This is part of a series studying Peter’s life and ministry. Click here for the entire series.
The setting is beside the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection...
Peter and six of the other disciples went back to Galilee where Peter returned to his old occupation—fishing (John 21:2-3). Jesus appeared on shore and guided the fishing experts to a large school of fish after a fruitless night of work (John 21:4-6) and prepared breakfast for His disciples (John 21:7-13).
After breakfast, Jesus decides it is time to see if Peter would keep his earlier commitment. Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you truly [unconditionally] love me more than these [other disciples do]?” (John 21:15). Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus responded, “Feed my little lambs” (John 21:15).
Earlier, at the Passover meal Peter had declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29). Frankly, Peter’s response to Jesus now was a bit anemic, “I love you like a brother or neighbor.” He left off the phrase “more than these [other disciples].” Maybe he had learned not to set himself above the others. Jesus wanted Peter to state his humility publicly. Jesus said, “Find food for my lambs”—a curious command to give to a fisherman!
Peter was a man of many words and quick, almost compulsive, action. It’s instructive to note that Jesus wanted to find about Peter’s heart—how much he really loved Him.
A second time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me unconditionally?” and Peter answered, “I love you like a brother or neighbor” Apparently, Peter didn’t get the nuance, or he used the more humble term “brotherly love” because he knew he couldn’t yet love unconditionally. Jesus told him, “Be a shepherd to my sheep.”
A third time Jesus asks a slightly different question, “Do you love me like a brother or neighbor?” The text tells us, “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time . . . Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you”. Once again, Jesus instructed Peter to feed or tend His sheep.
Jesus goes on to predict that though Peter was strong as a young man someday he would not be able to even dress himself and would be carried away to be martyred for his faith.
Jesus issues the simple command, “Follow me, Peter.” In essence, Jesus said, “Peter, be my follower, walk in my footsteps along the way. Walk in unison with me.”
So, Peter passed the test—not an A+ or maybe even with an A-, probably with a B, but nonetheless a pass. He was now officially not only reinstated as disciple but was to become a leader, a shepherd of God’s flock.
What are some of the ways in which God has humbled you so you could serve Him more effectively?
Do you love Jesus without conditions or only if He does something good for you?