So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me more than these? He said to him, Yes…
There are times which reveal to us the mysterious identity of our ever-changing lives; when we read old letters, visit well-remembered scenes, grasp the hand of old friends, or indulge in the silent luxury of their presence. You know the subtle influence of such seasons; with what reality they recall the past. The coincidences of life are designed by God to reveal us to ourselves and to show what is God's guidance of our life. These verses record such a period in the life of Peter. The past was with him; what were its memories for Peter? Of eager haste and painful failure; of love for Christ so true and yet so powerless; of self-confidence and of unfaithfulness. With chastened, bumble spirit he must have sat and pondered; feeling that not in his devotedness to Christ, but in Christ's love to him, lay his hope that he might be faithful to his apostleship, if he should be reinstated in it. And to these, his thoughts, Christ at length gives expression: "Simon, son of Jonas," the name by which Christ had first called him, and which He had so often used in tender solemnity, "lovest thou Me more than these?"
I. PETER'S LOVE TO CHRIST.
1. There is a beautiful order in Christ's questions. There is a difference between the two Greek verbs translated "lovest." It is not a difference in the warmth, but in the character of affection. The one signifies the love based upon appreciation of another; the other simple personal attachment. The one might be represented if we said, "I am thy friend;" the other if we said, "Thou art my friend."(1) It is the former of these words which Christ here uses: "Simon, son of Jonas, esteemest thou Me more, art thou more My friend than thy fellow disciples?" This was just what Peter had professed, "Though all should be offended," &c. "I am ready to go with Thee, both in prison and to death; Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee."(2) You can now understand Peter's reply. Once he would have said, "I know that I am Thy friend;" he was sure he was to be trusted. But he has lost his self-confidence. He will not profess esteem for Jesus. He chooses the humbler, trustful word: "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee."(3) Again Christ asks him, "If not more than these, yet art Thou My friend at all?" And still the same humble, clinging answer comes from Peter.
(4) Now Christ takes Peter's own word; let it be as Peter would have it, the trusting affection of the disciple. "Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me?" Surely Jesus cannot doubt that. Christ must know that He is all in all to Peter. "Thou knowest that under all my boasting, all my mistakes, there was love for Thee, and that it remains." And this confession Christ accepts, and ever will accept.
2. Distinguish between the profession of love to Christ and the confession of it. In profession the person most prominent in our thoughts is "I who make it;" in confession, "He whose name I am confessing." It is not in what we are to Christ, but in what Christ is to us, that our rest and security lie.
3. Observe, too, the period of Peter's life when this confession is made. It is not his earliest confession; he has been brought to it through painful self-knowledge; it is the utterance of a tried maturity. To set young converts on an estimate of their feeling towards the Saviour, instead of encouraging them to trust in Him, is full of peril. Christian discipleship sometimes begins with love to Christ; and singularly blessed are they with whom it does. But in other ways souls are drawn to Christ; the weary go to Him for rest, the guilty for pardon, the helpless for succour. Such will say, "I trust in Christ," "I have found Christ," "I am following Christ;" but the words, perhaps, halt on their lips, "I love Christ." It is not for us to insist on their utterance. They are not for our ears, but for His. And He knows how, from the trusting, the obedient, and the earnest, to draw at length the full confession, "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee."
II. THE PROOF AND MANIFESTATION OF LOVE TO CHRIST.
1. In giving Peter the charge, "Feed My lambs; feed My sheep," Christ was guarding him against a danger to which he was at this moment liable; the danger of sinking down into an indulgence of sentiment. We feel in a self-assertive world, from the strife for mastery, the restlessness of ambition, how blessed to retire to self-abasement before the Lord; how sweetly then from lowly lips falls the confession, "Thou knowest that I love Thee." To cherish this life alone is very dangerous. Hence comes the pride that apes humility. Christ sends Peter from confessing, as He sent Mary from adoring Him, to do His work. It was in separating himself from the other disciples, in supposing himself better than they, that Peter displayed the self-confidence which he now so bitterly repented. He was not free from the temptation even in his penitence. It is possible to separate ourselves from others in our very consciousness of self-distrust. One of the saddest sights is that of men whose humblest words are a vaunting of themselves, whose very lowliness is sentimental and insincere.
2. A higher work is now committed to Peter than when Christ said, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." The pastoral office is higher than that of preaching the gospel of the kingdom; to watch over the flock is higher than to add to its numbers.
3. Here, too, would Peter have an opportunity for the constant exercise of lowliness. He would grow meek and gentle as he fed the lambs and shepherded the sheep; he would be humbled by every lesson he learnt of men's impatience and folly and self-deception. Sympathy is the way to self-knowledge; our own penitence deepens as we know a brother's sins.
4. They would serve, too, to deepen his love of Jesus; every brother's fall would remind him of his own restoration. There is nothing which so deepens our lore to Christ as the larger knowledge of His grace which we gain as we see souls saved by Him.
5. In this work which Christ assigns to Peter, Peter may see the meaning of the struggle of contrition through which he is made to pass. He will be better able to bear with the flock because he knows himself. The heart broken with penitence will scarcely harden itself against a sinful brother.
III. THE CROWN AND PERFECTING OF LOVE TO CHRIST IS THAT FULL SELF-SURRENDER BY WHICH WE SHALL GLORIFY GOD (ver. 18).
1. When he was young he girded himself and walked whither he would. How often he wandered, how far astray his hasty will led him! But when he could no longer go whither he would, when another girded him and carried him whither he would not, he accepted the appointment and the surrender of himself was complete. In one way or other, this privilege that we glorify God is given to every one who loves Jesus. Not all need the struggle and the martyrdom. There are meek souls whose whole life is sacrifice, whose will is ever submissive. Others require a sharp discipline. Whatever is needed will be given. And death seems appointed as the completion of all; the chequered, troubled life is vindicated as a Christian life by the death that glorifies God.
2. "And when He had spoken this He saith unto him, Follow Me." It was the first call again repeated. When Peter had first heard it he thought that to obey it would lead him near a throne; now he knows it will conduct him to a cross. Yet he draws not back; for meanwhile he has been with Jesus, and love of Him now fills his soul. What dreams possess us of the honour, and triumphs of the Christian life when first we rank ourselves as disciples of Christ! Rarely indeed are these hopes fulfilled; we grow wiser with sad self-sacrifice as we become holier men. The boundless prospect narrows before us; we are well content "to fill a little sphere, so He be glorified."
(A. Mackennal, D . D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
WEB: So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs."