John 21:17 - "[Jesus] said to [Simon Peter] the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?' and he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'"
Even beyond the simple fact that Simon Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times, there's a reason why Jesus asked Simon three times if Simon loved Jesus, namely, we tend to forget what it is to love Jesus.
Jesus makes it clear for us, who tend to forget, that to love Jesus is to feed his sheep.
And what does loving Jesus by feeding his sheep look like? There was a time in an amusement park when I went to buy our girls' dinner. They wanted to share a turkey leg meal. So I walked to the place, ordered, and paid. The guy then gave me the bottled water, the bag of chips, and the cookie, and then said, "There you go!" I stood there literally for a minute, smiling, and finally his coworker said, "He doesn't have the turkey leg." Ya see, it's so easy to give some food to eat but forget to give the best food, the most important food. When Jesus said, "Feed my sheep," to Simon Peter, Jesus told Simon three times because we tend to get caught up in giving the lesser food, the least important food to our dependent sheep and forget about the best stuff altogether. It happens to all of us!!!
I distinctly remember a couple years ago when it happened to our family. We were leaving a Disney park in late morning and found ourselves to be the only ones at the bus stop until a short, quiet, young lady joined us. We started talking to her and discovered she was a Disney employee, so we started asking her about the realities of working at Disney. Then we realized we hadn't asked her the usual stuff, ya know, where you were born and reared, if you have siblings, etc. Then, noticing how shy she was, I guess my daughter Cassidy's and my entertainer gene kicked in and we started to sing a song to which we didn't know all the words, but the young lady knew some more of the words. At this point the bus came, and we continued singing and having fun with this quiet young lady with only one more passenger on the bus.
As we neared our destination, it dawned on us to ask her name as we introduced ourselves. We arrived, said goodbye, went our merry almost-at-the-end-of-our-vacation-way, and all of a sudden the kids and I simultaneously heard Jesus say, "Do y'all love me?" "Well, yes, Lord, you know we love you," we said. And Jesus replied, "Then why didn't you feed my sheep?"
We all felt horrible because we realized that Jesus was right. We'd given Hilary the bottled water, the bag of chips, and the cookie, and then said, "There you go!" But we too had gotten so caught up in the lesser food of getting to know her and her workplace and singing earthly songs with her that we totally forgot to feed her the best food and make sure she knew Jesus and his love.
Yes, friends, everybody makes mistakes, and God is forgiving. But some mistakes are bigger than others. And we found ourselves, during our prayers that night, asking God again for forgiveness for not sharing Christ and the Gospel with the quiet young lady, who God had clearly orchestrated sending our way at a lonely bus stop. I can remember all this like it was yesterday.
So, what are you feeding your sheep? Is it the best food or something less? Children hunger for the best food from the time they're conceived. Are you feeding them by talking to them about Jesus? Spouses long for a word of hope and encouragement and power which God's word alone can truly provide. Are you speaking God's word into your spouse's heart? Coworkers are real people who hunger for the best food. Are we ever feeding them with more than the daily diet of "what have you done for the company lately?" And on and on and on.
There are so many sheep. They're all hungry. And Jesus is asking if we love him. We're eager to tell him, "Absolutely, Lord!" And he's eager to reply, "Then don't forget to feed my sheep!"
Dear Lord, pleeeeeease help us all to remember and care and feed all your sheep with the best food of your word.
And He who feeds us faithfully will!
"The gospel is the story of Jesus [what God's only Son has done for us that we can't do for ourselves], spoken as a promise." - Robert Jenson