Peter was a leader in the church who had fallen into deep sin; as we know he denied Jesus three times in a public place. There must have been times when he thought there would be no way back for him – things with Jesus would never be the same again. It was unlikely he would ever have a key role in the church again. Were it up to us, perhaps he wouldn’t have.
However, something utterly beautiful takes place in this passage: Jesus restores Simon Peter. There is a way back. It isn’t an easy way, as it involves facing up to his wrongdoing, confessing it, and turning away from it, but when he does so the wonderful thing is that Jesus restores Peter to his role as an apostle. Peter has a future as a leader in the church, in spite of past failure.
As Christians, sometimes we never get past our failures. We get stuck. We fail to move on. We fail to come and admit our sins to others, and to God, and to seek forgiveness and restoration. What a waste! And yet it happens again and again. Someone goes off the rails, and feels like there is no way back. But if Jesus can restore Simon Peter, then he can restore us too. And the truth is, we never wander so far from God that there is no way back to him.
My neighbour enjoys restoring old pieces of furniture- sanding them down, painting on a primer and then a furniture paint, polishing up the metal, and fixing the runners and so on. It really is amazing how a piece of furniture long past its best and broken in some ways can be restored to usefulness. How much more wonderful when we see real people coming back to the Lord, and being restored.
Satan wants us to think that once we fallen into deep sin, we are disqualified for good – this is a lie. Thanks be to God, there is much more hope for those who have failed than that.
We are told (verse 14) that this is the 3rd time Jesus has appeared with his disciples since he rose from the dead. The 7 disciples had just witnessed a miraculous catch of fish, 153 large fish! Then they enjoyed breakfast with Jesus on the shore. Peter’s restoration takes place after breakfast.
1. The question Jesus asks us: dealing with the past and the present
‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ (John 21:15)
Jesus asks Simon Peter a deep and personal question. But he’s not asking because he needs to know the answer! Jesus already knows all things. Jesus is asking for Simon Peter’s own sake. Jesus wants Peter to be able to publicly acknowledge his love for Jesus, and for this love to be the driving force of all that Peter will do in the future.
The question Jesus asks Peter is a question he asks each one of us today, and our answer has enormous ramifications. It is our love for Jesus which ought to make us bring all areas of our lives under his control and lordship. In other words, love for Jesus is central to what being a mature disciple of Jesus is all about.
What does Jesus mean when he says, do you love me ‘more than these’? It’s most likely that Jesus is speaking about the other disciples. ‘Simon, do you love me more than all of the other disciples love me?’ Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’ (Mark 14:29)
How would Peter have felt hearing this question; ‘Simon, do you love me more than these?’ It must have hurt. It must have been embarrassing for him to recall the boasts he had made. Nevertheless, it’s necessary for Peter to face up to these uncomfortable truths if he is to be restored.
Peter doesn’t just hear the question once, but 3 times, no doubt because he had publicly denied Jesus 3 times, and so now he is given the opportunity to publicly affirm his love for Jesus 3 times. The principle for us today is clear: ‘Before Jesus can be followed and served, the sin in our lives has to be addressed.’ (B Milne).
Let’s pause and take Jesus’ question for Peter, and address it to ourselves. Do I love Jesus?
‘What is the great secret of loving Christ? It is an inward sense of having received from him pardon and forgiveness of sins. Those love much who feel much forgiven. He that has come to Christ by faith with his sins, and tasted the blessedness of free and full absolution, he is the man whose heart will be full of love towards his Saviour. The more we realise that Christ has suffered for us, and paid our debt to God, and that we are washed and justified through his blood, the more we shall love him for having loved us and giving himself for us.’ (J C Ryle)
2. A Bright Future
How wonderful that Peter would go on from this point to serve the Lord for a further 30 years. His sin hasn’t disqualified him from service after all, because it has been dealt with, and not ignored. We see in Peter’s life an excellent example of real repentance, and of the power of the grace of God, as Peter goes on to preach before thousands, mature in the faith, and suffer for the sake of Jesus.
Jesus gives much more than forgiveness: he also recommissions Peter, giving him back his role as a pastor in the church of God.
And what is Peter’s main task in his role as a pastor? Clearly it is to feed the congregation with the Word of God. The flock is comprised of a great deal of variety, mature sheep and young lambs.They all need to be fed. Whatever stage in the Christian life we are at, it is crucial that we are fed well from God Word Sunday by Sunday, as well as at home too of course.
Peter is also tasked with taking care of the sheep (verse 16). We see the 2 main roles of the elder here – teaching the sheep and caring for the sheep.
‘Why did Jesus put so much emphasis on feeding the sheep? When the sheep are fed, nurtured, and filled with the strength of Christ, and of his Word, they become a mighty army turned loose on the world. Babies have almost no influence on a culture. Before the can turn the world upside down, they have to grow up, they have to become mature, and that happens as they are fed from the Word of God. Nothing less will do.’ (R.C. Sproul)
Let’s end just by relishing the wonderful grace of God, which allows people like us to come back from our mistakes, and even to learn from them, and to have a bright future after them.
Remember Peter. Failure is never final with God. No matter how far we have fallen, or how far we have wandered away from the Lord, he can forgive and renew us and then use us in his service.