Summary: The restoration of Peter, and what it means to follow Jesus.
“Simon, son of John”. Simon? That was his old name. That was the name that he was given by his parents, the name that he had gone by right up until the Lord had changed his name to ‘Peter’ – the Rock. He had certainly not lived up to this new name. That night he had let him down very badly. That night he had given up all right to be called ‘the Rock’.
It had all started so well. The Lord had predicted that he would be arrested and executed and that all his disciples, all his close friends would desert him at his hour of need. But he would have none of it. Boldly and vehemently Simon Peter protested to the Lord that even if the others would desert him, he would not, because he loved him more than the others did. But then came the arrest and the mock trial.
He was bolder than most of the others. He went into the courtyard of the High Priests house, determined to stay with his Lord. But then he was recognised, and it was then that his courage failed him. Three times he was challenged. Three times he was asked if he was a disciple. Three times he lied. Three times he denied him. Three times he failed to declare his love for his Lord, three times he swore that he had nothing to do with the man to him he had declared undying loyalty and love that very evening. He even denied knowing him. Jesus had called him ‘the Rock’, but it seemed that he was nothing more than sinking sand.
Now he was with the Risen Lord. He was with the man for whom he had declared such love and devotion. He was talking with the master who he had also denied. He was no longer Peter, but Simon.
“Simon son of John”. What was he going to say? Was the Lord going to disown him, tell him that he had no part in him, that he did not belong to him because of this denial? Was he to be deprived of his position as a disciple? He did not have long to wait.
“Do you love me more than these?” So recently he had loudly and vehemently proclaimed this. But now he was being asked of the Lord himself. Did the Lord doubt his love? Surely the Risen Lord knew what was in his heart?
“Yes Lord, you know that I love you!”
“Feed my lambs”
Again he was asked the same question and he gave the same reply. This time the task given was “tend my sheep”. Then the question came for the third time. The dagger went through his heart.
“Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you!”
“Feed my sheep”
No more questions. He had denied him three times, now he declared his love for him three times. The restoration was complete.
But each assertion was followed by a task. A task, in some way, to be a shepherd, to care for the flock. To care for the mature sheep, to feed the young sheep. In his earthly ministry Jesus had often referred to his people, those who believed in him, as being his sheep. He had called himself the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep. They were still his sheep. It was still his voice that they were to listen to. But now he was giving Peter a share in the task of caring for them. Peter was to express his love for Jesus in his care for and love of his people. This was to be his life-work. It was to be a labour of love. Love for the Great Shepherd, but also love for the sheep.
It is impossible to love the Great Shepherd without also loving his sheep. It is impossible to love Jesus without also loving his people, the Church. A claim to love Christ must be evidenced by a love for those who belong to him. If we say that we love Christ, but do not love his precious Church, then our claim is false. The apostle John tells us as much in his first epistle.
True love for Christ is not just an emotion, or a nice, fuzzy warm feeling. It is a deliberate decision to put him first, to identify with him, to live for him, to seek his will and to obey it, to seek his presence and all its blessings, rather than the so-called blessings that the world can give.
For Peter this love for Christ and his Church was to be expressed by taking on a responsible leadership role in the new Church, to be one of the shepherds of the flock, to lead them to spiritual food and drink. His service was to be public, in the front-line.