He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17, esv).
Of all the events that make up the Easter drama in Scripture, Peter’s denial of Christ is perhaps the one we feel with the most personal sense of “been-there” empathy. We love Jesus. We do. And like Peter, we almost can’t believe what we’ve done sometimes—what we still do sometimes—through our own stupidity and shortsightedness and shallowness. How could we fail to be true to the One who’s never once failed us?
So we can imagine the difficulty Peter experienced in trying to get that picture out of his head: the sound of the rooster’s crow in the dim light of morning and the look on Jesus’ face—bruised and marred and spit upon. Even in Jesus’ pain, He was still thinking of Peter.
How does a person get over the shame of letting the Lord down like that?
The good news is, he doesn’t . . . because Jesus does it for him. When our hearts are truly repentant, when we’ve “changed our minds,” Jesus comes to us, not only to make His forgiveness known, but to declare His desire that we join Him again in His amazing plan for redeeming a lost and dying world.
Maybe you’re familiar with the scene from the days following Jesus’ resurrection, when He called from the shoreline to the little group of disciples who’d been out on an all-night fishing expedition. Hearing Jesus’ voice, we can imagine how Peter dived from the boat into the sea, slogging through the water until his knees were finally clear of the current—until he could run across the stony beach to embrace Him.
Then after finishing the breakfast that Jesus had cooked for them over a charcoal fire, Peter looked up and saw Jesus’ face turning toward him again. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). He asked it once. He asked it twice. He asked it a third time. Three probing questions to match those three devastating denials. Three opportunities under a new day’s light to affirm what Peter had three times failed to demonstrate. “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you” (John 21:16). Once. Twice. Again. “I love you.”
And then . . . a most remarkable thing. “Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’” (John 21:17). Not three years of hard time as penance for his misdeeds. Not five years on the sideline waiting for him to learn his lesson. Not an extended period of probation until such time as he could prove himself trustworthy again. No.
“Feed my sheep.”
Get to work, Peter.
That’s likely what He’s telling you today, if you’re ready to face and fix the fallout from the things you most deeply regret. What Jesus did for Peter, He can do for you. He can speak over those scenes from the past that still dog you with their haunting, discouraging memories—moments you’d love to go back and do differently, if you could. But while you can never redo what’s happened, Jesus is here with enough grace and joy not only to cover the sorrowful events of yesterday, but also to empower you onward to new moments—better, victorious ones—that are yet to come.
Do you love Him? Then let’s go.
God has some good, good work for you to do.
Father, thank You for Your grace that is greater than all my sin. Thank You that You purchased my forgiveness at such great cost, and that You choose to remember my sin no more. Thank you for the privilege of being used by You to do Your work in the world. What can I say to such redeeming love, except . . . I love You, Lord. Please use me for Your glory. I pray this in the gracious name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.