People generally welcome restoration and rehabilitation: we want to be put back into a former, better position.
Yet sometimes we resist those things that are necessary to achieve the result of restoration. Who enjoys physical therapy after knee replacement? An encounter between Jesus and the apostle Peter demonstrates those things necessary for spiritual rehab.
After boldly predicting that he would lay down his life for Jesus, Peter denied being one of his followers, not once, but three times, when public identification with Jesus seemed most needed. If anyone could use restoration, it was Peter.
How the Lord treated the simultaneously bold and weak apostle illustrates the humility required of us when restoration is received from Him.
Three times in John 21:15-19 Jesus asks Peter “do you love me?” Three times Peter responds “yes, I love you.” Three times Jesus tells Peter “feed my sheep.” Different Greek terms are employed for “love”, for “sheep”, and for “tend,” but the point of the passage is much more than an exercise in how to use a thesaurus and employ synonyms.
As recorded in Matthew 26, Peter’s denials went like this:
- You were with Jesus also: I do not know what you mean
- This man was with Jesus: I do not know the man
- Your accent betrays you: I do not know the man
Jesus’ pressing, unrelenting series of questions to Peter would have seemed humiliating. But there is a difference between humiliating someone and humbling someone. Jesus knew that Peter needed to be humbled regarding his Past (denying his connection with Jesus), regarding his Present (the role Jesus assigned him), and the Future (loss of liberty and a martyr’s death).
From Peter’s fall and restoration we can discern characteristics of a humbled and restored follower of Jesus.
Acknowledge Your Sin
Peter didn’t confess his public denial of Jesus in so many words, but we can reasonably infer that this entire exchange between Jesus and Peter served as a reversal of Peter’s tripartite denial. It was an enacted repentance: turning away from the public denial and turning toward public confession.
Recognize Your Weakness
Jesus asked Peter initially if he “loved” him in in the agape sense of divine, self-sacrificing, top-shelf love. Normally bold and brash, Peter knew better this time than to promise too much, so he answered that he loved Jesus in the phileow sense of brotherly affection.
Profess Your Passion
Though Peter wouldn’t promise a love and devotion he couldn’t deliver in his own power, he nonetheless publicly professed his love for Jesus.
Accept Your Service
Jesus didn’t then instruct Peter, on his profession of love for Christ, to “run my business,” or “manage my finances,” or “build an empire.” Instead, he gave him the simple but spiritually significant task of caring for his sheep. Discipleship in Christ is not about being served, but about serving.
Embrace Your Death
Jesus told Peter that he would glorify God, which should be the desire of every believer. But he explained that not only would Peter’s life glorify God, but his death as a martyr, subject to the temporal control of humans, would also glorify God. “We have been crucified with Christ,” and to serve him faithfully we must crucify our life plans.
Fix Your Direction
After humbling Peter with the reminder of his previous denial, the demonstration of his weakness, and after charging him to service in ministry, and after telling him he would glorify God in his death, Jesus said “follow me.”
The mission is difficult, you’re too weak for it on your own, yours is a live of service, your is a mission to die for glory; let’s go.
In reminding Peter to “follow me,” Jesus also reminded his follower that he would not be traveling a path that Jesus, himself, had not already trod, and that he wouldn’t be alone on this journey, either.