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Feeding Sheep (Jn 21:15-25)

Even with the very best of intentions, we all let people down sometimes don’t we? At one time or another, I assume we’ve all broken a promise to a spouse or sibling, let down a work colleague, or failed a friend in some way. 

And, as Christians, we can all recall times when we’ve let down the Lord Jesus, can’t we? If we are honest, we must all be able to recall occasions when we’ve said or done something that we knew displeased him. We can all think of times when our words or behaviour has been rather less than Christ-like. Times when we’ve been ungrateful, greedy or grumpy – rather than godly.

In such times should we despair? Are our sins and failures an excuse to give up on the Christian life? Have our sins sacrificed our salvation and destroyed our hope of heaven? And even if all is not lost, do our errors and omissions at least rule out our chance of playing a part in God’s work in the world? Having let down the Lord, can we only expect a very minor role, a very limited responsibility, in his future plans for our church and community?

In our passage this morning, Simon Peter could certainly be forgiven for thinking this way. He had every reason to question his salvation and succumb to despair. Because Peter had let down the Lord ‘big time’. 

One night in Jerusalem, it had all gone so tragically wrong, hadn’t it? On the night of Jesus’ arrest and trial, as he stood warming himself by a fire, Peter had disowned him three times. Just as Jesus himself had predicted, Peter denied his Lord three times before the cock crowed. 

So when Jesus subsequently rose from the dead, Peter could be forgiven for thinking that he had blown it! Surely there was no chance that the risen Christ would want him back on his team? No chance that his relationship with the Lord could be restored?

But a breakfast meeting beside the sea of Galilee would prove Peter wrong. Alongside another fire, Christ would forgive his friend. Peter’s relationship with Jesus would be restored, and he would be re-commissioned in his service. 

  • It’s a true story that should encourage us whenever we ourselves have let down the Lord. 
  • It’s a story that tells us that even if we have failed the Lord in the past, we can be forgiven, fruitful disciples in the future. 

A breakfast by the beach…

As we heard last week, Jesus had appeared on a beach beside Lake Galilee and called out to his friends. They had been out all night fishing, but with little success – until now. Because the risen Jesus told them to cast out their nets for a miraculous catch of fish. With characteristic enthusiasm, Peter had leapt into the water and swam ashore to greet Jesus while the rest of the disciples hauled their boat ashore. Together, they had all enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast – a big BBQ – of bread and fresh fish.

Now, I don’t know what your own typical breakfast includes? Some of us swear by porridge oats, some survive on cereal, others enjoy a croissant, while only a ‘Full English’ will satisfy some. But whatever you eat first thing in the morning, its meant is to set us up for the day ahead. A good breakfast should ‘fuel us up’ and ‘get us going’ for our day’s work.

But Peter’s breakfast on the beach set him up for a lifetime’s work, not just a day’s. Because Peter’s encounter with Christ on the beach that morning included a re-commission to service as well as a restoration of their relationship. 

Verse 15 today tells us that “after they had finished eating” Jesus spoke directly to Peter. In this conversation, Christ reinstated repentant Peter to his place among the disciples. He publicly forgave Peter for his failings.

Peter had denied Christ three times on the night of his trial. Three times he had rejected any association with Jesus. So its fitting that beside the Sea of Galilee Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to reaffirm his love and loyalty. Three opportunities to repudiate his three denials in Jerusalem. “Do you love me?” says Jesus. “Yes”, says Peter, “you know I do!

I hope we could all answer “yes” to that question as emphatically as Peter? I hope we all know enough about who Jesus is and what he has done, that we love him too:

  • I hope our love for Christ means we delight to spend time with him in prayer;
  • I hope we love him enough that we long to tell others about him.
  • And I hope we love him so much that we want to serve him wholeheartedly, whatever the cost to our wealth, health or popularity.

But if you look within and find your love lacking, then do cast your mind back to Good Friday and the cross of Calvary. Remind yourself how much Christ went through there for you, and let that truth touch your soul and warm your heart. 

Or take time to re-read John’s Gospel, this book we’ve been working through over the last four months. As John himself tells us this Gospel was written to cultivate belief and feed faith. Its a biography of Jesus written to stimulate the mind and stir our emotions. 

And thirdly, pray too that the Holy Spirit will help us increase our love for Christ and our loyalty to him. Pray that he will touch our heart and increase our affection for our Saviour.

A flock to be fed…

Returning to our passage, Peter’s passionate response to Christ’s question leads to a job offer. Rather than throwing him on the dustbin after his infamous denial, Jesus gives repentant Peter a great role to perform. “Feed my sheep” and “take care of them” says Jesus – “Feed my lambs” he declares. 

In other words, Peter’s new role is to be the chief pastor of the Church, to be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had explained to Peter and his fellow apostles what this role would involve. They would proclaim his words and deeds to the world with the help of the Holy Spirit. After his ascension the world would need reliable witnesses to everything that Jesus had said and done. New Christians would need Peter and the other apostles to tell them what following Jesus really meant. 

That day Jesus had fed Peter and his friends with fish for breakfast. In the future, their task would be to feed the early Church with Spirit-inspired words. Words they would preach publicly from the day of Pentecost onwards. Words that would be written down in the New Testament to guide the church after they had died.

And thank goodness they did! Because we all rely on the New Testament writings of Peter and the other apostles for our information about Jesus, don’t we? Peter, for example, personally wrote two of our New Testament letters, and in all probability guided the author of Mark’s Gospel as well.

Jesus expects us to “feed” on the New Testament, to be familiar with what Peter and the other apostles they wrote. To be faithful, fruitful Christians, our beliefs and behaviour must be guided by the testimony of Peter, Paul, John et al. To flourish in our faith, we need to keep being fed by the apostles’ inspired words.

So please do pray for those of us here at St John’s with the special responsibility of explaining and applying the apostles’ teaching. And do pray for our Sunday Club leaders, as they teach the Scriptures to our children. May we all be well fed by the apostles’ teaching – nourished by their written words.


So our passage this morning has described Peter’s rehabilitation and recommissioning. Beside the Sea of Galilee Peter’s relationship with Jesus was restored, and his responsibility for Christ’s flock was reaffirmed. It’s been a precious reminder for us all, I hope, that our sins don’t need to destroy our faith or drive us to despair. A reassurance that Christ can still have plans and purposes for us whenever we repent and turn back to him.

Before we finish, look again at verses 18 and 19. IN those verses Jesus personally reassures Peter that he would remain faithful to him for the rest of his life. Wonderfully, Peter would sacrificially serve the Lord until his dying day. Indeed, even in death, Peter’s martyrdom would glorify God.

Sure enough, history tells us that Peter died about thirty years after his breakfast on the beach with Jesus. He was arrested and executed by Emperor Nero during his persecution of Christians in the mid 60s AD. Peter’s sacrificial lifestyle brought glory to God, and his written words continue to feed God’s people today. May our own lives be similarly faithful and fruitful. DO not give up hope that the Lord can use us to bless our neighbours and extend his kingdom. When we fail and falter, don’t despair and give up on your walk with Christ. Return to him in repentance and faith, confident of his willingness to forgive, confident that we can continue to serve him until out dying day.