This is part two of a two part series on John 21. For part one, click here.
The final chapter of the gospel of John is a wonderful account of Jesus showing his love to his disciples after his resurrection.
But what happens when love is violated and how is that relationship mended?
In John 21 Jesus has an interesting exchange with Peter.
Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?
Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.
Jesus: Feed my lambs.
Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Jesus: Take care of my sheep.
Jesus: Simon son of John, do you love me?
Peter: Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.
Jesus: Feed my sheep.
Ok, so what's going on here? First, some Greek, because this is one part of Scripture that doesn't translate well into English. In biblical Greek, there are several different words to describe what we would call love. There is "phileo" which is like friendship love.
Another word for love is "ero" which is the sexual love God desires between husband and wife. It gives us the root for our word "erotic."
And then there is "agape". No that's not "agape" as in, "His mouth was agape at the sight of the huge tracts of land." It's a•gah•pey. This kind of love is the sacrificial love, the willingness to put the needs of others before your own.
So, back to the conversation. Jesus asks Peter first, "Do you love (agape) me?" But Peter replies, "Lord I love (phileo) you." See the difference? Jesus was asking Peter if he was willing to put his own needs aside, his own concerns, his own desires aside and put the desires of his Lord first. But Peter sidesteps and says, "Lord, you know that we're buds." Not good enough Peter, try again.
"Do you agape me?" But Peter doesn't get it quite yet and answers the same as before.
Then Jesus asks him a third time, but this time he switches to "phileo." And then Peter seems to get it. John tells us in verse 17 that he was hurt that Jesus asked him the third time. And Peter replies that he loves (phileo) him. The difference is this time, his love (phileo) is prompted by the love (phileo) of Jesus.
In essence Jesus was saying to Peter: you need to put yourself second if you're going to follow me and even when you don't (because you're a sinner), I'm still your very dear friend.
Did you notice anything "coincidental" in this exchange? How many times did Jesus ask Peter if he loved him?
Three, right? Sound familiar?
Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times, and Jesus has him publicly acknowledge, three times, that he loves Jesus. Jesus wasn't going to pretend that what happened in the courtyard of the high priest didn't occur. But he would use it for Peter to grow. If Peter was going to be the kind of pillar of the Christian church he turned out to be, he would need to put his own selfish desires aside for the sake of his friend, Jesus, who loved him very much in spite of his continual sinfulness.
Peter had violated the love of Jesus. But what did Jesus do? He restored his friend. He forgave.
Is the relationship between you and Jesus any different? Our denials may look different than Peter's, they may be quite private even, but the consequence is the same. We violate the love of our good friend Jesus. But Jesus will leave you with the same love he left Peter, because Jesus knows the power of the love he has placed into your heart. He knows that his Easter love isn't fickle. He knows that his Easter love doesn't fade. He knows that his Easter love always puts the needs of others ahead of his own. And this is the love he gives to us because he has risen from the dead.
So take that love of Jesus, your good friend who died for you, aim it at your denials and sin, and, like Peter, follow Jesus with a clear conscience.
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