Do You Love Me? Feed My Lambs

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.
(John 21:15-17, ESV)

I cannot imagine how devastated Peter must have felt when he found himself, out of fear for his own safety, denying that he ever knew Jesus (John 18). It happened right after Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priests for questioning. It also happened just as Jesus said it would, and Peter, “the Rock,” despite his protests that this could never happen, found himself crumbling into sand under pressure. And it happened not just once, but three times, each time hammering his soul as he denied being one of Jesus’ disciples. I cannot imagine the pain, confusion, fear, guilt, and shame that Peter experienced. It’s too much to bear!

I cannot imagine how overwhelmed Peter must have felt when three days later he raced John to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty, and then later that day when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples behind locked doors and said “Peace be with you” (John 20). It happened just as Jesus said it would, and Peter, who thought that his life was over, found that it was only just beginning, and that Jesus was sending him and the other disciples out as apostles (“sent ones”) to proclaim the gospel of the forgiveness of sin. I cannot imagine the wonder, confusion, joy, and amazement that Peter experienced. It’s too much to take in, too good to be true!

And now, some days later, Jesus appears to several of the disciples as they are fishing on the Sea of Tiberias and provides them with an amazing catch of fish. Peter, in his eager haste to be with Jesus, jumps into the water and swims to shore. There they find Jesus offering them a warm breakfast, and as the meal is over, Jesus turns to Peter with a troubling and penetrating question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

I cannot imagine how Peter felt as Jesus began to question his love for Him. I suspect some of the old shame and guilt returned, especially as Jesus asked him this same question three times, echoing the three denials in the high priests’ courtyard after Jesus was arrested. But Jesus did not just rub salt in the open wound and leave Peter wallowing in his sense of shame. Instead, He gave him a simple charge to keep, out of his love for Jesus: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.”

I find this passage deeply encouraging as I reflect on God’s grace and forgiveness in my own life, and how in spite of my failures and sin, Jesus still calls me, like Peter, to feed His sheep. Jesus, because of His mercy and grace, forgives my sin, and calls me to proclaim this gospel of forgiveness to others as an act of love. I don’t have to be perfect or “good enough” to teach others about the grace of God; in fact, it is because I have needed and received God’s forgiveness that I have something wonderful to share with others. Jesus gave Peter a commission, a calling to fulfill, motivated by a love for Jesus, and that same calling is available for you and me today.

Do you love Jesus? One way you can demonstrate your love for Him is to teach others about Him, about His life, ministry, teaching, sacrificial death and resurrection to bring forgiveness and new life to all who believe.

Is your teaching an act of love for Jesus, or have you lost that sense of love in the midst of the challenges of teaching? Take time to revisit the gospel story and wonder at the amazing love and grace of God has shown to you in Jesus Christ, a grace that could “save a wretch like me,” as the former slave trader turned pastor, John Newton, wrote. He, too, knew what it meant to be forgiven and called to “feed my sheep.” This can be your calling too.

As you prepare your next Bible study session, take time to reflect again on the “Amazing Grace” of God shown to you in and through Jesus Christ. Let this stir your heart to a deeper love for God, a love that desires to tell others, to help them also know God’s grace and to learn how to live within that grace!

Father, thank you for how Jesus forgave Peter his denial of Him and called him to a ministry of feeding your sheep. I confess that I, too, have failed you and am not worthy to serve you, and I am so deeply thankful for your grace, forgiveness, and calling to feed your flock. May I do so out of a strong love for you and a love for your flock. Where my love for you has faded, remind me of your great love for me and stir my heart to a deeper love that impacts all I do in my walk with you, including my teaching. As I do this, may others see more clearly your love for them and respond in faith to the grace that I, like Peter, have experienced from you. Amen.

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