John 21:15-23: Second Chances

Read: John 21:15-23

Peter denied Jesus three times, even after saying that he would never do such a thing. And when Peter did deny Jesus, he remembered what Jesus had spoken to him concerning this and wept bitterly. Without a doubt, Peter felt like an athlete who had been ejected from the game and felt like his career was over (John 18:25-27, Luke 22:62). But quite the contrary was true. Even though Peter had denied Jesus, Jesus was not finished with Peter. In fact, this gave Jesus and opportunity to model one of the things he had taught Peter: love and forgiveness. Jesus when he washed Peter’s feet said that Peter was not in need of a whole bath, rather just a small cleansing (John 13:10). Jesus, after Peter denied him three times, asks Peter if he loved him three times. Peter in all cases answers that he does indeed love Jesus. Jesus in response to these answers commands Peter then to “Tend his lambs”, “Feed his sheep”, and “Tend his sheep”. Jesus was metaphorically telling Peter to not feel down in the dumps, but get back in the game and do what he had been commissioned to do. Jesus follows this up with a parabolic saying concerning the sort of death that Peter would die. Peter, according to the historian Eusebius was crucified upside down on a cross in Rome. This sort of violent death was akin to one jerking Peter around where he did not want to go similar to an older person who he told what to do.  Peter would get back in the game and dedicate himself to the task of Preaching Jesus to the nations.

Jesus then says a peculiar statement: “Follow me!” This is certainly a throwback to when Jesus first met Peter and Phillip and said “follow me” in John 1:43. The command to follow Jesus was coming to them again at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Many thought that the preceding statement was an indication that one of the disciples would live forever until Jesus’ return. The reality of the matter was that Jesus was just stating a fact concerning his ability to do so, not necessarily implying that one of them would actually do that. In any case, the concern was not to worry who was betraying who or anything of the like, rather to focus on the main thing: Jesus.

The command to follow Jesus went out to the original disciples at the beginning of his ministry and at the end of his ministry on earth. Like Peter though, faltering in one’s walk with God does not cast him or her out of God’s presence forever. What Jesus wanted from Peter was not a prideful heart that denied what he did or tried to rationalize what he did, rather a contrite heart and a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17), and Peter had this. Jesus took this broken man and was able to restore him so that Peter would be a leader as the gospel went out from Jerusalem. God does not give up on people; rather people give up on God. But when one does falter, one need only confess it to God and God is faithful to restore (1 John 1:9) and give someone a second chance. And one can continue to walk in the ways of God all the more.

Lord, help me to continue to follow you, even after I mess up!

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