“Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
John 21:16 NIV
Bible Reading: John 21:1-17
As our story opens, Jesus has been crucified and resurrected. Now, in his resurrected body, Jesus appears less and less and only in public; his men are no longer constantly at his feet. Peter wonders why? The cock has crowed three times; Peter has let his master down. Is Jesus angry? Peter wonders what the future holds. It was three wonderful years, but are those days over? Where to go from here? The glow is off his life.
This is a story of a man who, after following Jesus, after receiving his commission to fish for men, got discouraged and went back to his old way of life. In our story pay close attention to Jesus’ reaction to Peter, because this is the way Jesus reacts to us when we slip back and need to be rebuked and corrected. If you have slipped backward a bit in your walk with the Master and wonder if He is angry with you, then this story is for you.
“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (John 21:1-3 NIV). Peter was a fisherman. Jesus had changed his life and given him a new calling. He was now to be a fisher of men. Peter was a rough hulk of a man, and like many strong men, he had a bent toward self-sufficiency. He was accustomed to taking care of himself. Even after spending over three years with Jesus, he still had an independent streak. “You yourselves know that these hands of mine [Peter] have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions” (Acts 20:34). This verse is out of context and Peter was a changed man by this time, but you can see that it was difficult for him to rely on the Lord. He was the kind of man who was used to meeting his own needs, taking care of himself and others.
Now, after Jesus’ resurrection, those three years seemed like a dream to Peter and he reverted to his old ways. He went fishing. Instead of following Jesus, who had given him direction for three years, he retreated to his safety zone where he was most comfortable. Not only did Peter revert to old ways, but he brought his friends with him, causing them to stumble in their walk with Jesus. How will Jesus respond, knowing that his number one man had abandoned the cause?
“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered” (John 21:4-5 NIV). Jesus called out to them as friends but the disciples didn’t realize it was him. “Do you have any fish?” he asked. Did Jesus rebuke them for going backward in their walk with him? Was he angry? Did he say, “What’s the matter with you blockheads? Didn’t you learn anything in those three years I spent with you? I’m disgusted with all of you, and especially you, Peter. You’re supposed to be a leader and you are leading my sheep astray!” No, Jesus didn’t say any of those things. He simply helped them see that their efforts at finding satisfaction apart from him were fruitless. He simply said, “How’s the fishing?” They just looked at each other with that blank look common to all fishermen when they’ve been skunked.
Then Jesus gave them a suggestion. He said, “‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish’” John 21:6 NIV). So we have Jesus the carpenter telling Peter the fisherman how to catch fish. Amazingly, Peter responds — “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5 NIV).
When they let down the nets, they caught a huge catch of fish. When they recognized that it was Jesus standing on the shore, Peter jumped into the water and swam to greet Jesus. Jesus had a fire going and was fixing breakfast for Peter and the other men. It was a glad reunion, but I can’t help but wonder what was going on in Peter’s mind. He knew that Jesus’ plan for him was to proclaim the gospel. His new calling was fishing for men. I can imagine Peter waiting for those words of rebuke from Jesus. He was expecting Jesus to say, “Why are you fishing Peter?” What Jesus did say on the beach that morning tells us so much about how Jesus deals with his children who have slipped away.
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love [agape] me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love [phileo] you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15 NIV). Jesus asked Peter if he loved him with God’s unconditional (agape) love. And he compared Peter’s love for him to the old way of life with the words “more than these.” Peter was cut by those words as they played back in his head. Do I have complete unconditional love for Jesus, he thought? Peter didn’t know how to answer. He stammered as he said, “You know that I have affection (phileo) for you.” Jesus’ response to that was, “Feed my sheep.”
“Again Jesus said, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love [agape] me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love [phileo] you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep’” (John 21:16 NIV). Jesus asked the question again, but this time he dropped the comparison “more than these”, moving closer to Peter. Peter still didn’t know what to do with that word “agape” which means unconditional love. It must have sounded pitiful, even to Peter, as he forced out, “Yes, Jesus, you know that I like you a lot.” Jesus responded: “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love [phileo] you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17 NIV). In their conversation, Jesus has moved all the way to Peter. He is no longer asking if Peter has unconditional love for him; he is now saying, “Peter, do you truly have affection for me?” Jesus has rephrased his question three times, each time moving toward the place where Peter could respond to him. Jesus was reaching for Peter, changing his question each time so they could find a place of connection. Jesus does the same with you and me. He is willing to gently meet us where we are, to reach down with a gentle hand. He is ready to lift us up and restore us.
Jesus is seeking fellowship with you today and he is willing to come down to where you are and meet you there. He will meet you at the place where you are able to connect and he will gently lift you. You don’t need to reach for Jesus. He’s right there. Just place your hand in his and he will lift you. Jesus’ intent was not to rebuke Peter but to gently restore him. With the words, “feed my sheep,” Peter was re-commissioned with God’s plan for his life. When Jesus and Peter said goodbye that day, Jesus leaned toward Peter and whispered in his ear, “Follow me.” Peter was re-fitted, re-commissioned and ready for Pentecost. After that time on the beach, Peter preached a sermon and three thousand came to know the Lord.
Have you walked away from Jesus or has your relationship with him cooled a bit over the years? He is waiting for you on the beach today.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, I often think about my life and how I have let you down. I sometimes am afraid to draw close to you because my sin is always before me. I thank you for the story of Jesus and Peter on the beach. It helps me realize that I no longer need to be afraid or feel guilty, that you are reaching for me today, and that your arms are open wide. I do love you Jesus.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B007WU6JW4″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41zDgx3qjhL._SL160_.jpg” width=”95″] [easyazon-link asin=”B007WU6JW4″ locale=”us”]Elijah, Steps to a Life of Power[/easyazon-link] From Bob Saffrin, the author of this article… Find the Power God has in store for you!