Disclaimer: The following is not all original. Though it is a compilation of my thoughts when reading the passages, some of the thoughts were prompted by a friend who shared with me what one of her professors at seminary shared about the passages. Whatever may be accurate/beneficial is certainly expressed more eloquently and thoroughly elsewhere and by those more qualified and learned than I.
In both of these stories, it could be assumed that John plays a part in bringing Peter closer to Jesus. John (presumably) brings Peter in to the courtyard (18:16). John tells Peter that Jesus is on shore (21:7) before he jumps out of the boat and swims to Jesus. I want to be like John–not giving up on someone who has demonstrated disloyalty to Jesus.
The way Jesus relates to people is absolutely mind-blowing. Not only does it prompt gratitude in my heart, it is very challenging to me. I tend to display less grace and faith than He does. Though Jesus had originally called His disciples away from their fishing trade (Mark 1:16-20), He had to do so again (21:1-12). What patience! Though Peter committed a heinous crime against the Lord by denying Him three times around a charcoal fire (18:18), Jesus demonstrates tremendous compassion and mercy toward Peter by commissioning him around another charcoal fire (21:9). Though Peter broke (18:17-18,25-27) his promise (Mark 14:26-31) to value Christ more than his reputation, Jesus does not give up on him. Jesus comes back to him, asking him to pledge his life for the gospel (21:15-19). The topic of conversation between Peter and the people around the first charcoal fire concerned identity. Was he one of Christ’s disciples, or not? What do I proclaim about my identity through my conversations? Do I proclaim that I belong to myself or that I belong to the Lord? At the second charcoal fire, Jesus confirms that Peter is His.
Jesus asks Peter to be like Himself–seeking, feeding, and keeping sheep, not running away when tribulation comes (John 10:11-16). Of course, ultimately it is Jesus Himself Who does all this with His sheep, but He has also ordained the means of human shepherds overseeing (Acts 20:28) the flock of God. It is sobering to imagine what Peter felt (21:17) when being questioned by Jesus. Surely he remembered denying Him thrice; what humiliation he must have felt being face to face with the One he denied. So many times I have practically denied Christ by choosing my own way rather than His. Yet, He keeps giving me opportunities to choose correctly. Jesus shows me no less mercy than He showed to Peter. What will I do with it? I pray that He will make my answers and choices passionately committed to His glory.
At the end of Jesus’ conversation with Peter, He prophecies how Peter will die as a result of following Him. This too is amazing. Jesus here implies that Peter will stay faithful to Him and that He will never cast Peter aside. Jesus is promising to forever hold on to Peter, and this to one who completely did not deserve it. He has promised the same to me (1 Peter 1:3-5). Marvelous mercy.
And then, Jesus issues a final call: “Follow me.” As in other portions of Scripture, this confirms that not only does Christ keep the sheep in His flock, but they also stay with Him. This mystery is one I accept by faith in the evidence of Scripture, and cannot fully explain. All I know is that God will keep me, and one way in which He accomplishes this is by making me want to be kept.
But the story isn’t finished yet. Peter seems like he still hasn’t understood the lesson when he asks about John’s future. Jesus again doesn’t give up on Peter but again tells him to follow Him and not worry about what He has planned for others (21:20-23). Amazing. Jesus showers grace upon grace on those who belong to Him.
Here, in the story of Peter, I see again that I am wretched and Jesus is wonderful.