I’ve been thinking on yesterday’s sermon on John 21:15-25 considering why it is that Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him. Why did he ask so many times? Aside from the comparison to the thrice denied Christ by Peter, was there another reason for such questioning? Didn’t Jesus know Peter loved him? Of course he did. Even Peter said as much. So why?
Jesus’ interrogation was for Peter’s sake. It was for our sake. Jesus’ is showing us something about how to love. He is showing us what the love of God looks like, both by restoring an unlovable failure and by teaching him what love looks like in the face of his failure.
Christ is conveying these truths about how we must love by telling Peter to feed his lambs (twice), tend his sheep, and adding that no one else’s call is relevant to his call which is to simply follow him:
Loving me is other-centered,
Loving me is not a popularity contest,
Loving me is not a power trip
Loving me has nothing to do with pride,
Loving me is sacrificial service,
Loving me is willingness to suffer,
Loving me has nothing to do with competition and comparison,
Loving me has nothing to do with your leading,
Loving me is following wherever I lead,
These are the things you failed to understand before. That is why you fell.
Peter had grief over this interaction. He had a certain sadness over Jesus’ questioning and doubtless his own culpability and regret. He still had questions and some residual contest with his contemporaries in this heart. Still, Peter was changed. He was humbled. By the power of God, Peter did follow Christ and change the world through his restored witness.
The grace displayed by God and the gospel toward Peter here is tremendous. I know because the grace displayed by God and the gospel towards me, too, is tremendous.
I have been a doubter, a denier, an egotist, and a bombastic, just like Peter. I look back with grief and a certain sadness. When the Lord reveals the hard parts of his plan, I still pine over senseless questions about fairness and folly sprouting from a sinful nature . I don’t know about Peter, but my biggest fear is falling away again. What if my call is that which I find most unfavorable? What if his love isn’t enough to keep me and what if I don’t really love him the way I think I do; the way I want to; the way he calls me to?
Foolish doubts and fears rooted in distrust and unbelief are silenced by the truth. I know that he is the sustainer of all things, including my salvation. I will not fear.
For Peter, martyrdom and death was the fear that caused his betrayal. Peter’s restoration is proof that perseverance is possible. He was afraid to die when he denied Christ, but later he died indeed for Christ by the power of God.
The love of God changes people. It makes the unwilling, willing; the unloving, loving; the prideful, humble; the doubting, trust. Our hope is found in forgetting our failures, formulas, fears, and trusting him to keep us from falling. Our hope is found in following Christ wherever he leads.