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Peter, do you love me?

Bible Background and Lesson Objectives


Scriptures for this Lesson Set

John 21:1-17 Peter runs to meet Jesus, "Peter do you love me?"

John 18:15-18, 25-27 Peter's Denial

Memory Verse: "Jesus said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep."  
John 21:17b (NRSV)

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Be able to locate the story of Peter’s denial and restoration in the Bible.
  • Retell the story in their own words.
  • Understand that Jesus forgives us, even when we reject him, and welcomes us to come sit by his side.
  • Understand that Jesus commands us to show our love for him by truly loving others, which is to say, "feeding" Jesus' sheep.
  • Understand that love means doing what's right, being kind, forgiving, sharing, helping and sharing the Gospel.

What this story is about

When was the last time you jumped up and ran to embrace the person whom you had insulted, abandoned, and left for dead?  This is what Peter does in the first part of the story, and it often gets lost in all the focus on "feed my sheep."  

Half-naked, tired, and fish-less after a long night, Peter literally jumps for joy when he realizes it is the risen Christ walking along the shore and calling to him. According to John 20, Peter had met the risen Christ once before in the upper room, and you have to wonder if they all thought it had been a dream. But now, here he was once again.

  • Can you see Peter jumping into the waves just before the boat pulls in?  
  • Can you see him just about knocking Jesus over with his wild embrace and laughter?  
  • Ever wish your faith felt more like that?

We often talk about the resurrection as if it only happened to Jesus
... or, as something that only happens when you die. But the truth is — Jesus wasn't the only thing that rose up that first Easter. Peter and many others were also "resurrected" that Sunday and in the days that followed. Grief and guilt washed away by his presence and words.

Resurrection after you die is a nice thing, but as this story and many others point out, it is the resurrection BEFORE we die that God really wants for us — the life-giving, life-changing rebirth that happens when Jesus calls us in the here and now. The resurrection that makes us come running like a long-lost child who's been found.

[Aside: If you want your faith to feel more like Peter's joy, then you have to first come to terms with Peter's sorrow, your own denial story, the big and small ways you deny and abandon Christ. Joy begins when you realize the past doesn't matter anymore, and the future is standing right in front of you.]

How can a person be born again? Especially someone who denied and abandoned his master? If it can happen to Peter, then there's hope for us all.  That's the first part of the story—the restoration of Peter. Peter's denial. Peter's wild run to the shore. Without it, the second part of the story doesn't matter and doesn't happen.

What do we do AFTER our resurrection?

We feed sheep.  This is the second part of Peter's story, and ours.

It's more than interesting that Peter denies Jesus three times in John 18, and then Jesus asks Peter the same question three times in John 21. The number "3" in Hebrew thinking and scripture means "completeness," "utterly," ...making something "official." Some say it stems from three-part meaning of God's sacred name: "YHWH," meaning, "I am, I was, I will be." The number 3 is used 467 times in the Bible, often to describe profound and important things. And then of course, there's the Trinity, and the number of days Jesus lay in the tomb. Three is a sign that says, pay attention, this is important. This is a God thing.  

Three = I really mean it.

So, Peter, and everyone like him, PAY ATTENTION: If you love me, show me. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep, Feed my sheep.  It's not enough to drop everything and come running to sit by my side at the fire — or Table. It's not enough to hold your hands in the air and praise God. It's not enough to show up for Sunday School. You need to feed my sheep. Just as a tree is known by its fruit, so too a disciple is known by their discipling.

You can spend a lot of time trying to define what the word "feed" means in this passage, but you can't do worse than to simply define it as "love." Jesus says as much: "Love ??? Then feed !!!"  And he says it three times to make sure we get the point.

So how do you love sheep? How do you feed them with love?  Paul spells it out beautifully in First Corinthians 13.  Patience, Kindness. No arrogance. No rudeness. Forbearance. Rejoicing in what's right. Sharing hope.  This is how you feed sheep.

The prophet Micah echoes the same thing in three parts:  

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8)

Do you love me? Then among the sheep — do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  I really, really, really mean it.

Imagine a world in which everyone experienced such a resurrection of spirit and purpose.
You might call it, The Kingdom of God.  Or perhaps, "Sunday School."


It's the reason you jump out of the boat early every Sunday morning to sit by the fire.
Because you love Jesus and especially his lambs.
And you want to teach them to jump too.

Some Additional Notes

The children may not be aware that Peter was a leader in the Early Church. Jesus' command to Peter can be understood as Jesus command to the Church.

The children may not be aware of how the Bible describes people as "sheep," and God as the Shepherd. Sheep are not particularly smart. They need led to food and water, and protected.

Depending on which translation you are using, you will notice that Jesus asks Peter three slightly different questions. In the original Greek, the differences have created a lot of discussion. But for our purposes, the differences are simply to make sure we understand that it's not a misprint. Jesus said it THREE TIMES to let us know how important his question and command was.

At first, Peter seems "miffed" that Jesus would ask him such a question. "Of COURSE!" Peter replies. You can imagine that each time Jesus speaks, he focuses in a little more and emphasizes his words a little bit differently.  Try that with your kids. See how many "ways" they can say the lines that seem to convey a new emphasis.

Young children will initially understand the word "feed," as meaning, "give food to." Jesus equates "feed" with "love" in this story. And of course, there are many other things we are "fed by" — including God's Word. But because Jesus uses the word "LOVE" in the context of "feed my sheep," we are thus guided to examine what "LOVE" is, which is why Paul's definition of love in 1st Corinthians 13 is so helpful. Be prepared to share that passage with your older children, or give an assignment to a student to find and share it with the class.

Some Additional Discussion Questions

How and when do we "see" Jesus today?  (Jesus told us we "see" him when we help/love others.)

How do we recognize the voice of Jesus speaking in our minds and through others?  (We become familiar with the things Jesus would say and do by studying the scriptures. We listen and learn in our prayers, Worship, and Sunday School.)

Make a list of things you can do to feed/love Jesus' sheep by naming a food that starts with the same letter.  Examples:  Jam = Justice.   Water = Walk Humbly.  Corn = Care.  Meat = Meet.   Kiwi = be Kind. There are a number of websites which have A-Z food lists. You can pull them up on your smartphone during class. Try the's A-Z list.

Written by Neil MacQueen for the Writing Team
Copyright 2017, Inc.


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Last edited by Luanne Payne
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