I remember being in third grade and receiving my first “love note” from a boy named, Jimmy. The note posed the question, “do you love me?” followed by the directions to check “yes or no” in one of the boxes. Looking back, I chuckle thinking about checking “yes” with no real concept of what love was. All I knew at the time was Jimmy seemed cute enough and I hoped he would give me some chocolate on Valentine’s Day. HA!
With this in mind, in John 21 we find where Jesus asks Peter a similar question. The story picks up right after Peter had denied Jesus three times. Peter and the other disciples were supposed to be at a mountain waiting for the Lord. Instead Peter, filled with guilt and not really sure if he was cut out to be a disciple, decides to abandon his calling and go back to fishing. Peter and a few other disciples had fished all night and had caught nothing. The next morning, Jesus appears to them on the shore of Galilee and instructs them to cast their nets on the right side of the vessel. They obeyed and to their surprise their nets were overflowing with fish. Jesus then invited Peter and the other disciples to come join Him on shore for breakfast.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus directs His attention to Peter (the name Jesus gave him meaning “rock”). At this point in time Peter was acting like his old self, so Jesus addressed him by his old name, Simon (meaning “pebble”). Calling him out, Jesus asks Simon the question, “do you love Me more than these?” The word love, meaning here agape, “the highest form- purest, loyal, committed, self-sacrificial love.” In essence, He was asking him, “do you love me more than your old life of being a successful fisherman. Are you willing to give all that up for me?”
Peter responds with “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” But Peter’s use of love is different. His version translated to phileo, which is more of a “brotherly, friendship love.” I believe Peter got a good dose of reality when he denied Jesus. I think he realized that he was not as committed as he thought he was and was not above temptation. Peter dares not use love in the agape form because he knew that Jesus knew the true posture of his heart. Jesus in all his infinite wisdom asks him again, “do you love [agape] me?” and Peter responds once again with phileo love. The third time Jesus drops down to Peter’s level of love and asks, “Do you really love [phileo] me?” Talk about a stinger! At this point, Peter was filled with grief because Jesus was now questioning if Peter even loved him like a brother. Peter answered by saying, “You know everything, You know I love you.” Sounds like something we’ve all probably told Christ at some point.
You see, Christ knowing Peter’s shortcomings still wanted to reconcile. He knew that Peter was capable of more. He was willing to accept Peter at his level of love, but wasn’t willing to leave him there. He tells Peter, “if you love Me, then tend/feed my lambs and shepherd My sheep.” In John 10 Jesus talks about how much He loved and cared for his sheep, how He laid down His life for them and how the sheep knew Him and He knew the sheep. And now He’s placing the sheep in Peter’s hands. Jesus wanted to know if Peter really loved Him more than His former life. He needed Peter to verbally say that he would be faithful to the sheep and even give his life for them. Not because Jesus didn’t know, but because Jesus wanted Peter to speak this mission into existence. He wanted Peter to realize his mission. Jesus wanted Peter to be clear that he was no longer in the fishing business. Peter’s new mission in life was to care for His lambs and sheep.
Can you identify with Peter? Are you questioning if you have what it takes to follow Christ? Were you once on fire for God and overtime has your flame burned out? Do you love and serve God but know you could go deeper and do more?
This story is essentially a call to every believer. It’s a model of what it takes to be a faithful disciple of Christ. What Jesus is asking of Peter is what he’s asking from all of us. Jesus is asking the question, “Do you love me more than ________? Check yes or no.” While this question seems simple, it’s really a heavy question. The bible says in Matthew 22:37, “we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.” The love He’s talking about is not surface level. This love is deep and self-sacrificial. This love is costly. It’s going to require you to let go of all that’s familiar and to take up your cross (Luke 9:23). Those who love greatly, sacrifice greatly (John 15:13).
He is calling each and every one of us to love Him, sacrifice for Him, and to follow Him no matter what. He already knows your response, but do you? Will you answer the call?