Many American juvenile justice systems have embraced the principle of restitution for juvenile offenders. The main idea is that offenders be held accountable for their crimes and repay their victims for the harm they have caused, either through actual financial compensation or through community service. Research has shown that juveniles who are required to make restitution have lower rates of repeat offense than those who are merely put in jail.
In order to understand our passage today, it’s important to remember what happened with Peter in John 18. After Jesus was arrested, Peter stood around the fire at the high priest’s courtyard and denied that he knew Jesus three separate times. He had bragged that he would die for Jesus; now he wouldn’t even admit that he knew Him (see John 13:31–38).
Jesus had already appeared to the disciples after His resurrection (John 20:19–29), and at the beginning of our text today He first provided them with a miraculous catch of fish and then gathered them around a fire for breakfast. Then he had a conversation with Peter that would transform his life from impetuous fisherman to bold evangelist.
Notice that Jesus didn’t berate Peter for his failure. Instead, He offered restoration. Three times He gave Peter the opportunity to affirm his love rather than deny Him: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (vv. 15–17). Peter now recognized that Jesus knew his heart better than he himself did.
Each affirmation was followed by Jesus’ instruction to “take care of my sheep” (v. 16). We’ve seen that words and actions are connected for Jesus; His miracles verify His claims. Now He offered Peter the opportunity to act in a way that verified his declarations of love. Serving the church was a demonstration of his love for and obedience to Christ.