The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 NIV.
Sometimes when we do our quiet time in the mornings or listen to a sermon on a Sunday church service, we think, “Oh, I’ve read that before,” or “I’ve heard that sermon before.” When that happens pause a moment. Don’t dismiss it. Get fed not fed-up. You see, the more we read the Bible, the more we discover, the more we learn and the more we’re blessed. Bertrand Russell sums it up this way, “All knowledge is more or less uncertain and more or less vague.” So be patient, read through that familiar Bible passage; sit through that sermon you thought you knew. You’ll be surprised. There are new revelations to be gathered, a new idea to the Bible passage we’ve just read or new lessons to be learnt from that sermon we thought we’ve heard before.
To be a Christian is to be a sheep with God as our Shepherd. In my last exhortation we talked about the shepherd – “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd . . .” (Isaiah 40:11 KJV) and we reminded ourselves of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd . . . He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:” Let me share with you what else I have learnt from reading these great passages this time.
Isaiah’s picture of the shepherd is of one who shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. – Isaiah 40:11 KJV. It is an unusual picture of a leader because the shepherd does not issue judgment like a judge, or manage a ministry like a government minister, or win great victories like a four star general. Like a shepherd is more about caring for others, to be loved, and for the sheep; to be loved!
The shepherd guards his sheep. He is the guardian who takes responsibility for the well-being of his sheep. King David tells us that, “He (the Shepherd) makes me to lie down in green pastures.” – Ps 23. And the prophet Isaiah says that He (God) shall feed his flock. This is more than a matter of providing His flock with grass to feed on. I came across “Albert Barnes Notes.” He explains, “The verb translated ‘to feed’ (yire‛eh ), denotes more than our word feed at present. It refers to all the care of a shepherd over his flock. it means to tend, to guard, to govern, to provide pasture, to defend from danger, as a shepherd does his flock.” You see, the word feed represents a complete package able to meet all your needs. If the Lord is your Shepherd then you are under His protection or his guardianship. So the imagery of the shepherd in the Old Testament gives a complete picture of who our God is – the Good and perfect Shepherd. Isn’t that great!
Peter’s moment of truth:
The leaders God had chosen in the New Testament were by background, quite varied, different. They were not shepherds like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Moses or King David. They were generally fishermen like Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and two more disciples possibly Philip and Andrew (John 21:2). They were together with Peter. Then, Jesus appeared before them. That was before He ascended to heaven. Here was how the Bible recorded the event. Jesus said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”– John 21:6 NIV. They had a breakfast barbecue over a charcoal fire at the beach after that. The last time when Peter was at a charcoal fire it was at the high priest’s courtyard. That was a shameful moment for Peter, because he had denied Jesus three times. Now he found himself face-to-face, one-on-one with Jesus. Embarrassing? No, it was a powerful moment! The question this time (these three times) was about Peter. Peter was asked three times if he loved Jesus! When my wife called my daughter (when she was a little girl) using her name in full – her Christian name, her Chinese name and her surname. You know that it had to be a serious moment.
From fisherman to shepherd . . .
When the disciples had finished their meal with Jesus, that was how Jesus called Peter by his name in full, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” – John 21:15, 16 17. Want to know how serious this encounter was? The second question Jesus asked Peter was exactly the same as the first. And the third question was exactly like the first and the second, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter responded with some embarrassment, and he was of course somewhat exasperated too. But this was a defining moment for Peter the fisherman. Why? Jesus had responded to Peter with, “Feed my lambs,” (John 21:15 NIV), “Take care of my sheep” (john 21:16 NIV) and “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17 NIV). All three times, the same question and the same response! This had to be important, as I had described it – surely a life-changing moment for Peter as he stood there on his seafaring legs. I believe that when Jesus asked Peter to throw his net to the right of his boat that was Peter’s last fishing trip as a fisherman. Jesus was now asking the fisherman to be a shepherd – “Feed my sheep.”
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 21:11 NIV
We had already learnt that to feed means “to provide all the care of a shepherd over his flock, to tend, to guard, to govern, to provide pasture, to defend from danger” even to the point of laying his life for his sheep. That was what being a shepherd was all about. Remember how Jesus called Peter when they first met?
Here is that account. Peter and his brother Andrew “were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people (to be ‘fishers of men’ – KJV).” – Matt. 4:18-23 NIV. Here’s an interesting observation. At this very first meeting of Peter with Jesus, Jesus says to Peter, “Come, follow me.” After his resurrection from the dead, guess what Jesus says to Peter before he leaves for heaven? Again Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me!” It seems quite incredible that Jesus greeting and goodbye to Peter makes use of these same two words, “Follow me”. From fisherman to shepherd! That seems to be the transition of Peter – – from a worker (fisherman) to a leader (a shepherd). Of course, Jesus is the ultimate shepherd of people. To follow Jesus is to be a shepherd like Jesus. Like Jesus, the shepherd must be willing to give his life for his sheep. Jesus clearly explains to Peter what to follow and to be a shepherd means. 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” – John 21:19 NIV.
The two “Follow me” calls:
So, “Follow me” was more than just keeping pace with Jesus as he journeys along the road. It was about following or mirroring the life of Jesus, to do what Jesus had done, to adopt Jesus’ attitude – His care, His love and His willingness to give His life for his sheep. If Peter had not been too certain what Jesus meant when Jesus said, “Follow me” at first, Peter now understood.
To witness and disciple:
The very first, “Follow me” from Jesus was a call for Peter to be fishers of men. It was a call to be a witness and to win souls for the kingdom of God. The second “Follow me” was a call for him to be a shepherd. This was not just a call for witnessing or evangelizing but shepherding. It was about making disciples of the converts – feed my sheep. Peter understood this. In 1 Peter 5:2 he instructed his team “Tend the flock of God,” that means, take up the shepherd’s staff to tend and to feed the sheep in the fold.
The word ‘tend’ had come from the Greek word ‘poimaino’ to shepherd and to feed the flock of God. We belong to that flock of God. We are God’s sheep. Many of us who are Christians accept our call to be witnesses, that is, to be fishers of men. But what about the second call to be shepherds, to disciple? To be shepherds requires us to feed His sheep.
The next time you meet your pastor, honor him/her. Your pastor is following both calls from Jesus. Your pastor tends the flock of God in your church. He needs you to work alongside him. He needs your support and your love. Uphold your pastor in all your prayers and shower him with your personal care. If you have heard God’s call to be fishers of men, I pray that you will respond to His call to be shepherds alongside your pastor.