Do you ever feel you have failed your Lord? Have you felt you have denied Him by your words, deeds, inactions—even your cowardice? Let Jesus’ redemption of Peter in John 21 encourage you.
Like Peter, we set high standards for ourselves in our discipleship. We have the best of intentions. We will succeed where others have failed. Yet not only do we fail, but our failure is miserable, humiliating, wretched.
Look at Peter, boasting of his loyalty and bravery. But when the test came, he crumbled. He denied Jesus Christ three times, with curses, cowering even before an unnamed, powerless slave-girl.
Now, even after he witnessed the resurrected Christ, he felt like a failure, unworthy of his calling as a disciple of the Lord of Glory. In consternation and confusion, he went off to fish, joined by several of his fellow failed disciples. They caught nothing. Another failure.
Enter Jesus, who first reminds Peter of His original calling by giving Peter another miraculous catch of fish (see Luke 5). Then comes a remarkable confrontation. “Do you love [agape] me?” Twice, Jesus asks Peter, using the word for perfect love. Peter can only say, “I love [phileo] you,” a lesser form of love. Can any of us honestly do any better than Peter? Then Jesus comes down on Peter’s level and asks a third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?”
Remarkably, Jesus accepts Peter’s imperfect love. It is not perfect, but real. Peter reveals himself as a “flickering flame.” His love flickers, but it still burns, and Jesus is a master at fanning flickering flames (Matthew 12:20).
Jesus responds to Peter in three ways. His responses in the Greek reveal that His call on Peter’s life has not changed.
“Tend my lambs” suggests his future care of immature and vulnerable people in need of special attention. “Tend my sheep” indicates Peter’s role as an overseer, a shepherd. The third response should read, “Pasture the sheep,” indicating Peter’s role in preaching and teaching from the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s failures have broken him and given him humility, the very quality he needs (and we need) to perform his (and our) calling. We know from history that Jesus fanned Peter’s “flickering flame” into a refiner’s fire through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Days later, filled with the Holy Spirit, he stood before thousands, boldly preached his first sermon, and saw 3,000 people follow Christ.
Later, he stood before the same religious authorities who crucified Jesus, now threatening him with prison or worse if he continued to preach Jesus. Peter fearlessly responded, “It is better to obey God rather than man.” Jesus indicated that Peter would give his life for Him with a rare courage.
It is good for us to confess and grieve the times we deny Christ by our words, deeds and inactions, but it is better for us to remember how He has also filled us with the same Holy Spirit that filled Peter. He still says to us, as He said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”
In our families, communities, workplaces, schools, creative activities, governments, and around the world, we have opportunities to do just that. Jesus has even told us as He told Peter, “Greater works than I have done, you will do.”