John 21:15-17 – “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 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.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, 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, “Tend My sheep.” NASB
I have heard some powerful explanations and etymological explanations of this passage and the words or phrases used. Although that is not what I want to focus on here, I do want to address it briefly. In the first question, the original is a bit ambiguous and could have been referring to inanimate objects. Jesus could have been asking Peter if he was willing to forsake all those things for Him (Jesus). But more likely He was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than the other disciples. Peter having suffered the shame of his rejection of Jesus would make no pretense of loving more than others. He rolled it all on the Lord’s Omniscience and said, “Lord You know.”
My focus is not what words Jesus used in either asking the question or in reference to caring for His church but in the heart and mind of Peter. Peter had abandoned the Lord after making his bold claim that he would never do so and was willing and ready to die for the Lord. Peter had made the decision to ‘go fishing’ not for recreation but to return to his old life as a fisherman. He felt unworthy and he was. He felt the shame of his rejection and abandonment of Jesus, and he should. He had been quick to speak his grandiose claim of his bravery, commitment, and faith and it all came crashing down on him.
I can only imagine how Peter felt as he now stood face to face with His Lord. He needed to be reassured and needed to do some deep personal soul searching and that is what Jesus is doing, at least that is my view. The Lord wanted to strip from Peter the brashness of making claims that he could not back up and bring him to an awareness of how much he must and should depend upon Jesus for everything.
It is in this place and state of mind that Peter could become the mighty warrior for the kingdom that he became. If you question what I’m saying about Peter’s mindset go back and read what the angel said in Mark 16 when the women came to the tomb and found it empty – “go tell His disciples and Peter.” Why specifically identify Peter? Because of what I’ve just said! Peter was in such a dejected state of mind that he was in danger of being lost to the kingdom and the Lord did not want that and prepared to prevent that.
Peter moved from being brash, rash, and boastful to a committed and calculated disciple of Jesus. He moved from dejection to a boldness of faith that caused him to stand before the crowd on the Day of Pentecost and proclaim a message that could possibly get him killed. He stood before the Sanhedrin and was unmoved by their threats and he could face the lame man at the Gate Beautiful and with the risk of ridicule and charge of abusing a cripple, he declared his faith and acted upon it. Peter became what Jesus saw in him when he called him to discipleship. He saw a Rock and that reed was now becoming a Rock in Jesus!
Know that the times of failing and stumbling that you have or may encounter are not evidence that God has rejected you. Realize that when He comes and turns up the heat and you squirm it is not to bring you pain but to enhance that which He has seen in you and make you what He declared you to be.
God be with you as you go through your day!