Peter stared at the glowing coals when he swallowed his last bite of fish. He looked up at Jesus as his Rabbi was pointing out at the water while talking to John. The elongated hole in His wrist served as a strong reminder of the sacrifice Jesus fulfilled.
Peter stared back at the coals and re-lived the night he distanced himself from the Messiah at another fire. He shivered. Will I ever amount to anything? Jesus said I’d be a rock when He first saw me. But all I’ve done is make a fool of myself, repeatedly. My wet clothes are yet another reminder of how stupid I am. I should be as dry as the others are now.
“Simon, son of John, are you wholeheartedly in love with Me more than these?” Jesus was facing the soggy fisherman when Peter looked up.
The air totally left Peter’s lungs at the first word. He isn’t even calling me Peter anymore. I’ve obviously disappointed Him more than He wanted. I must be honest in my response. “Yes, LORD, You know I’m quite fond of You.”
Jesus’ glare peered into Peter’s soul. “Feed My lambs.”
Peter looked back at the fire. Feeding lambs isn’t hard, just keep the little buggers with their mommas.
Jesus wasn’t done. “Simon, son of John, do you wholeheartedly love Me?”
Peter looked into those always-peaceful eyes of Jesus. No comparisons this time, just one-on-one, but I’m still not ready for that. “Yes, LORD, You know I’m very fond of You.”
Jesus leaned forward. “Shepherd My sheep.”
Peter pushed back from the fire. He taught us that the shepherd owns the sheep to the extent that he’ll lay his life down for them. Does He really think I’m ready for that? What is He asking for? I’m too frail for that.
Jesus stood. “Simon, son of John, are you fond of Me?”
A tear ran down Peter’s cheek as he stood. “LORD, You know all things; You know that I’m fond of You.”
Jesus held out His hands. “Feed My sheep.”
Translating between languages is a complicated business. English has certain limitations that Greek doesn’t. The word love is a prime example. As English speakers we can love our spouse, children, pets, food, cars, etc. There’s differing levels of love, but only one word for the affection. Greek uses different words for love to express the various levels of the emotion.
I’m grateful to Chuck Swindoll’s book JESUS, THE GREATEST LIFE OF ALL for pointing out the use of the different Greek words used in this passage of scripture. Jesus used the word agape in the first two questions to Simon. Agape is the deepest form of love. It’s a hold-nothing-back give-it-all-you’ve-got affection that’s reserved for only the closest of relationships.
Phileo is the word that’s translated as love in the rest of the conversation. Phileo is a level of affection that is shared between siblings. There’s a bond there, but there’s also limits that keep it from going to only a certain depth. It’s the root of the name Philadelphia: the city of brotherly love.
That’s why I took poetic license to change the words in my post to reflect these differences. Hopefully you can better understand what actually happened here. Jesus was testing Peter’s integrity while checking his heart at the same time. Now that you know this go back and read the narrative again.
So, why did Jesus ask Peter the same basic question three times? Remember how many times Peter denied Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest. That’s more than a coincidence. Jesus wanted Peter to know that he was forgiven for each of those discrepancies by countering those three with three opportunities to affirm his love to Jesus.
Why was the first question phrased so differently than the others? “Do you love me more than these?” I think the pronoun ‘these’ stood for many things: 1) the men seated around the fire, 2) the surroundings of lake and boats, and 3) the fish that were just caught. In effect Jesus was asking Peter if he was willing to leave all of his old life behind if Jesus asked him to. Are you?
Oooh… I had to go there. Didn’t I? Yeah, I’ve learned to follow the leading of the writing to make God’s point. This isn’t the first time God has asked this of His followers. Remember the Hebrews who came out of Egypt. The real reason they wandered in the wilderness for forty years while the older generation died off was because the old folks had a dual citizenship, their hearts were divided.
Remember how many times they asked, no, demanded, to be taken back to Egypt when things got tough? Too many, that’s why they weren’t fit to enter the Promised Land. God needs people with hearts of undivided devotion to carry out His mission. The younger generation of Hebrews knew nothing of the leaks and onions that their parents did. They only knew of the daily provision God miraculously supplied them.
Heart check time! Do you wholeheartedly hold-nothing-back give-it-all-you’ve-got LOVE Jesus?
If you’re not quite there Jesus can still use you. He uses those people everyday. But, He longs for each of His followers to get to that point in their relationship with Him. Are you striving to get to that level of commitment?
What things are holding you back? Which of your friends or acquaintances are you trying to please more than you’re trying to win over to Jesus? What is eating your time so you don’t have enough of it to spend in solitude with God and His open Word? Where is your money going instead of being used to further the work of God’s Kingdom?
Not exactly your feel-good prosperity-and-blessing message here. Is it? I can’t help it. It’s Jesus’ message, not mine.
Keep in mind the first time this conversation took place there was the smell of fish in the air.
I’ll see you later. Wade