CHAPTER 32-"FEED MY SHEEP" #Joh 21:16
This conversation between our Lord and Peter is one of the most beautiful and interesting stories of the New Testament. Our Lord excelled in conversation for in all things He has the preeminence. Whenever He conversed with anyone there was a sermon rich in truth. Think of His talk with Nicodemus, the fallen woman at Jacob's well, the pharisees, His disciples.
These words of our Lord to Peter were designed to administer reproof and also to communicate forgiveness. Peter had behaved badly as a disciple of Christ. Along with the other disciples he had forsaken and fled but he had done worse than that. He had denied with cursing that he even knew the Lord. Christ had died and had been buried, but Peter had been to the grave and found it empty. More than that he had seen the risen Christ and was convinced that He was alive. But even so, Peter did not expect the Lord to have any further use for him and so one day he said to the other disciples, "I go a fishing" (#Joh 21:3). And they were in the same mood and said "We also go with thee." But after a night of so called fisherman's luck, the Lord appears to them and turns failure into success. He apparently ignores the others and says to Peter, "Lovest thou me more than these?" (#Joh 21:15). This cutting question thrice spoken hurt and humbled Peter. It was like a dagger in his heart. But the command, "Feed my sheep" (#Joh 21:16) also thrice spoken was the way of forgiveness and restoration. Peter had lost his office only temporarily; the Lord would fulfill His promise to wash Peter's feet and give him a part with Him. He forgave his conduct and recommissioned him. Peter and Judas both fell from an office, the office of apostleship. But with this difference: Judas, as a lost man, lost his office forever; Peter as a saved man lost his only temporarily. Judas was an apostate; Peter was a backslider. Judas was an unbeliever and a devil; Peter was a sheep and a believer. Judas had remorse of conscience; Peter had godly sorrow. Peter came back to Christ with humility and penitence; Judas went away by the suicide route. Judas died at his own hands; Peter died as a martyr.
From this story I have gathered some thoughts that by the Spirit's blessing may prove helpful.
1. This charge to Peter reveals the love of Christ for His people.
As the Good Shepherd, Christ had just laid down His life for the sheep. He had taken His life again and was about to leave them in the world. But He still loves them. "Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end" (#Joh 13:1). And in His love He commits them to an under shepherd. This command to feed the sheep causes Peter to think of preachers as under shepherds with Christ as the chief shepherd who will reward them for faithful care of His sheep. "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (#1Pe 5:4). Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (#Ac 20:28).
1a) by a gift from the Father. "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine" (#Joh 17:9).
1b) By purchase. "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (#Ac 20:28);
1c) By reward for His travail of soul. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities" (#Isa 53:11).
2. The qualifications required in the pastors, or shepherd. There are several but only one mentioned here: Love to Christ. It was on this question of love that Christ examined and cross examined Peter. He would not trust them to one who did not love Him. It is not love for people but love for Christ that is needed. If we love Him we will love His sheep for His sake. If we love Him we will feed His sheep. If we do not love Him our service will be that of a hireling. "But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep" (#Joh 10:12-13). A hireling would starve them or poison them and forsake them. A hireling will fleece them and flog them. He will fleece them for his own interest, or flog them to get something off his chest. I heard of a preacher who boasted of his "sucker list."
3. Provision of pasture. The word of God is the pasture of the sheep. As pastors we must lead them into the pasture.
2. Duty of the pastor to His people.
There are two words translated "feed". The word in our text is different from the word in the 15th and 17th verses. In those two verses the word means "give food to, "but in our text it has a wider meaning and means shepherd or take care of. It includes feeding, but includes all that a shepherd is to do for sheep; feed, protect, govern. Requirements:
1. Unselfishness. "Woe to the idol shepherd who leaveth the flock!" (#Zec 11:17). "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?" (#Eze 34:2).
2. Knowledge of the word. The sheep's food is in this book. We are not to feed the flesh but the best principles the graces of faith, hope, love. Our preaching must not give men faith in themselves but in Christ. Hope is the grace that looks to something better in the future. We are feeding this grace when we preach that this earth has nothing for the saint; that the heavenly country is his fatherland. We nourish the grace of love by preaching the sovereign and gracious love of Christ.
3. What you must be to thrive on the Word.
3b) You must be a sheep or else you will not relish the food of the Word.
3d) You must be a sheep or else you will not enter by the door into salvation. Christ is the door. "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (#Joh 10:9).