We were on vacation and glad to be in a Reformed church, but the guest minister at the church we were visiting was creating questions for our children—hard questions. About halfway through the alleged sermon, our 3-year-old son asked his mom why the man was not preaching. We were wondering the same.
When Jesus pulled Peter from the rubble of his threefold denial and thrust him back into kingdom service, He thrice commanded him to feed His sheep (John 21:15–17). Surely no little boys were asking at Pentecost why Peter was not preaching. Peter fed sheep.
In Jesus’ restoration of Peter, we see something of the men God uses, as well as the use God makes of them. Having sinned grossly and wept bitterly, Peter was restored to the work of God. This display of compassion holds out hope to all kinds of grieved failures. From pulpit to pew, hope for future usefulness is offered to the repentant. But forgiveness is a call to service, and for the pastor, that service always requires the feeding of Christ’s sheep. God is pleased to mend the broken and then employ them in His service.
It is also clear from our text that love of God always cohabits with the will to serve. God’s work of restoration makes men both fit to serve and willing to serve. Jesus might have asked Peter whether he was repentant, grieved, or ready to get back to work, but it was enough to summarize the whole of Peter’s return with this question of love. The question “Do you love me?” required Peter to ask himself whether he had turned away from the idolatry of self-love and self-preservation. He was probed to the marrow of his soul as to whether he loved his Savior with all of his heart, soul, strength, and mind. A humbler Peter affirmed his love and received his commission to feed Christ’s sheep.
Having been graced into being usable, Peter then was pressed into usefulness. John Calvin describes his calling as one that entails all kinds of ecclesiastical oversight, the total care of the sheep. Peter was to teach, train, and guide God’s people. Simply put, he was to take care of them. He interprets and passes on this charge in 1 Peter 5, where he exhorts other elders to shepherd God’s flock, serving as overseers, selflessly leading as examples.