As we well know, during one sad night Peter disowned his Lord three times. He had earlier expressed his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus, but he had failed. Since then, every time he heard a cock crow he was reminded of that cold night – his fear, his betrayal and his failure. Could the Lord still use him? Then early one morning, on a beach by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came looking for Peter. He wanted to reinstate him and give him a ministry that would keep him useful and busy until he grew old. This was the setting of the last conversation between Jesus and Peter as recorded in John 21:15-23. The first meeting between Jesus and Peter also took place by the Sea of Galilee. Peter was busy fishing with his brother Andrew when Jesus came walking along the beach towards them. “Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” The Lord Jesus had plans for Peter’s life. Along with his brother, Peter dropped his nets and followed Jesus (Mt. 4:18-20 NIV). In restoring Peter, Jesus made no reference to nets and fishing, but instead He referred to lambs, sheep, caring and feeding. The Lord had a new task for Peter, but before He entrusted Peter with it some important points had to be made clear.
The Chief Shepherd’s Flock
The image of shepherds and a flock is used in both the Old and the New Testaments. Sheep represent God’s people, and there is much variety within a flock. If we are to be good shepherds we must remember God’s people are both young and old, playful and slow, enthusiastic and reflective, active and studious. Shepherds must learn to identify and appreciate diversity, and then find ways to feed and care for all of them.
After spending some years loving, caring for and feeding a flock, it is natural to think we have acquired some rights over them. We might innocently begin to speak of “my group,” “my disciples” and “my church.” From the outset the Lord made this point very clear to Peter: “You are invited to serve My people, but they are and will always be My lambs and My sheep. It is My flock that you serve.” Clarity of ownership is both a protection for the flock and an encouragement to brothers and sisters with shepherd hearts to give their best (Jn. 21:15-23).
The Flock’s Needs
The successful maintenance of a flock involves giving timely attention to many needs. Zechariah’s description of the two shepherds (Zech. 11:15-17), while focusing on the foolish one, illustrates key tasks of all good shepherds: “care for the lost,” “seek the young,” “heal the injured” and “feed the healthy.” In His short conversation with Peter, Jesus brought some of the flock’s needs to his attention.
What did the Lord tell Peter to do? “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of My sheep” and “Feed My sheep” (21:15-17). The flock needs care and food. Good parents know that a balanced diet is the basis for a healthy family.
Every speaker has his favorite topics, but what does the flock currently need? Is the Bible teaching in the youth group or Sunday school balanced? Growing Christians need a regular, balanced diet. And bear in mind that some sheep, for a time, may require a special diet.
Months earlier the Lord Jesus drew the disciples’ attention to some birds who were flying overhead and feeding in a field: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Mt. 6:26). Yes, there are times when our heavenly Father feeds His sheep (and shepherds) directly. But in this conversation the Lord Jesus was making it clear to Peter that His flock also needed men and women who cared enough for the lambs and sheep to consider their needs, lead them to green pastures and prepare food for them. The flock needs “feeders.”
Are you called to feed others with God’s Word? Your own children? A home Bible study group? A congregation? Keep up the good work! Keep giving it your best! Remember that those who feed others also need to be fed, and frequently our heavenly Father will feed us through others. Do you allow others to feed you?
Many governments have rigid hygiene guidelines for kitchens in schools, hospitals and restaurants. A certificate confirming an ability to cook a couple of tasty dishes is not the only requirement.
Before Jesus delegated the important task of caring for and feeding His flock, He asked Peter this penetrating question: “Do you truly love Me?” Three times the Lord asked Peter about the state of his heart (21:15-17). We are told that “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked for the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’” (21:17). Why did Jesus persist? Why did He hurt Peter? Clearly the Chief Shepherd did not wish to place any part of His flock under the care of someone who did not passionately love Him. Only after receiving a sincerely positive answer from Peter did the Lord ask him to feed and care for His flock.
If we try to feed a flock without truly loving Jesus and His flock, we may be tempted to push, shout at and manipulate the sheep. Lambs and sheep can sometimes be stubborn. If in doubt, have a close look at yourself! If we truly love Jesus we will also love His people. Is your feeding driven by love?
After entrusting Peter with feeding and caring for His sheep, the Lord shared with Peter some personal information about his future: “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” After giving Peter this personal bit of information He added, “Follow me!” (21:19). Would you like to be given some hints on when and how you will die? It is good to know that through our death we can also glorify God.
But if we are to glorify God in our life and in our death, we must follow Him. By following Jesus, we shall also encourage the lambs and sheep to follow Him. We lead by example. Feeders who follow Jesus, who enjoy spending time with Him and in His Word will receive from Him fresh food for themselves and for His flock.
At this stage in their conversation, Peter had been commissioned by the Good Shepherd to feed and care for His lambs and sheep. He was also told by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then the apostle John came to where Jesus and Peter were talking. Peter became curious, and pointing at John asked, “Lord, what about him?” (21:21). Was John also commissioned to feed and care for the flock? Would he die young or old? Would he die like Peter?
Are you sometimes curious, critical or judgmental about the ministry of others? Do you feel that others should be serving the Lord as you do? Do you sometimes feel you are in competition with a similar ministry or with a fellow believer? Of course we can happily learn from each other, but be careful not to compare. Comparisons can easily awaken pride in our heart or lead to depressive and discouraging thoughts.
The answer the Lord Jesus gave Peter was simple and quite instructive: “What is that to you?” (21:22). Focus on your own calling, your own ministry, your own area of responsibility. We may all be shepherds of a small part of the flock, but the Lord Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, remains responsible for the whole flock – including you and your fellow shepherds.
Peter was reinstated, commissioned and encouraged to avoid meddling outside his area of responsibility. Then came the last words Jesus spoke to him: “You must follow Me” (21:22). These are very similar to the words He spoke to Peter when they met for the first time: “Come, follow Me” (Mt. 4:18). The Chief Shepherd wants to feed and care for His sheep through human shepherds like you and me. Success is not measured by how many fish we catch, the size of the flock we care for or the opinions of sheep, wolves or fellow shepherds. Success is the natural outcome of a life of shepherding which consistently follows Jesus.
Are you feeling tired of feeding those lambs and sheep who walk around in your area of influence? Remember Jesus’ words: “Come follow Me” and “Feed My sheep.” Those elderly ones, those singles, those teenagers, those children, those families – they are all His sheep; they are all part of His great flock. His flock needs good food that comes only from spending time with the Lord and in His word. His flock needs good feeders who truly love Jesus, who follow Him and love His people.
Has the Lord called you to feed some of His sheep? The Lord Jesus loves and cares for each one of His lambs and sheep, so keep on feeding yourself and feeding others. Give them your best! The One who called you is also watching you. And remember, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4).
By Philip Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org