John 21: 15-19 (MsgB)
After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” “Yes, Master, You know I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.” He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Yes, Master, You know I love You.” Jesus said, “Shepherd My sheep.” Then He said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was upset that He asked for the third time, “Do you love Me?” so he answered, “Master, You know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed My sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then He commanded, “Follow me.”
A three-fold questioning from Jesus,
A three-fold confession of Peter,
One reconciled & restored follower of Christ.
I’ve always been amazed at the great wisdom and compassion of Jesus, our Supreme Leader, as displayed here in this amazing encounter between Peter, the burned out leader, and our Lord. As I see it, this passage reveals Jesus as both a master psychologist/counselor and a compassionate pastoral shepherd at work.
So let’s unpack Jesus’ process of healing.
Step one: Take one very broken, humbled, and troubled leader (Peter), and get him comfortable in a warm, familiar environment (i.e. sitting by a campfire on the waters’ edge, munching on a breakfast of fish & biscuits).
Step two: Encourage this same man, who sees himself now as a complete failure (i.e. Peter flatly failed at the very core assignment he once prided himself in), to re-look at the wounds that are causing him so much pain. In Pete’s case, he had repeatedly denied his three-year relationship with Jesus. As we discussed in our last blog session, these three denials had caused Peter to re-think just about everything about himself and his call to ministry. A once proud leader, now sits broken on this sandy seashore, eating breakfast with the very one he had so openly betrayed.
Step three: Through a series of three very intimate, penetrating questions (‘Do you love me more than these?’ and two similar queries), Jesus opens Peter’s emotions up like a canned ham. With each question, Jesus digs at the betrayal wounds deep within Peter, drawing out both his anger at times, and his true feelings inside.
Step four: Finally, as the Lord ends His barrage of three probing questions (one question for each denial), Peter finally receives the re-instatement Jesus wants His friend to have. Jesus masterfully restores Peter as a pastoral shepherd with three powerful commissions to love and feed the Lord’s sheep. In the process, Jesus returns Peter back to the beginning they experienced together three years earlier. Now that the three denial wounds have been addressed and forgiven, a new beginning in ministry for Peter has just begun.
Step five: Jesus concludes this work of amazing healing by helping Peter recall the basic ministry instructions that Jesus first gave Peter. “Come, follow me”.
It’s these words of invitation from Jesus that we twenty-first century ‘leaders’ would do well to remember, both for those we ‘lead’ and for ourselves as well. As I see it, Jesus is never looking to recruit ‘leaders’ to ‘lead’ His sheep, but ‘followers’ who simply will serve the plans of God, feeding His sheep along the way. In truth, Peter got himself in deep dodo when he chose to ‘lead’ out of his own wisdom. The day Peter leaned on his own understanding is the day he promised things that he could never deliver. This proud leader, Peter, declared his prowess and strength, offering his friends a style of leadership which would never fail, even when it was attacked by Jesus’ enemies.
But when push came to shove, Peter’s leadership style crumbled to pieces, leaving not only Peter devastated, but opening the door for the other disciples to fail miserably as well.
When will we learn from Pete’s ‘leadership’ story that Jesus is not interested in recruiting self-reliant and self-supporting men and women to serve as ‘leaders’ for His Church. Instead, I see Jesus looking for humble servants who will be dedicated followers, faithfully obeying the specific directions the Lord gives, just as these first century followers learned to do?
The good news in our passage today is that Jesus is always willing to gently reconcile and restore broken and worn-out ‘leaders’ who come to understand their true limits. As I see it, Jesus is still welcoming back into the fold, those burned out, broken 3-B pastors who’ve finally found that all Jesus really expects of us in ‘leadership’ is to follow Him wherever He leads and faithfully feed His sheep along the way.
My prayer: Lord, Your commission here to the reconciled and restored Peter is quite simple: Love Jesus. Feed My sheep. If this two-pronged commission was concise enough for Peter and the first generation of church leaders, I have to believe that these words must be enough for me today. For Your Name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Why has our generation of church leaders added so many more details to this simple Jesus-directed commission? How have I been guilty of adding more agendas to my pastoral assignment? What can I do to pare down my complicated job description for successful church leadership and come back to these two simple jobs that Jesus gives Peter? If these two commandments (Love Jesus & feed His sheep) were good enough for the first ‘rock’ of the early church, why are they not sufficient for me?
So what is God speaking to you today as we follow Jesus the Nazarene, the Leader of the Church?
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