John 21:15a-b
Do You Love Jesus?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Peter saw the risen Lord in a private interview on Resurrection Sunday (I Corinthians 15:5). A “seal of sacred secrecy” (Maclaren) was placed on that conversation. It was surely a time of deep emotion and remorse for Peter, who had thrice denied Jesus.

Something more than a private interview was needed. The denial had been public. His repudiation also needed to be public. This is why an interview was needed in the hearing of six disciples.

If Peter’s sin had not been dealt with publicly, it might have been deemed trivial by others, and maybe even by himself. It was not trivial. Peter, the acknowledged leader of the Apostles, had acted as a coward and traitor.

All the disciples knew Peter had denied Jesus. The Apostle’s sincerity was possibly under a dark cloud of suspicion. Restoring Peter’s honor required drastic action, special treatment. He had to be dealt with privately, and also openly.

This must have been extremely trying for Peter. Having no way to escape the Lord’s probing questions, Simon was caught before a burning throne of judgment. Peter had thrice openly said, “I do not know Jesus!” Now he would be asked thrice 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, unconverted name. Hearing the old designation must have fallen on Peter’s heart like a block of ice. Simon had not yet proven himself worthy of the name Peter, which meant rock. His life thus far had been much less than firm and dependable.

A name can be used very effectively. When I was a child, I knew all was well when 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 . . . ?”

Many questions could have been asked of Simon. “Why did you deny? How could you have failed so miserably? Did you not realize the impact your act would have on your reputation?”

Jesus avoided these. With no 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 a person’s heart, He must have that person’s faith, repentance, allegiance, and all else.

Only love for Jesus mattered. He did not ask Peter about his love for the other disciples. The pointed question was, “Do you love Me?”, an appropriate question, not only due to Peter’s denial, but also because things had not turned out the way Simon had wanted them to. Peter had proven by his actions he did not want a crucified Messiah. Hoping for a political king, Peter had signed up with Jesus thinking he was headed for a throne, but Jesus had been crucified. His kingdom would be spiritual, not political. Could Peter love Jesus anyway? Would the Apostle remain devoted, or would the unexpected result diminish his love?

It was time for Peter to examine his heart thoroughly. Peter quickly went from being a sword-slinging compadre to being a sullen-slinking coward. What happened? What went wrong? Peter needed to analyze it, and make sure whatever caused his fall would not be allowed to happen again.

This interview revealed to Peter his error. Love had waxed strong in the early hours of that fateful Thursday. Peter’s love had blazed, but by midnight, the flame had begun to flicker. Disappointment had chilled his heart.

Let every one of us beware. We experience setbacks and surprises. Things don’t always turn out the way we want, or expect them to. We’ve felt layer upon layer of hurts and pains. It ever behooves us to ask ourselves “Do we love Jesus?”

Our conversion was based on love for Jesus. In that blessed moment of our lives, we loved Jesus with all our heart. We wrapped ourselves in His wounded side and found cleansing in His blood, but as time passes by, we see our love for Jesus fluctuate. When it is strong, our hearts are glad in Him, but at times, our love is feeble. Our love for Jesus is not always healthy. It quickly grows dim.

The frightening thought is, 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. It is possible to do and give much out of habit, or to receive the praise of others, or as a duty. This cannot go on forever. Without love, faithfulness will inevitably fail. It should cause us to tremble to contemplate, at any given 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 believers.

What happened to Peter could happen to any of us. Beware smugness. “Whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall!” (I Corinthians 10:12). “Pride comes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18a). Be careful. Prior success in Christian living does not guarantee a lifetime of faithfulness to Jesus. 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 Corinthians 9:27). Would it not be an unspeakable disaster if, after years of serving Jesus, our life was to result in a sin so hideous that it shocked not only others, but also us?

“Do you love Me?” is the ultimate question. Only love will keep us faithful to the end. People do not leave what they strongly love. People may desert what they like or enjoy, but they cannot deny what they cling to passionately.

Watch for tell-tale signs of a falling love. When service for Jesus begins to diminish, it is a sign love is failing. The heart hates to admit this. It is ingenious in making up excuses. Why do we not attend church as often as before? Why are we not reading the Bible daily? Why are we spending less time in prayer? Why are we giving less these days? We can try to explain these things away, but the real reason is, love has grown cold, and is faltering.

Occasionally stop to take inventory of our life. We are headed for a terrible fall if our walk before the Lord becomes routine. Ponder the depth of your love. Is an old flame still there?

Baptists must be extra careful about this danger. We are a busy, active people, constantly going and doing. The temptation is always before us to place too much emphasis on externals, and too little on internals.

Peter is a classic example of this. As a doer, he was red-hot for work. Somewhere he forgot to pause a moment and look inward. Peter’s feet had walked on water, yet he needed to consider, “Do you love Me?” Mighty works are wonderful; love is greater. Peter left all to follow Jesus, was the first to confess Jesus as Messiah, and drew a sword to protect Jesus, but would have probably traded all those experiences in exchange for staying true to Jesus that fateful Thursday night.

Not even advanced Bible knowledge can compensate for a lack of love for Jesus. Peter spent three years under Jesus’ teaching, and learned much, but it did him no good when his love failed. In our text, Jesus did not speak to Peter about knowledge, but instead asked, “Do you love Me?”

Be a good student. Read Scripture. Learn all you can about Jesus. At the same time we are filling our mind with facts, be sure to keep asking Jesus to fill our heart with love. Knowledge is good; love is better.

Orthodoxy is not the ultimate good. Love is the heart and soul of our faith, giving vitality to our Christian walk. Without love, orthodoxy is a grave to bury dead religion in. We need leaders who stand tall and true on the cardinal beliefs of our faith. We must hold to our convictions. At the same time we must love Jesus. Give us people strong and firm in what they believe, yet soft within.

It is possible to believe in a literal burning Hell, but have a heart of ice. We can hold tenaciously to water baptism, yet never have experienced a baptism of love in our heart. We can believe angels exist, but have a life full of demons. Love! Love! Love! Keep it strong, or all else is vain.

Our hearts are always crushed by news regarding the fall of a well-known and admired spiritual leader. We should not be quick to condemn them. Instead, we should hurt with him. In many cases, the fallen one does love Jesus, and would join me in saying, “Watch your heart. Activity is not enough.”

We must pray God will restore the fallen and use them again mightily as he did Peter after his fall. Lest there be a tinge of snobbery among us, I quote the words of Paul, “Brethren, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted also (Galatians 6:1).

Consider yourself. We are not anyone else’s judge. Every moment, every hour, every day, ask yourself the question posed by Jesus, “Do you love Me?”