Formations 06.23.2024: Second Chances

John 21:15-25

In Luke 24:34, the eleven and their companions announce to the Emmaus disciples, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” This brief detail is echoed in Paul’s summary of the gospel preaching when he declares that the risen Christ “appeared to Cephas [that is, Peter], then to the twelve” (1 Cor 15:5).

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) imply that a scene like the one in our lesson text must have taken place, but John is the only writer to report it. In John 21, after the resurrection, Jesus and Peter have a difficult conversation about Peter’s commitment to his Lord.

Three times, Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” (vv. 15, 16, 17). Interpreters question whether the use of two different Greek words for “love” is significant. The last time Jesus asks the question, John has him using a lower-stakes word for love—not the highest form of love but something more like friendship or affection. For some, this change implies that Peter was not yet ready to pledge himself to Jesus unconditionally, though he is grieved to realize that this is the case. Others, however, doubt that John’s word choice has any deep significance.

What is certain, however, is that this divine re-commissioning includes both a call to take care of Jesus’s flock (see 1 Pet 5:2, 3) and a declaration that Peter will one day die a martyr’s death. The last time we saw Peter, he was denying that he even knew Jesus. Now, he is being entrusted with a new and greater task. He will guide God’s people and then, when his work is done, he will join Jesus in death.

All of us can find encouragement in this part of Peter’s story because all of us know what it’s like to fail. We have failed our loved ones and we have failed ourselves. If you’re reading this article because you’re preparing to teach or study this passage of Scripture, then I assume you realize that you have also failed Jesus, perhaps as often as I have.

What does Jesus do with disciples who fail him? If John 21 is any indication, he finds ways to bring them back into the fold and gives them another chance.

That’s a story we all could stand to hear.

Discussion

• How does Jesus restore the relationship between himself and his errant disciples?
• How can the church help us in this process of reconciliation and renewal?
• Is it significant that Jesus never explicitly refers to Peter’s denial? Explain.
• Why does Jesus place “love” at the center of his concern?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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