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(John 21:15–17) Broken Things

(John 21:15–17) Broken Things

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in John
Ref: John 21:15–17

Peter was like a proud athlete who boasted he would never lose. But one fateful night, that all changed. Peter denied His Savior and effectively quit the race. He was immediately paralyzed by guilt and fear and probably thought he would never run again -- that God would never forgive him. But he was wrong!


Broken Things

John 21:15-17

Kathy Ormsby was a success story.  She was a dean's list student at North Carolina State, majoring in pre‑med.  She was an All‑America distance runner.  At the Penn Relays in April [1986], she set an American collegiate record for 10,000 meters . . .she was on a roll.  She actually qualified for the NCAA championships at 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 meters.  She was a celebrity.  Everything seemed so right for this 21‑year‑old junior.  But something was dangerously wrong.  She had become obsessed with winning.  In the first week of June, 1986, in the 10,000 meter run at the NCAA track championships in Indianapolis, she suddenly quit at 6,500 meters.  Totally burned out, her life's purpose suddenly becoming clear - it meant nothing more to her than just winning one more race. . .she turned and jogged out of the stadium, she ran to a bridge two blocks away and jumped.  She fell 40 or 50 feet onto a flood plain.  Now, she is paralyzed from the chest down.  Kathy Ormsby will never run again. The Seattle Times, Jun 11, 1986 article asked the question, "How many other athletes obsessed with winning are heading for a fall?"

The inspiration and authenticity of the Bible is proven over and over again as it records the failures of its main characters.  Left alone, human minds would fashion the story so that the fatal flaws and defects of each character would be couched or hidden from view.

One of the three closest friends Simon Peter had on earth wrote a portion of inspired Scripture and in it he included the failure of his closest friend.

It's recorded in no-nonsense language - holding none of the dark truth from view, John the author followed the Holy Spirit's inspiring direction and penned into immortality, the failure of his friend.

In our study of this account, called the Gospel of John, we observed Peter like a proud, strong athelete who was obssessed with winning... who boasted he'd never lose. . .then we saw him, emotionally, spiritually paralyzed by fear and then failure. . .we were left to wonder if he'd ever run again.

This story has a happy ending . . .John also included in his final comments, the wonderful restoration of Peter to fellowship and service.

It's really a story of how God restores and uses broken things, broken hearts. . .broken people, for his glory.

Turn with me to John's account of this incredible story - its in the 21st chapter, and let's begin back in verse 12.  Jesus said to thm, "Come and have breakfast."  None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?"  knowing that it was the Lord.  13.  Jesus came and took the bread and gave them, and the fish likewise.  14.  This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.  ( now comes one of the most incredible conversations recorded between God and man)  15.  So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,  "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"  He said to Him, "Yes Lord; You know that I love You."  He said to him, "Tend My lambs."  16.  He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"  He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."  He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep."  17.  He said to him 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 all things:  You know that I love You."  Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep."

In order to understand and apply this passage, let's break it down into it's three sections.

Each of the three interchanges between Jesus and Peter include a question, a response and a command.

Go back to the first interchange:  it's in verse 15.


"Peter do you love me more than these?"

Now this is an intreuging question - for many reasons - one of which is its comparative nature.  "Simon, do you love me more than these?"

Let me give you three possible interpretations:

Three interpretations:

1) Do you love me more than these nets,

. . .This catch of fish; your family business?  IN other words, "Are you willing to leave you occupation and the security of your generation old family practice follow Me and do My will?"

2) Do you love me more than you love these men?

These are your closest friends - your relationships that have been rooted in rich fertile soil. . .are you willing to leave those you love to follow me?

3) Do you love me more than these men love me?

I frankly believe that this was in the mind of the Lord.  It hearkens back to the time when Jesus declared in the upper room, "One of you will betray me. . ."Surely it isn't I."  they all declared.  Then Jesus told Peter, "You will deny me three times. . ."  Not I Lord. . .tho all others will forsake you, I will die for you."  In other words, although every other one of thes men deny you Lord, my love for you is far stronger and greater than theirs . . . I will be the one who stays true.

Okay Peter, "now, do you love me more than these men love me?"  Will you really be the one who stays true?

And by the way, the Lord selects the word, "agapao" for love when He asks Peter . . . "Peter do you agapao" me - this is the love word that is intelectual - volitional - it is a word of commitmtent no matter what happens.  This love word is used to express the commitmtnet between a husband and wife. 

So Jesus is asking Peter, "Do you really have that rock solid love for me. . .are you unwavering in your commitment?

Before we leave this first question, may I ask you a question? 

If Christ were talking to you beside some warm fire, and he were             to ask you, "Do you love me more than these?"  For you, what     would these refer to?

-career?  house?  kids?  spouse?  future security? health?

One of the greatest revelations of your love is when God removes one of these and you respond.


Yes Lord: You know that I phileo you.

Peter chooses to respond with a different word for love.

Phileo means brotherly love. . .deep affection

It's as if Peter, who has already been deeply humbled says, "Lord, I've bragged about my undying commtment to you. . .I am now more than ever aware of my weakness, sesnitive to my limitations, and afraid to ever boast again. . .I have a strong love - a deep affection for you Lord."


Tend/feed (bosko)my young lambs (arnion - those young ones in the faith who are so prone to wander).

Early on here I want to make a couple of observations:

Observation #1 - The sheep belong to Christ, not the church.  You could circle in each of these three verses the possessive pronoun. 

"Feed MY lambs" v. 15    "Shepherd MY sheep"  v. 16 

"Tend MY sheep" v17.

Observation #2 - It's possible to hold the office of pastor but never feed the sheep. - there are many professionals who are not pastors - they never feed the flock.  The word pastor poimenos literally means "feeder".    "Peter, make sure you fulfill your office and feed the sheep!"

Observations #3 - This passage not only explains the function of spiritual leadership, it reveals Christ's deep concern for His flock.

In verse 17 you could translate Christs command, "Take care of my

"dear" sheep."

For everyone in here who is involved in teaching and feeding, from this pastor on down, there is a special commendation for you from the Lord - and for those who enter the shepherding ministry, there is even a special reward. . .but this is a good reminder that in the heart of Christ, there is a deep concern for the sheep.

In fact, some of the strongest words of indictment against O.T. Israel were against the leaders; the priests and prophets who were leading the sheep of Israel astray and whose flocks were famished, starving for lack of instruction.

There will be many a pastor or Bible teacher who will see his full reward forfeited becuase he led the flock entrusted to him into barren dry land, instead of into the rich pastureland of God's Word.

James warned N.T. leaders with his words in chapter 3:1.  Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.

Now this ends the first interchange.

SECOND QUESTION.  16.  He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you agapao me?"

Two things need mentioning here before we go further:

1)  You may notice in this second question that Jesus dropped any mention of comparative love . . . he didn't refer again to "these things" - I believe it was not longer necessary - Peter got the point - already burning within his conscience is the memory of  his boasting that night. . .and his denying.

2)  Perhaps you mentioned the Lord addressing Peter with his old name - Simon.

This undoubtably got Peter's attention more than anything else.

I want you to go back to John chapter 1. verse 40.    One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  41.  He found first his own brother Simon, and said to hkm, "We have found the Messiah" (Which translated means Christ).  42.  He brought him to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas (which is translated Peter.)

 The word translated "looked" - describes a concentrated, intent gaze - you could render it, "Jesus not only looked at him, but he looked through him."

Then Jesus Christ excercising his authority over Simon said, "I'm going to change your name."  This was often done as a mark of some quality or charactersitic that the person displayed.  "I'm going to change your name to "rock." Strong...steadfast...unmoveable...consistent...controlled!

It isn't any suprise that Peter didn't say anything. . .he was speechless!  And that's unique, as you know, Peter was constantly opening his mouth . . . if only to change feet.

He was anything but rock-like.  Peter was the emotional outburst; the one whose mouth became engaged before his brain did, the one who would constantly battle with temper and ambition and consistency.

Did he want to become Jesus' disciple?  The real question was, "Did Simon really want to be radically changed?"

We have far too many would be disciples who excuse their personality and their inconsictency.  Jesus Christ never offers any excuse for you - nor will He accept any from you!  He does offer a radical exchange program called discipleship.

And you will have to own up to wrongs, failures, sins. . .

Last year, 1992,  the Texas educational bureaucracy recently reviewed and approved a new set of textbooks for the public school system.  A group of parents, concerned about the information their children were coming home with, conducted their own review.  They found 231 errors, including such more‑than‑bloopers like Napoleon winning the battle of Waterloo, President Truman dropping the atom bomb on Korea, and General Douglas MacArthur leading the anti‑communist campaign in the 1950's (it was actually Senator Joe McCarthy.)  When called to account for these errors, the bureaucrats studied the texts again, and found more than the 231 errors the parents first found.  The parents found more... until now the tally stands at 5200 mistakes in texts published by Prentice‑Hall, Houghton Mifflin, Rinehart and Winston.  How did the publishers react to this mess?  One publisher's spokesperson argued that, "except for the errors," everyone agreed that these were the finest textbooks they had ever seen.

You see, there is a part of discipleship that is uncomfortable - it is the exposure and revelation of needed change - in our character, in our personality, in our vocabulary. . .many people are never commissioned to feed sheep because they would never meet the Savior one on one before some campfire and allow Him to reveal their most fatal flaw.

You see, the difficulty with Peter is that he had come to believe that he really was what the new name signified - he was a rock.  Jesus was in the process of teaching him that apart from His strength, Peter was a piece of crumbling sandstone. . .

And so Jesus Christ makes that painfully clear as he goes back to Peter's old name, Simon. . ."Simon, do you love me?"

HERE'S THE SECOND RESPONSE.  Go back to John 21. 

look at the middle part of  v. 16

Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You."


"Shepherd (poimaino - take care of) - be a shepherd of My sheep (probation) - little sheep - those not yet fully mature in their faith."

watch over them, protect them, guide them, lead them

NOW FOR THE FINAL QUESTION.  There's an interesting change in words that the English translation can't fully reveal.

v. 17.  He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love/phileo me?"

There's a change in words. . .it is a powerful moment as the Lord now uses Peter's word for love.  The Lord drops agapaw and uses Peter's word phileo;  "Peter, do you have deep affection for me?"

I've paraphrased and amplified it myself to try and convey to you what I believe is happening;  Permit me the liberty of reading it to you:  It's as if the Lord says, "Alright Peter, the best you can offer me is deep affection. . .I'm glad to hear you use the word affection becuase we both know that at this moment in your life, if you were to say you have an unwavering commited love for me you would just be bragging like old times; well then, Simon, son of John, do you really have deep affection for me?"

This question brought about grief. . .I  think it was because of a combination of two things:  1)  Jesus's change in words and what I just paraphrased to you struck him and humbled him all over again.

2)  Becuase Jesus asked him the question three times.  Look at the way scripture implies this - middle of verse 17.  Peter was grieved becuase He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?"

Three times Peter had denied the Lord - "I don't know Him. . .I tell you the truth, I am not his disciple. . .I swear upon my grave, I do not know that man. . ."

Then, Peter's eyes looked across the courtyard just as Jesus looked toward Peter - their eyes met - and oh what an agonizing moment for Peter that was - he ran from the courtyard with bitter tears.

Now, three times, before this charcoal fire - haunting him, convicting him, breaking him - Jesus says, "Peter do you love me."

It's interesting to me how Jesus could have asked Peter a thousand different questions:

-Peter are you sorry for what you did?

-Peter, have you truly repented?

-Peter are you willing to apologize?

-Peter, will you promise never to be unfaithful again?

NO!  Peter, do you love me?  That's the bottom line.

And isn't that the bottom line to our own Christian experience?

Dear sir - if your unfailthful to your wife it's becuase you aren't loving Jesus Christ.

Dear student - if your cheating on examinations, it's because you aren't loveing Jesus Christ.

Dear friend - if your angry at mistreatment by others, it's ultimately becuase you've taken your eyes of Jesus Christ.

You know what we need to do?  Stop praying so much that God will give us a greater love for our spouse, our kids, our house, our job, our ministry - and spend more time asking Him to give us a greater love for

His Son, Jesus Christ.

All these things are wonderful but the greatest thing we could ever do is fulfill the greatest commandment ever given. . . that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind.

THIRD RESPONSE.  17b.  "Lord, You know alll things; You know

that I phileo you."

What a tremendous mark of growth in Peter. . .before he would have tried to convince the Lord that he didn't know what was in his heart. . ."Lord let me tell you what my heart feels for you". . .oh no, not now.  He simply acknowledges the sovereign omniscience of Christ and says, "Lord there isn't anything about me you don't know. . .you know everything. . .you know that I have a deep affection for you."

THIRD COMMAND.  17c. "Tend bosko - feed My sheep (probation - young lambs)."

Something else that strikes me is that Jesus could have told Peter a thousand things to do - Peter:

-build my church

-evangelize the world

-train leaders for the future

-pray every day after I'm gone

-memorize scripture regularly

-be an example to the church

No. . .Peter, I want you to take care of my sheep.

It may involve everything else - but the priority is to see that the sheep don't go hungry.

You see, Jesus Christ is in the process of dedicating broken Peter to service.

I want to step from that warm fire and early morning conversation to where you and I live today. . .frankly, Jesus Christ wants broken disciples now more than ever . . . what does brokeness look like . . . I sense that God has been working in my life, is this what He's accomplishing?

Let me make give you three characteristics of brokeness to help you:

CHARACTERISTIC #1  Being broken means coming to the realiziation that Jesus Christ knows everything about you...and He loves you still.

He knows the worst about you. . .and he loves you.

One author brought out a wonderful thing about Christ's omniscience.  If He did not know all things, you might fear that someday something evil in you would spring up and startle God and turn his affection from you.  he would say, "Oh, look at that horrible sin!  I didn't know that was there. . .how terrible!  This changes everything!  I won't have anything more to do with you.

Oh no . . . you can never surprise God!

And for Peter, it wuld be this sin of denial, and Peter's bitter tears of confession that would mark the begninng growth.

Theres something else - Since Jesus Christ knew everything about Peter and He knows everything about you. . .then He knows everything you are becoming. . .He can look at you and change your name to rock - merciful - compassionate -  sincere - studious - caring - teachable - visionary. . .


Being broken means understanding that unless there is supernatural change, you will never resemble the character of Christ.

You and I have to get over the idea that when we came to faith in Christ, we slightly resembled Him.

We have to understand that God doesn't have to just polish a few edges here and there, make a few changes and . . . there ya go . . . finished!

I don't care how moral, upstanding, educated you were when you became a Christian.  How clean your driving record was - now matter how many of your kids made straight A's - you and I didn't look an inch like the Savior.

The Word of God informs us that when we trusted Christ alone for salvation, at that moment we became a child of God and only then did  we begin the process of conforming to the image of the Son - we are still in the process of transformation.

My kids have those little toys called the transformers - you go and buy one of theses transformers and he looks like any normal robotic man.  But then my kids takes it out of the package, twists his arms nearly off, tucks his head into an opening in his chest; bends his legs behind his back - and he looks like an 18 wheeler.  And I'm amazed. . .he didn't look anything like a truck when he came in the package - but he's been transformed.

My friend, part of our problem in growing up spiritually is that we're really not convinced that too much has to happen before we look like Christ!  But the truth is - our head, arms, legs, heart, mind, wishes, personalities have to be totally refashioned - we're talking about radical change.

You see, Jesus Christ isn't interested in ignoring your character flaws - He isn't in the process of winking at your anger, your short temper; He isn't sweeping under the royal carpet your unfaithfulness, your addiction, your lying.

Stop making excuses!  Own up to personal responsibility!

The inability to take proper resonsibility was best illustrated by TOny Campolo who referenced a T.V. commercial.  It's the classic clothing soap commercial where the husband's shirt has terrible ring around the collar.  The dear wife tries everything, then bursts into tears at the newly wasked shirt, still sporting that thick black line around the collar.  Campolo then said, "You know the ad never asks the obvious question, "Why in the world doesn't her husband ever wash his neck?"

Then there are these letters asking for support from the welfare department - several of them were listed in an illustration I read recently:

"I cannot get sick pay and I have six children. . .can you tell me why?"

Here's a woman who writes in for financial support; "I am glad to report that my husband who is missing was found dead."  Whew, I bet she was a real swell wife.

"Unless I get the money you send my husband, I will be forced to live an immortal life."

"In accordance with your instructions I have given birth to twins in the enclosed envelope."

Ladies and Gentlemen, the bottome line to discipleship is this, "If you want to grow up in him you have to be willing to take responsibilibty for needed change. . .we have to be willing to have Him expose our sins and flaws and weaknessess, that we would rather excuse - but instead allow Him to bring them right up to your face -

and there you stand, or kneel, or lie - revealed - exposed -

and then have Him perform supernatural surgery surgery - with just enough spritual anathesia to help you survive.


Being broken means being overwhelmed by your failure and at the same time His faithfulness; being humbled by your total lack, and at the same time, His total love.

 After twenty years of blindness George Matheson wrote:  O Love that will not let me go,/ I rest my weary soul on Thee!/  I give Thee back the life I owe/ That in Thine ocean depths its flow/ May richer, fuller be.

Broken Peter is commissioned. . .what did He learn?

Did he learn compassion and concern for others  - Oh yes!

Did Peter learn the importance of humility - The man who earlier had said,  "Lord, everybody will fall away from you but not me; I'm made out of better stuff."  Nobody loves you like I love you!

Peter would write - "...and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

That's another way of saying, "He gives grace to those who've been broken."

Chuck Colson wrote, "The real legacy of my life was my biggest failure - that I was an ex-convict.   My greatest humiliation - being sent to prison - was the beginning of God's greatest use of my life; He chose the one experience in which I could not glory for His glory.

One more thing - did Peter grow proud again as he grew successful - as people looked to him and the other Apostles . . .did he ever gloat..."Sure I was unfaithful way back then. . .but now, I'm Peter the rock."

Well, the last recorded words Peter ever wrote went like this. . ."But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; to Him be the glory, both now and forever.  Amen"

Peter's failures weren't fatal - but he learned from being broken.  And when he was finally broken he came to eventually understand what David learned after his tragic fall, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will never turn away."

Are you in the process of being broken?  Is it like God is twisting your life around. . .pulling, pushing, bending.

The good news if you can here me through your pain, is that broken things; broken people are the special ones have the maximum attention of God.  They are the ones around God's charcoal fire - they are the ones singled out for instruction, learning, growing, deepening.

Spurgeon once said, "We are at our spiritual best when we are shipwrecked on the island of God's sovereignty."

I want to close with the words of Vance Havner who wrote, "God uses broken things.   It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume.  It is the broken soil that produces a crop; it is the broken clouds that give rain; it is the broken grain that gives bread, and it is the broken bread that gives strength . . . God uses broken things."


Would you lift your broken heart up to Him right now as a sacrifice of surrender, submission?

I am willing to be broken!

I am willing to change!

I am willing to be asked the most powerful question a human      being can ever be asked, "Do I really love you Lord."

I am willing to learn . . . and Lord, You know all things; You      know everything about me. . .you know that I do love you!

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