In John 21 Christ appears to seven of his disciples. These men have gone to Galilee, probably in obedience to Christ who told them that He would meet with them there. (Matt 28:10).
They go fishing, possibly to earn some money while they wait, but they catch nothing all night. When the morning comes, a man on the shore asks them if they have any food. They answer, “No.” He suggests they should cast their net on the right side of the boat where they will find some. They give it a try and their net becomes so full, they can’t haul it into the boat. Obviously, this is a miracle.
John recognizes that only the Lord could have done this and cries, “It is the Lord!” When Peter figures it out, he grabs his garment and jumps out of the boat. He can’t wait to see Christ! The other guys bring the boat up and begin dragging in the net. Peter runs back to help drag in the net and when they arrive on the beach, they see Christ has a fire on which breakfast is cooking. He invites them to bring over some of the fish they’ve caught.
This is the 3rd time Jesus reveals himself to the disciples after His death.
Christ then begins a dialogue with Peter. He asks, “Simon, of Jonah, do you agape love me (a love of total commitment)?” Peter responds, “You know I phileo (friend love) you, Lord.” Christ instructs, “Feed my lambs.” Christ asks again in the same way and Peter answers again with the same answer. Christ asks a third time, “Simon, of Jonah, do you phileo me? (My interpretation, “Ok, Peter, do you only love me like a friend?”)
“The third time Jesus asks Peter, He uses Peter’s word for love that signified something less than total devotion, questioning even that level of love Peter thought he was safe in claiming. “ (MacArthur Study Bible)
This grieves Peter.
Peter “was reluctant to express the greater love because he had been disobedient and denied the Lord in the past. He was, perhaps, now reluctant to make a claim of supreme devotion when, in the past, his life did not support such a claim.” (MacArthur Study Bible)
How many times do we allow our past sin to get in the way of today’s obedience? We think to ourselves, “Well, I didn’t really live up to my own expectations. Christ must be as disappointed in my performance as I am.” We come back tentatively and “hope” we can muster up some kind of devotion to Him, but we sting from not following Him fully.
Christ KNEW Peter’s heart. He knew Peter was a devoted follower, but that sin had previously overcome him. He KNEW that great things would be accomplished in Peter’s life, but that Peter needed to be reminded that Christ wanted his FULL devotion. With Christ, Peter would end up doing the impossible!
Do you see the gentleness in Christ in this questioning? He’s encouraging Peter to believe that He can be restored and please the Lord with his life. There were no lectures about past sin. They’ve been forgiven. This is about his restoration and future.
In Matt 26:35 Peter expresses his emotional love when he says, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” It was his natural self talking; he truly felt this way. However, agape love, true love, is a deep spiritual love that declares itself not merely by words, but by everything we do, as well. Peter truly and deeply loved the Lord, but He would have to prove that love by “feeding the Lord’s sheep.”
Peter’s actions in building the early church prove what resided in Peter’s heart – a deep abiding love for Christ.
What kind of love do we have for Christ? Do we enthusiastically SAY we love Him and then deny Him to others? Do we say we want to follow Him and then deny His power to live a well-pleasing life? Are we willing to only go so far (friend love) or are we willing to give up everything to prove our love to Him and those around us?
It takes faith to believe that stepping out in full devotion to Christ will be worth it, but Matt 16:25b reminds us that “whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” He promises it will be an abundant life.
Side note – did you notice that the 3rd time Christ reveals Himself, He calls Peter “son of Jonah”, a picture of the resurrected Christ. Peter had denied him 3 times, but it took Peter 3 times to realize that He was forgiven and that he was being called to share the love of Christ with the Lord’s sheep - all pointing back to our Risen Savior!