“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’” John 21:17
Peter and John, together with five other disciples, had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee all night and had caught no fish. In the morning, as they were preparing to return to shore, a man standing on shore, whom they don’t recognize, advises that they cast their net one last time into the water on the other side of the boat. They follow his advice and their net is filled with so many fish that they’re unable to pull it into the boat. It’s at this point that John realizes that the man on shore is Jesus.
John told Peter that he thought the man on shore was Jesus and Peter immediately plunged into the water and swam to shore. On the shore Jesus has lit a fire and has prepared bread and fish for his disciples and invites them to come and eat.
During the meal Jesus questions Peter by asking him three times whether or not he loves him. The first two times he asks the question the word he uses for love is the word “agape”, the supreme word for love in the Greek language. The first two times Peter answers Jesus assuring him that he “phileo,” loves him, which is an inferior form of love to agape. On the third time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him he changes the word he uses instead using the word “phileo” which would be like Jesus was asking Peter, “Do you like me?” instead of, “Do you love me?”
John records that Peter was grieved when Jesus asked him the third time if he loved him. “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You.”
Before Christ’s arrest Peter had boasted that his love was superior to all the other disciples and that he was willing to die for Jesus. But having denied his Lord three times in the court of the high priest Peter, while sincere, is not as confident about his ability to stand for his Lord.
There’s nothing like personal failure to humble a person and teach them how weak they really are.
But Jesus has not rejected Peter. With each question, “Do you love me?” Jesus renews the call to serve him. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus renews the call for us to serve him each time we fail as well. We may be inclined to give up and abandon our work for Jesus but our Lord knew we were weak when he called us; he’s not surprised by our blunders and mistakes. Rather than reject us he calls us back to himself, encourages us with his acceptance, and invites us to continue serving him and his church.
Friends, Jesus has the ability to strengthen you, if you’ll accept him. Don’t give up! He won’t give up on you.