Do You Love Me?

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

(John 21:15-17)

I am sitting by the edge of the Sea of Galilee–right where Jesus spoke these Words to Peter–right where the sparks were flying upward and the breakfast was sizzling over the warmth of the fire. I read these words from Scripture aloud and the power of them weighs heavy on me. Even as I write this, my mind focuses on that setting and the graciousness and strength of the Master’s words. Here Jesus lovingly reinstates Peter. Peter the impetuous, Peter the denier, Peter the deserter, Peter the one that failed. King David’s words come to mind:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

Hadn’t Peter boastfully proclaimed that even if all the others fell away, he never would? And yet, hadn’t Peter denied our Lord not just once, but three times? The over-confident Peter, like the famed Humpty Dumpty, had suffered a great fall. However, unlike Humpty who couldn’t be put back together, Jesus was about to put the broken pieces of Peter’s life together again. Jesus is the master of making beauty from our ashes! The Prophet Isaiah foretold:

To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:2-3)

Our verses for today contain two important principles: Love Jesus, love others.

In this passage, Jesus uses a form of the word love–agapao–in His first two questions to Peter that means to “love, esteem, cherish, favor, honor, respect, prize, relish, be devoted to; rooted in the mind and will of the subject, to value; it is God’s love towards man.” Only with the third inquiry to Peter does our Lord lower his expectation, using a different word for love, the word phileo meaning “to be fond of, to love as a dear friend, friendship love, to have affection for someone” (Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible–New Testament Lexical Aids). Interestingly, Peter responds all three times with the word for phileo love. Peter knew he loved the Lord, but he also knew all too well the weakness of his own flesh. Unwilling to agree to Jesus’ high expectation, he responds instead with what he truly felt in his heart. And Jesus response shows that He will begin with that level of commitment. Our Lord meets us where we are!

Take It to Heart

This series of questions to Peter applies to us as well? Who can claim they have not denied Him? Who has not failed Him? Who has not been in need of restoration and reinstating? Do we truly love Jesus? This is the great question! There is no life where there is no love. Jesus will look over our want of knowledge and our want of faith, but He must have our love. And the grand test of that love is our obedience to Him in all things. We are to live for others, care for others, minister to others, do good to others. He loves most that is most like Jesus.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” (Amy Carmichael)

“He says not to Peter, Art thou wise? or learned? or eloquent? But Lovest thou Me? Then feed. Love to Christ begets love to His people’s souls, which are so precious to Him, and a care of feeding them.” (Archbishop Leighton)

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)