A Weekday Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Monday April 20, 2020
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.
Just a few days before his fishing trip, Peter was also found warming himself around a charcoal fire. After sharing dinner in the Upper Room that evening, Jesus told His disciples that they would all fall away and abandon Him at His greatest hour of need. Incredulous at the thought, Peter defiantly declared that even if everyone else failed, “I will lay down my life for you!” Jesus then told Peter how it was actually going to play out: before the rooster crowed that night (meaning, before sunrise) Peter would not deny Jesus once, but in fact three times. There is no doubt Peter started with the best of intentions, and it was Peter alone who pulled his sword in a futile attempt to defend Jesus in the garden, but Peter could only watch and wait in the courtyard of the high priest while Jesus was questioned inside. As he huddled close to the fire, Peter was accused three times of being a disciple of Jesus, which he vehemently denied each time with increasing intensity, culminating in swearing a curse upon himself while asserting, “I do not know the man!” which was immediately met with the cry of the rooster.
Although this was now the third time Peter had seen the resurrected Jesus, Peter’s heavy sin clung close like the wet coat around his waist. While each of the others had also deserted Jesus, Peter objected to Jesus’ forecast the most forcefully and, aside from Judas, failed the most spectacularly. At the courtyard fire, Peter was asked three time if he was a disciple of Jesus, but here at the breakfast fire, Peter was asked three times another question: “Do you love me?”
We don’t see it in our English version of the text, but it is noteworthy that in the original Greek language, John uses the word ‘agape’ the first two times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, while Peter responded with a different word for love, ‘phileo.’ Even those who are not Greek scholars are likely familiar with these words, as ‘agape’ is typically the word for love associated with devotion or unconditional love, while ‘phileo’ is normally used in reference to affection or a familial type of love. It is possible to read this exchange as Jesus asking Peter, “Are you devoted to me?” with Peter responding “You know I am fond of you.” It is also interesting that for the third question, Jesus changes and uses Peter’s word back to him saying, “Do you ‘phileo’ me?” What might this all mean? Before, Peter had thrice denied even knowing who Jesus was when asked if he was a disciple, now when Jesus asks if he is committed, Peter claims strong affections. The third time, Jesus turned Peter’s words back to him, asking if he truly had affection for Him. The interrogation from Jesus hurt Peter, and he cried out in troubled exasperation, “You know everything! You know that I love you!”
Does Jesus really not know what to think of Peter? Of course He does. Was Jesus intentionally trying to hurt Peter? Like a skilled physician cutting into a patient in order to clean an infected wound, Jesus saw past Peter’s outward charade of allegiance and into the sin, guilt, and shame that thoroughly infected Peter’s heart, and artfully commenced the uncomfortable but necessary work of restoration. Jesus’ questions to Peter were not for Jesus’ sake, but Peter’s. Before Peter could assume the work of ministry and role of leader within the early church, tending for and feeding the flock of Jesus, Peter’s sin must be cleansed.
We are reminded from Peter that at times Jesus must wound His children, through acts of severe mercy, in order to heal them. Jesus desires much more for us than to merely acknowledge Him before others. He demands much more from us than our affection. He desires intimacy; He demands devotion.
Jesus’ love for the world was not merely a feeling of pity for a cute yet helpless creation, hopelessly floundering in innocent ignorance. Rather, Jesus’ unconditional love demanded sacrificial action, transforming adversarial enemies into adopted sons. God’s love for us drove Jesus to the cross, and His love for us held Him there. His death on our behalf made the impossible possible, opening the door for us to know Him, and love Him, in a deep and intimate way, just like Peter did.
Prayer for Today:
Lord, so often when we sin we try to either ignore it or ignore you, hoping that time will heal our wounds. Remind us that You are our true healer, wounded on our behalf. No matter how hard we try, there is nothing that we can hide from You. As we seek Your forgiveness, empower us to forgive those who have wounded us. Help us to know and love You in a deeper way today we pray. Amen.