John 21:15

Jesus is the Restorer

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

If Peter’s sin of denial had not been dealt with publicly, it might have been deemed trivial by others and him. Peter, acknowledged leader of the Apostles, had acted as a coward and traitor. The disciples knew it. His sincerity was under suspicion. Restoring Peter’s honor required drastic action, special public treatment.

This must have been extremely trying for Peter. He had no way to escape the Lord’s probing questions. Peter had three times openly said, “I do not know Jesus!” Now he would be asked three times to say openly, “Jesus, I love you.”

John 21:15a (Holman) When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, . . .”

Jesus called the Apostle by his former, pre-commissioning name (John 1:42). Simon had not yet proven himself worthy of the name Peter, which meant rock. His life thus far had been quite a bit less than firm and dependable.

A name can be used very effectively. When I was a child, I knew all was well if my parents called me John. When they said, “John Edward,” I knew they were displeased. If they said, “John Edward Marshall!” I knew I was in serious trouble. The Apostle eventually became Peter, but for now Simon had to do.

John 21:15b “. . . Do you love Me more than these?”

Simon could have been asked. “Why did you deny? How could you fail so miserably? Did you not know the impact your act would have on your reputation?”

Jesus avoided these. Without beating around the bush, He went straight to the point. Love was the only topic Jesus needed to ask Peter about. For God to own our hearts, He must have our unlimited faith, repentance, allegiance, and all else.

What went wrong with Peter? He had to examine his heart, and analyze his denial, in order to help make sure what caused his fall would not happen again.

It is frightening to know our love can wane without our being aware of it. We can be busy doing God’s work, yet at the same time our love be diminishing.

We can serve out of duty or habit, or to receive people’s praise. This cannot go on forever. Without love, faithfulness inevitably fails. We should tremble to consider, at any moment we may be going through the motions of religion, and yet have little love for Jesus in our hearts. In these moments, temptation topples us.

What happened to Peter could happen to any of us. Beware smugness. Prior success in Christian living does not guarantee a lifetime of faithfulness to Jesus.

A victory yesterday cannot secure today. A win today cannot safeguard tomorrow. Yea, a success this morning cannot protect this afternoon or tonight.

Paul’s words haunt me, “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (I Cor. 9:27). Would it not be an unspeakable disaster if, after years of serving Jesus, our life resulted in a sin so hideous that it shocked not only others, but also us?

Watch for tell-tale signs of a declining love. Why are we serving Jesus less? Why do we not attend church as often, and no longer read the Bible daily? Why do we spend less time in prayer, and give less these days? We rationalize these things, and make clever excuses, but the real reason is, our love for Jesus has grown cold.

Peter was a doer. He left all to follow Jesus, was the first to confess Jesus as Messiah, walked on water, and drew a sword to protect Jesus, but would probably have traded all this for staying true to Jesus that fateful Holy Week Thursday night.

Somewhere Peter forgot to pause to look inward. He needed to ponder, “Do you love Jesus?” Often do inventory of our lives. We head toward a terrible fall if our walk with God becomes routine. Measure the depth of our love. Is an old flame still there? Peter reminds us; mighty works are wonderful; love for Jesus is greater.

Not even Bible knowledge can compensate for a lack of love for Jesus. For three years, Peter learned from Jesus, but it did him no good when his love failed.

In our text, Jesus did not speak to Peter about knowledge, but asked, “Do you love Me?” Knowledge is good; love is better. Orthodoxy is not the ultimate good. We need leaders who hold to the cardinal beliefs of our faith, and who at the same time love Jesus. Give us people firm in what they believe, yet soft at heart.

It is possible to believe in a burning Hell, but have a heart of ice. We can hold resolutely to water baptism, yet never undergo a baptism of love in our heart.

Love! Love! Love! Keep it strong, or all else is vain. Consider yourself. Daily, yea hourly, ask ourselves the question Jesus posed, “Do you love Me?”

John 21:15c “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Feed My lambs,” He told him.

Jesus now felt He could safely commit His weak sheep to Peter because the Apostle had been weak. His failure made him a better Pastor. A heart broken over its sins finds it difficult to harden itself against a fallen brother or sister. Recalling his own fall would make it easier for Peter to be gracious with others who stumble.

Many people have had their lives improved by a failure early in life. Stumbling early can actually help us walk more carefully later. It can teach us to distrust ourselves, to lean more fully on Jesus, and to be more compassionate.

Peter knew he could not claim perfect love for Jesus, but would not lie. He wanted to be honest; he did love Jesus, and would not show false humility by saying he didn’t. Peter’s dilemma is often repeated in our hearts. Knowing our love for Jesus is not perfect, we often hesitate to say confidently, “Jesus, I love You.”

We can usually boldly say, “I know Jesus. I trust Jesus. I believe on Jesus.” But for some reason, the words “I love you, Jesus” sometimes stick in our throats.

Jesus said the first command is; love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). Nothing is more important to God than that we love Him.

We know this, yet often have trouble verbalizing our love for Him. Why? We balk often because we know we fall far short of a life totally pleasing to God.

It is true that we best show the intensity of our love for Jesus by obeying Him, but we do us and Jesus a huge disservice if we think we can love Him only if we are perfect. If this were the case, none of us could ever say we love Jesus.

Yes, Godliness is our purest proof of love for God. Sin does indicate love is waning, but it is impossible for a believer not to love Jesus. Our love may “grow cold” (MT 24:12) and lessen, but it is impossible for our love to God to die totally.

Peter taught us well. He had shamefully denied Jesus, but nevertheless loved Jesus, and could not deny an emotion in his heart. We must have the same feeling. Do not give up on yourself. It is possible to love Jesus even if you fall into sin.

We sin. This does not mean we must spend the rest of life beating ourselves up over it. God determines consequences. We do not have to help Him punish us.

We must minutely examine ourselves, but not overly condemn us. There is no virtue in castigating ourselves for a lifetime over the failure of one moment.

Our love is certainly not demonstrated in our sins, but can be shown in our reaction to them. If love for Jesus is present, sin will cause a deep sense of regret.

Nothing in the world is more painful than to hurt someone we love. Do be warned; if we can sin without remorse, the Bible offers us no comfort. But if our sin is quickly followed by repentance and Godly sorrow, we prove we love Jesus.

After Peter denied, he wept bitterly. Do not try to avoid sorrow. In our heart, look Jesus in the face and say, “I am so sorry. Forgive me. I love you. Help me love you more.” Do weep and mourn over our sin, but then leave its guilt behind.

If sorry for our sin, we love Jesus. If we repent, we love Jesus. If conscience gnaws, we love Jesus. Don’t fear being sad. Fear callousness. Being disappointed in ourselves is a good sign, but do not let it destroy us. We disappoint family often, but know we still love them. We fail friends, but know we still love them. This reaction applies also to our relationship with Jesus. We fail Him, but love Him.

Don’t brag about our love, but do tell Jesus we love Him. Saying it increases it, and keeps it in our mind. We may never need to brashly say, “Lord, I will die for You,” but can always come to Jesus as a humble, sorrowful Simon, saying, “Jesus, I do love you. Increase my little portion. Help me to love you more.”