Summary: There’s a lot we can learn about forgiveness by following the example Jesus set for us when He restored Peter.
Shalom, it’s Peter again. I talked with many of you last Sunday when I told you about an amazing fishing trip. I had been doubly disappointed -- first in myself for failing Jesus, and second when we didn’t catch any fish. But then Jesus appeared, and after having breakfast on the beach, he asked me three questions.
I was taken aback when Jesus referred to me as “Simon, son of John.” While that was my name, I had really liked it when He referred to me as Peter, a piece of the rock. Well, I knew I was anything but a rock at that moment. My heart started racing because I didn’t know what Jesus was going to say to me.
In His first question, He wanted to know if I loved Him supremely, above everything else. He even added a curious phrase, “more than these?” At first I thought He might have been referring to the fish on the fire. I certainly loved Him more than I loved food, or at least I thought I did. Then I looked up and saw the boat and my fishing supplies and wondered if He was asking if I loved things more than I loved Him. And then I knew what He was asking. I had made some pretty bold boasts:
I would lay down my life for Him (John 13:37)
Even if everyone else would fall away, I never would (Matthew 26:33)
Even if I had to die, I would never disown Him (Matthew 26:35)
And now, instead of bragging, I was broken. Jesus wanted to know if I loved Him unconditionally and without reservation. Did I still think I was more faithful than the other disciples? There was no way I could agree with that because I knew what was in my heart. I told Him that I was fond of Him. Interestingly, Jesus then told me to feed His little lambs.
I braced myself for the second question: “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me with an unconditional commitment kind of love?” Once again, I deflected the question by telling Jesus that I liked Him a lot. I cared for Him but I was hesitant to promise that I loved Him completely. Amazingly, Jesus still had a job for me to do when He told me to shepherd His sheep.
When Jesus asked the third question, my mind filled with my three-pronged failure. I had grossly overestimated my own abilities. But this time, Jesus used a different word for love. Instead of asking if I loved Him unconditionally, He asked if I had brotherly love for Him. This was unbelievable! He came down to my level, meeting me right where I was. He knew that I was in no position to pledge a love that would never fail. I was both humbled and hurt that He did this. Why couldn’t I say I loved Him unconditionally? Because I wasn’t sure I did. I’m so thankful that He knows everything about me and still chooses to love me. With His help, I know I can grow in my love for Him. Once again, he gave me a job to do. This time He told me to feed His sheep.
One pastor writes that there are a lot of things that Jesus could have said to Peter. He could have responded to him like we would have. He could have treated him with silence and given the cold shoulder. He could have expressed anger and let Peter suffer. He might have said, “You know, Peter, I normally would have asked you to do this but…I just don’t trust you anymore.” He could have brought up his failure in every conversation. He could have talked to the other disciples about it: “Remember that night when Peter denied me?” He could have excluded Peter. He could have found subtle and not-so-subtle ways to punish him. And if he ran out of ideas…He could have asked us! (Bruce Goettsche, www.sermoncentral.com). We’re pretty tough on people who sin differently than we do, aren’t we?
There’s a lot we can learn about forgiveness by following the example Jesus set for us when He restored Peter. I see three calls from Christ in John 21:15-22.
1. Love Lavishly. After breakfast is over, Jesus publicly forgives and reinstates Peter. This is for Peter’s benefit and also provides some teaching for the other six disciples who are listening to the conversation. As Peter smells the charcoal fire and feels its heat, he is reminded of how he warmed himself next to a fire in a courtyard right before he denied Jesus three times.
It’s curious that the questions asked by Jesus have to do with Peter’s level of love: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these? Simon son of John, do you truly love me? Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus could have asked Peter anything, or did some teaching, or told a parable, but He chose to ascertain His follower’s love level. That hearkens back to Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus summarized the entire list of laws in the Old Testament by quoting this verse as the premier commandment (Matthew 22:37).