Reading the Word
John 21:15–19 (ESV)
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Understanding and Applying the Word
This scene takes place after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. He went to Peter and asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” There is discussion about what the word “these” refers to. Is Jesus asking Peter if he loves his fishing gear more than Jesus? After all, Peter had just returned to fishing. Is Jesus asking if Peter loves him more than he loves the other disciples? I believe Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than the other disciples loved him.
Why would Jesus ask Peter this question? Remember, Peter had declared his unflinching devotion earlier. In John 13:37, Peter declared, “I will lay down my life for you!” Matthew 26:33 records that Peter said, “Even if they all fall away, I will not.” Peter had proclaimed his greater love, but he had failed to live up to it. He had run away when things got hard and left Jesus alone to be arrested and crucified. Peter was distraught over these events. In these verses, we see a loving and forgiving Jesus reminding Peter of these words, but also telling him that he was still one of his disciples and he still had valuable work for him to do. Jesus was telling Peter “I love you and forgive you and have much for you.”
We all fail our Lord. I hate to admit how often this is true for me. But we have a gracious Savior who is ready to forgive and restore us. Let us go to him, confess our failings, and go forward ready to serve him.
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