Has anyone ever accused you of being a hypocrite for calling yourself a Christian? If so, then the accusation is based on a false assumption; the assumption that one has to be a good person before we can call ourselves Christians. In truth, it’s the other way around – we have to see ourselves as sinners before we can ask Christ for forgiveness and redemption.
How many of us would consider ourselves to be good and faithful servants of Christ? Are we able to live up to God’s standards? What happens when we neglect to do the good things that we should have been doing? How should we deal with failures in Christian living?
The challenges of living as a believer can seem daunting. We seem to be facing impossibly high standards that we are being asked to live up to, when we consider what the Bible asks of us, knowing that God is perfect and desires perfect holiness.
None of us can achieve perfection of character in this life. If we think we have achieved perfection then we may be in danger of pride. The Bible says that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6 and Proverbs 3: 34) meaning that if we ever become self-righteous and proud, instead of humbling ourselves before God, then He will oppose us and allow us to be tested, but when we humble ourselves, repent and confess our sins to Him, then He forgives us and restores us.
Sooner or later we are going to fail God in one way or another. What then? What do we do next? How would we recover from that situation?
Does it mean that we have lost out on God’s Will and perfect plan for our lives? No.
Just before the arrest of Jesus the apostle Peter was confident that he would be braver and more loyal than any of the other disciples, but Jesus knew better. Jesus knew that Peter would deny ever knowing him, not once but three times before morning.
It was Peter’s over-confidence that caused him to fail. He relied too much on his own strength of will, instead of praying for God to give him inner courage. Jesus had warned His disciples to pray for themselves, so that they would not fall into temptation. He knew that everyone would leave Him, but also that most of the disciples would return to faith in Him; only Judas would be lost.
Let’s look at what happened to the apostle Peter after he denied Jesus three times? How would you respond if a church leader denied knowing Jesus three times in the same hour?
Would you consider such a person to be fit for ministry? Would their career ever recover to to point where they would ever be allowed to preach and teach God’s word in public again?
Let’s turn to John chapter 21.
John 21:1-17 is one of my favourite passages of scripture: because (four reasons)
• It’s a warm cosy pastoral scene in which Jesus forgives Peter for denying Him three times
• It shows Jesus’ concern not only for Peter but for the rest of His flock
• It shows that Christians who fall away and then return to Jesus can be re-instated into a meaningful service and ministry in Christ’s kingdom
• It reminds us of the importance of feeding on the Word of God
Read Verses 1-2:
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.a It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.
This scene takes place during the 40 day period between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. During this time Jesus is able to appear to anyone anywhere. Jesus had already appeared once to Mary Magdalene and twice to the disciples.
Besides the eleven Apostles there were other followers of Jesus. The Roman centurion and many others who witnessed the crucifixion also came to realise that Jesus was the Son of God. At least two members of Jewish Sanhedrin were followers of Jesus; namely Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. There were several women named in the Bible including Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, who were among the early community of believers.
All of these people knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One of God, but still they were struggling to comprehend the fact that Jesus had really risen from the dead. Yet they continued to meet together, and Peter unlike Judas was still part of the community of believers. Judas had betrayed Jesus, Peter had denied Jesus, the other disciples had abandoned Jesus, but apart from Judas they continued as believers and they continued to meet together.
Read Verses 3-6:
“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Jesus repeats the same miracle that He performed when He first called the apostles. The same miracle that He used when he called the disciples to become Fishers of Men.
Peter did not stop being a fisherman when he was called by Jesus. Many times Jesus used the boat as a pulpit when preaching to the crowds.
Peter was a practical man, a man of action, he made good use of his time, so while waiting on the next appearance of Jesus, he decided to go fishing. Peter was still seen as one of the leaders of the disciples. The others are happy to go fishing with him.
From the distance they might have mistaken Jesus for a customer wanting to buy some fish; instead Jesus is the one who provides the fish to them.
Jesus is renewing His call to follow, despite the fact that all the disciples abandoned Him when He was arrested and crucified.
Only Judas was no longer among the disciples. Judas went to the chief priests seeking forgiveness for betraying an innocent man. They weren’t able to help Judas or to offer him forgiveness. Judas died without believing that Jesus could have forgiven him. All the other disciples continued to believe in Jesus even though they didn’t fully understand what had happened.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
In the Gospel according to John, he never refers to himself in the first person. Instead he refers to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved.
The apostle John is the first to understand that this must be Jesus that they are seeing. John tells Peter and then Peter leaps into action, wanting to be the first to greet Jesus.
Peter had sworn to Jesus that he would be more loyal than the other disciples. Peter was overconfident, but Jesus knew that Peter would fail that test.
When put to the test Peter denied Jesus three times but Peter is the first to run to Jesus when he sees Him again
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after He was raised from the dead.
There was something different about the risen Jesus
All the disciples now recognise that this must be Jesus
His resurrection body is different – more glorious – more perfect, yet they knew that it must be Him
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Jesus asks Peter if his love for Jesus is greater than that of the other disciples. Peter insists that he does love Jesus more than anyone else does and that Jesus knows this to be true.
Jesus asks Peter if he really loves Him more than the other disciples do.
Peter knows that Jesus already knows the answer
Peter was a fisherman, not a rabbi. Most of the disciples had to earn their own living – they had no formal education in theology, but they had spent three years learning directly from Jesus, more valuable than any theological college.
Jesus adds a new dimension to Peter’s calling
Instead of relegating Peter to a position of less responsibility there is an expansion of Peter’s role
Peter is asked to be a Shepherd of Lambs as well as Fisher of Men.
The lambs are young believers who need to be taught God’s Word. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we are His flock, but now He is asking Peter to be an under-shepherd. This time Peter responds in humility -”Lord you know all things”.
He is asked to take care of the many new believers who will soon be added to the church. These are God’s lambs but Jesus is asking Peter to help feed them with the Word of God; not only evangelism (being a fisher of men) but also teaching and preaching (being an under-shepherd).
This command applies to all believers to some extent. We are called to feed one another with God’s Word, teaching God’s Word to the next generation; to the extent that we have contact with new believers and younger believers we have a responsibility to nurture them in God’s Word.
But there is more – let’s look at verse 16.
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
Jesus repeats his command with a slight change of wording. Peter is asked to tend the sheep as well as feeding the lambs. The change of wording adds an extra nuance of meaning. Peter is being asked to defend the church against false teaching.
The emphasis is on protecting the flock not just feeding them.
Neglect of God’s Word would leave the church exposed to deception and false teaching.
When Jesus was tempted in the desert He used His knowledge of Scripture to defeat Satan, as in when Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy to remind Satan that Man shall not live on bread alone but by the Word of God. The tempter then tried to use Scripture out of context but Jesus successfully found another Scripture with which to defeat Satan.
Children need food in order to grow. We need God’s Word to continue growing.
There are no limits to our spiritual growth – we don’t reach a plateau in this life – we are not yet perfected. Even in eternity there will still be room for growth and learning since we are finite beings but God is infinite.
God’s Word is written for our benefit, to help us to know Him better.
God is wiser than we are – we should trust what He says in His Word.
To understand the Bible we need to have read the whole of Scripture to see how it all fits together; we can’t just take a few verses out of context without risk of misunderstanding them. Satan is very skilled at taking Bible verses out of context to confuse people.
Jesus described Himself as the Good Shepherd and as defender of the sheep. He feeds us on His Word and protects us from false teaching if we stay close to Him.
Let’s look at Psalm 23: 1-3
1 The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
3 He refreshes my soul.
It can also be translated as “He restores my soul” meaning healing as well as feeding.
The Lord is our Shepherd. He feeds us on His Word. He appoints under-shepherds to help distribute and share that Word, but our chief Shepherd is the Lord himself.
He also takes people like the apostle Peter who have denied or abandoned Him, but when they have repented and returned to Him he appoints them to protect His flock and especially to protect younger believers from false teaching.
We can defend ourselves from false teaching by saturating ourselves in the Word of God. If we know it well enough then we will be able to defend ourselves against temptation and deception. If we do fall into sin and repent then if we want to be found, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and He will make sure that we are found and restored into His flock.
Return to John Chapter 21 and look at Verse 17:
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep”
Each time Jesus gives the same command but with slightly different wording. This time as well as feeding lambs and tending sheep, Peter is asked to feed the sheep. The implication is that the mature believers also need to be fed with God’s Word. Mature believers need solid Bible teaching.
Jesus gives this command three times to emphasise its importance. He varies the wording slightly each time to give more depth of meaning. He reverses Peter’s three times denial by three times commanding him to preach and teach God’s Word to believers. This is in addition to the call to be fishers of men. Now Peter is not only called to bring people to Jesus but also to help nurture their spiritual growth, and not only for younger believers but for mature believers as well. We all need to continue to grow in God’s grace.
When Peter was re-instated by Jesus, he accepted his commission with humility, trusting in Jesus, but no longer trusting in his own strength. God is glorified when we are weak and humble, and when we allow Him to use us despite our weaknesses.
In this way Jesus completely overturns Peter’s denials and replaces then with a positive command. This is also true of anyone who repents and turns back to God after falling away. God can turn our failures into opportunities for Him and our weakness allows Him to use us more effectively, because as it says in 1 Peter 5:5
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble
Mature believers need solid food – solid Bible teaching so that they can
Teach their own children and new believers
Defend themselves against false teaching
Continue to grow in God’s grace
Be prepared for service in the Church
Every role in the church ultimately contributes either to teaching the Word, nurturing our faith or reaching the unsaved. All roles within the church are important, not all service within the church is visible to other people; but God sees everything that we do for Him.
The call to be fishers of men was not only for the Eleven Apostles – it applies generally to all followers of Jesus – likewise the call to feed His sheep and tend His lambs – applies to all believers.
In doing so, by teaching God’s Word to younger believers we also deepen our own understanding of God’s Word.
Peter fell into temptation though over-confidence and self-reliance. He denied Jesus 3 times, but Jesus restored him 3 times. Jesus asks Peter to feed His lambs, protect His flock and feed His sheep. We are being asked to feed one another on the Word of God, and especially to teach God’s Word to young believers.
We can defend ourselves against deception and false teaching by saturating ourselves with God’s Word.
Let’s close in prayer.
We thank You that You delight more in forgiving us and restoring us from sin, than in condemning us for our sins. We thank You that You have chosen to redeem us. Please help us to grow towards spiritual maturity through feeding on Your Word, so that we may love You more perfectly, serve You more faithfully and diligently feed Your lambs by passing on Your Word to the next generation of believers.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.