Feed My Sheep (John 21:17)
By: Amanda Idleman
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.” - John 21:17
Can you hear the urgency in Jesus' question for Peter? The tenderness in the way he pushes Peter past his failure of denying him, and into living a life that continues to honor Jesus as Lord? After reading this exchange, we can all start to see God’s heart of love for humanity. He desires Christ-followers to be people who live in service of others!
In John 21, Peter and a few of the disciples decide to go fishing. But after fishing all night, they had no success. In the morning, a man calls to them from the shore asking if they had caught any fish. He then tells them to cast their net on the right side of their boats. When they do, they suddenly catch an abundance of fish! As they are pulling up the net, one that is now packed full of fish, John recognizes the man on the shore as Jesus and shares this revelation with Peter. Peter immediately jumps out of the boat and eagerly swims to shore to meet Jesus!
When Peter gets to Jesus, he sees that Christ is waiting for them with fish and bread, ready to eat. Jesus invites Peter to have breakfast with him and then in verse 17 begins to ask Peter if he loves him. Jesus asks Peter “if he loves him” three times, mirroring how Peter had denied Christ three times before Jesus was killed on the cross.
Jesus’ conversation with Peter is restoring his relationship with Peter, charging Peter to continue the mission of sharing the good news of Jesus with the world, and preparing Peter for what it was going to take to be his follower in the coming months and years. Jesus foretells Peter’s death and instructs him not to worry with the fate of the other disciples but to focus his mind on him following Jesus well (John 21:18-22).
As Peter and the disciples huddled around the fire, eating breakfast, this intimate exchange is had. Just as Jesus was feeding them, so his exhortation to them looked like “feeding his sheep.” These men went out from these precious encounters giving their lives to grow the early church.
The repetition of Jesus' question “do you love me” grieved Peter for a few reasons. First, Peter feared that Jesus doubted his sincerity and repentant heart. Next, it brought to mind Peter’s denial of Jesus before Jesus’ crucifixion. Lastly, it made Peter feel that Jesus may be alluding to a future failure of Peter, as he had when Jesus predicts Peter’s three denials of knowing him. By the end of the exchange is it clear that Jesus is repeating himself to demonstrate to Peter that he has been fully restored to his role as an apostle. As an apostle Peter was commissioned to “feed his sheep.”
To “feed my sheep” can be translated “to give food” but the word used implies more than just physical feeding other others. The text is pointing to Peter to take on the role of a shepherd, who would guide, watch, and defend the sheep as well as feed them. “My Sheep” commonly refers to the church throughout the Bible.
Jesus instructed all his disciples, not only to be fishers of men, by sharing the good news of the gospel with the world, but feeders of the flock, by the edification of saints. We each can take this charge to care for the church to heart. How can we better serve one another and our church communities? How can we be people who go after than one lost sheep? These are questions that all Believers have to prayerfully consider as they choose how to spend their days here on Earth.
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page, Blog or follow her on Instagram.
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