John 21:15-19 is one of my favorite passages of the Bible. In it, Jesus demonstrates His compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and determination that the Father’s will be carried out, and tells us He expects the same commitment from us. The purpose of my writing here isn’t to cover in totality all the meaningful truths presented in this passage, but merely to focus narrowly on a particular aspect of it.
Betrayal (It’s Not About You)
Just before Jesus’ death, upon hearing that he would deny Him 3 times in the near future, Peter swore to Jesus that he would never deny Him, “even if I must die with you” (Mt 26:30-35). Of course, Jesus knew this wasn’t the case, and even after revealing this snapshot of Peter’s future to him, Jesus didn’t cast him out; He didn’t abandon him or treat him rudely. Jesus is focused on His mission; preparing the path and shepherding home all those souls given Him by the Father (Jn 10:27-28).
It’s easy to lose focus on our mission of showing the way and leading others to Christ. We can get bogged down in demanding that others meet our needs, that they respect us, are loyal to us, and obey us; and only once we are assured that we are being treated “right”, will we in turn, care for them. This is completely contrary to the humility of Jesus, who set aside all personal rights and remained committed to the will of the Father.
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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Mercy, Forgiveness, Humility & The Focus of Christ
Although betrayed by His friend (Jn 15:15, Lk 22:54-62), Jesus isn’t concerned about seeking retribution, revenge, inflicting punishment, or severing the relationship between Peter and Himself. No silent treatment here until He gets an apology. In short, He remains committed to gathering the sheep, and despite Peter’s failure at loyalty and commitment to his friend, Jesus knows that Peter will go forward as a useful shepherd of God’s flock – and this is what is of importance to Him.
It should not go unnoticed that Jesus now restates Peter’s commission to tend to His sheep. And he doesn’t re-instate it, he re-states it. Peter’s commission to go out and make disciples had never been voided, even if Peter felt unworthy and pierced by shame from betraying Jesus. Jesus knows Peter’s heart, and His message to him is exactly what His message is to us in those times we lose focus: “Yes, I know you screwed up, I know you have done horrible things – now forget it and focus on the eternal. Love Me, follow Me, and go out and lead other’s to my Father!” This is a powerful demonstration that no matter what we have done, how we may have been disobedient or betrayed God, we can rededicate ourselves to loving Him and tending His sheep. We are never beyond usefulness, despite any shame, guilt, or sense of failure and hopelessness that we are feeling or believing of ourselves.
Love The Ones He Has Given You – Now!
Are their people in your life right now whom God has entrusted to you to care for? Do you love Him? Than pick yourself up right now, wherever you find yourself, regardless of your past mistakes; despite how those “others” may have hurt or betrayed you before; and humbly tend His sheep. Care for the coworkers, friends, and family that God has placed in your life. Point them, lead them, serve them, and if necessary, carry them to the only One who can give rest to their souls and treasures that are Eternal.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8 ESV)