the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me" (John 21:1-19).
Simon Peter and six others had been fishing through the night,
but they hadn’t caught a thing since they began.
As the darkness was retreating from the early morning light,
they were suddenly aware there was a man
on the shore, and he called out to them, “Have you caught anything?”
The disciples told him, “We have not caught one!”
“Cast your net off to the right.” “There is a most familiar ring
to that voice,” they must have thought. When they had done
as he told them, the net soon became so full of fish that they
found they could not haul their heavy catch aboard.
Then John, realizing it was Jesus, was the first to say
to his partner Simon Peter, “It’s the Lord!”
Peter jumped into the water and was swimming for the shore,
while the others dragged the net behind the boat.
Jesus said, “Come have some breakfast.” And now all of them were sure
it was he, but this time they did not emote.
What were Peter’s thoughts that morning, as they huddled round the fire?
Was he thinking of that night not long before,
when he’d sat and warmed himself beside another open fire,
and denied his Master once, then two times more?
What remorse he must be feeling over what he did that night.
Did he dare to look his Lord now in the eye?
Was he thinking, “Is there something I can do to make this right?
Must I bear my shame and guilt until I die?”
How his heart must have been pounding, as the Lord now spoke his name ---
now at last the reprimand he knew must come,
finally the punishment for which he had himself to blame,
for he knew he was much guiltier than some.
“What was that you boasted, Simon? ‘Even if I have to die,
I will not deny you.’ But three times you did!”
He knew Jesus would not settle for some feeble alibi.
There was no way Peter’s weakness could be hid.
Jesus spoke no word of reprimand, however. He just said,
“Do you love me, Simon, more than you love these?” ---
meaning all the things that up to now had claimed his heart and head,
all his future plans and former loyalties.
What relief and joy the guilt-ridden disciple must have felt,
as he answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
And what Jesus said to Peter must have caused his heart to melt:
“Feed my lambs,” he said, and Simon Peter knew
he was wanted, he was needed! There was work for him to do,
and he knew that his forgiveness was assured.
Jesus asked the same thing thrice, as if allowing Peter to
cancel out the three times he’d denied his Lord.
There were six eyewitnesses to this remarkable exchange
between Peter and the risen Lord that day.
They could see how Jesus let someone who had denied him, change
---one who’d boasted he would never fall away.
It’s unlikely they would let Peter forget what he had said,
and they might have rubbed it in a little bit:
“What a leader you are, Simon! Although we may all have fled,
that you even knew him you would not admit.”
Even if such criticisms they had never dared to say,
those may well have been their thoughts, as he began.
So by giving him a chance to recommit himself that way,
Jesus showed them all that Peter was his man.
He was still the ardent leader of his Master’s little flock,
even though he once had left him in the lurch.
Though the rock now had a crack in it, still Peter was the rock
on whom Jesus promised he would build his church.
So he gave Peter three chances to profess his loyalty.
On the basis of performance Peter knew
that he couldn’t prove his love for Jesus, but he knew that he
really loved him, and that Jesus knew it, too.
“Lord, you know I love you, even though I let you down that way.
You know everything, Lord. You know I love you!”
What a thought! ---that though our past performance belies what we say,
Jesus knows what now we long to be and do.
This was Peter’s public restoration. Jesus canceled out
his denials, telling him what he must do:
“Feed my lambs and tend my sheep!” That charge dispelled whatever doubt
Peter might have had that Jesus loved him, too.
Having heard his affirmations, Jesus then went on to say
what the fisherman would face when he was old.
He could come and go now as he pleased, but there would come a day
when he’d have to go wherever he was told.
“When you’re old, you’ll stretch your hands out and somebody will lead you
where you do not want to go.” Then John explains,
Jesus said this to show how Peter would die. There are those who
think he meant the cross, and that view still remains
as the most likely and reasonable possibility.
There are others who prefer to understand
it to mean that when Peter grew and could no longer see,
someone else would have to lead him by the hand.
Either way it was a testimony to his faithfulness.
The disciple in his final days would do
what he could not as a younger man, when he was under stress.
Peter’s heart from now on always would be true.
In the garden of Gethsemane he had denied his Lord.
His own strength and confidence has not sufficed.
But his faithfulness from now on by his Master was assured,
because Peter knew his strength was now in Christ.