This picture was taken when I was a student in Israel. Our class was on field study one day when I noticed a shepherd and his flock, grazing quietly not far from our group. I inched closer and then stood very still to take some pictures. Soon the flock decided to head my way and literally surrounded me. It was a special moment when I got to experience for myself what it’s like be a shepherd. Now, almost ten years later, I’m a shepherd of a different kind, over the precious “people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” (Ps. 95:7)
When Jesus appeared after His resurrection to Peter in Galilee, He taught His disciples about forgiveness and showed what pastoral ministry is all about. Last Sunday, we saw two important lessons from our passage in John 21:15-17:
- A Pardon for Peter. Peter, intended by Jesus to be a “rock” in the early church, had committed a tragic sin. Not long after boasting he would go both to prison and to death (Luk. 22:31-33), he denied Christ and swore he didn’t even know Jesus. He had overestimated his own strength and underestimated the power of Satan. But having fallen down, Christ was ready to pick him back up and wash him in the cleansing blood. The three-fold question “Do you love me?” was a three-fold restoration for Peter. Christ had forgiven him, and still intended for him to lead the church.
- A Plan for Pastors. Christ’s exhortation in this passage is not the language of fishing, but of shepherding. Jesus informs Peter that he is going to be entrusted with Christ’s sheep, and that he will be responsible for “tending” and “shepherding” them. This is a conversation Peter no doubt never forgot. Years later, Peter would urge the next generation of leaders, “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily…proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
Shepherding God’s people is a wonderful privilege, but it’s hard work. It can be very messy, but it’s worth the effort. I shared this quote by Charles Jefferson toward the end of my message on Sunday:
[Shepherding] calls for self-effacement. It is a form of service which eats up a man’s life. It makes a man old before his time. Every good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. If a man is dependent on the applause of the crowd, he ought never to enter the ministry. The finest things a minister does are done out of sight, and never get reported. They are known to himself and one or two others, and to God. His joy is not that his success is being talked about on earth, but that his name is written in heaven. The shepherd in the East had not crowd to admire him. He lived alone with the sheep and the stars. His satisfactions were from within. The messengers of Christ must not expect bands of music to attend them on their way. Theirs is a humble, unpretentious, and oftentime unnoticed labor, but if it builds souls in righteousness it is more lasting than the stars.
Questions for thought and discussion:
- Is there sin in my past or present that I’m deeply ashamed of and feel is “unforgiveable”?
- What does this passage teach me about Christ’s forgiveness?
- Is there someone else who has hurt me deeply that I’m avoiding or trying to get revenge?
- What does Christ’s example teach about how I should treat this person who has let me down?
- Who has God called me to shepherd?
- Read Proverbs 14:4. Is it ever right to stay away from church because of the sin, self-righteousness, conflict, hypocrisy, and “messiness” that sometimes characterize church life?
- Do I honor, obey, and submit to my leaders as those who keep watch over my soul and will give an account to Christ? Do I follow them in such a way that they can do this with joy and not with grief? (Heb. 13:17)
Sunday’s sermon should be uploaded soon to our podcast site for free download.