“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.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep’ (John 21:17).
How many times have you failed the Lord in your walk with Him? If you are like me, you have failed him more times than you can count. How do you feel after you have messed up? Do you ever wonder if the Lord now looks at your service as less-than-acceptable because of your past failures?
Following Jesus’ arrest, Peter, in order to save his own skin, three times denied having a relationship with Jesus (John 18:17, 25-27). Peter had miserably failed Jesus. After hearing the roster crow, Peter remembered how Jesus had warned him how Peter would give into this temptation. Immediately following his third denial of the Lord, Peter saw Jesus look at him (Luke 22:61). Peter felt absolutely horrible about how he had failed the Lord and went out and wept bitterly about his failing the Lord in this hour of trial (Luke 22:62).
Can you imagine the self-image Peter would have had of himself at this time? For 3 years he had followed the Lord and been one of Jesus’ closest friends. He had been privileged to be one of the few to see Jesus’ transfiguration and to be asked to watch and pray with Jesus at Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 17:1; 26:36-37). Now, when Jesus needed him most, Peter had greatly failed Jesus!
Following the resurrection of Jesus, Peter had heard about and seen the empty tomb of Jesus (John 20:1-7). He had also seen the resurrected Christ (John 20:19-21; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5). Peter had again seen Jesus as Jesus performed another great miracle regarding a great catch of fish (John 21:4-6). However, because of his past failures, was Peter now regulated to just being an “observer” of the great works of the Lord? Was he now longer considered worthy to become a great “fisher of men” (Mark 1:17) and servant for the Lord because of the terrible mistakes he had committed?
In the opening passage above, 3 times Jesus questions Peter’s love for Him (John 21:15-17). 3 times Peter says he does. Was it painful for Peter to have Jesus keep questioning Peter’s love for Him? Yes, it was. After the third time, John records that “Peter was grieved” about this (John 21:17).
Why would Jesus have Peter answer 3 times that he loved the Lord? Each time as Peter answers these questions of the Lord, Peter responds with a term meaning that he loved the Lord as one loves a brother. Peter does not use the term for love which denotes the higher form or “agape” type of love we are to have for one another as Christians. It appears, because of what he had done in the past, Peter had begun to doubt his own love for the Lord. Jesus was helping Peter to remember that Peter did still love the Lord. Furthermore, Jesus expressed His confidence in Peter’s ability to serve the Lord as He tells Peter He has great work for him to do in feeding and tending his sheep (John 21:15, 16,17). Though Peter had failed in the past, Jesus still believed in Peter!
This is comforting to me as a disciple of Christ. Do I fail the Lord at times? Yes, I do. However, if I am humble of repent of my failures, Jesus can still use me to do great service for Him. Today, I rejoice that God does not hold my past failures against me. He forgives me and can still use me, with all my faults, to do great works for Him!
“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16).