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John 21:15-19

9/5/11 I imagine that after breakfast Jesus asked Peter to walk with Him down the beach, since later he turns to see John following them. Jesus had something to talk with Peter about. Three times Peter had denied Him on the night of His arrest. And because of this Peter was unsure of His place among the disciples. He likely felt that He didn’t deserve even to be in the company of those around Jesus. And yet his devotion to Jesus was stronger than ever. Jesus knew Peter’s future and knew that He must reinstate Peter, not because He had kicked Peter out but because Peter was kicking himself out.

So after breakfast they began a stroll along the shore and Jesus asked Peter if he had an agape kind of love for Him more than the others, (v. 15). Peter had learned his lesson about impetuously declaring anything. He didn’t even feel his love for Jesus could be classified as agape and definitely wouldn’t claim that his love for Jesus was more than the others. Before his denial he might have made such claims, but not now. Instead, Peter replied that he did definitely love Jesus with a phileo kind of love. The insinuation, I suppose, is that Peter understood that such love was all he was really capable of.

In reply Jesus said to Peter that he should tend Jesus’ lambs. The Greek “bosko” is a word that means to care for the basic needs of animals such as food and water. Jesus was asking Peter to take care of the small lambs of the flock of Jesus, His people. Jesus was telling Peter that He wanted him to be His disciple as before. He wanted Him to do what Jesus had trained him to do.

(V. 16) As they strolled farther along Jesus asked Peter the same question again, if he loved Him with an agape kind of love, but this time Jesus didn’t ask if Peter loved Him more than the others. He lowered the bar slightly. “Ok, you don’t agape me more than the others, but do you at least agape me?”

Peter must have wondered where this was going. He replied again to Jesus that he loved Him with a phileo kind of love. This time in reply Jesus told Peter to “poimaino,” His sheep. This was more than just caring for the basic needs of the sheep like food and water. This was more of a shepherding, leading role.

(V. 17) Once again as they strolled along Jesus asked His question of Peter. But this time Jesus lowered the bar a lot asking Peter if he loved Him with a phileo kind of love. It’s difficult to see if Peter was grieved that Jesus asked a third time or that the third time He asked using phileo rather than agape. I’m inclined to think both, but especially because Jesus used the word phileo. It was as though Jesus might have cause to doubt Peter capable of even this kind of love. And Peter was hurt by this.

Jesus, though, had good reason for this. Peter answered that Jesus being God knew that phileo was all he was capable of. And to this Jesus replied that Peter should care for the basic needs of His sheep. I think Peter recognized what Jesus was saying. He was essentially saying, “Peter, I know your love for me isn’t perfect, but I want you to be my disciple in a leadership role anyway.”

(V. 18) Jesus didn’t stop talking at this point, however. He expanded on His plans for Peter. At one time Peter lived for himself and did whatever he wanted to do. He had been free to live his life according to his own direction. But now everything was going to be different. He would no longer do whatever he wished. His life would be such that now he would be directed by God how to care for the sheep and that would eventually lead him in difficult and painful ways that would culminate in martyrdom.

(V. 19) Peter had said that he would die for Jesus then he chickened out. But Peter would in fact be the strong person he imagined himself to be, but with God’s help rather than in his own power. If Peter was willing to do this then Jesus still wanted him as a disciple. So He asked Peter as He had three years before to follow Him.

Peter had been reinstated. Some of His confidence returned as the next scene of the story shows.

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