JOHN 21:15 – 19 (NIV)
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?'
“'Yes, Lord,' he said, 'you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Feed my lambs.' Again Jesus said, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' He answered, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Take care of my sheep.' The third time he said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, 'Do you love me?' He said, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.'
"Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.' Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, 'Follow me!'”
Peter was upset that morning after breakfast. His conversation with Jesus around the fire likely sparked a memory he would rather forget. Just over a week earlier, in the courtyard outside the temple where Jesus had been on trial, Peter stood before a fire and cracked under pressure. When asked if he followed Jesus, he said no. He notoriously denied Jesus three times, the third denial issuing a rooster’s crow, which reminded Peter of Jesus’ words predicting this would happen.
Peter is now sitting around a fire with the resurrected Jesus and the disciples. The rooster’s crow was probably still ringing in his ears, and I imagine he was feeling spineless and disloyal. Peter — the one who had so zealously walked on water, sliced off the ear from one of Jesus’ captors, and said he would follow Jesus to death — must have been questioning his commitment and examining his motives by that fire, feeling vulnerable and somewhat embarrassed, wondering what the others were thinking of him.
And it is here that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows precisely what to ask Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” In light of his actions in the courtyard, the question must have made Peter squirm. It certainly is not the easiest of questions to answer, but it is the most important question to answer, as the answer profoundly shapes allegiance to Jesus and obedience to his way of life.
In light of all that had happened, Peter had to hear this question, and the ensuing conversation with Jesus is remarkable. Jesus asks Peter three times whether Peter loves him — three opportunities to affirm or deny his love for Jesus. Jesus’ three questions seem to mirror Peter’s three-fold denial in the courtyard, which adds weight and significance to each question and response. With each question, Peter affirms his love for Jesus. And with each affirmation, Jesus entrusts responsibility back to Peter: to shepherd God’s people.
What has just happened? Peter has been given a fresh start; with each affirmation, his previous denials are redeemed. Even Jesus’ use of Simon, Peter’s given name, when addressing Peter suggests starting anew. Throughout their conversation, Jesus is recommissioning Peter, and he concludes the conversation by returning to the words he spoke to Peter when they first met, the starting point of discipleship: “Follow me.”
Although the question was difficult for Peter, he needed to hear it. The question resulted in a conversation that restored him, both in his bond with Jesus and in his vocation to shepherd God’s people. The opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus gave rise to a strong heart and a lifetime of faithful obedience, perseverance, and courage that eventuated in a martyr’s death.
For those of us who follow Jesus, it is good to remember Peter’s conversation with Jesus. For a lifetime of faithful obedience to Jesus begins with the question, “Do you love me?”
QUESTIONS FOR APPLICATION
- "Do you love me?" Jesus asks you this question, too. What do you say? Take time to ponder your response. Turn your response into a prayer and begin a conversation with Jesus around this question. Most importantly, allow for silence in your conversation in case he would like to say something to you in return, as he did with Peter.
- Then ask Jesus, What does faithful obedience as your disciple look like this week? Take 5 minutes in silence to see how he responds.
This reading is a part of our "Small Feet Big Shoes" devotional series. You can also sign up to receive these meditations by email.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Turner and his wife, Stephanee, have been with CRM since 2010. David works with young leaders in ministry, creating curriculum and training in leadership development, and serves as a special assistant to the president of CRM. He and Stephanee live in Fullerton, California with their young daughter and anticipate the arrival of their son this summer.