John 21 Do you love me?
Back in John 13:38, Jesus had predicted that Peter would disown him 3 times. Peter must have felt offended, hurt, outraged. Later, despite his big talk and bravado, Peter does exactly what Jesus said he would do: denies him 3 times. ‘I’m not one of his disciples! No, I wasn’t with him in the garden!’ (18:17, 25-27). Peter’s words were not only a blatant lie, but a complete betrayal of Jesus, denying any association with Jesus, refusing to stand with him and speak in his defence. It’s easy to criticise Peter, but can we honestly say that we have never done the same? Times when we should have spoken out and spoken up for Christ, but we didn’t? We mustn’t minimise the shame of Peter’s betrayal, but if we condemn him we are condemning ourselves.
Here in John 21, it’s Peter who leads the fishing trip on Lake Galilee. Imagine what’s gnawing away inside him, ‘I betrayed him; I let him down; I denied that I even knew him. What must he think of me?’
After the breakfast on the beach, Jesus turns to Peter and asks him a question, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ 3 times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Each time Peter says, ‘You know that I love you, Lord,’ it’s sort of undoing one of those denials.
It’s quite clear that Jesus bore no grudges, no bitterness, no resentment towards Peter, despite what he had done, or failed to do. Jesus is graciously giving Peter the opportunity of expressing and re-stating his love for him. Jesus is saying to him, ‘Look, Peter, we both know what happened. Understand what it means to say that you love me. Think carefully, are you sure you truly love me?’ Then, in v19, Jesus repeats what Peter had heard him say 3 years previously: ‘Follow me!’ Perhaps Peter had been wondering, ‘Will he still want me as one of his followers, after what I’ve done?’ ‘Yes, Peter,’ says Jesus, ‘I still want you to follow me.’
Whatever we may have done, however we may have messed things up and let Jesus down, he is so gracious and patient; he still wants us to follow him.
John has given us an amazing account of Jesus, full of grace and truth, God’s chosen one, the Son of God, King of Israel, Saviour of the world, the Holy One of God, the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. Whoever follows him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Whoever obeys his word will never see death. Whoever drinks the water he gives will never thirst. Whoever comes to him will never go hungry, and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty! Hallelujah!