“Do you love me?”
Jesus’ first recorded words to Peter after the resurrection must have cut Peter like a knife. After all, Peter had followed Christ from the first day of His ministry. Peter knew, before anyone else confidently accepted the truth, that Jesus was the Son of God. Peter was transformed from an impulsive, emotionally reactive fisherman to a Rock. But when Jesus’ worst hour came, Peter had wavered in his faith and convictions. He denied even knowing Christ.
After the crucifixion, Peter decided to go back to fishing. His zeal was gone, his hopes dashed. He was done. He stood and declared to the others, “I am going fishing.” And he took off with them trailing behind him. Obviously, he was a leader even then, but he was headed in the wrong direction. And in that direction, they all met with failure and fatigue. They fished all night and got nothing. They couldn’t even successfully do what they had done their entire lives before Christ. Their efforts were useless.
Then, a man called to them from the shore, “Cast your nets over the right side!” When they obeyed, they brought in so many fish, they could hardly manage the nets or the boat. While the others pulled in the net, Peter stood staring. He was taking a hard look at the man on the shore. Something about His voice, His mannerisms … something caught Peter’s attention and he just knew: it was Christ!
Peter abandoned it all. He jumped over the side of the boat, splashing his bewildered friends and started swimming, leaving their indignation behind to get to Christ. Peter needed to be with Him.
When he got to the shore, Jesus had already started a fire and was working up a meal. Jesus stood, motioned to Peter and they began to walk. Relief must have flooded Peter that Jesus did not accuse Him or even bring up the betrayal. But when Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Peter was hurt. “Of course, Lord. You know I do.” As if once were not enough, Jesus asked a second and third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter must have paused to wonder at Jesus’ persistent question. Why is He asking me over and over?
It is one thing to say we love Jesus. It is quite another to love Him. Jesus was asking Peter to examine himself, to ask that painful question: do I really love Him? Do I love Him, or what He does? Do I love Him, or the crowd that surrounds me when I follow Him? Do I love Him or do I love the opportunity to speak on His behalf? Do I want to be His friend or His heir? His heir receives simply by terms of His Will, but His friend … there’s a close personal connection going on there, where receiving becomes a joy, but not a requirement of the relationship. Do I love Him, or do I just love myself so much I want as much as I can get from Him?
“Do you love me?”