this is why it is recorded that Peter was content to go back to what he was doing before Jesus called him to be a disciple. Peter was going back to fishing.

John 21:3 (CSB): ” ‘I’m going fishing,’ Simon Peter said to them.”

I believe that Peter felt like Jesus had wasted His time on him. Peter felt like damaged goods and expected that Jesus would never, ever rely upon him again.

In fact, I think this plays into why Peter jumped out of the boat and swam to Jesus even though the swim was the length of a football field.

John 21:7-8 (CSB): “The disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer clothing around him (for he had taken it off) and plunged into the sea. Since they were not far from land (about a hundred yards away), the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish.”

Everyone else simply remained in the boat as they directed it toward land. But, I wonder if Peter wanted to demonstrate his love for and loyalty to Jesus. In a few minutes, Peter would struggle to say that he loved Jesus … but he wanted his actions to demonstrate his love.

Essentially, he was a whimpering puppy sitting at his master’s feet begging to be petted. He desperately wanted to be loved by Jesus but he felt so unworthy. He was so ashamed of himself and suspected that Jesus felt the same way.

Restoration

Now, to the really good part! This is what Jesus does best – restoration!

John 21:9 (CSB): “When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.”

Jesus started a charcoal fire. As Peter approached, he smelled that distinct aroma. It would have reminded him of a memory he desperately wanted to forget.

After all, when Peter denied Jesus, there was a similar aroma.

John 18:17-18 (CSB): “Then the servant girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, ‘You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?’ ‘I am not.’ he said. Now the servants and the officials had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold. They were standing there warming themselves, and Peter was standing with them, warming himself.”

So, as Peter swam to shore to be near Jesus, he smelled the charcoal fire. Jesus was going to relive and rewrite the memory that Peter wanted to forget.

But, before we get to that conversation, look at what happened next. Jesus had started a charcoal fire. That fire was going to cook up some fish so the men could enjoy a meal together. However, the fish were still in the boat. Look at the next few verses as Peter, once again, tries to show with his actions that he truly loves Jesus and desperately wants to be brought back into favor with Him.

John 21:10-11 (CSB): ” ‘Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,’ Jesus told them. So Simon Peter climbed up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish — 153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.”

Peter didn’t ask for help. In fact, as he struggled under the load of the fish, he would continue to demonstrate to Jesus that he would do anything to be forgiven and brought back into favor with his Master.

Our hearts go out to Peter. We feel sorry for him.

Now, listen to how Jesus brought him back.

John 21:15 (CSB): “When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said to him, ‘you know that I love you.’ ‘Feed my lambs,’ he told him.”

IMG_5794
Shoreline (Sea of Galilee)

After they had eaten their fish breakfast on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus addressed Peter in front of the other disciples.

But, there is a difference in words that doesn’t show up in our English translations. When Jesus asked Peter if he “loved” Him, Jesus used the word “agape.” This is the highest form of Christian love. It is a selfless, even self-sacrificing love for the benefit of someone in need.

But, when Peter replied, he used a different word for “love.” He used “phileo” from which we get the name of the city, Philadelphia. “Phileo” means a friendly, brotherly sort of love. It is the kind of love that has a warmth to it but it is not as devout as “agape.”

So, this is how the conversation went:

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you have a selfless, self-sacrificing kind of love for me?”

Peter: ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I like you as a brother.”

Peter just couldn’t get himself to say that he had a selfless, self-sacrificing kind of love for Jesus because everyone around that charcoal fire knew that he had denied Jesus 3 times. He would feel like a lying hypocrite if he said that He loved (agape) Jesus. So, he said he liked (phileo) him.

John 21:16 (CSB): “A second time he asked him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said to him, ‘you know that I love you.’ ‘Shepherd my sheep,’ he told him.”

Second verse, same as the first.

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you have a selfless, self-sacrificing kind of love for me?”

Peter: ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I like you as a brother.”

I believe that deep down in Peter’s heart, he KNEW that he loved Jesus. He KNEW that given the opportunity, he would never, ever deny Jesus again.

But, he hadn’t demonstrated that kind of courage. His only example was one of cowardice.

So, he felt that he couldn’t use the same word that Jesus used (agape) because no one would believe him. So, he used the lesser word that simply means “brotherly love.”

John 21:17 (CSB): “He asked him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ ‘Feed my sheep,’ Jesus said.”

Jesus’ word choice in this third and final question is significant. Jesus didn’t use “agape” as He did in the previous two questions. This time, He used the same word that Peter was using.

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you like me as a brother?”

Peter: ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I like you as a brother.”

Jesus knew of Peter’s love for Him. But, He also knew that Peter just couldn’t get out those words because they would sound so hypocritical. So, Jesus met Peter where he was. Jesus would accept Peter’s word for love (philos) and build from there again.

There are two other things that we have seen in these previous 3 verses. I will note them quickly:

  • Jesus asked Peter three times, by a charcoal fire, if he loved Him. Its as if Jesus was giving Peter three occasions to cancel out the 3 previous denials by another charcoal fire.
  • After each of the previous three questions and Peter’s affirmation of his brotherly love for Jesus, Jesus told Peter that He needed him to get back to work. There were sheep (people) who needed to be fed (God’s Word needed to be preached and taught to them). Jesus wanted Peter to know that He needed him in His Kingdom work.

Now, let’s finish up with some of Jesus’ last words to Peter.

John 21:18-19 (CSB): ” ‘Truly I tell you, when you were younger, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go.’ He said this to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God…”

In these previous words, Jesus foretold that Peter would die a martyr’s death. We know from Christian tradition that Peter was eventually crucified like Jesus was.

But there was a very clear reason why Jesus told Peter of his future martyrdom. He knew that Peter was nauseated at the fact that he had denied 3 times that he knew Jesus. He knew that Peter was vowing in his heart never, ever, EVER to deny Jesus again.

So, essentially, Jesus said that Peter would get another chance to proclaim his loyalty and love for Jesus when death was on the line. But, when that time came, Peter wouldn’t deny Jesus. He would rather embrace death than deny Jesus again.

John 21:19 (CSB): “… After saying this, he told him, ‘Follow me.'”

When Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Follow me,” I wonder if Peter’s mind went back in time. I wonder if he thought about that day, about 3 years earlier, that he was on the banks of the Sea of Galilee (just like they were in this moment) when Jesus used these same words.

Matthew 4:18-20 (CSB): “As he was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter), and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. ‘Follow me,’ he told them, ‘and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

It’s as if Jesus told Peter: “Let’s hit the RESET button, Peter. Let’s start over. I want you to follow me and do as I tell you. There is much Kingdom work to be done and I need you, Peter. So, let’s get this behind us and move on.”

Conclusion

Friend, Jesus LOVES to bring sinners back into the fold. He DELIGHTS to forgive and restore.

While you may be groveling in guilt and shame (like the Apostle Peter), Jesus is reaching out to you and He desires to bring you back.

Why not embrace His love for you and receive His forgiveness for you right now. By faith, receive it. There’s Kingdom work to be done. He wants you involved in it. Be like Peter, receive God’s grace, and then spend a lifetime serving Jesus out of gratitude for what He has done for you.

He’s worth it, my friend. He’s worth it.