Dr. Tom Berry

"Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me...?

John 21:15, 16, 17.


Peter's love for Jesus was like many Christians today.  There were times when it flowed red hot and other times his love was cold.  Peter had recently denied Jesus three times with cursing.  In the verses listed above we read how Jesus required Peter to reaffirm his love three times.  This was the final step Jesus used to restore Peter to unhindered fellowship with Himself and the heavenly Father.

We should not be surprised if Jesus uses a similar process with us today.  The first step came that early Sunday morning when Jesus rose again. The first ones to the tomb were the women who came with spices.  They were greeted by an angel who told them, "...He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.  But go, tell His disciples---and Peter---that He is going before you into Galilee..."  (Mark 16:6, 7).  It seems that the angel was insinuating that at this point in time Peter was not classified as one of the disciples of Jesus.

The second step came when at some point that first Sunday afternoon Jesus appeared personally to Peter.  When the disciples assembled that evening in the upper room one of them reported "The LORD is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"  (Luke 24:34).  We cannot help but wonder what was said between Jesus and Peter in that meeting.

The third step involved Peter himself being present in the upper room when Jesus appeared to the disciples.


Following the instruction of Jesus, Peter and the other apostles returned to Galilee to wait for Him to meet with them.  As they are waiting Peter blurts out, "I am going fishing!"  Others responded, "We are going with you also."  (John 21:3).  No doubt they were still feeling emotional stress from the events of the last several days.  Their grand hopes of imminent honor and power had been dashed and left them distraught and frustrated.  All of them felt a need for something to relieve their tension.  However, it seems from the loving, but stern way Jesus confronted him that Peter's thoughts went deeper than just taking an isolated fishing trip.  It is possible that his thoughts went something like this, "I have been a miserable failure at the apostle business and my confidence has been totally shaken that I can ever be  success at it.  I was a success at the fishing business for many years and I'd like to see if I'm as good at it as I used to be.  If I am, and I can't get this apostle thing sorted out then I will probably return to the fishing business as my life's vocation."  God's providence answered that question because "...That night they caught nothing".  With the first rays of morning light Jesus made His presence known.  Under His direction the disciples caught in one sweep of the net 153 fish.


After quietly dining on the fish Jesus turned to Peter and asked, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?"  The word translated "these" can be masculine or neuter.  Jesus addressed His question to Peter.  The meaning is, "Do you love Me more than 'these other disciples"...or "these fish", or both.  In any case Jesus brings back to Peter's memory his words in the upper room, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble."   (Matthew 26:33)  Jesus had immediately answered, "...This night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  Peter stumbled terribly that night making it a reasonable question as to whether he really loved Jesus.

The first two times Jesus asked Peter the question the word He used for "love" was the verb form of "agape."  This is the word nearly always used to describe God's love.  Although the feeling of affection is present in agape, the dominant idea is an unconditional commitment that thoughts, words, and actions will be in the best interest of the object of "agape" love.  When we read about God's agape love we rarely read about how He feels  toward us, but rather His actions toward us.  "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..."  (John  3:16).  Peter's denial of Christ with cursing most surely did not convey thought, words, and actions in the best interest of Christ.  In the whole discussion Peter never used any form of agape.


When Peter answered, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love you" he used the verb form of "philos" which means warm, human affection.  He was appealing to Christ that even though his words, thoughts, and actions had failed to demonstrate his love, he did have warm affection in his heart.  To his first answer Jesus said, "Feed My lambs" and to his second, "Tend My sheep."  "Lambs" means new or immature believers. "Sheep" means spiritually mature believers.  Jesus was again endorsing Peter for the ministry of apostleship to which He had called him.  The words "Feed" and "Tend" speak of an on-going ministry for as long as Peter lived!

Nonetheless, Jesus asked Peter once more, "Do you love Me?"  Only this time Jesus used the word Peter used, "Do you have a warm affection for Me?"  Peter could only answer with confidence, "LORD, You know all things.  You know that I have a warm affection for You."  To this Jesus replied,  "Feed My sheep."  We should remember that the most important commodity and highest priority of Jesus on earth is His sheep.  His standing order for Peter and all who are given the pastoral gift is to feed His sheep.


I.  Love For Jesus Can Be Absent In The Most Eminent Christian Leaders

Peter was clearly an eminent Christian leader but that did not prove his love for Jesus was always what it should be:

Peter was eminent in outward religion. 
When a voice from heaven commanded Peter to arise, kill and eat unclean animals he had seen a vision Peter refused.  "Not so, Lord!  For I have never eaten anything common or unclean."  Acts 10:14.

Peter was eminent as an apostle.
In the age of the church the office of apostle is the highest authorized by Jesus and the New Testament.  We also note that in every list of apostles given in the New Testament Peter's name heads the list.

Peter was eminent in religious privilege.
Jesus did have an inner circle.  It was composed of Peter, James, and John.  We have three recorded events in which only they out of the twelve apostles were allowed to accompany Jesus: 
1).  The mount of Christ's transfiguration. (Matthew 17:1,2).
2).  The restoring to life of the daughter of Jairus. (Mark 8:41, 42, 51-56).
3).  The garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:36, 37).

Peter was eminent in religious zeal.
It took religious zeal of the highest level to ask Jesus to command him to walk on the water and then to step out on the water and walk on it.  It took religious zeal to draw a sword and attack the whole mob that came to take Jesus prisoner in Gethsemane.

Peter was eminent in self denial
Peter could say to Jesus in clear conscience, "See, we have left all and followed You..."  (Matthew 19:27).  He had personally given up the successful "Peter and Andrew Fishing Enterprise" to follow Jesus.

Peter was eminent in Christian orthodoxy.
Peter had completed three years in the Jesus Christ Apostolic Seminary.  There has never been a seminary since that was its equal.

And yet, there was a point in time when the love of Jesus in this eminent apostle became absent.  How about you and me?

II.  Love For Jesus Is The Evidence Of Our Salvation

Ponder these words of Jesus, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded froth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me."  (John 5:42).

There are those who teach that all humans are children of God.  This is true only in the sense that God is Creator and the ultimate source of every living being.  Jesus clearly taught that if we possess spiritual life as the children of God we will love God's Son Who made it possible for us to become children of God.

The Apostle Paul put this same truth in the negative sense,  "If anyone does not love the LORD Jesus Christ, let him be accursed..."  (1st Corinthians 16:22).

III.  Jesus Gave Five Tests To Determine If We Love Him.

1).  We will love other true believers in Christ.  "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  (John 13:35)
2).  We will keep Christ's commandments.  "If you love Me, keep My commandments."  "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him."  (John 14:15, 23.)
3).  We will abide in Christ's love. "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments you will abide in My love..." (John 15:9, 10).
4).  We will feed the sheep of Jesus.  The words of Jesus to Peter in John 21:15-17 were not for Peter alone.  They apply to all who love Jesus.  We are to feed the little lambs and mature sheep of Jesus in order that they may continually grow in grace.
5).  We will follow Jesus.  Jesus proceeded to reveal to Peter that after a life of feeding and tending His sheep that Peter would experience a martyr's death.  Peter asked in effect, "But what are your plans for John?"  Jesus answered, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me."  Likewise, we should make the firm decision, "Regardless of what my Lord's plans are for any other believer, I will follow His chosen will for me, whatever it is."

Many years ago a missionary to China told how a very old Chinese woman attended one of his services and listened to the story of Jesus.  As the invitation was given she opened her heart to Jesus and received Him as her Savior by faith.  After the service she traveled back home over the dusty road to her village home.  After many days her heart was eager to learn more about this new life, so she set out to find the missionary.  Finally locating the missionary she walked up to him and said, "I know He forgave my sins and saved me.  He has made me happy inside, but would you tell me His name again?"  As a result of that story George Bernard wrote:

"Oh, tell me His name again,
And sing me that sweet refrain
Of Him Who in love came down from above
To die on the cross of shame.
The story my heart has stirred
The sweetest I've ever heard;
It banished fear, it bring hope and cheer,
Oh, tell me His name again."

To trust Jesus produces a salvation that causes us to love Him.  This is first love and when we maintain that first love every new discovery about Jesus will produce greater love.






    Copyright 2008 Truth Helpers Inc.