He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, 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, “Feed My sheep.

John 21:16-17

It has often been said that the best of men are men at best. Though Peter was confident he would never deny His Lord, when Jesus was arrested, Peter failed miserably, and he knew it. The man of courage and bravado had crumbled at the challenge of a servant girl and denied his Lord with oaths and curses (Matthew 26:69-75).

Paul tells of a private meeting between Peter and the risen Lord but provides no details (1 Corinthians 15:5). Most scholars believe this is the time when Peter privately confessed his sins and was forgiven by the Lord Jesus. But in John 21 we have the record of Peter’s public restoration before six witnesses.

We know that he was fully forgiven and privately restored prior to the events of John 21 because his response to the Lord’s appearance is one of eager anticipation not of fearful shame. He jumps from the boat and swims to shore to be reunited with His Lord as quickly as possible.

Three times he had denied his Lord and now three times the Lord publicly asks the probing question: “Simon… do you love me?” In his denials, he had said he didn’t even know the man. Now he says, “You know that I love you… You know that I love you… You know all things. You know that I love you” (John 21:15,16,17).

After each affirmation of love, the Lord reminds Peter of his responsibilities: “Feed My lambs… Tend My sheep… Feed My sheep.” True love is always measured by actions not by words: “If you love Me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). And even though Peter had denied the Lord, he was restored to useful service for the Lord through genuine repentance.

Later, Peter would remind the church elders of their responsibility to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:1-2) and to do it eagerly, not domineering the sheep but being an example to them (v. 3). The church of Jesus Christ still needs such gentle shepherds today who, motivated by love, will care for the Church of Jesus Christ and feed them with the soul-nourishing Word of God.


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