In 1877, Charles Spurgeon preached this sermon from John 21:15 to a pastors conference in London, and over a hundred years later he preached it to me.
It’s hard to believe the impact that Spurgeon has had on the history of the Christian church. His sermons, letters, and journals remain in print to this day. He is read and studied in seminaries. He is beloved by many, but in this passage that Spurgeon so eloquently exposits, he points to the real motivation behind it all; and that is the pastoral command to feed the sheep of God. But as we see in the passage there are other aspects that go into pastoral ministry. In this concluding passage of John, we find three: feed the sheep, follow Jesus, and don’t compare yourself to others.
A Distinct Call to Feed and Tend the Sheep
Jesus, three times to restore Peter to ministry, calls him to feed and tend the sheep. At the heart of this command is Jesus showing that He has not passed Peter by but has restored him. It is not the perfect and blameless that are being called to ministry, but the broken ones who love God and cherish making Him known. Only a few pages earlier in John’s text we see Peter deny that he even knew the Lord, but now the same Christ who he denied is calling him to lead and feed. This is an important feature of John’s gospel because it shows us that those who are called to teach and care for the flock of God are those who understand their own limitations and failures, and whom Christ restores not of their own merit but of His gracious gift. Peter did not earn God’s reconciliation. Jesus gave it freely, and the outflow of this reconciliation was the commission to feed and tend.
So for all who aspire to the role of elder and minister, this is the same commission given to you. Feed the sheep. The only thing we see worth feeding on is the truth of the word of God. It is the only thing, when coupled with the Spirit, that builds up a believer. We cannot be fed by anything less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His truth is what grows us and sustains us. It is also the same Gospel that calls us to repentance and faithfulness. As we feed the sheep we also tend them. We point them to the Gospel and call for growth and reconciliation, calling each other to walk in holiness.
A Call to Follow
Now after Jesus finishes His command to feed and tend, He gives Peter another command: follow Me. Now this is a command Peter was very familiar with. It is the very one that began it all when Jesus called him out of the boat and into the life of a disciple. The command to ‘follow Me’ is the same command Paul will later give to the Corinthian Church, as he calls them to follow him as he follows Christ. The life of ministry is a life of following after Christ. A minister cannot love the sheep well if he is not in love with the true shepherd and learning from Him first and foremost. We see this clearly in Jesus continual asking of Peter of His love for Him. He must love Him if he is going to follow after Him.
As the text tells us, Peters future would be one of hardship and death, but we also see that he endures the life set before him because of his love for Christ. It is the love of Christ that fuels the minister’s soul. It is the model that Jesus set before us that enables us to endure suffering and to preach the Word in spite of our culture and to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged while freely forgiving those who have wronged us. We are motivated by the love of Christ and model His love to others as we follow Him.
The final thing we see in Jesus’ discourse with Peter is a lesson we all must learn. The final words we have in John to Peter is to not concern himself with God’s will for another minister of the gospel, but to serve Him alone. Peter being Peter, sees John in the text and asks Jesus to explain what would happen to him also. In short Jesus says it’s not your concern, your job is to follow Me. Too often as ministers, it is easy to look at other ministry’s and churches and begin to compare what the Lord is doing, and somehow doubt that you are doing what God has called you to do, but as the text points out we are called to feed, tend, and follow.
Spurgeon may have been one of the greatest communicators and expositors of his day, but you know the vast majority of the world who came to know the Lord in the 1800’s probably never heard of the man. But they did hear about Jesus. They never heard a single sermon of his, but they heard the Word of God faithfully given to them by other faithful men, whose names we do not know. We today are the product of many faithful ministers of the gospel whose names are unknown to us, but not to God.
So in this world, most of us will go unnoticed by the world at large, but God sees us and knows us. We are not all destined to be mega church pastors, it is God who destines all things. We are but called to be faithful stewards of the Gospel. We are called to love and follow the Lord, teach the word, disciple the body, and judge ourselves on that alone.