So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” John 21:15
Despite our intentions to please the Lord, we all fail to one degree or another. But if we truly repent of our sin, God graciously allows us to keep serving Him—even when we can think of a hundred reasons He should not.
The disciples, after Jesus had twice appeared to them, made their way north to Galilee to resume their lives. Jesus had apparently vanished, so they went fishing.
It Is the Lord!
After fishing all night, they’d caught nothing. A man on the shore called out to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat!” They did so, and their net became so full that they could not draw it in. John, “that disciple whom Jesus loved,” said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7). Peter, always impetuous, plunged into the water and swam for shore.
When they arrived at the shore, “they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread” (John 21:9). The last time Peter and the Lord had talked, Peter told Jesus, “I’m willing to die for You!” But Peter, under pressure, had denied that he knew the Lord—three times. Few of us can fully imagine the anguish of soul Peter had gone through.
After they ate, Jesus spoke directly to Simon Peter: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15). Some have suggested that “these” meant the fish—in other words, Peter’s livelihood. Yet I believe that Jesus was speaking of the other disciples: “Do you love Me more than the other disciples do?” Peter had earlier intimated that he did (see Matthew 26:33). He had obviously been mistaken.
Do You Love Me?
When Jesus asked, “Do you love Me?” He used the Greek word agape: “Do you agape Me? Do you love Me with a deep, loyal, complete type of love?” Peter answered Jesus, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You” (John 21:15), but he used the Greek word phileo, “to be fond of.” “Yes, Lord,” he said, probably hanging his head a bit, “You know that I am fond of You.”
Jesus repeated His question. “Peter, do you agape Me?” Peter replied a second time, “Lord, I phileo You.”
When Jesus asked a third time, He came down to Peter’s level. “Simon,” He said, “do you phileo Me? Are you fond of Me?” At times, amazingly, the Lord in His love condescends to our weakness. Peter was grieved at the third question, but it broke him of his self-confidence.
Jesus questioned Peter three times—the same number of times Peter had denied Him. At the Last Supper, Jesus had told Peter, “Satan has desired to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you” (see Luke 22:31–32). Satan had sifted him. Peter had failed. But Jesus restored him. God is in the business of restoration.
But Jesus did more than restore Peter. He recommissioned him. After He freed Peter from condemnation, Jesus told him, “Look, Peter, it’s not over. Feed My sheep.” Peter was to feed the newborn church the Word of God and to nurture the believers.
Simply Follow Jesus
Jesus had sobering news for Peter as well: one day he would give his life for his faith. On hearing this, Peter looked at John and said, “What about him?” Basically Jesus politely told Peter, and He tells us as well, “Mind your own business.” Our part is simply to follow Jesus, even if His path for us is a rough road or different than others.
After this Peter was fine. He served Jesus, and he followed Him—to the end. Church history tells us that Peter was crucified in Rome, upside down at his own request because he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner Jesus had been.
When we fail, God is ready to forgive us and to restore us to His service. As we step into God’s will for our lives, let us keep focused on His calling. As we follow Jesus, God will accomplish His specific purpose in and through each of us.