Peter Restored - John 21:15-25

Expositions by H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


Memory Verse — Psalm 51:12-13

When a believer has fallen into sin and has consequently lost his fellowship with the Lord and his usefulness in His service he needs to be restored. He does not need to have his salvation restored, for that was not and cannot be lost. He does not need to be born again, because having once believed in Jesus he became a child of God and was born again once and for all. His sin has not made him any less a child of God. But how unhappy it has made him! And how impossible it seems for him to do service unto the Lord when he is in that condition. He needs to have the joy of his salvation and the power of service restored. He needs to be brought again into fellowship with his Saviour. Many find their souls recognizing this need, but they do not know how to receive the restoration which they need. Peter is a man who after believing in the Lord and serving Him fell into sin and suffered the loss which is common to all backsliders. He was graciously restored to fellowship with the Lord, and to usefulness in His service. A study of his experiences will therefore help us to understand how we may be restored if we have' unfortunately gotten away from God.


The first tiling which we learn is that the Lord is waiting to restore His wandering children and will do so when they are ready to be restored. As He talked with Peter at the sea of Tiberias Jesus said to him: "Simon, lovest thou me more than these?" What a searching inquiry that was. Only a few days before, Peter had proudly said: "Though all forsake thee, yet will not I." In that saying he really had claimed a love for Jesus which was greater than the love of the other disciples. And yet when the test came Peter was the one who most grievously failed and sinned in denying his Lord. In this Peter was a fair example of all backsliders. Backsliding starts in getting the eyes off the Lord and getting them on self. It is many times characterized by self satisfaction, or by self seeking. "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways" are the words of Scripture. (Prov. 14:14) Peter began to slip when he protested that he would never forsake the Lord. No, His love was not so weak as that! Why, he would even fight for Him! And yet he did forsake the Lord and denied Him like a coward. Perhaps if Peter had said: "Lord this is a pretty bad fix we are in, but you will be able to get us out of it some way," and thus stayed his mind on the power of God rather than upon his own strength and love for the Lord he would not have sinned later. Be that as it may, Peter did sin, and his sin started in his thinking more highly of his own love for Jesus than he ought to think. Now Jesus asks him: "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" In this Jesus was practically saying: "Peter, do you see now how weak and poor your love really is?

Do you realize how you sinned in such a boastful claim? Are you ready to confess your sin? Are you willing for me to teach you what love really means?" Peter did not need to beg Jesus to restore him. All he needed to do was to be willing and ready to confess his sin and Jesus would do the rest. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I Jno. 1:9). Jesus' inquiry was a searching one in that it searched the heart of Peter and laid bare its sin, but it was also searching in that He was seeking for repentance and willingness in the heart of Peter. Luke 15:4-7; Psa. 23:3; Psa. 103: 8-14.


Peter confessed his weakness and sinfulness and willingness to let the Lord restore him and teach him. When Jesus asked the question: "Lovest thou me," He used a word which is very strong. It is the Greek word "agapao." This is the word for love which is always used in the New Testament when speaking of the love of God. It is the word translated "charity" in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and that chapter shows what kind of love is meant by this word. It is the strong, unfailing, self-sacrificing love of God. Men know that kind of love only as God teaches them. But it was a fit word to describe the love which Peter had even though my love is poor and weak." so boastfully claimed. "Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me with that, strong, unfailing love which you thought you had for me?" was the real meaning of Jesus' question. In his reply Peter humbly confessed that he saw his presumption and sin. He said: "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." But he used a weaker word than that used by Jesus. He used the Greek word " phileo," which may mean love but which is also used to mean fondness or friendship. The weakness of this word may be seen in Matt, 6:5 in which it is said that the hypocrites "love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets that they may be seen of men," and in which the word "phileo" is used. Peter was practically saying, Yea, Lord I do love thee, but I realize that my love is not the strong love which I thought it was. I really am afraid to call it anything more than friendship when I think how I failed in the hour of testing." Three times Jesus repeated His question. Twice He used the strong word, but the third time He used the word which Peter had used. "Peter are you sure that you are really friendly to me? Do you love me even with that kind of love?" Each time Peter's reply was the same. "Yes, Lord, I do love you, but I am afraid of the strong word which you have used. I do love you even though my love is poor and weak." When a soul gets to the place where it is willing to confess its sin and we knew and its need of God's loving instruction then that soul is in a place in which it can receive rich blessings from Him. I Jno. 1:9; Lu. 11;11-21, especially verse 20.


After Peter's confession Jesus gave him a wonderful commission. He said: "Feed my lambs." And afterward He repeated the same commission, saying twice: "Feed my sheep." Peter had confessed his sin and had humbled himself before the Lord. He had signified his distrust of self and his confidence in the Lord. He had shown a spirit of willingness and yieldedness to His will, and he was in a condition in which God could use him. How good it is that God did not insist on Peter's measuring up to the strong, unfailing love which was expressed in the word used by Jesus. Even though Peter felt that he could not measure up to that high standard, still God could use him, and thank God He could teach him the other kind of love! It is significant to study Peter's life in the light of this little scene. He was afraid to claim the strong, self-sacrificing love which was described in the word "agapao," but his whole life after that time reflected the glimpse which he had caught in his Saviour of just that kind of love. He had failed the Lord once through fear, but as we read the record of his life following this time we find that it is marked by a holy boldness. He was willing even to defy the leaders of the people, and to preach the Name of Jesus with threats of death ringing in his ears. Tradition tells us that at last he died a martyr to the faith, and that when they came to crucify him (for it was by that means that he died) he asked to be crucified head downward, feeling unworthy even to die in the same position in which Jesus died. What a wonderful love for the Lord he manifested. When he confessed his weakness God could work in and through him and He did this most blessedly. How it should encourage us that even when Jesus had come down to Peter's level in using a weaker word for love, still He gave him the commission: "Feed my sheep." The way in which we may show our love for Him, whether it is weak or strong is by "feeding the sheep." We should constantly seek to minister to His children the things of His Word. And surely that man who has known the joy of forgiven sin and of renewed fellowship is in a position effectually to do this. Psa. 51:12-15


After we have been restored and our lives have become useful in His service there are dangers which threaten us and against which we should guard. One of the chief of these is that we should fail to make it our exclusive purpose to follow Him but rather that we should get sidetracked through jealousy or ambition, or some other sinful thing. After Peter had been so wonderfully commissioned to feed the sheep of God he was threatened with this sin. Jesus had said to him: "Follow me." But perhaps a little spark of jealousy or ambition remained in his heart and he asked concerning the beloved disciple John: "Lord what shall this man do?" Jesus rebuked him and repeated His command: "What is that to thee? Follow thou me." The believer in Jesus Christ needs to have as his exclusive purpose in life the following of his Lord. When we make this our sole purpose and refuse to be side-tracked, turning a deaf ear when the old nature tries to put jealous or ambitious thoughts in our hearts then we are in a position in which God can use us and bless us most richly. May God help us to do this. Matt. 4:19; Phil. 3:13-15.