THE SIMON-SHANK REDEMPTION
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 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. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
— John 21:15-22, ESV
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
— Andy Dufresne
If you saw The Shawshank Redemption, the Academy Award winning film based on the Stephen King novella, starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, you cannot forget it. It is the story about a notorious prison, a place where hope had no business. It is the story of a hopeless man in a hopeless situation, life without parole in this prison. It is the story of a man who finds hope in, of all places, a Bible given to him by the prison warden, with an inscription inside the cover, “Salvation lies within.” I will not elaborate any further on the plot lest I spoil it for those who have not seen the movie.
Simon Peter found himself in a hopeless situation in need of some redemption. His Lord and leader had been dragged away for execution. Surely prison and execution awaited him, too. Worst of all, however, was the nagging guilt Peter felt over what he had done at Jesus’ trial. Instead of standing up for Jesus, he denied he even new the Lord, three times. As the rooster crowed, Peter found himself entering a prison of his own making, chained by guilt and fear.
After the crucifixion, it was rumored by certain women that Jesus was alive, resurrected from the dead. Then, Simon Peter saw the Lord, on two consecutive Sundays. Though he saw the Lord, I am not sure Peter could look Jesus in the eye during those first resurrection appearances. He was still ashamed, embarrassed. Simon Peter needed redemption, and he got it, from the word of God.
If you have ever committed a grievous sin, made a big mistake, or in any way felt estranged from the Lord, you can find redemption in God’s word, too.
Jesus Spoke to Simon Peter with Grace for the Past
As Simon Peter began this walk and talk with the Lord, he must have been singing a Jackson Browne song in his head: “Don't confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them” (These Days).
If I had been Jesus, I might have started the conversation by confronting Simon with his failures. Dude, what’s up with the denials that you even knew me? How could you do such a thing? What kind of disciple, or not, do you think you are? I made you and Apostle?
We mere mortals like to pummel our fellow man with his sin. We don’t like to talk about our own transgressions, but we revel in repeating the failings of others. It gives us a leg up, makes us feel superior, and reveals our inner Pharisee (ref. Luke 18:9-14).
God is not like us. He has no sins of His own, and is tender, gracious, and merciful with ours. This truth is made most evident in Jesus’ conversation with Peter by the things the Lord did not say. He did not mention the denials, directly. He did not question Peter’s faith, for God had given Peter faith (ref. 2 Peter 1:1). He did not question Peter’s repentance, for God had given Peter repentance (ref. Acts 11:18). He knew Peter’s faith and repentance was genuine because He knew one day Peter would die for the sake of the gospel.
God knows your sin and God knows your faith. The first is cancelled out by the second; therefore, if you have true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus will never beat you over the head with your sin. He will give you grace. He will give you mercy. You will never be cast out, held back, or unloved because of some sin you have committed or mistake you have made. Jesus is in the redemption business.
Now don’t use this as an excuse to sin willy nilly. But don’t forget it, either. God’s grace and mercy will redeem you, restore your hope, and give you more opportunities to worship and witness for Him.
Jesus Spoke to Simon Peter with Hope for the Future
Jesus did not put Simon down, but rather lifted him up, gave him hope. The Lord asked His disciple a profound question that He knew would elicit a positive answer. Then, Jesus gave Simon Peter the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Do you love Me?” Jesus asked Simon, three times, using two different words for “love.” Peter responded in love, also three times, although he used only one word. Much has been written about the difference between “agape” (absolute, unconditional, sacrificial love) and “phileo” (brotherly, mutual, but deeply committed love). One is admittedly, in the words of Steve Winwood, a “higher love,” but both are love, in the best sense of each word. The point in this part of the conversation is that Jesus met Peter where Peter was at, and gave the Apostle hope that his relationship with God was still intact.
This hopeful exchange lifted Simon Peter back up into the saddle, then Jesus gave him a good giddy up. “Feed My sheep,” Jesus said, again three times, again using two different words for “feed/tend” and “lambs/sheep.” Let us again not make too much of a distinction between the synonyms. God gave Simon Peter a great opportunity. In spite of his great mistake, the Lord still considered Simon a Christian, an Apostle, a preacher and pastoral minister of the gospel, and charged him with taking care of God’s flock, the church.
Hope and opportunity awaits every backslidden Christian who will get back into the saddle, back into the word of God, back into the church of Jesus Christ, and do his or her dead level best to obey the gospel and build up the body of Christ.
Jesus Spoke to Simon Peter with Redemption for the Present
Lest we wrangle too much about the meaning of different words for love, feed, sheep, and even backsliding, there is one thing about the conversation which stands out to us all. Jesus asked Simon Peter the same question three times, and three times got the same response. It is the repetition that brings about the redemption.
Why the repetition, and why the number three? Because Simon Peter has denied the Lord, three times. After which he wept in bitter tears. He felt terrible. He felt worthless. He felt hopeless. Jesus’ use of repetition was aimed at redemption. The Lord gave the disciple a chance for redemption commiserate with the number of times Simon had failed.
With the past firmly behind them now, Jesus spoke to Peter of his present and future. It touches on the nature of Christian redemption and hope. God saves us, not for an easy life, but to redeem our lives for Him. For some, like Simon Peter, the cost is very high. After three decades of fruitful apostolic ministry, Simon Peter was arrested and executed by the evil Emperor Nero in Rome. Legend has it he was crucified, upside down.
While the cost is different for different Christians in different cultures, the commandment is the same for all who wish to share in the redemption of Christ. It is this classic commandment in two words: “Follow Me.” It is issued, as always, in the present tense.
God is not as concerned with your past as are other people. His grace and mercy can put a sinful or painful past behind you. God knows your future, mapped out by His sovereignty and paved by His providence, and usually does not reveal it to the mortal man. Let the future remain in His hands. God cares most about your present, how you are living and what you are doing now, and He desires to lead you as Lord.
With your sins forgiven and your future secure, make it your ambition now to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in all present areas of life. Be a disciple. Build up His church. Share the hope found in following Christ with others. Because hope is a good thing, and no good thing, and certainly no child of God, will ever die.