The question that Jesus was asking Peter was; “Do you love me more than you love other things in your life?” Peter was still suffering the effects of the crucifixion of Jesus; the man that he had acknowledged as the Son of the living God; not to mention the fact that he had betrayed and denied the Christ that he had declared that he would willingly die for. In moments such as these of disillusionment and failure it is not inconceivable that a person would gravitate toward those things that represent normalcy and simplicity. Before Jesus came into Peter’s life he was a fisherman. He was comfortable as a fisherman. He longed for the guiltless mind-set that of era; but now he had to decide what to do about the life changing man named Jesus.
While some argue over what Jesus meant when He asked Peter if he loved Him more than these; whether he meant the other apostles or the fishing apparatus, I am convinced that He was talking about the fishing gear. Thus forcing Peter to make a choice between his old life, and a life where Christ has implanted His presence. Christ had work for Peter to do and it was not the kind of work that was suited for someone who had one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world.
If I were to ask you at this very moment if you loved Jesus, what would your answer be? Before you answer that question, answer this one first: Are you sure that you know what love is? In our vernacular the word love is used so generally and so freely that it would be safe to say that the user and the hearer of the word may have two entirely different concepts in mind. The fact is that a far more precise meaning of the word is gained by watching the actions of the person making the statement. For instance, in John 3:16 Gods love is verified by His action: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Jesus also states that our love for Him should result in certain reactions. John 15:10 “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”
How often is the statement, “I love you” just a spontaneous reflex statement that is generated by another emotion such as “awe” or ‘gratitude”. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him it wasn’t because He needed to know; it was because Peter needed to know. Jesus had told Peter that he would deny him three times. (34: And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.) Peter did just that. Peter was now saddled with a great self-doubt problem. He knew that he loved the Lord, yet he vigorously denied knowing Him. Three times Peter said,”I don’t know Him.” There was enough damaging potential in those statements to stop Peter from ever attempting to serve in the name of the Lord again. Jesus knew this to be the case. So what could be done to restore this enthusiastic, out-spoken, and sometimes impetuous warrior for Christ? Jesus knew the secret; and we can see it unfold as he deals with Peter on His third appearance to His apostles after His resurrection. John 21: 15: So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. Jesus left no room for mistakes as He addressed Peter; He called him by his name and identified him by his father’s name. I can imagine that Peter only paid attention to the first part of the question; “do you love me?” While it was the second part of the question that offered the liberation that Peter sought. (“Feed my lambs.”)
It is a very human perspective that understands that true love generates certain reactions. Jesus not only gave Peter the opportunity to SAY it, but He gave him the opportunity to demonstrate it through his actions. The process was repeated twice more, (which came to a total of three times; which coincided with the number of times that Peter had denied Jesus.)
16: He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17: He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Peter was still focused on the “do you love me” part, while Jesus was saying, “Don’t just tell me; show me!
Do you love the Lord? Don’t just tell Him; show Him.