May 8, 2011
“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.’“
The Post-Resurrection Ministry of Jesus
“Shepherd My Sheep”
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I remember an old Texan who once told me he used to raise sheep. He said: “Sheep were always looking for a place to die.” He meant that they were always subject to attack by coyotes, wolves, and other predators, plus they depended upon someone helping them with water and food. He had quit raising sheep because they were way too much trouble. Jesus and Peter both knew about sheep, and that they always needed a shepherd to keep them safe and secure. The shepherd had a constant duty to the sheep to lead them to green pastures and to protect them from predators. As part of His post-resurrection ministry, Jesus commissioned Peter to be a shepherd of the flock of Jesus, because Peter loved Jesus. You will never make much of a shepherd unless you love the sheep, as Jesus described in John 10:1-18. Jesus will always be the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) and the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Jesus examines Peter’s love in our passage today, and He will examine your love too, as you read through this passage.
Tend My Lambs. You must appreciate the background to this morning of breakfast with Jesus. Jesus had earlier predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crowed (John 18:17, 25, 27). After hearing this dismaying prophecy from Jesus, Peter asserted his own boastful self-confidence, and his superiority to the other disciples: “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). The circumstances at the beach also bear similarity to the denials of Peter. Peter denied Jesus around a charcoal fire (John 18:18), and now they have gathered together around a charcoal fire (John 21:9). Bible scholars have pointed other similarities between the denials of Peter and this declaration of his love for Jesus. In this passage, we should note that Jesus confirms Peter’s ministry before everyone who knew that Peter had denied Jesus three times. Now Jesus will have Peter affirm His love for Him three times. Jesus does not toss Peter away for his sin, but rather uses the humbled Peter to shepherd His sheep. Remember, Jesus had told him that Satan sought to sift Peter like wheat, but Jesus had prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. He also told Peter to strengthen his brothers in Christ after after he turned back to Christ, and away from his denials (Luke 22:31-34). This first question Jesus asks Peter concerns a comparison between Peter’s love for Jesus as compared to the love the other disciples had for Jesus. Remember, Peter had exalted himself improperly saying he would not deny Jesus, even if all the other disciples did deny Jesus. In the past, Peter claimed to love Jesus more than all the other disciples. Jesus will now retrace the things Peter had said when Jesus told Peter about the denials. Peter answers Jesus by saying that he had fond affection (“φιλῶ“) for Jesus. Notice that Jesus had asked Peter: “Do you love (“ἀγαπᾷς“) me?” Some Bible scholars equate the two words “philo” and “agapas” here, but in the context, it seems significant that Peter did not use the stronger term Jesus used in comparing Peter’s love with the love that the other disciples had for Jesus. Instead, Peter used a smaller term, of brotherly affection, which shows Peter was no longer making a boastful comparison between his great love, and the other disciples smaller love. Peter had been humbled by his denials, especially after his boastful, and untruthful, comparison between himself and the other disciples. This first question and answer now sets straight that Peter does not consider that he loves Jesus more that the other disciples love Jesus. Peter affirms his love, but no longer boasts of a love that makes him superior to the other disciples. Jesus then commands Peter: “Tend my lambs.” Jesus used the term “lambs” (“ἀρνία“) here to denote the young and immature believers. They require feeding and shepherding by Peter.
Shepherd My Sheep. Jesus now asks Peter the second question: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Again, Jesus uses the term love (“ἀγαπᾷς“) in His question. Peter now responds, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love (“φιλῶ“) You” (John 21:16). As we have seen above, Peter three times denied the Lord, and now Peter will declare his love for the Lord Jesus three times. Jesus now tells Peter, “Shepherd My Sheep.” Jesus loves to strengthen and restore people after they fall into sin. While Jesus maintains His essential holiness and purity, He still became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). In Jesus, we have no condemnation from God (Romans 8:1). With Peter, Jesus now commands him to act like a shepherd (“Ποίμαινε“). As a shepherd, Peter would lay down his life for the sheep, and lead them, so that they would find pasture (John 10:3, 9). Notice also the term here for sheep (“πρόβατά“) speaks of adult, mature sheep. Peter also had a duty to care for the entire flock of sheep, and perform the duties of a shepherd. Instead of disqualifying Peter from ministry, his denials had humbled him and made him dependent upon Christ, instead of boastfully relying upon himself.
Tend My Sheep. Jesus asks now the third question: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved (John 21:17). We can identify with Peter’s grief because Jesus had repeatedly questioned Peter’s affection for Christ, when Jesus is asking about Peter’s Godly love for Christ. Peter now, with grief, appeals to the omniscience of Jesus as God. God knows all things, and Peter declares that Jesus knows all things. When we feel the pain of spiritual turmoil in our hearts as we sit before God, we can never do better than declaring and relying upon the great attributes of God and trusting in Him. We can, like Peter, trust in God to know everything about us, perfectly and without error. But even better, God loves us and applies His love with His knowledge. In this case, Peter says first that Jesus knows (“οἶδας“) and has known all things. This term for know means to know intuitively or by reflection. Peter then says “You know (“γινώσκεις“) that I love (“φιλῶ“) You.” This second term for know means to know by observation or experience. So, in essence, Peter is saying to Jesus you have known all my past and present by your divine knowledge, and you also have seen me personally and witnessed my behavior. Jesus tells Peter now: “Tend My Sheep.” Three times Peter declares that he loves the Lord Jesus, and three times Jesus commands Peter to look after His sheep.
So we learn more about the Post-Resurrection Ministry of Jesus.
● Jesus loves to restore fallen believers to Himself, and to do so in front of all the other disciples Peter had previously insulted with his own puffed-up view of himself. After the three denials of Jesus, Jesus now leads Peter through three declarations of his love for the Lord Jesus.
● Jesus loves to lead us into service for Him. He commands us to fulfill our own unique ministries for Him, and they all rest upon our love for Him. Our love motivates our service for Him.
● Jesus loves to examine our hearts, and then strengthen us to love us more. He overcomes our failures by preparing us to serve Him and edify His flock.
Application for Today
Today I will hear Jesus asking me about my love for Him. He wants to encourage me to love Him all the more, and not focus upon my past failures. He wants me to move beyond my sinful denials of Him, and instead declare my love for Him with my words and deeds. Can your hear Jesus talking with you about your love for Him today?