When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you 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 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. Very truly I tell you, 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!”
- John 21:15-19
“Have you ever felt the pain, inflicted by the Lord, at the very center of your being, deep down in the most sensitive area of your life? The devil never inflicts pain there, and neither can sin nor human emotions. Nothing can cut through to that part of our being but the Word of God. ‘Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” ‘ Yet he was awakened to the fact that at the center of his personal life he was devoted to Jesus. And then he began to see what Jesus’ patient questioning meant. There was not the slightest bit of doubt left in Peter’s mind; he could never be deceived again. And there was no need for an impassioned response; no need for immediate action or an emotional display. It was a revelation to him to realize how much he did love the Lord, and with amazement he simply said, ‘Lord, You know all things….’ Peter began to see how very much he did love Jesus, and there was no need to say, ‘Look at this or that as proof of my love.’ Peter was beginning to discover within himself just how much he really did love the Lord. He discovered that his eyes were so fixed on Jesus Christ that he saw no one else in heaven above or on the earth below. But he did not know it until the probing, hurting questions of the Lord were asked. The Lord’s questions always reveal the true me to myself.
“Oh, the wonder of the patient directness and skill of Jesus Christ with Peter! Our Lord never asks questions until the perfect time. Rarely, but probably once in each of our lives, He will back us into a corner where He will hurt us with His piercing questions. Then we will realize that we do love Him far more deeply than our words can ever say.”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Do not let the title fool you. God does not punish those that He has already forgiven, but when we come to face our own mortality, our own sinful nature, and our inabilities, it can create pain, as Chambers suggests, in a way that Satan cannot accomplish.
Peter had denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted. Peter was brash, outspoken. I have mentioned before that Peter was the quintessential extrovert in that he often had his mouth moving long before his brain was in gear. Consider the old World War II slogan, or maybe earlier, “Loose lips sink ships.” Peter’s ship had sunk. While the others were fishing that previous night, not catching anything, was Peter gazing over the side of the boat to catch a glimpse of his ship that had sunk?
And then, Jesus does not embrace him and say, “There, there.” No. He questions Peter’s resolve. The dagger has already been inserted, and Jesus twists the dagger. Jesus asks three times. I have heard that in the Jewish culture of that time, it was an insult to ask the third time. Whether that is true or not, the point was well taken.
I have had many moments where I have come to a confrontation with the strange person that I occasionally see in the mirror, avoiding him most of the time. I do not screw up. It’s him!!! But, no, I am so filled with frailties that if I could rid myself of them, a gentle breeze could blow away what was left.
And yet, I hear a voice. “Come, follow me. Feed my sheep.”
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.