Today’s thoughts are very deep and personal. I know what Jesus says to me, yet I cannot express His Words or my response except in general terms. Again, these questions are related to the questions He asked Peter after this disciple betrayed Him, and after His resurrection . . .
He said to (Peter) the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)
Most of what I have heard or read about this passage has been negative toward Peter. This man denied knowing Jesus in words and actions, even though he swore that he would not do that. He failed utterly in his expression of love. When Jesus looked at Peter after the betrayal happened, that was enough to unglue the man. He went away weeping bitterly.
I can relate to Peter. I supposed most Christians can. At some time or other, circumstances back us into a corner and we throw out a denial to protect ourselves. Or a temptation comes along that seems impossible to resist, and instead of love and loyalty, we abandon the One who saved us from such sin and go ahead and disobey Him. Whatever form the denial takes, afterward we feel ashamed, shocked at what we have done or said, and in pain.
Chambers says that when Jesus comes to us after such a horrid thing, and speaks to us from His Word, there is an exposure of the very deepest place in our heart. He also says that the devil never hurts there, neither sin nor human affection hurts there either. Nothing gets through to that place but the Word of God.
At first I didn’t understand that, but then realized that Peter was grieved because he realized at that moment that in the real center of his personal life he was devoted to Jesus. He had been severely tested and failed, but he did not abandon Jesus totally; he came back! It was in repentance and shame and deep sorrow, but he did not walk away or hang himself as Judas did. Peter passed the test and he passed it because he really did love Jesus.
After this, Peter knew. He would not ever deny Jesus again, but the greater point is that even failure cannot sever the relationship that faith gives us with Jesus. The horror of denying Him was terrible, as was the pain of Jesus exposing his heart, but now Peter knew. Proving his love was not in ‘always doing the right thing’ or ‘being perfect’ but returning again and again to fall at His feet, no matter how badly he had failed.
Peter said, “Lord, you know everything.” He didn’t try to prove it or point to anything to confirm it. He knew, as I know, that loving Jesus is not about a perfect performance. Even though Jesus asked Peter to feed His sheep, and even though Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” Peter and every other follower of Jesus Christ will miss out, mess up, and at times wonder if they can do anything right. Yet Peter had learned earlier that Jesus was his only answer to the failures of life . . .
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, (John 6:66–68)
When Jesus asks if I love Him after all my shortcomings and failures, I can say ‘yes’ because I know in my deepest place that I do. Otherwise, when I turn away in denial or to do my own thing, I would never turn back.