“Do You Love Me?” (John 21:17).
Several questions come to mind as we read this passage (John 21:15-17):
Why did Jesus ask Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Because Peter denied him three times.
Why did he do this publicly? Because Peter denied him publicly. The other disciples needed to hear Peter openly declare his love for Christ. Without hearing those words, the doubts would linger forever.
The man who had been so boastful, so sure of himself, so confident of his own courage, is now thoroughly humbled. Jesus’ first question – “Do you love me more than these?” (v. 15) – was a subtle reminder of his previous boast to be more loyal than the other disciples (Matthew 26:33). In his reply Peter declares his love for Christ, but he refuses to compare himself with anyone else. As painful as this was, it was absolutely necessary. Jesus is cleaning the wound so that it might be properly healed. He is getting rid of Peter’s guilt and shame by dealing with it openly.
Consider what Christ doesn’t do. He doesn’t try to make Peter feel guilty. He doesn’t humiliate publicly. He doesn’t ask him, “Are you sorry for what you did?” He doesn’t make him promise to do better. He just asks one question: “Do you love me?”
Once we have hurt someone we love, it is hard to look them in the face and it is harder still to be questioned about our true commitment. “How could you have done that? What were you thinking? Do you even love me at all?” But the questions must be asked and the answers must be given. And they must be repeated if the truth is to be fully told.
There are three qualifications for those who would serve the Lord:
The first is love.
The second is love.
The third is love.
First we love, then we serve.
First we love, then we speak.
First we love, then we lead.
When Christ asks the question the third time, Peter’s heart is grieved and he blurts out, “Lord, you know all things” (v. 17). With those words Peter renounces all his self-confidence. On that fateful night in the Upper Room, he thought he knew himself but he didn’t. Now he’s not so sure. He doesn’t even trust his own heart; instead he trusts in the Lord who knows all things. This is a mighty step forward in Christian growth. It is a great advance to come to the place where you can say with conviction, “My trust is in the Lord alone.” Sometimes we have to hit bottom and hit it hard before we can say those words.
No doubt Peter loved Jesus more after his fall than before. No one loves like the one who has experienced God’s grace firsthand.
I love you, Lord Jesus, but not as I ought. Purge from my heart all pride and grant me a good memory of my past so that I might love you more when I remember how much you have loved me and forgiven all my sins. Amen.