15When 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, “Feed my lambs.” 16He said to him 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, “Tend my sheep.” 17He 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (john 21, 15-17)
I think many of you might be familiar with the background of the above conversation. After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples were completely hopeless and sad. They were utterly confused about their future; every plan and purpose they had for their future were linked to the ministry of Christ and now they found themselves staring into an unknown future. Some went back to their old way of life. Peter and some of his companions too returned to their old job of fishing; however, the story does not end there, instead it just begins.
As usual Peter and his companions were by the sea of Tiberias; altogether seven of them are there trying to catch fish; the whole night they worked but caught nothing.
2Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21, 2-3)
As usual another disappointing experience which, I think, might have reminded Peter of the day that he met Jesus for the first time. Of course, the venue was different then – it was by the lake of Gennesaret. Let us go back to that story.
1One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, a the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. (Luke 5, 1-7)
As the above verses say – the day Peter met Jesus for the first time was also a day of disappointment but Jesus appears on the scene; fills his boat with a supernatural catch of fish; reveals His glory and invites him to follow Christ into the ministry.
Thus, a new chapter in Peter’s life began but it came to an abrupt end with the death of Christ and now Peter is back by the sea with his fishing nets. Unfortunately, though he had to experience another day of disappointment; it still had something great in store for Peter; it was, in fact, going to usher in a new glorious chapter in his life.
As usual after a whole night’s hard work; Peter and his companions are back on the shore without any catch; tired and disappointed but suddenly Jesus appears on the scene and asks them to put out the net for a catch. The following verses tell the story.
4Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (John 21, 4-6)
As the following verses tell; when the disciples saw the miraculous catch, they realized that it was Jesus who asked them to put out the net for a catch and they all came to the shore to meet Him. Later, Jesus prepares a breakfast for them and ate with the disciples.
10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21, 10-14)
After finishing the breakfast Jesus begins a conversation with Peter which was really very close and personal; though some of the other disciples were present on the scene; including the one Jesus loved, still He chose to talk only to peter and the conversation begins with an intimate question:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” and this same question was repeated three times; normally in Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures if something is of utmost importance, it is repeated three times for confirmation and that might have been the reason why Jesus repeatedly asking Peter the same question.
Furthermore, Jesus was about to entrust the responsibility of feeding His sheep exclusively with Peter and he wanted to make sure that he loved Christ more than any of the other disciples.
In other words; Jesus was about to reinstate Peter as the leader of His Ministry; but the main condition was – Peter should love the LORD more than any of the other disciples and by asking him three times Lord Jesus confirms Peter’s love for Him.
Well, here, you might wonder why Lord Jesus entrusts Peter alone with the task of feeding His sheep not anyone else? It was because, in Jesus’s heart Peter always had a special place; He always viewed Peter as someone who will take the leadership of His Ministry after His departure.
For example, when Jesus decides to choose disciples, He first appoints Peter; yes, he was the first one to be appointed as a disciple. Please read the verses below.
9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5, 9-11)
Another example is – The conversation between Jesus and Peter which we find in Matthew 16.
17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, b and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades c will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be d bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be e loosed in heaven.”( Matthew 16, 17-19)
In verse 16, we see Peter acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah – the Christ, and in reply to Peter’s acknowledgement, Jesus tells him that: He is Cephas – or Peter which means Rock and – “on this rock, I will build my church.”
And also promises him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember, Jesus was not making this promise to anybody else but only to Peter which shows the prominence or the leadership role that Christ assigned Peter within His earthly Ministry.
However, many of the Protestant preachers and Bible scholars often hesitate to acknowledge this leadership role of Peter. I have heard a slightly different interpretation of Matthew 16, 17-19 a few times which are not accurate when we examine them in the light of the above verses.
So, as I mentioned earlier, Peter was appointed as the exclusive Leader of Christ’s earthly ministry and this fact was once more affirmed when Jesus commanded Peter to feed His sheep.
Nonetheless, Peter was entrusted with this responsibility on a condition, that is – He should love Christ more than any other disciples and that is the reason why Jesus makes this conditional statement: “If you love me feed My sheep.”
So, “love” was the pre-condition and the reason for assigning Peter with the responsibility of feeding His sheep.
This also helps us to understand one fundamental truth about our relationship with Christ; that is – it is built on the foundation of love. Jesus entrusts his disciples with responsibilities only if they love Him.
Another example of “love for Christ” acting as a condition can be found in John 14, 15 where He says: If you love me, keep my commandments.
15“If you love me, keep my commands. (John 14, 15)
Yes, He is asking you to keep His Commandments for the reason that you love Him and nothing else.
Anyway, what I have written above is just a little bit of background on the reasons why Apostle Peter occupies the most prominent position in the Ministry of Christ and why he was chosen exclusively to feed His sheep.
Next, let us examine what we, believers in Christ, can learn from Jesus’ appointment of Peter to feed His sheep.
Firstly, Love is the foundation of our relationship with Christ and it is the fundamental reason why He assigns us with certain responsibilities in His Ministry. Christ does not entrust a ministry or task with someone who does not love Him. Here, you might wonder why our love for Christ plays such an important role?
It is because, our love for Christ motivates us to work sincerely for His kingdom. When our love for Christ is the reason for feeding His sheep, then, we will feed them with green grass and will lead them beside still waters. We will not lead them astray or let them be devoured by the wolves.
Secondly, every believer in Christ who love Him (yes, the ones who love Christ) also has the responsibility by default to feed His sheep. Sometimes many of the Christians have a misunderstanding that – feeding the sheep is the responsibility of Pastors and Preachers alone and laymen has no role whatsoever to play in it. However, this thinking is wrong. Christ has endowed each one of us with a specific gift in a specific area and we should identify them and work in those areas so that we could be a blessing to others.
Thirdly, despite being called into the Ministry of Christ, we could still go through very difficult seasons – seasons of failures and disappointments but they might be temporary. Please remember; Peter was appointed into the Ministry on a day that was very disappointing for him and also, he was re-instated into the ministry with the command to “Feed my Sheep” on a day that was very disappointing too.
So, disappointments and failures does not mean that Christ is absent in your ministry. The one who called you into His ministry is faithful and He will place you where He wants you to be. People and circumstances do not have the power to influence God’s plan for your life. So, even when the sky is dark and the well is dry, you should still hold on to the ministry that Christ has entrusted you with. Even during the darkest times of your ministry, you should still be able to repeat the verses of Prophet Habakkuk.
17Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3, 17-18)