Do You Love Me?


John 21:15-25
15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agape] me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agape] me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [phileo] me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love[phileo] me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love [phileo] you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” 20Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 24This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

John ends his Gospel with an interesting event that took place in the life of Peter whose fall into denial is well documented. Now too is his reinstatement. In the text above, I have placed in brackets the words for love as they are found in the Greek. In English, we basically have one word for love – its love. In the Greek there are seven. Jesus (and Peter) use two of those seven words here and understanding them brings a much deeper knowledge of the text and of Peter’s forgiveness for denial he knew Jesus.

ἀγαπάω agapaō; to love as God loves

φιλέω phileō;; to love as a brother

Jesus asks Peter if he love Him – three separate times. The first and second time, Jesus asks if Peter loves Him with the perfect love of God. Peter knows himself and is also painfully aware of the fact that he only recently denied knowing Jesus three times during Jesus’ darkest hour. He responds to Jesus with a qualified “yes.” He claims to love Jesus with what he knows he is capable of - brotherly love. Finally, Jesus meets Peter where he is at by asking him if he loves Jesus with a brotherly love. Peter is able to answer with a confident yes, although he is stressed to have to answer the question three times. In asking this question three times, Jesus acknowledges the betrayal and grants forgiveness, thus bringing the incident to a close. Then Peter receives His instructions from Jesus – “Feed my sheep.” Take care of the Church.

The fact that Jesus comes to us and meets us at the point of our deepest need is simply His Grace in action. Whatever you deal with, whatever pain you bear, whatever need you have, Jesus will be there to answer it perfectly every time. That seems easy to say, but that is only because it is true. What we don’t realize is that God knows our needs far better than we do. Peter knew that he had denied Jesus but may not have seen that as his most immediate and pressing need. But his ministry may have been paralyzed by the fact that he had denied Jesus. Now he was free to move forward in strength.

Finally John ends this accounting of the life of Jesus with some very enticing words.

25Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

I instantly want to know those stories! And I can’t wait to hear them the other side of the veil.

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