by Rick Stevenson
When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”
“Feed My lambs,” he told Him. A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”
“Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.”
“Feed My sheep,” Jesus said. “Truly I tell you, when you were younger, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. After saying this, he told him, “Follow Me.”
Whenever I read this scene in John 21, I pretend that I am a director making a movie. I think about what I would have the camera focus on, what the soundtrack would be like. I ask myself tons of questions about what it must have looked like and what was important.
The scene opens with Peter in a familiar place, on the water fishing. Some of the disciples are with him. He has not been fully restored with Jesus yet. They have fished through the night and haven’t caught anything. On their way to shore, a figure on the beach shouts to them the question that fishermen must hate, especially when it has been a night without fish:
“Did you catch anything?”
One of the disciples shouts back: “No.”
The guy on the beach offers an “wonderful” idea: “Why don’t you throw your nets on the other side of the boat?”
With a we’ve-got-nothing-to-lose attitude, they oblige. The camera zooms in on Peter rolling his eyes. When they pull in the nets they have 153 fish! The camera pulls back from the fish flopping around on the floor of the boat and begins slowly zooming in on the face of John. He is gazing at the figure on the beach. When you get a close up of John’s face, he says with authority, “It’s the Lord!”
Within seconds, while the camera is still on John, you hear a great, big splash! Peter is already in the water. He is swimming to shore to get to Jesus.
It’s interesting, he doesn’t ask to walk on water this time!
When he gets to the beach you see Jesus at a fire cooking some fish.
What? Where did He get His fish? The disciples, former fishermen, have been out all night with a boat and nets and they didn’t catch anything! Jesus is by Himself and He has fish cooking already!
This is how I picture it: Jesus just stood on the shoreline with a frying pan and His index finger. With one motion, He commanded the fish to jump into the pan!
Watch this: When the boat arrives at the shoreline with 153 fish, Jesus asks: “Do you guys have any fish? Why don’t you bring some of what you have and put it with what I have and we all can have lunch.”
I love this! First, can we agree that all of the fish in this story are from Jesus? He had His fish, God knows how. And He miraculously allowed the fishless fishermen to catch some fish. They were all because of Jesus. Then He mingles what they had with what He has so that they can fellowship together around a meal.
This is perfect imagery regarding what our ministry looks like. Everything we have is from Jesus, all our giftings, wisdom, etc. But He asks us to bring what we have and put it with what He has. It goes like this:
“Moses, what’s that in your hand?” God asks.
Moses answers, “A rod.”
“Perfect!” God exclaims. “Let’s go get Pharaoh!”
“David, what do you have?” God inquires.
David answers, “A sling and some stones.”
“Excellent, let’s go get the giant!”
You get the idea. Jesus let them bring some fish to the table with His fish and they all got to fellowship around a meal. He will do the same for you in ministry.
After breakfast, Jesus invites Peter to take a walk with Him. It must have been a slow, thoughtful walk. I see Peter reserved, with his head down as he politely engages in conversation with Jesus. Finally, Jesus cuts to the chase with a penetrating question:
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter answers truthfully, “You know that I love You.”
Three times Jesus asks this question. And with each answer, Peter’s head rises higher and his voices echoes more clearly.
“You know all things, You know that I love You!”
Jesus gives Peter the chance to counter each of the three denials. And with each response, Peter receives reconciliation. Denial is absorbed in a declaration of love. And three times, Jesus is able to direct Peter’s future ministry as a shepherd in Christ’s Church.
What follows the full reconciliation is astounding. Jesus gives Peter a prophetic word about how he would die and challenges Peter with one mandate.
Jesus uses this phrase in His prophetic word to Peter regarding his old age: “They will stretch out your hands.”
Apparently, this Greek phrase could not be interpreted in any other way but crucifixion. John gives the commentary that Jesus was indicating the kind of death Peter would experience.
I am amazed at the faith of Peter. Jesus trusted him with the knowledge of his own cruel martyrdom, and Peter remained faithful. For decades, Peter knew what was coming, and he remained faithful.
That is the power of full reconciliation!
Christ also simplified Peter’s ministry with one mandate: “Follow Me.”
It did not have to be more intricate than that—simply follow Jesus.
I love that Peter remains Peter even after reconciliation. He turns and sees John and asks: “What about him?”
Jesus answers: “That’s none of your business!” And then reiterates the simple mandate: “You must follow Me.”
Well there it is. The end of Peter’s walk of restoration. It wasn’t over after Peter’s fall. And Peter was a rock! In fact, according to Church history, Peter was to be crucified exactly like Jesus. But in a last request, he asked for his cross to be turned upside down because he was not worthy to die like His Lord.
Jesus might have some questions for you….
Do you love Him?
Are you following Him?
.…What’s in your hand?
Rich Stevenson is the Founder and Co-Director of The Malachi Network, and also serves as Executive Pastor at Wesley Church in Quarryville, PA.