Forgiven, love, feed (John 21.15-25)

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Forgiven
‘There’s no hope for me now’, Peter might have felt. He had deserted Jesus in his time of desperate need. He had denied any knowledge of Jesus or that he was a disciple of Jesus. Total failure. No wonder Peter tried to drown his feelings of guilt and despair in the busyness of his work as a fisherman!
Into this situation of hopelessness came the true solution – busyness never actually cures any problem or suffering. Jesus met with Peter with the new life of the resurrection. Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him more than all the fish he had caught, and what they represented. A good question! Which do we love more? Which has priority – success in our professional life or Jesus?
Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Three times Jesus asks him the key question – “Do you love me?” In the first two questions Jesus uses the more intense and intimate ‘agape’ word for love, but Peter cannot bring himself to confess such deep love for Jesus. So Peter only dares to use a lower word for ‘love’. Then in the final question Jesus lowers the intensity and comes down to Peter’s level, using the same word as Peter.
Jesus’ threefold question and Peter’s heartfelt profession of love for Jesus echoes the threefold denial. So his sin and despair are washed clean. He can start again to enjoy the new life of the resurrection. His profession of love is accepted.
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Feed and Shepherd
Jesus immediately gives Peter a new commission. He will be empowered for this ministry by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but already now he is given the task of feeding Jesus’ people. At the second question there is a slight change and Peter is told not only to ‘feed’, but also to ‘shepherd’ Jesus’ sheep (21.16). Jesus uses different words for ‘sheep’ which include not only mature sheep, but also lambs and smaller sheep. Peter’s task should include very ordinary and apparently less significant Christians.
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a) Feed.
It is vitally important that Christian leaders feed their people with the God-given food of his Word. Without good biblical teaching a church will remain spiritually immature and God’s people will not be equipped to deal with the realities of non-Christians’ questionings or the sufferings and temptations of life. We need not only topical preaching and teaching, but also good biblical exposition which systematically makes clear the meaning of one biblical passage after another. Thus the message of the Bible is clarified and applied. Sadly, many of our churches today lack quality biblical exposition in their preaching. Jesus’ command to Peter resonates with us too, “Feed my sheep”.
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b) Shepherd.
All of us carry certain scars from our background. However loving and wise our parents were, they were not perfect! Inevitably something of their imperfection lives in us. And our environment brings further insecurities and pastoral hurts. This is particularly true in societies where marriage breakdown is heart-breakingly common. A Christian leader’s task must therefore include loving and skilled pastoral care as well as feeding the flock with good teaching.
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c) Leader.
When Jesus first called his disciples to follow him, he instructed them to become ‘fishers of men’. But now in Peter’s commissioning as a leader in the church he is not given an evangelistic calling. Did Jesus just assume this? Or does the task of evangelism and pioneer mission lie more on the shoulders of all of us as ordinary followers of Jesus, rather than being particularly the responsibility of our leaders?
In Western patterns of leadership, as also in Asian Confucian-background cultures, authority lies at the heart of all leadership. But in the New Testament Christian leaders do not exercise authority. They are to teach God’s Word – and that Word does have authority. As God’s revelation the Bible has power and absolute authority over us all in all things. And leaders are to pastor the flock with the loving care which is expected of a shepherd. ‘Feed’ and ‘pastor’ are the key ingredients of Christian leadership.
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Follow me!
Peter’s call to the ministry of a Christian leader continues immediately with the further command, “Follow me!” (21.19, 22). Following Jesus inevitably implies a call to sacrifice, for Jesus is the Suffering Servant who brings salvation through his death. So Jesus gives a prophecy concerning how Peter would die (21.18/19). On the other hand, God’s will for John turned out very differently. He suffered long years of exile, but he lived on to a ripe old age. This also allowed John to write his Gospel with the benefit of long years in which he could think deeply and pray concerning his experience of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. In concluding his Gospel John again emphasizes truth. He declares that the testimony of his Gospel is indeed true (21.24). And we today rest in the assured confidence that in God’s Word we have truth, indeed the unique truth.
So our blogs have come to the end of John’s Gospel. But I only started writing these blogs when my studies had reached John 10. So I shall start back at John 1 in my next blog and we shall hope to work our way through to where I started.
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P.S. You may also enjoy two books of biblical exposition which I have written: “Matthew and Mission: the Gospel through Jewish Eyes” (available from Jews for Jesus) and “Any Complaints? Blame God!: God’s Message for Today – Habakkuk the Prophet speaks” (Authentic Media).
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One thought on “Forgiven, love, feed (John 21.15-25)

  1. James Rae

    Thanks Martin, comforting and reassuring words of God through Jesus Christ Our Lord amen

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