“Do you love me?” Jesus asks again and again. Peter responds again and again, “Yes, I love you.” Jesus tells Peter over and over to care for His flock. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” This is one of the last scenes of John’s gospel before the curtain closes (21:15–19). If we turn several pages in Scripture, the curtain reopens on 1 Peter. Peter is following His Lord’s instruction. He is feeding and tending his Lord’s sheep.
Peter begins his first epistle by writing to the “elect exiles” (1:1). These are the sheep of his Lord’s pasture, but they are certainly unlike any of the sheep Peter could have imagined when he first started following Jesus. Peter has had a hard time understanding his Lord’s plans—he was rebuked by Jesus as if he were Satan, trying to dissuade Jesus from accomplishing His Father’s purpose (Matt. 16:23). He insisted that he would never abandon Jesus, and yet denied Him (26:35; 73–75). In Acts 10, God shows Peter by a sheet coming down from heaven that the previous purity laws governing Jews do not apply to New Testament Christians. Gentiles are now entering God’s kingdom in large numbers. Peter may associate and eat with them.
This is why we see the heart of a humble, understanding, and thoughtful shepherd of the Lord when we read the first verse of 1 Peter. “Elect exiles”—Peter knows these churches of Asia Minor are God’s people. He identifies them using terms that a Jew would previously have used only for Jews. These churches, made up of many Gentiles, are chosen by God—as God chose Abraham. They are exiles in a foreign land like Israel lived in the exile. Peter understands that God has called people from all tribes and tongues to be His people now, and not just those who are ethnically Jewish. Peter not only understands this, but he seeks to care for these Gentiles. Peter is tending and feeding them by sending them a letter, expressing his love and concern for them. Peter is following his Lord Jesus Christ, just as we saw him following after his Lord at the end of the gospel of John.
We may think we know just how God is going to act and just how we are going to serve Him. We may have big plans for our lives. Peter’s storyline shows us that despite our many plans and our best understandings of how things ought to work, we are completely reliant upon Jesus Christ for His plans and His work. We are dependent upon Him and His Spirit to call us as the sheep of His pasture and then to lead us for the rest of our lives—whatever that means doing, and wherever that means going. If Peter had had his way, Jesus never would have gone to the cross. Instead, Jesus Christ redeemed Peter. He gave him a task. Jesus Christ has also redeemed us and called us to the Great Commission and the work of our own lives in our particular places and callings. Let us, like Peter, learn to serve humbly as we rely upon the same Lord he did, for though we have not seen Him, we love Him (1 Peter 1:8).