Theme: From Simon to Peter
In this week’s lessons, we look at Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21, where he restores Peter after his denial, and commissions him for useful service.
Scripture: John 21:15-22
Imagine you are Peter. You are there in the upper room with all the disciples gathered around, and Jesus had just demonstrated his love for them by washing their feet and had said that they were to love one another. You had just said “I will lay down my life for you,” and then Jesus said that to you, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows you’ll disown me three times.” What would you be thinking and how would you be feeling? I think Peter was stunned. Peter was nothing if he wasn’t self-confident. He was probably just thinking how much he loves Jesus, and what does Jesus say? Did Jesus say, “Well, Peter, you don’t really love me as much as you think you do”? To this Peter might have said, “No, it’s true, I don’t.” But Jesus didn’t say that. Instead he said, “Do you really love me as much as to lay down your life for me? You’re not only not going to do that, but this very night you’re going to deny knowing me.” That comment must have hit Peter very hard, indeed. You wonder how he was the rest of the evening, as he thought about what Jesus said he was going to do.
When you begin to think that way, you get a new insight on what follows in chapter 14. We always think of this chapter as being something entirely separated from what we find in chapter 13. We know that chapter 14 is going to go on to talk about heaven, but notice what Jesus said. He said, “Don’t let your heart be troubled.” Peter was troubled. Very troubled. And Jesus said to him, “Don’t be. Trust in God and trust in me.” You see, Peter had been trusting in himself, and that’s why he was disturbed. Now the reason I think that’s what was going on in his mind is that although John doesn’t tell us that, when we read the account in Matthew’s Gospel, we find that immediately after these discourses, when they went out and they were on their way to the mount of Olives, Peter protested it all over again. He told Jesus that he would lay down his life for him. Even if the others denied him, he never would.
But then Jesus tells Peter that Satan desires to have Peter and to sift him as wheat. On his own, Peter would not be able to stand up to Satan’s designs. But Jesus has prayed for Peter. And even though Peter will fall and deny Jesus, his will not be a permanent fall. He is not going to be swept away by his failure. He is going to be humbled, and then Peter is going to be drawn back again, and he will use that understanding of his own weakness to strengthen his brothers.
We know that Peter did fall. His denial interestingly enough is in all four Gospels. So that was a very important thing in the memory of the early church. You know if you compare the Gospels, there are very few things that appear in all four Gospels. But the denial of Peter is. Peter, the most outspoken one, the leader, the one everybody looked up to, he’s the one that denied the Lord.
And now we come to chapter 21, verses 15 and following, and in this chapter Jesus is going to restore him. After they’d finished eating, Jesus begins with this interrogation. Jesus asks a question, which is, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” To which Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then following that Jesus gives a command: “Feed my sheep.” Now there are certain things to notice about this. Let me just take you through a couple of them.
The first thing is to notice the name by which Peter was addressed. He is known as Peter, but when Jesus addresses him, he says, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” I think that’s significant. For one thing, it’s the name Peter was introduced with in chapter 1. In verse 42, Andrew, Peter’s brother, brought him to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas,” which John tells us is translated as Peter. Both names mean a rock.
The significant thing is that Jesus changed the name from Simon to Peter, which Peter obviously recognized, and which is the way he so often responds. Peter had come to believe more or less that this was true of him. After all, Jesus was the one who knows everything. Jesus saw that he had character, enough character to be the rock. That fits with Peter’s boast about how he, the rock, would never deny Jesus, even if everyone else does. He’d come to believe it because he thought he had it in himself.
What he missed, you see, was that Jesus was making him the rock, but he was only the rock when he was in Jesus Christ. Jesus had said that you have to abide in the vine in order to be fruitful. If you’re not abiding in the vine, you can’t do anything. You can’t even be a pebble, let alone a rock. And yet, Peter somehow thought that he had it in himself, so that Jesus in this restoration ceremony goes back and says to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He’s going back to the beginning and he’s reminding Peter of what he really is.
I think there are times in our lives when that happens. We go along and we get quite impressed with ourselves because of the successes that God gives us along the way. We say, “Well, you know, I really am quite able in those areas. I really do have this gift or those gifts.” And then God sends a dry spell to remind us that we’re only Simon, we’re not Peter. We’re only going to be strong if we’re strong in him.
What does Jesus say to Peter in the upper room that shatters his confidence?
What is the significance of the change in names Jesus gives? What did Peter not understand in this change from Jesus?
Application: Are there areas where you struggle with pride? What changes do you need to make?