Do you REALLY love Jesus? Or do you just say that you love Jesus?
You can lie to your friends. You can lie to your family. You can lie to your spouse. You can even lie to yourself. But, you can not lie to Jesus. He is not persuaded by your words. He can see directly into your heart.
Peter answered him, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." Matthew 26:33Peter is bold. He is brash. He is the same disciple that will pull out a sword to defend Jesus when he is arrested in Gethsemane. He will later become a leader in the church after Jesus returns to heaven. But, in this verse, we see that Peter's pride can get the best of him - just like the rest of us.
Jesus knew that Peter was just a man. He knew that Peter was prone to sin, to fear, to weakness. Peter had to be shown that he DID NOT love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved him. It was all part of Jesus' plan for molding Peter into the man that he needed to be for God's purposes.
Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Matthew 26:34I think even at this point Peter does not want to believe what Jesus has said. And yet, deep in his heart he probably knows that Jesus is right. He knows that he is capable of denying Jesus.
Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same. Matthew 26:35Spiritual pride is as damaging as any form of pride. If you lean on your own strength and courage as Peter does here, you invite disaster. Peter needed to learn that he must expect his own strength and courage to fail him. He needed to learn that he had natural limitations. He needed to learn that he would only be successful when he leaned on God.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13If Jesus did not teach him this valuable lesson, Peter would continue to try to serve God through his own strength and fail over and over and over.
The final chapter in this story is found in John 21.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him 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 21:15-17My father was strict. He wasn't mean. Just strict. I was disciplined every time I deserved it growing up (and I'm a better man for it). I say this to say that I can sympathize with Peter here. This is the first time we see them discussing Peter's denial of Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75) as predicted. I bet Peter was nervous. Really nervous. I bet he could barely make eye contact with Jesus. He probably wanted so badly to talk to Jesus about it. But, he was probably frozen with shame and humiliation.
So Jesus asks the question, "Peter, do you love me?" Twice he asks Peter the same question using the same Greek word, agape. This translates in English to "unconditional love." It's the kind of Love that Jesus has for us. It's the kind of love that Peter had claimed to have for Jesus. And, in both cases, Peter is unable to say, "Yes, Jesus, I love (agape) you." Instead, he says, "Yes, Jesus, I love (philia) you." Philia translates roughly "brotherly love."
Peter has moved beyond lying to Jesus. He now knows that he has limitations. He wants to love Jesus with an agape love. But, he knows that it is not possible for him to love as Jesus loves. He knows that he in human and bound to fail at times. He knows that his own strength will fail him.
Jesus has made his point. It has been an incredibly painful and humbling lesson for Peter to learn. But, it is finished. Jesus finally lets him off the hook with his final question, "Peter, do you love (philia) me?" Peter's response says it all, "You know all things; You know that I love (philia) You."
And, Jesus answers again, "Feed my sheep" which may be the most profound statement in the entire story. Jesus did not give up on Peter. He did not set out to prove that Peter was unfit to serve. Jesus does not require that we be perfect to serve him. He does not require that we love him or others with a perfect agape love. Instead, he requires that we be acutely aware that we must lean on him in order to accomplish his will.
He asks that we love him and feed his sheep.