Peter, Do You Love Me?

Monday, 10 May 2021


image: Christ’s Charge to Peter, painting by Raphael,1515. Courtesy of Wikipedia

We all know the story where Peter denied Jesus – for three times, just before He went to the cross. Peter has always been the boldest disciple, the most enthusiastic person to show his love and devotion to Christ Jesus. Time and time again he emphasized his feelings, saying that even if Jesus had to go to the world of death, he would gladly follow Him there.

And yet, on the night before Jesus’ death, at the house of the high priest Caiaphas, being bonded and mocked; Peter stood in the corner of the house, hiding behind one pillar and looking at him from afar. All the braveness he had, all the courage to defend Jesus till the end was nowhere to be seen. He must have been confused, shocked, to see his beloved teacher being led by the soldier like a dangerous criminal. This loving and kind Jesus, who was just a few days ago was welcomed triumphantly as the king on the streets of Jerusalem.

Some curious heads looked at Peter and recognized him. They asked, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee! This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth. Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” (Matthew 26: 69 – 75)

NO! Answered him boldly. I don’t know the man! I don’t know what you’re talking about!

Bleeding and hurting, that must be what Jesus felt, when the rooster crowed and he turned and looked at Peter, reminding him with his silent view, that He already knew about these denials, even before they happened.

What a very sad ending. I think the one thing you want to let someone know before his death is the fact that you love him. So many people live with regret because they didn’t have the chance to say “I love you,” for the last time to people they love. How much Peter’s heart has been broken, not only he didn’t say it outloud, he even rejected being associated with Jesus!

I can imagine how this feeling haunted him, all the three days since Jesus died, and even when he got to know that the tomb was empty. Will Jesus accept me? Is he still mad at me? Peter’s self confidence of his undying love towards Jesus has vanished in the air. Perhaps he even questioned himself, do I love him? Am I worthy to love him?

Thankfully that’s not the real end of Peter’s relationship with Jesus. Jesus was risen and showed Himself to his disciples several times before He ascended to heaven, back to the Father’s house.

In one of the last meetings they had, Jesus appeared to His disciples by the sea of Galilee (John 21). There, the disciples went into the sea the whole night, trying to catch fishes but caught nothing. In the end of the night, when the sun began to rise, at the end of their unsuccessful effort, Jesus came to them and told them to throw their net on the right side of the boat – so they could find some.

Don’t forget, these men are seasoned fishermen. They hardly needed any advice. They were the best in their fields. Yet they complied (although they didn’t realize yet that this was Jesus), and yes, they caught so many fishes until they weren’t able to haul the net because it was so full of fish.

Within this miraculous morning, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?” Thrice He asked Peter the same question, again and again, “Do you love me?”

Twice Peter answered his Master, “Yes Lord, You know that I love You.” But when he got asked for the third time, perhaps deep inside his heart, Peter understood why he got questioned again and again. 

Just like he has denied Jesus for three times on His way to Calvary, Jesus asked Peter three times, to give him the chance to make a closure to his torturing uncertainty. Jesus gave him the question, and put the answers in Peter’s heart.

This time, there’s no more brave Peter who confidently claimed that his love is bigger than his other fellow. He answered (perhaps softly and sheepishly), “You know, that I love You.” And by the third question Peter gave up all his self-reliance: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you.”

Answering the God that knows everything

One particular thing that made me hesitate to pray is the fact that God does know everything. We don’t have anything to hide in front of Him. Even when we’d like to boast about our zealous love for Him, He knows the depth of our love, much better than us!

Writing about my love and devotion for God is easy. No one can counter-check me nor confront me even if I made up my conviction. My actions and attitudes should be my judges, but still I have rooms for my self-proclaimed goodness. But who can stand tall in front of the omniscient God?

Peter used to believe that his love for Jesus was bigger than anyone else, but after he disowned Jesus, he knew that wasn’t the case. His action has proved it otherwise. And when Jesus asked him again of his love, Peter knew there was no point to create any answer. Lord, You know all things…

God knows all things. He knows how much we love Him and how much we struggle to live in that love. But just like Jesus accepted the level of Peter’s love – that love was clearly not good enough, but Jesus made it good enough!

Do you love Me more than these?

I tried to understand what did Jesus refer to when He asked Peter this question. What were “these” in His sentence? Where did His hands point out when He asked this?

Do I love God more than “…”? This question applies to us as well. There are always things that hinder our decision in loving God wholeheartedly. Perhaps it was our love in other things, our hidden desires, our unwillingness to part from sin. Perhaps our love for God was still limited in His blessings, we love to see His grace, but we’re not sure to walk further than that. Perhaps it’s our doubt that our love is not good enough, or that we’re scared to make such a great commitment in following Him.

Why does God choose us when our love is not enough?

Why did Jesus trust His people to Peter, knowing Peter’s love was not enough to follow Him to His suffering in the cross? Why did He keep loving Peter when he denied Him?

The first answer must be because He’s God. And God’s love is definitely better, stronger than ours. But that’s not the only reason why Jesus kept loving Peter and assigned Peter to shepherd His people.

He did it because Peter loved Him. And Jesus knew how much Peter loved Him. It was first the love that was full of self-confidence – perhaps Peter fell in love with the teaching of Jesus, His morality, His power and miracles, His compassion to the sick and the weak… but on that cross, Peter saw what Jesus really gave. 

He saw Jesus giving up His life for him, a disciple who denied his Master. And yet he could see the love and the forgiveness on that cross was poured out for all sinners, including himself. And that’s when Peter knew he loved Jesus, with all his heart, this time – but minus the self confidence that he loved Him better than the others.

We’re never worthy to serve God. We’re never good enough to love Him and be used by Him. But our love to the God who has loved us first is enough to be the start.

God’s sufficiency over our insufficient love

Peter knew he would never be able to be good nor strong enough to love Jesus. But the questions thrice asked to him helped him to reconfirm his conviction to his Master.

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: 17 – 19, NIV)

Not only Jesus trusted Peter to teach and flock His people, but Jesus revealed to him of what kind of afflictions and sufferings Peter would have in following Him. Peter who ran away, would be Peter who led the apostles. Peter, who was frightened by the cross, would be hanged on that cross. What changed Peter? What enabled him to bear such a cross?

There is only one answer: God provides. God provides us with His strength when He sends us out in His service. God completes our loves when it’s not enough. God strengthens us when we’re weak and incapable. He enabled Peter, and He enables us.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God. (2 Corinthians, 3: 5, ESV)

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9: 8, ESV)

God uses His people, especially the weak, the broken, because our weakness and brokenness might be relatable to all people who are just like us – broken and need God. God uses us in our weakness, and strengthens us to be a witness, that His love and grace is enough for others who also need Him in their lives.

Peter learned his lessons, took his assignment with submission, love, and humility. He became the person Jesus knew he could be and would be when He changed Peter’s name from Simon to Petrus (means: rock).

The end

Peter ended one of his letters with this verse:

“And the God of all grace, who called you in His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5: 10)

Yes, this was the same Peter who denied Jesus. This is the same Peter whose love didn’t stand strong enough. And this can be you, and me, to be together with Peter, finding our strength in the grace of God, being completed in the love of Jesus. Amen.

Written with the memory of the best Petrus I’ve ever known in person, my dear grandfather who chose to be a Peter. May his legacy live on in my life.

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