Summary: Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. All true ministry flows out of our answer to that question.
The Big Question
I want to take you to a small group of fishermen this morning. These five men have been fishing off the southern coast of the Sea of Galilee near the village of Tiberias. It’s been a disappointing night. They have worked all night and have caught nothing. The chilly winds are still blowing across the water. They are cold and they are exhausted.
As the sun began to peek up over the horizon, they make their way toward the shore. There on the shore they see somebody. The man calls out to them with a question. “Do you have any food?” As professional fishermen, they are humbled to admit they have nothing. Then the man on the shore does a bold thing. He tells them to throw their nets out on the right side of the boat. When they do that, the nets fill up with fish.
The most amazing thing about all this is how similar it is to a previous experience some of them had a few years earlier. It happened on this very sea. At that time they had been fishing all night as well—and had caught nothing. A prophet by the name of Jesus had told them where to place their nets and exactly the same thing happened. Their nets filled up with fish. As John recalls that experience he suddenly realizes something. This is that same Jesus directing them to where the fish are. We are in John 21 and Jesus is now in a resurrected body.
John yells out to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Jesus has a way of showing up at the most unexpected times and places in our lives. These disciples are not sitting on the shore hoping to see Jesus. They are not doing anything particularly spiritual. They are just working a job that they have worked many times in the past. But when Jesus shows up an ordinary day can become very extraordinary.
Peter is a man of action. The moment he realized it was the Lord, he jumped into the cold water and started swimming toward Jesus. The other disciples just rode the boat to shore. But Peter wanted to get to Jesus as fast as he possibly could. I like that about Peter; don’t you? He’s wholehearted in everything he does.
When they all got to shore, there was Jesus cooking a meal for them. It must have been a strange moment as they sat there eating with Jesus. They’re looking at him; they all know its Jesus; yet no one asks Him who He is. You would think someone would say something. The scene is almost humorous. “Say something, guys. Tell Jesus you’re glad to see Him.”
Finally, after they finish breakfast, Jesus looks over at Peter and asks him the most probing question imaginable. John 21:15 “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” What a question!!! Have you ever had the Lord ask you something like that? How do you answer a question like that?
In his answer, Peter modifies the question a little bit. Jesus asked Peter if he “agapaoo” or loved Him with a highly devoted love. Peter answers back that he loves the Lord but uses the word “filoo” which is a humbler word for love as toward a friend. What’s happening in that answer? Peter is not nearly as presumptuous as he once was. He’s not as self-confident as he used to be. He knows in his own heart that he loves the Lord. But all boastful wind has been knocked out of him. Anybody here had the wind knocked out of you enough that you’re not as cocky as you once were? I personally walk a little softer than I once did.
This question had to carry Peter’s mind back to an incident that happened right before Jesus went to the cross. On the night He was betrayed Jesus had the Passover meal with his disciples. Then they went to the Mount of Olives where Jesus told the disciples that He was about to be killed. And He said that they would all desert Him. That’s when Peter wanted to get something perfectly clear with Jesus. "I will never desert you no matter what the others do!" (Mark 14:29 TLB). Remember how Jesus told Peter he would deny Him three times before the rooster crows twice. Peter insisted that he would never do that, even if he had to die with Jesus.
Peter had boasted that even if the others deserted Jesus, he would stand with Him. As you know, that did not prove to be the case. Now the question comes to Peter, “Do you love Me more than these” other disciples? The answer Peter gives shows us the brokenness that has happened in Peter.