Motivated by Love: “Do you love Me?” John 21: 15-17

It was a time, some time ago. A time beheld, and a time untold. It was a time of another time. As though time would be no longer be mine. In it I could not have it. In it I could not behold it. Time was slipping from my hands. If only there be another chance, a second chance for a glory of its own. Time was in my soul as a story yet to unfold.

There came a gift, an offering from the heart. I remembered my past and thought of my present. I imagined a dream as though given the breath of the present time. Which path would I choose, and which path would God choose. I was filled with indecision with the decision I would soon make. A life I longed to see. A life I imagined that would be. I had been here before. Each side of my future and I in between.

As I sought my Lord and my God I heard the words, “do you love Me?”

I knew what this meant. I remembered the disciple Peter…

“So 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, Tend my lambs.

He said to him again 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, Shepherd My sheep.

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 all things; You know that I love You. Jesus said to him, Tend My sheep.”

(John 21: 15 – 17)

By the time Jesus and the disciple Peter had this conversation, Peter already had denied Christ three times (John 18: 17, 25, 27). Here, there was a dialogue representing a threefold commission that stood in contrast to the threefold denials previously made by Peter regarding Christ.

In verse 15, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him more than the disciples among them and Peter said “yes” and turned it back to Jesus by saying “you know that I love you.”

The tenderness of Christ in this dialogue is that He knew the denials were due to Peter’s weakness as a human being. Could we ever be so fortunate to get a second chance that God would give us a third chance? This was not a private conversation between Christ and the disciple Peter but it was open and transparent. Unknowing to Peter, it was more than just a lesson on love, but ultimately it would reveal Christ’s establishment of Peter the Apostle as the rock on which the Church would be established by the inferences to tending and shepherding His sheep.

Yes, God knows all things, everything. There is not one thought or action that is unbeknownst to Him or beyond His knowing. He knows the beginning from the end, and the end from the beginning. He knows you and me. We are His creation and so He is intimately aware of us, our inclinations, and nothing comes as a surprise to Him. Christ knew the answers before Peter responded. He did not ask because He did not know. He asked for Peter’s sake so that Peter would know and be reminded of his own self in light of his past.

I imagine through the exchange, by the third question, that Peter became grieved not only because of Jesus’s repetitive questioning, but perhaps thoughts of his past denials must have infiltrated his mind, hence his saying “You know all things.” Oh how those denials were painful and bitter for Peter to remember. His denials weren’t because he did not love Christ, or longed to follow Him and His ways. Absolutely Peter loved Christ! What this was about were the motivations of Peter’s love for Christ. Was it a dying devotion toward Christ that caused Him to deny Christ? Or was it frail humanness in Peter’s personhood that had yet to be sifted out by the humility of knowing, following, and laying down his life for Christ? When we are confronted with painful memories as a result of our decisions we become humble with the fact that we are just who we are, mere mortal, weak, and in need of the Christ to lead us in everything we do.

In the book “The Cost of Discipleship” author Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Peter was called to be the head of the Church, and ultimately gave his life for Christ and was martyred. With such reverence and love for Christ he asked to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die in the same position as did his Savior Christ on the cross.

There are many who profess to love Christ, but so few are those who truly live a life for the love of Christ. Be it that it may, only His chosen ones will be asked “do you love Me?”

There comes a time in the life of God’s chosen ones where He brings us to the edge of the spear, a challenge of a kind, a split in the road, when He tests our hearts. The greatest test of our heart is on the very thing we value. It could be many things. God only knows, and yes He knows.

At the end of his life, Peter did more than profess his love for Christ. He became an Apostle and laid down his life for His Savior so that the world would know and follow the Christ he had come to love so dearly. So when I heard the words “do you love Me?” I understood. In the end, I denied myself and the future I could have had in return for the future I yet do not know, but for the love I have for my Christ and Savior.

It is as though God is challenging us to get it right. Right for Him and therefore right for us. He wants what is right. He wants our hearts. We do not know what is on the other side of it when we choose Christ out of love for Him above anything else. Peter did not know he would become an Apostle to the witness of Christ and head of the Church. No matter how old you are, whether in your youthful age, or later in your wiser years, the test of love will come from God your Father.

Though we may believe we are motivated by love, above all it is God who is motivated by love to bring us to the place where we must be able to deny ourselves out of love for Him our Lord.

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