One Sunday, a couple of weeks ago, I was spending a little time in the Word before heading to a small store front church to lead worship. Very often, exactly where I first open the Bible and the first words that catch my eye, is exactly where I end up, even if I don’t start there. This was one of those mornings.
I put my coffee on the night stand beside the bed, prop up the multitude of pillows against the headboard (which is so not conducive for reading in bed), pull back up the blanket, and grab my study bible. I open it up, and the first thing I see is the bold section title: Jesus Reinstates Peter. I pretty much dismiss this as being the morning’s portion and start looking at the top of the page and reading the passage before it. Although interesting, nothing here really stirs my heart. So, I decide, ok, so let’s look at this exchange between Jesus and Peter.
Mind you, I don’t have anything against this passage. There have been seasons where this scene has encouraged, and even wrenched my heart. I think I sort of shrugged it off because of it’s familiarity. I was thinking, what could this possibly contain for this morning’s service? Haha, what did I know.
Here’s that passage from John 21:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
While I’m reading this passage, I have remnant foundation of a conversation I had with a young man the night before. I know part of what he is to walk in somewhere down the road. I know that it is going to take complete obedience. I know he will need to be fearless. I know that he will need to know, without a shadow of a doubt, just who his God is. I know it will take absolute, concrete commitment. One of his statements back to me in this conversation was; “so, it’s all in, or all out, yeah?” Yeah, exactly. Remembering this phrase, I re-read this exchange.
The phrase “more then these?” just hangs out there all through the passage. Now I’m not going to pick this passage apart and start a theological discussion on the different words for Love in the passage, or to whom Jesus is telling Peter to care for. I had to ponder on “more than these?”
I momentarily ponder the who are the “more than these”, or even what. Peter was with the other disciples coming in from fishing when they encountered Jesus waiting for them on the shore. More then them? Maybe, Maybe so. “All in, or all out…” Jesus, as soon as the questioning is finished, tells Peter just how he’s going to die.
Before the crucifixion, Peter boldly declared to Jesus that he was willing to follow Him anywhere and was adamant that he was willing even to die for Him. But, anyone the least familiar with the situation knows Jesus told him that would actually deny Him 3 times before the rooster declared that morning had come. And three times he did. Jesus did know that Peter truly loved Him. I wonder if Peter needed that reminder. Or is it possible, that Jesus was trying to pull Peter back into that place of complete abandonment of his own way and will into absolute surrender and commitment to Him and the purposes He had for Peter to fulfill. Almost as if to say, “Ok Peter, you say you love me. Will you love me no matter if you are the only one? Will you love me and follow me, no matter what? I’m telling you Peter, you will die. You will die as I died. You will suffer. I’m letting you now up front what this will cost you. Do you really love Me more than life, more than people, more than things… etc etc. Do you really love me enough to take up your cross and follow Me unto death? Do you really love Me enough to lay down your will, your way, your desires, even your very life to live for Me? Just how committed are you? It can’t just be lip service. There must be action to back up your words. Either you’re all in, or all out; hot or cold; luke warm, complacent, passive, on the fence – just isn’t going to cut it. I need to know now. YOU need to know now. I’m telling you where and how this ends. Count the cost. Will you follow Me, now that you know the price you will pay? Peter, do you truly love Me?”
Peter remembers how it felt to deny the one he truly loved. Peter saw the price his Master paid. Never again does he want to walk out the agony of letting the Messiah – his mentor, friend, Savior, God – down again. He couldn’t bear it. Yes Jesus, you know that I love you.
At an earlier point, (Matthew 16: 24-27) Jesus said to them:
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”
Could it possibly be true, that when Jesus said “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross…”, that he meant exactly that. To love Him enough to be prepared for it to be unto death. This same God, in front of whom we, in our weddings, vow “till death do us part”, who is a covenant God, looks at our relationship as a life event, a life covenant. Only difference, ’till death do us part”, to die is not to part from Him but to spend eternal glory with Him. Will His followers, His Church, His Bride, commit to count the cost, pick up our cross, and follow Him – no matter the cost? Do we TRULY love Him? or is it just lip service?
“__________, Do you truly love ME?”