God Asked This of Peter 3 Times

The Denial of Peter by Gerard Seghers

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

Last post from the Gospel of John we looked at how Jesus asked Peter if he loved Jesus “more than these?” And we talked about living a life with Jesus as your ultimate, your top priority, the one you love more than anyone or anything else, by far. (see previous post “Do you love me more than these?”)

Scripture so often has multiple layers of meaning and insight. This passage is like that, so today we’ll share more about Jesus’ conversation with Peter.

John 21:13-17

After the seven were all ashore with Jesus, he served them bread and fish.

After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon Peter said, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Then Jesus said to him a second time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Simon Peter said, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Then he said to him a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was grieved because he asked a third time, and he answered, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21: 13-17)

Parallels for Peter

So I just wonder what Peter was thinking during that exchange. Because during the conversation, Peter’s standing next to a fire, even as he was standing next to the fire warming himself when he denied Jesus.

And Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, three times, and Peter professes his love for Jesus three times, even as Peter denied Jesus three times.

And Jesus doesn’t call him by the new name Jesus gave him: Peter (which means rock). Instead he calls him by his old name Simon.

It had to be obvious to Peter that Jesus was accomplishing some kind of work in Peter through this conversation. He may have been especially aware of this after Jesus asked for the third time, because we’re told that Peter was grieved after the third time.

If I were in that position, confronted by a friend for denying I knew him, I would have felt mortified. But Peter didn’t just deny a friend. He denied the living God: three times. And he did it shortly after he proclaimed he would die for him. I can’t imagine what Peter must have been feeling in that moment. The depth of his grief is beyond what I can know.

But although there are similarities between the time Peter denied Jesus three times and the time Peter professed his love for Jesus three times, there are also differences.

When Peter denied Christ it was dark, and cold.

Now it’s light.

The sun is rising.

And the Son has risen.

Under these new circumstances, in spite of Peter’s failure the night he denied Christ, Jesus commands Peter: three times.

“Feed my lambs.”

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.”

I love what’s happening here! Jesus makes it obvious to Peter that he’s well aware of Peter’s failures. But in spite of Peter’s shortcomings, Jesus commands Peter to feed his sheep.

Speaking of this verse, John Chrysostom writes:

That which most of all attracts the Divine love is care and love for our neighbour.

Chrysostom, John, from Aquinas’s Catena Aurea: Volume 1-4 . Primedia E-Launch. Kindle Edition.

And Aquinas:

He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. On this confession of his love, our Lord commends His sheep to him: He saith unto him, Feed My lambs: as if there were no way of Peter’s shewing his love for Him, but by being a faithful shepherd, under the chief Shepherd.

Aquinas, Thomas. Catena Aurea: Volume 1-4 . Primedia E-Launch. Kindle Edition.

Perhaps one could paraphrase Jesus commands in this way: If you love me, love your neighbor. And, If you love me help those who follow me, those of my flock.

This gives me hope because God used a sinner like Peter. So maybe God could use a sinner like me. Though God could do it all himself, he offers us a part. Jesus told the disciples where and when to throw out the net. But He gave the disciples the privilege of hauling in the net. When the disciples arrived on shore, Jesus already had his own fish. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. So Jesus certainly could have provided fish for everyone. Yet when he invites the disciples to breakfast, he says, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” (John 1:3)

Even when he fed the multitudes, he first had the disciples gather what little they could find before the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000.

We sinners.

We have a part to play.

Thank you Lord for that privilege!

“Father, be merciful to me, a sinner. Be merciful to the one reading this right now. Though we sin, we pray You will have mercy on us. We desire to repent and we pray You will help us to repent and to love You the way You desire us to, the way Jesus loved You. We pray You will bless us with the great privilege of loving our neighbor in a way that expresses Your love for them. We want to love You well. We sometimes even want to want to love You well. Help us to love You well and to love those around us well and to tend to those who belong to You. Help us to be who You want us to be: men and women in the likeness of Christ. Fill us with His Spirit. In Jesus name.”

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