I’m wondering how many times I’ve said the words “I’m sorry.”
Certainly over my lifetime that number must be in the hundreds of thousands. At least!
I say “sorry” for bumping into someone accidentally, for forgetting something, or for sins I’ve committed against God and others.
Peter surely was sorry. Sorry for the way he had denied his Lord Jesus on the night Jesus was betrayed. Today we will continue our look into John 21 and the scene by the lakeside as Jesus restores Peter. Does Jesus demand an apology? Will He not restore before Peter says, “I’m sorry” and really means it? Thankfully, the Lord chooses a better way.
John 21:15–17 When 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.”  He 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.”  He 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. (ESV)
What can we learn from this text?
One element I left out of the explanation of yesterday’s text was the charcoal fire (21:9). When Peter arrived on shore he saw the Lord sitting down at that charcoal fire. I can envision Peter sitting down across that fire from the Lord. The last time Peter was recorded to be by a charcoal fire was in John 18:18 when he warmed himself by the charcoal fire in the courtyard of the High Priest. Jesus was inside at that time facing the abuse and mockery of the Sanhedrin. At that charcoal fire Peter had denied Jesus three times. How painful something like a common charcoal fire could be to Peter now, bringing to mind his sin.
Jesus intends to do some serious spiritual surgery on Peter. This fire is one of the elements of that operation. Just as Peter denied Jesus three times by the fire, he will now have the chance to reaffirm his loyalty to Jesus three times by the fire. Jesus has come to restore Peter.
Three times Jesus asks, “Simon, some of John, do you love me more than these?” (21:15). This question is the most gracious way to restore Peter, and it’s how the Lord restores all He has died to redeem. Jesus could have asked Peter, “Simon, are you sorry for what you did to me? Do you promise to be faithful to me from this point on?” It could have perhaps been easier for Peter to answer that question with a resounding, “Yes! I’m so sorry! I’ll never do it again.” But Peter had already made strong declarations about his will and intent to follow Jesus before, and he had failed to keep his word. Jesus knows this too, and He ultimately doesn’t need that well-intended but ultimately powerless pledge. Jesus asks “Do you love me?” three times to give Peter three opportunities to reverse his previous denials, but the question itself shows us something too important to miss: Jesus wants Peter’s heart. He knows if He has Peter’s heart, his obedience will follow.
- This story teaches us that we need restoration. It’s not enough to say “sorry” and move on. When we sin against the Lord, He wants our sorrow to be expressed by love for Him because of His love and grace to us. Have you expressed your love to Jesus in prayer recently? Think of how He graciously restores your heart and express your love to Him.
- Jesus gave Peter the command “Feed my sheep/lambs” three times. The way we show our love to Jesus is by loving others and sharing with them the same grace He has shown to us. How can you show the love of Jesus to your brothers or sisters when they sin against you? How can husbands and wives show this kind of love and forgiveness? How should we as the body of Christ in the church love each other this way?
Lord Jesus, thank You for restoring Peter to love and service for You. We too need restoring, to love and service that demonstrates to others the great love You have for us. Continue that work of changing us and working out in us the restoration that You alone can do. Amen.