Summary: Jesus’ question to Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" could be taken in at least three ways, each posing an important challenge to look closely at our own devotion to the Savior.
Let’s start with an easy question. Have you ever been betrayed? If so, you know the pain of broken trust.
Now for a more difficult question; Have you ever been the betrayer? It isn’t a difficult question because you don’t know the answer, but because the answer can be very painful.
If you’ve betrayed someone very important to you, you understand the deep longing for a second chance. Do you remember what it felt like when you were given that chance? When the relationship was restored you probably enjoyed new depths of companionship. This isn’t simply the result of “kiss and make up.” It’s going deeper in shared loyalty through forgiveness offered and accepted.
That’s what we see in the story found in John 21:15-17.
15 Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." 16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 17 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.
The story includes a 3-fold examination that resulted in a 3-fold affirming and a 3-fold commission.
Peter was grieved at Jesus’ third question because in those moments he had to relive the pain of his awful failure. But it was vital to his future. Jesus gave him the opportunity to erase each of his three denials by three times affirming his love for the Savior.
Whatever your past failures and sins, Jesus is ready to give you another chance because He is loyal to you.
It is possible to read Jesus’ question in at least three ways, each with important applications. Let’s take the time to evaluate our own love and loyalty to Him by exploring what Jesus could have meant when He asked Peter, “do you love me more than these?”
1. “Do you love me more than these others love me?”
Peter had made some fairly arrogant claims that implied he had a superior love and character. With some bravado he’d said, “Even if all the others abandon you, I’ll never do that.” He was confident he’d be willing to lay down his life for Jesus.
It’s possible that morning after breakfast on the shore, Jesus was asking Peter, “After recent events, do still regard yourself as superior to the other disciples?”
Feeling we’ve achieved something that’s superior to others around us is kind of important to us. Think for a moment about some of the symbols that represent your superior achievements. What is something you can look at or hold in your hand that sets you apart as special?
For example, I’ve brought the nicely framed master of divinity certificate that hangs on the wall in my office. It’s a visible reminder of some intense years of study and preparation for ministry. It’s also a verification that I did in fact complete an appropriate program to prepare for this vocation.
If I’m not careful and become arrogant, it can also be a symbol of spiritual superiority. The Spirit keeps reminding me that having a degree that reads “master of divinity” does not mean I’ve mastered all that’s divine.
What about you? What thing do you possess that represents some superior accomplishment? It could be a diploma that credits you with an important title or credential. It might be a trophy or medal that you’re really proud of winning. What’s your symbol?
These can all be good things and there’s noting wrong with them. But to what extent does your symbol represent an attitude of superiority and pride?
We often struggle with an image problem – an “I’m better than you” attitude. Maybe because I believe I’m of a superior race or superior social and economic class. Maybe because I feel superior in some personal way, like what I do is more important than what you do, or I’m more intelligent, have more class and more sophisticated tastes. It can be an attitude of spiritual superiority, you know, “I have a deeper commitment than most Christians,” or better knowledge of the Bible, or act with more Christ-like love, or “Look how much humility I possess.”
Am I ready to face my pride and deal with it? An evidence of pride is that I’m more concerned with presenting a certain image than living in real conformity to Jesus Christ. Do I invest more effort on presenting a facade that I want people to see than I put into efforts to think, speak and live more and more like Jesus?