Repentance, Restoration, And True Love For Jesus – John 21:15-17

Repentance, Restoration, And True Love For Jesus

Nick Esch, 12/9/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Context

Remember the context of our passage; Jesus has already lived a perfect life, died a wrath absorbing death, and rose from the grave in glory… And our passage today picks up in the midst of His third resurrection appearance to His disciples. The disciples were fishing when Jesus showed up on the shore and told them where to catch a miraculous amount of fish… And what we saw when we looked at that scene was a picture of the mission of the church to advance the gospel and make disciples… Along with that we saw Jesus, the Son of God, in His mercy and grace loving, caring, and providing for the disciples… And there was one detail in our text last week that I didn’t draw your attention to, but it sets up our passage perfectly this week.

In John 21:9 we’re told that, “When [the disciples] got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.” So this was the fire that Jesus used to cook the disciples breakfast, but the detail of it being a charcoal fire is there for a reason. You see, there’s only one other time a charcoal fire is mentioned in the Gospel of John. In John 18:18 we’re told that when Peter denies Christ he is standing by a charcoal fire… Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed Peter would deny Him three times, and after that third time Peter heard the rooster, and he also saw Jesus looking at him from afar, and he fell under conviction. And in our text today Peter is facing Jesus for the first time since this happened.

John 21:15-17

Now no doubt, Peter’s sin was already weighing heavy on his mind, but when he saw that charcoal fire I’m sure the conviction, the regret, the look in Jesus’ eyes, and everything about the times he denied Christ came flooding back. And Jesus knowing this uses this opportunityto confront Peter’s sin directly and publicly.In verse 15 we read, “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.’”

Now, notice first that Jesus doesn’t call him Peter, but Simon. When Jesus originally called him to follow Him, in Mark 3:16 we’re told that Jesus gave him the name Peter; the name Peter was a part of his apostolic calling… The name Peter actually means rock, and Jesus told him that on him and others like him who are true confessors with a right confession, He would build His church. He said, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)… But Peter hasn’t been acting very rock like; as of late he’s been more like sinking sand. And so Jesus addresses him by the name he had before his call to be an apostle; and the idea behind that is that Peter, though he was still a Christian, needed to truly and publicly repent and by God’s grace be restored as an apostle…

While it’s true that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—that the moment we truly repent and believe we are saved because we are covered in Jesus’ righteousness and thus justified by faith alone—it’s also true that the whole of the Christian life is one of repentance. Repentance means to turn and to have a change of mind; so Christian repentance is denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place. We turn our back on our sin and our sinful desires and turn our face towards Jesus and follow Him, because by God’s grace through the Spirit and the Word our mind has been changed, and we see that Jesus is supreme, not us… Those who are not Christians must repent or perish… Those of us who are Christians must continually repent in order to walk in obedience to the Lord and to repeatedly tap into the joy of the Lord. A true Christian doesn’t merely repent to become a Christian, but lives a lifestyle of repentance: a lifestyle of actively recognizing sin, confessing sin, turning from and forsaking our sin, and seeking reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness with all the parties that have been effected by our sin. Repentance is central to the Christian life; that’s a lesson we would all do well to learn, and that’s in part what Peter is about to learn here…

Jesus structures His conversation with Peter in a masterful way, cutting him to the heart like a skilled surgeon. Peter has seen the charcoal fire and has already been thinking hard about his sin, and now he’s heard Jesus address him as Simon instead of Peter; and so, with that setup Jesus now hits him with a question. And with this first question Jesus gets at the heart of what led to Peter denying Christ in the first place. In John 13:37, after Jesus had told the disciples that He was going somewhere they couldn’t follow, Peter says, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” And Jesus responds by telling him that he’s actually going to deny him three times… Peter said he would lay down his life for Christ; and when he said that it came from a prideful arrogant heart, not a heart of love and devotion… Which just showed how bad Peter needed Jesus to die for him… In Matthew 26:35 Peter told Jesus, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” Peter’s pride was his great problem, his arrogance and self-sufficiency… He missed his great need of the gospel. You see, Jesus didn’t need Peter to die for Him, Peter needed Jesus to die for him, to save him from his sin.

Peter thought he was so strong that he would never deny Christ; that even if everyone else fell away that he would remain faithful to the end, even if that end was death… So Jesus asks him, “do you love me more than these?” as in more than the other disciples… Because that’s clearly what he thought before the cross; but now after the denials, after the cross, and Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus wants to know if Peter still thinks the same way. And we can see from Peter’s answer that he has been humbled a bit. Peter doesn’t answer with a simple yes or no, but he says, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Now that may seem a little confusing in English, but it’s a little more straightforward in Greek…

There are different words being used for love here in the original language, in the Greek that John was written in… Jesus asks Peter if he άγαπαω, if he loves him with an agape type love, a love that is characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good—the same type of love Jesus showed for us when He loved us and gave Himself for us, a gospel love if you will… But Peter tells Him that he loves him with a φιλέωtype love, a relational or brotherly type love (this is where we get the word Philadelphia from, which means the city of brotherly love)… And that’s right and good, but it’s not enough… Relational, brotherly love is good because Jesus is indeed our elder brother in the family of God, but it’s not enough because He’s also our Lord and Savior, our King to whom we owe our complete allegiance. But perhaps Peter knew that if he said that he loved Jesus with a great sacrificial love, the way he ought, that Jesus would call him on it, since his actions have proved otherwise… So Peter’s answer shows honesty and humility. Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him more than the other disciples, and Peter basically says, “I can’t say I love You more than they do because I don’t love You nearly the way I should… But I do love you…” Here we see Peter rightly denying himself instead of denying Christ…

Seeing the truthfulness and the humility of Peter’s answer, Jesus tells him to feed His lambs. Now, as you know, the Church is often referred to as Jesus’ flock. Jesus calls Christians His lambs, His sheep… As Psalm 23:1 tells us, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want…” He’s our Chief Shepherd, and we’re the flock of God… So in commanding Peter to feed His lambs He’s calling him to serve His Church, His people for whom He died… Though He is calling Peter out publicly, in front of the other disciples, His purpose for doing so is restoration. Peter committed multiple, grave, public sins, and now Jesus is calling him to repent publicly… but He’s also restoring him publicly. Because the sin was public, so is the rebuke and so must be the repentance. But, the goal is restoration. Peter failed in his calling; but that’s the lesson he, and all the rest of us are meant to learn… That in and of ourselves we’ll always fail… As we’ve see in John, apart from Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5)… But with that lesson, it seems Jesus has every intention of restoring Peter as an apostle who is free to serve Christ and His Church… Well, it seems that way, but then Jesus continues to question him…

In verse 16 we’re told, Jesus, “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.’” Now we can begin to see what Jesus is doing here. For every denial there is a question. For every time Peter denied Christ Jesus asks him if he loves Him… But in doing this He’s not rubbing salt into an open wound, but He’s leading Peter into true repentance and into true restoration… Once again Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him with an άγαπαωlove, and Peter says that he loves Him with a φιλέωtype love… So normally prideful an arrogant Peter is now answering honestly and humbly… But, let’s think about what Jesus is asking him here…

Peter denied Christ three times, but Jesus doesn’t ask him if he’s sorry, He doesn’t ask him if he regrets it or if he’ll never do it again, but He asks him if he truly loves Him… While Jesus cares deeply about our fidelity and our behavior, this shows us that Jesus doesn’t want mere outward conformity; He doesn’t want us to just be good rule followers… Jesus wants our heart; and rightfully so… I mean can you imagine a husband staying faithful to his wife of 50 years, serving her, and bringing her flowers every month, and then one day she asks him why, and he responds, “Because I have to… I took vows, remember? It would be too much trouble to divorce you…”? The wife wouldn’t feel loved at all; and the marriage probably wouldn’t make it to 51 years… No one delights to be in that kind of relationship… It doesn’t make you feel loved at all; if anything it’s degrading. And you see, that’s the thing: only in truly loving Jesus, in delighting in Him above all else are we really being faithful to Him and glorifying Him…

As we see in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” And that’s what sin is: falling short of the glory of God… We were created to glorify God, to make much of Him; so breaking God’s Law and going against His Word is sin, but so is mere outward obedience… Neither one glorifies God… God is only glorified when we joyfully obey from a heart of love… Only when we truly love the Lord do we truly glorify Him… When we trust, obey, and serve from a heart of love then we truly make much of Jesus, then we truly glorify Him. We don’t obey just because we have to, we don’t obey merely because of fear of hell, or whatever… We trust and obey because we love and delight in the Lord… True faith is grounded in love… And Peter’s faith failed three times, so now Jesus wants to know if he loves Him, does he truly have faith…

J. C. Ryle notes, “‘Do you love Me’ may seem at first sight a simple question. In one sense it is so. Even a child can understand love, and can say whether he loves another or not. Yet ‘Do you love Me’ is, in reality, a very searching question. We may know much, and do much, and profess much, and talk much, and work much, and give much, and go through much, and make much show in our religion, and yet be dead before God, from lack of love, and at last go down to the pit. Do we love Christ? That is the great question. Without this there is no vitality about our Christianity. We are no better than painted wax figures, lifeless stuffed beasts in a museum, sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. There is no life where there is no love.” So friends, asks yourselves if you truly love Jesus…

Jesus asks Peter this because only true love for Jesus will lead to true repentance and restoration. And after asking Peter a second time Jesus gives him another command that implies that he will be restored not only as an apostle, but as an elder / pastor… Jesus tells Peter to tend His sheep… The Greek word for tend is connected to shepherding; it goes right along with theword translated pastor or pastoring… And that’s the idea here. Jesus calls Peter to shepherd or pastor His sheep. And before I get into what all that means and looks like, I just want you to see that Jesus has every intention of using Peter as an apostle and elder, as a pastor and church leader, even though Peter has fallen into great sin… Jesus is not seeking to shun him, and ban him from ever leading in the church, but instead is seeking to restore him wholeheartedly in every aspect of his calling…

Unfortunately, in our day this is a hot button issue because so many ministers have fallen into great sin… I could probably name 5-10 pastors right now, whose names most of you would recognize, which have recently fallen into great sin, and have thus left the ministry… Many people have had heated arguments about whether or not a pastor, missionary, or church leader can be restored and be allowed to serve again after falling into great sin… Many say yes, and many more say no… But what does Jesus say? According to this text the obvious answer is yes… Now some will argue that while Jesus does restore Peter, Peter’s sin wasn’t as great as say adultery or something to that effect… But think about that for a minute… Is that really true? Outside of maybe crucifying Jesus, is there anything worse than denying Jesus? After all, the sin above and behind all others that leads to condemnation is the sin of unbelief and rejecting Jesus. Adultery is horrible, but spiritual adultery is even worse… If loving and trusting Jesus, if knowing Jesus is what saves, than how bad is it to deny knowing Him at all? Yet Jesus restores Peter…

Beloved, what we see here is that even the worst of sinners can be saved, and even Christians who fall into the worst of sins can be restored… Some would agree with that but argue that it applies to everyone but pastors and church leaders… But friends, this text argues just the opposite… Peter can’t be restored without true repentance, but if he truly repents he can; and as we know he does and is thus mightily used by God. Friends, there are consequences for our sin, both earthly and heavenly, both physically and spiritually, but the mercy and grace of God in Christ can restore us… Pastors and teachers of God’s Word will give an account for how they handled His Word and shepherded His people, but the same gracious gospel they preach and teach applies to them as well… While it is certainly possible for a pastor to sin so bad that they need to be removed from the ministry forever, it’s also possible for them to be restored if they have shown themselves to be truly repentant. Jesus calls Peter Simonshowing that he had indeed been removed as an apostle for a time, but true repentance by the grace of God leads him to restoration…

One of the chief schemes of the devil is to tell us that our sin defines us… First, in the midst of temptation, he tells us that God is gracious and will forgive us our sin, so we should just do whatever we want… And then if we give in to sin he tells us that God could never love a sinner like us, and that we are beyond the reach of God’s grace. So, it’s like he’s willing to admit that a person can become a Christian and be forgiven and saved, but if a Christian then falls into sin, there is therefore no grace for him. Or if there is it’s not enough to restore us, but to somehow make us second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. But there are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God; there is more grace in Christ than sin in us… And His grace is able to save and restore even the worst of sinners. We are not defined by our sin but by the gospel that tells us that Jesus lived, died, rose again, and ascended on high so that all who repent and believe would be saved and restored and enabled to live out God’s calling on their life.

As Charles Spurgeon once put it, “You may say, ‘But I have sinned’. So you have, but sin cannot sever you from His love; He still loves you. Do not think that the scars of your old sins have marred your beauty or that He loves you less because of that blemish. He loved you when He foreknew your sin, and He does not love you any less now. Come to Him in all boldness of faith, and tell Him that you are sorry that you grieved Him. He will forget your wandering and will receive you again. The kisses of His love will be bestowed on you, and the arms of His grace will embrace you. He is so faithful, so trust Him. He will never deceive you. He will never leave you.” Beloved, His grace is greater than our sin…Our identity is not wrapped up in our sin, but in who we are as blood bought children of God… That is, if we are truly repentant… And that’s what Jesus gets at in the last verse in our passage.

In verse 17 Jesus said to Peter a 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.’” This time Jesus doesn’t use the word άγαπαω, but he uses the same word for love that Peter has been using, φιλέω… So it’s like He’s saying, “Ok Simon; I see you’re trying to come across as humble by not claiming to love me with a true gospel love, and instead with just a relational love… But do you even love me with that kind of love? Tell me, are you truly repentant? Do you love me?”

So now with the reminder of the third time he denied Christ, and being asked if he had any love for Jesus at all, Peter is grieved… But the grief that Jesus’ question brings on Peter is a good thing. Grief is actually necessary if Peter is going to come to true repentance and restoration… He must be grieved over his sin. To be grieved over sin means to have true sorrow and conviction over sin, not just guilt. Paul says it like this, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Christ will never taste sweet until our sin tastes bitter… And that’s how godly grief works; it cause us to grieve over the wretchedness of our sin and to mourn over how our sin grieves our Savior. I mean, if Peter grieves over denying Christ, how much more so does Jesus? And yet in His grief there is grace…

Peter denied Christ, yet Christ died for Him; and now He is risen in glory before him, in love seeking to restore him… What a gracious and loving God… So while on the one hand Peter was grieved after hearing Jesus’ question because of his shame and guilt, he was even more grieved because he had sinned against the God of the universe, who loved him and gave himself for him… And we can see from this that Peter knows Jesus to truly be the God of the universe; that’s why he says, “Lord, you know everything…” Peter knows that Jesus is the omniscient God in the flesh, and in his godly grief he thus submits himself and his heart to Jesus…

Peter knows he’s a great sinner, he knows that he doesn’t love Jesus the way he should, but he also knows that he really does love Jesus… And that’s the right answer; that’s the answer of a broken and contrite heart… Our faith may be weak, we may often find ourselves fearful, unstable, and failing in many different things; we may at times doubt the things of God or doubt our salvation… We may at times wonder if we are truly elect and have received grace… But one thing we ought to know for sure is whether or not we love Jesus… A true Christian knows that they love Jesus… We may not love Him as He deserves, but we would never say that we don’t love Him at all… A true Christian cannot help but love Jesus, because our hearts have been gripped by who He is and how He has loved us. As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” So a true Christian should have no problem telling the all-knowing God to search his heart, like Peter does here…

And when Jesus searches Peter’s heart He does indeed find love there. So He tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” He restores him as an apostle and He charges him as an elder to care for His Church… Jesus believes his love to be true and so He calls him to feed and tend His sheep, which is the job of every elder in every church. To feed is to preach and teach God’s Word; to give them a steady diet of the gospel… And to tend is to pastor, to shepherd, to love, serve, counsel, and guide. God’s call on every elder is to give himself over to loving and serving Jesus by loving and serving His people. And this call had a profound effect on Peter; he gave his life to living it out.

In 1 Peter 5:1-4, speaking to various churches, Peter says, “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” After these three questions and charges from Christ Peter was assured that he was fellow partaker of the glory that comes from God’s grace, and he knew what the calling of an elder was… To love and guide, and to preach and teach, not only in doctrine, but also by example… This is what every pastor is to give himself to, and if he loves Jesus he will… So whether it’s me, or another guy who is your lead pastor, as well as each and every one of your elders, make sure the men who lead you truly love Jesus and truly love you… And you will see proof of both as they feed and tend, as they rightly preach, teach, serve, guide, counsel, and live among you as examples of those who know Jesus, love Jesus, and live for Jesus… And if I, or any other leader fails at this, call us to repent, and if we don’t repent remove us, for our good and your good… An elder can certainly be restored, but that implies that they can also be removed… An elder must give himself to his call; he must truly love Jesus and love people… And in fact, the call on the elder is really just to lead the church in their call to do the same thing.

What we learn here is that true love for Jesus always shows itself in love for the church. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)… And we show our love for Him by loving those for whom Christ died… We can’t love Jesus and despise His bride… Though we are not all called to be leaders, we are all called to love, encourage, serve, and edify the church… We are all called to love Jesus with an agape type love, with a love that is characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good. And we do that by living to make much of Him, showing others how amazing He truly is, and helping others come to know Him, love Him, and live for Him—a type of feeding and tending if you will… We are to die to ourselves, to sacrifice our wants and needs, our time and efforts, our finances and possessions, our gifts for the good of others and the glory of Christ… Love for Jesus means faithfully following Him and living for His glory, and that’s what living for His glory looks like: sacrificially loving and serving His people.

Conclusion

What we see in this passage is that God’s grace can save, restore, and transform. Peter was transformed from a man who denied Christ to an apostle, a pastor who denied himself and truly loved and followed Jesus, and gave himself to loving His people. And regardless of God’s calling on your life you can be sure that you are called to live a lifestyle of repentance and love and serve God’s people; that is, if you truly love Jesus… So, do you love Him?