“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was grieved. Sitting on the beach after breakfast, Jesus had just asked him for the third time if he loved him. Peter had already wholeheartedly answered yes twice. What else was he supposed to say?
With these questions, the Lord was putting his finger on a very tender wound in Peter’s heart. Peter’s failure on the night of Jesus’ trial had been simply horrible. In the hour of his Lord’s greatest anguish, Peter had denied even knowing him. This sin shook Peter to the core of his being.
Jesus had told him that he would do it.1 But in the Upper Room, over the Passover meal, with his fellow disciples around him, Peter did not believe it. He could still hear himself proclaim, “I will lay down my life for you.”2
He had had no idea how weak he really was. He had imagined himself boldly standing before the Sanhedrin side by side with Jesus, come what may. But that night, as Jesus was doing that very thing, Peter couldn’t even stand before a servant girl. “You also are not one of this man’s disciples are you?” He had completely caved: “I am not.”3
I am not. Those words had kept Peter up at night. He was supposed to be a rock.4 That night he had crumbled into pieces. He was not who he thought he was. Peter had never been less confident in himself.
So when Jesus questioned Peter’s love for a third time that morning, Peter grieved that he might have lost the Savior’s trust. He had failed. But he did love him. All he could do was appeal to Jesus’ omniscience:
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
And Jesus did. In fact, later Peter realized what Jesus had done in that painful conversation. He had not doubted Peter’s love at all. Rather, he had allowed Peter to confess his love for every wretched denial he had made on that dreadful night. Amazing grace.
And the Lord had a word for Peter. In the future there would be another opportunity to confess his love publicly in the face of great cost. And then he said, “Follow me.”
Shame over past failures and sins can haunt and inhibit us in many ways. And Satan seeks to steal and destroy our faith by shoving our failures in our face. But Jesus intends to redeem us completely.
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