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.” John 21:15
This is one profound, amazing breakfast! Peter and some of the other disciples are up early and out and about their normal routine. They’re back to fishing in the late night, early morning. They’re back to not catching anything, like back when Jesus first called them. And here He stands on the shore telling them to cast their net in again. And they don’t recognize Him until they pull the net in full of fish. Peter, who is fishing “half naked,” throws his robe on and jumps in the water ashamed. He’s carrying a lot of shame with him right now and the robe isn’t enough to cover it all.
Now if that isn’t amazing in itself, then Jesus, you know, God, calls them over with the fish and cooks breakfast for them. God cooked breakfast for His disciples! They ate together. That means that they ate with God. Now think about this. It’s one thing to eat with a man who is sent by God. It’s one thing to have a man sent by God lower Himself to serve you. But it’s a whole other thing to eat with God. It’s a whole other thing for God to lower Himself to serve you. Yes, this was no longer a man. This was God. This breakfast was altogether different.
Now, Lord, this next thing that you ask Peter, I just can’t stop thinking about. “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” And what are you really asking Peter here? What are you asking Peter, because if this whole of Scripture is for my benefit also, then I need to understand what You are asking of me.
‘Peter, do you love Me more than these disciples?” “Peter, do you love Me more than these fish?” What are you asking Peter? All I know is that at first You are asking Peter if he comparitively loves You more than something or someone else. “Do you love Me more than this other thing?” And does it really matter what that other thing is? Aren’t we always called to love You more? But did Peter really answer that question, or did he avoid the full answer?
Peter didn’t say, “Yes, Lord, You know I love You more.” He sufficed to answer with “Lord, you know I love You.” And maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’m not supposed to be comparing myself. Maybe I’m just supposed to love You with all of my being. And maybe that will come out exhibited different ways in me than it would the next person.
What was Your answer, Jesus, to Peter’s response? “Feed my lambs.” Funny, but lambs start on lamb food, right? They don’t start on sheep food. So maybe You are telling us to start where we are and share what You have already imparted to me, even if I’m weak, even if I don’t know much. Heck, I ought to be able to take care of a baby, right?
So, did I get that point? Did Peter get it? Because now Jesus is going a step deeper. “Do you love me?” I’m not even going to look at this agapeo vs. phileo difference here. I know what You’re asking. “Do you love me?” I mean, in all honesty, this is the kind of love we want from others. Would I want a phileo love from my spouse or an agape love? Let’s be real here. But sometimes we doubt ourselves so much that we’re afraid to commit to the real deal. “You know my feelings for You, Lord.” Yep, that’s so true. You know exactly where we stand or where we don’t stand. You know our hearts. And yet You press on. “Feed my sheep.”
What are You saying? Are You saying that faith is just taking that first step, that baby step in obeying? And then are You saying that continuing in faith is taking those bigger steps that every baby step prepares us for? Is love more than a feeling? Is love more than knowing facts? Is love acting upon my knowledge of You? Does love remain regardless of the mistakes I make as I step forward in obedient faith? Does love cover a multitude of sins, including my denials, and anything else that has made me feel less than adequate in comparison?
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Did You have to ask Peter this third time? This third time really grieved Peter. I’m trying to understand what that meant. It made him feel bad, I suppose sorrowful. It hurt to hear that. But it wasn’t anything like the hurt that You felt approaching Your crucifixion for us. Your soul was deeply grieved unto the point of death (Matthew 26:38). Peter was grieving over his hurt pride. Lupos is to grieve, but perilupos is to grieve to the point of death. Skip Moen describes perilupos grieving as “A 360-degree view of imminent peril, desperate circumstances and hopelessness.” See, You just went through that so that Peter would have hope, so that he would never have to truly face perilupos grief.
“It doesn’t matter how dismal your past. It doesn’t matter how dismal your future looks. I’m over it all. I’ve risen! I’m alive! It’s all about Me! I’m in you. I’m over you. I’m all around you. I’m commissioning you in My power. Do you love Me? Then live like it. Then love like it. Then hand yourself over to Me.”
I’m like Peter. I need to stop making comparisons to the wrong things. I can’t compare myself to other believers, because we each have our own struggles. Areas I fail in, may be their strengths. And I may be so busy stressing over my downfalls that I don’t even see the strengths You’ve given me because it’s not someone else’s strength. You warned against our focussing on other “religious” people. In Matthew 5:20 I don’t thinks it’s just that we’re not supposed to look at the scribes and Pharisees, but we’re to focus on You as our righteousness. People are people, redeemed or not. But God is God. One is a victorious focus. The other is a doomed focus.
If we’re honest, we’d probably all admit that we struggle with comparison more than we realize. If it wasn’t an issue, Jesus, You wouldn’t have presented parables and teachings concerning it. I mean, what about all the workers lined up for their wages that became offended because they had worked the whole day for a penny and the last workers received that same wage? (Matthew 20:10) I suppose I ought to ask myself if I’m working for the wages or the love of the Master?
Yesterday, I learned how empty offerings can be to You. When You were answering a scribe’s question, here was Your answer: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like it, namely this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” These are straight out of the Old Testament. The scribe was familiar with these verses. He agreed and added that it was worth “more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33) I suppose it’s another example of You, Lord, in the Old Testament asking, “Do you love me more than these? Feed My sheep. Obey Me. Show you love Me by your actions.”
The widow that came to the temple got it. That poor widow who threw her last mite into the treasury. By the world’s standards and man’s standards she cast in way less. But by God’s standards, which are the standard that matter, she gave the most. And You, Lord, have exalted her forever in Your Word. “Do you love me more than these?” Yes, she did. You commended her for loving You more than all those other people loved You. But You also commended her for loving You more than her last dime, more than her well-being. You commended her heart, her obedience, her trust. It had nothing to do with a comparison to anyone else. It was all about her response to You.
Sometimes we are so worried about what other people will think of us we miss the point. I think of the woman who came to You, Lord, with the alabaster box of ointment. I think of how she wept at Your feet and washed Your feet with her tears and hair and kissed Your feet and anointed them with the oil. She didn’t care what anyone else thought. Only what You thought mattered. And she was expressing her love to You. The Pharisee host was offended by her behavior. He was comparing her to the other people he knew, or his own expectations. But You compared them differently. You said the difference in their responses was based on who had been forgiven most. The woman was most thankful and exhibited that in her love for You. The Pharisee hadn’t come to a proper comparison of himself to You yet or he would have understood.
I suppose You ask me, “Do you love Me enough to not give up?” “Do you love Me enough to let Me teach you through tough things?” That’s what You were doing with Peter and it’s what You do with me because You care for us. “Every branch that bears fruit, [You] purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (John 15:2) It’s o.k. if their is some grief when You ask me if I love You. I need to examine my heart and my ways. Do they both demonstrate my love? Does it look like Your actions, Your thoughts, Your ways in me?
Peter and I and the poor widow and the woman with the alabaster box and Abel all have a chance to offer a more excellent sacrifice to You. It all boils down to how much we love You, though Lord. “Abel, do you love Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, You know I do.” “Yes, I do know. I know your heart. And your heart shows forth in your actions.” “Cain, do you love Me more than these?” “Of course I do, Lord.” “Oh, but sadly you don’t. I know your heart and it is not for Me. And your heart shows forth in your actions.” What about me, Lord. Do I love You more than these? May the answer of my heart and my actions be “Yes!” even if I have to start with lambs.
You know each of our hearts, Lord. You know our actions. You know my works, my love, my service, my faith, and my patience (Revelation 2:19) just like You knew Peter’s. And You loved Peter enough to spend personal time with him helping him to understand himself and his relationship with You. So help me to understand mine. And help me to get it like Peter did, and the woman with the alabaster box, and the poor woman at the temple, and so many others in history and today and into the future. And don’t stop there. As I get it, help me to share it with others so that in turn they’ll get it and share that wonderful news with others. I’m looking forward to the day when the sheep will rise up with the Shephard and conquer every last wolf. Do I love You? Test me too, Lord. Prove my love.