This is part of our Easter week series from Ross Paterson's daily devotional Facebook post. Like our page to keep up with our latest devotionals and news.
John 21:15-19 is arguably the most important passage for those who call themselves Christians in the entire New Testament. Read the Bible passage for yourself with that in mind. Five verses that could change your life! Read and see if you agree with me! If you read to the end, I have added a very personal statement!
Three times Jesus faces Peter with a clear question, starting in verse 15: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’”
Two keys to the passage:
Firstly, Jesus is restoring Peter, taking him back from the devastating failure of his three denials of the Lord. How wonderful, how amazing, for Peter. “When Peter met Jesus on the beach, did the smell of the charcoal fire bring back the memory of the courtyard of the high priest?” Jesus meets Peter in love and restoring power at Peter’s worst point of failure. What hope, what a future that gives to you and to me.
But we need to add a second statement. It’s all on Jesus’ terms, not Peter’s or mine. And they are not easy terms either. Verse 19 says: “This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’”
Why then is the passage so important? Because it tells me there is unlimited grace, there is unlimited restoration for me. But it also tells me that I don’t get to write the contract behind that grace, Jesus does. My choice is to sign that contract – or not!
Then there are two statements that need unpacking.
Firstly, Peter and Jesus use different words for ‘love’. The Passion translation puts it well. “‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you burn with love for Me more than these?’ Peter answered, ‘Yes, Lord! You know that I have great affection for You!’” Another translation has Jesus using the word ‘love’ and Peter saying “I am Your friend”.
That is clause 1 in the contract. It’s not something I can do in my own heart, but it is something Jesus will do if I surrender to Him – to give me ‘agape’, divine love for Him and for a dying world in my heart.
This is also made clear in J. B. Phillips’ translation of this passage. “In His first two questions to Peter, Jesus used the strong Greek verb for ‘to love’ – agapao: ‘Do you love Me?’ But when Peter replied, he used the weaker Greek verb, ‘phileo’, which conveys affection and friendship. However, the third time Jesus questioned Peter, He asked, ‘Are you My friend?’ (phileo, v17), as if suggesting, ‘Peter, is this all I mean to you? Do you not love Me in the way I love you?’
Secondly what about the three words do you love Me “more than these” (verse 15). What does that mean? Three things:
“Do you love Me more than you love your fishing, your old life”, as Peter had just been fishing overnight.
Secondly, “do you love Me more than you love the other disciples?” Where is your first love, church or Jesus?
Thirdly, “do you love Me more than these other disciples love Me” – or are you just jogging along at the pace of the other Chrstians around you?
Huge questions, so worth praying through. “‘Do you love Me?’ is perhaps the simplest and most searching question that can be asked of anyone.”
Out of that first love for Jesus flows a fresh call to serve. “Each answer also evoked a challenge to Peter from Jesus, a fresh requirement to exercise responsibility as a shepherd of God’s people.”
“Not only is this a fresh commission. Not only is Jesus trusting Peter to get back to fruitful work, and to turn his undoubted though hitherto wobbly love for Jesus to good account. It is more: Jesus is sharing His own work, His Own ministry, with Peter” (T. Wright).
Can you now see why I think this is arguably the most important passage in the New Testament for those who own Jesus as saviour?
It is so simple in away. “Do you love Me?” is perhaps the simplest and most searching question that can be asked of anyone. But when we surrender and say “Lord, that is what I want, the rest follows so easily. And Irish proverb explains that: “Your feet will bring you where your heart is.”
Allow me to finish our personal note. 52 years ago today (April 8th, 1969) I landed in Taiwan as a raw and untrained missionary. Over those 52 years I have seen the faithfulness of the Lord, the fact that Jesus walks with us through the valleys and the occasional mountain and never lets go! The first love is the only place to be, the only safe place.