Today we read about the Gospel, John 21:1–19, in which Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” Our devotion comes from LifeLight: John, Part 2—Leaders Guide.
Read the propers for today in Lutheran Service Builder.
Jesus asked Peter about his relationship with Him. Peter was locked behind prison doors, and Jesus intended to unlock them one by one.
So Jesus asked him (John 21:15), “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” The intent of this question was to take Peter back to his boast that even if all the other disciples should forsake Christ, he would not. Now Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him more than the other disciples did. Jesus was putting His finger where it hurt—on the boastfulness of Peter that turned out to be denial. Peter’s response was: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” This was a truthful answer. The Lord knows what is in our hearts. Then Jesus reinstated Peter in his role as an apostle: “Feed My lambs.” There may be some significance in starting with the “lambs,” presumably the children, most precious in the Kingdom.
In the first question Jesus asked about Peter’s love in comparison with others. Now the question is stripped of all comparisons and directed toward Peter’s relationship with Jesus alone (v. 16): “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter responded: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Without any comparisons or boasts to hide behind, there is at least a love in Peter’s heart. Then comes the absolution and the opening of the second door: “Tend My sheep.”
The third time that Jesus asked the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt. Why? And why on the third time that Jesus asked the question? Perhaps it was because Peter had denied Jesus three times. Perhaps Jesus asked Peter the same question three times to remind him of his threefold denial and to assure Peter that he was truly forgiven and restored even threefold! Yet that doesn’t quite explain why Peter was hurt when Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
Although Jesus and Peter would have spoken to each other in Aramaic rather than in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written, St. John reflects in Greek what was conveyed in their conversation. In Greek two words are used for “love.” Jesus used the word agape, which denotes an intelligent, knowing, comprehending love coupled with purpose. Peter’s response used another word for “love”—phileo, which refers to personal affection, friendship, or a liking for someone or something. In other words, Jesus asked twice, “Do you love (agape) Me?” Peter answered both times, “I like (phileo) You.” The third time Jesus didn’t ask Peter if he loved (agape) Him, but instead Jesus asked Peter if he even loved Jesus as a friend or brother (phileo). This is probably why John records (v. 17) that “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love (phileo) Me?’” Jesus’ point got through, and Peter answered honestly: “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love (phileo) You.”
Jesus, who is agape love incarnate (1 John 4:10), opened the third and final door by saying: “Feed My sheep.”
The risen Christ calls to us, His children, on the shore where we also live, asking us, “Do you love Me?” By the agape love that took Him to a cross, to an empty tomb, and to our hearts, He blesses us with His forgiveness and calls, “Follow Me!”
Devotional reading is adapted from LifeLight: John, Part 2—Leaders Guide, pages 54–55 © 1991, 2002 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Hymn is “With High Delight Let Us Unite” © 2016 Concordia Publishing House.