Author: Ron Graham

Challenge and Change

Feed My Sheep
—John 21:15-17

This lesson is about Peter’s love for Jesus, and the service that Peter would do for Jesus because of that love. This lesson is also about you.

First, let's listen in while Jesus and Peter talk to each other (John 21:15-17). Then we will consider Peter’s love for Jesus, the hurt that Peter felt, and the task that Jesus gave him.

John 21:15-17, ESV

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' Peter said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs' (John 21:15, ESV).

16He said to him a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.'  He said to him, 'Tend my sheep' (John 21:16, ESV).

17Jesus said to Peter 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 everything; you know that I love you.'  Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep'” (John 21:17, ESV).

This conversation took place at Tiberius (lake Galilee), after Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter and other disciples were fishing. Jesus appeared, caused their nets to be filled, and invited them to add some fish to the breakfast he was cooking. Then he asked Peter three times, 'Do you love me?'

1 Peter’s Love

“Lord, you know that I love you!”

Jesus did not doubt Peter’s love. He knew that Peter loved him as though they were brothers. However, Jesus wanted Peter to affirm his love again —to help Peter feel confident as a true disciple of Christ.

Jesus did not ask Peter, “Will you and your wife become gospel workers? Will you endure persecution and in the end lay down your life for me?” That was his plan for Peter, but he only asked, “Do you love me?”

That's what really counts, isn't it? If you truly love someone, you will do everything possible that your loved one needs you to do. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Love is as important as faith. I know that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; those who come to me will not hunger, and those who believe in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). But faith alone is not enough. Jesus also requires that we totally love him. This Peter did.

You too can affirm your love for Jesus, and so be strengthened and encouraged. After all, the feeling is mutual —Jesus totally loves you too.

2 Peter’s Hurt

“Peter was grieved”

We notice that “Peter was grieved because Jesus said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?'” (John 21:17). Sometimes our feelings have to be hurt so that our concience can be cleared and our love confirmed.

Not many days previous, when Jesus was facing death, Jesus and Peter had another conversation. Jesus told Peter, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (John 13:36, ESV).

“Peter said to him, 'Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.' Jesus answered, 'Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times'” (John 13:37-38, ESV).

So, just as Peter had denied Jesus three times, the risen Jesus now asked Peter to affirm his love three times. This made Peter sorrowful, but it helped him to move on without the burden of guilt and regret. It helped prepare him for the task ahead.

You too may love Jesus with all your heart, yet be grieved that in some way you have let him down. You too can square things up with Jesus, receive forgiveness, renew your love, and move forward walking with him.

3 Peter’s Task

“Feed my sheep”

Jesus states Peter’s task in three words, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Peter would understand that the “sheep” Jesus referred to were people. Peter was to lead people to the green pasture that gives everlasting life.

The world today is full of “pastors” (shepherds) engaged in all kinds of “ministries” (services). But with what food are these shepherds serving the Lord’s sheep? That's a question worth thinking about, isn't it?

Shall we feed the Lord’s sheep with stories and anecdotes, personal testimonials, social and political discussion, irrelevant religious issues, philosophy and popular psychology, miracle meetings, and feel-good entertainment?

In some quarters the pastors and ministers may need to prayerfully focus on those three words, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17), and examine what food they provide the flock of Christ. Peter offers three words of his own: “Speak God’s words” (1Peter 4:11, ISV).

You too have sheep and lambs to nurture and feed. For food you have the words of God that were given to Peter's generation and have been passed on down to you in scripture. Jesus says to you, “Feed my sheep”.